1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kordofan

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KORDOFAN, a country of north-east Africa, forming a mudiria (province) of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. It lies mainly between 12° and 16° N. and 29° and 321/2° E., and has an area of about 130,000 sq. m., being bounded W. by Darfur, N. by the Bayuda steppes, E. by the White Nile mudiria and S. by the country of the Shilluks and other negro tribes, forming part of the Upper Nile mudiria.

The greater part of Kordofan consists of undulating plains, riverless, barren, monotonous, with an average altitude of 1500 ft. Thickets and small acacias dot the steppes, which, green during the kharif or rainy season, at other times present a dull brown burnt-up aspect. In the west, isolated peaks, such as Jebel Abu Senum and Jebel Kordofan, rise from 150 to 600 ft. above the plain. North-west are the mountain groups of Kaja and Katul (2000 to 3000 ft.), in the east are the Jebel Daier and Jebel Tagale (Togale), ragged granitic ranges with precipitous sides. In the south are flat, fertile and thickly wooded plains, which give place to jungle at the foot of the hills of Dar Nuba, the district forming the south-east part of Kordofan. Dar Nuba is well-watered, the scenery is diversified and pretty, affording a welcome contrast to that of the rest of the country. Some of the Nuba hills exceed 3000 ft. in height. The south-western part of the country, a vast and almost level plain, is known as Dar Homr. A granitic sand with abundance of mica and feldspar forms the upper stratum throughout the greater part of Kordofan; but an admixture of clay, which is observable in the north, becomes strongly marked in the south, where there are also stretches of black vegetable mould. Beneath there appears to be an unbroken surface of mica schist. Though there are no perennial rivers, there are watercourses (khors or wadis) in the rainy season; the chief being the Khor Abu Habl, which traverses the south-central region. In Dar Homr the Wadi el Ghalla and the Khor Shalango drain towards the Homr affluent of the Bahr el Ghazal. During the rainy season there is a considerable body of water in these channels, but owing partly to rapid evaporation and partly to the porous character of the soil the surface of the country dries rapidly. The water which has found its way through the granitic sand flows over the surface of the mica schist and settles in the hollows, and by sinking wells to the solid rock a supply of water can generally be obtained. It is estimated that (apart from those in a few areas where the sand stratum is thin and water is reached at the depth of a few feet) there are about 900 of these wells. They are narrow shafts going down usually 30 to 50 ft., but some are over 200 ft. deep. The water is raised by rope and bucket at the cost of enormous labour, and in few cases is any available for irrigation. The very cattle are trained to go a long time without drinking. Entire villages migrate after the harvest to the neighbourhood of some plentiful well. In a few localities the surface depressions hold water for the greater part of the year but there is only one permanent lake—Keilat, which is some four miles by two. As there is no highland area draining into Kordofan, the underground reservoirs are dependent on the local rainfall, and a large number of the wells are dry during many months. The rainy season lasts from mid-June to the end of September, rain usually falling every three or four days in brief but violent showers. In general the climate is healthy except in the rainy season, when large tracts are converted into swamps and fever is very prevalent. In the shita or cold weather (October to February inclusive) there is a cold wind from the north. The seif or hot weather lasts from March to mid-June; the temperature rarely exceeds 105° F.

The chief constituent of the low scrub which covers the northern part of the country is the grey gum acacia (hashob). In the south the red gum acacias (talh) are abundant. In Dar Hamid, in the N.W. of Kordofan, date, dom and other palms grow. The basbab or calabash tree, known in the eastern Sudan as the tebeldi and locally Homr, is fairly common and being naturally hollow the trees collect water, which the natives regularly tap. Another common source of water supply is a small kind of water melon which grows wild and is also cultivated. In the dense jungles of the south are immense creepers, some of them rubber-vines. The cotton plant is also found. The fauna includes the elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo, giraffe, lion, leopard, cheetah, roan-antelope, hartebeeste, kudu and many other kinds of antelope, wart-hog, hares, quail, partridge, jungle-fowl, bustard and guinea-fowl. Nearly all the kinds of game mentioned are found chiefly in the western and southern districts. The ril or addra gazelle found in N. and N.W. Kordofan are not known elsewhere in the eastern Sudan. Reptiles, sand-flies and mosquitoes are common. Ostriches are found in the northern steppes. The chief wealth of the people consists in the gum obtained from the grey acacias, in oxen, camels and ostrich feathers. The finest cattle are of the humped variety, the bulls of the Baggara being trained to the saddle and to carry burdens. There are large herds of camel, the camel-owning Arabs usually owning also large numbers of sheep and goats. Dukhn, a species of millet which can grow in the arid northern districts is there the chief grain crop, its place in the south being taken by durra. Dukhn is, however, the only crop cultivated in Dar Homr. From this grain a beer called merissa is brewed. Barley and cotton are cultivated in some districts. A little gold dust is obtained, but the old gold and other mines in the Tagale country have been, apparently, worked out. Iron is found in many districts and is smelted in a few places. In the absence of fuel the industry is necessarily a small one. There are large beds of hematite some 60 m. N.W. and the same distance N.E. of El Obeid.

Inhabitants.—The population of Kordofan was officially estimated in 1903 to be 550,000. The inhabitants are roughly divisible into two types—Arabs in the plains and Nubas in the hills. Many of the villagers of the plains are however of very mixed blood—Arab, Egyptian, Turkish, Levantine and Negro. It is said that some village communities are descended from the original negro inhabitants. They all speak Arabic. The most important village tribe is the Gowama, who own most of the gum-producing country. Other large tribes are the Dar Hamid and the Bederia—the last-named living round El Obeid. The nomad Arabs are of two classes, camel owners (Siat El Ilbil) and cattle owners (Baggara), the first-named dwelling in the dry northern regions, the Baggara in southern Kordofan. Of the camel-owning tribes the chief are the Hamar and the Kabbabish. Many of the Hamar have settled down in villages. The Baggara are great hunters, and formerly were noted slave raiders. They possess many horses, but when journeying place their baggage on their oxen. They use a stabbing spear, small throwing spears, and a broad-bladed short sword. Some of the richer men possess suits of chain armour. The principal Baggara tribes are the Hawazma, Meseria, Kenana, Habbania, and Homr. The Homr are said to have entered Kordofan from Wadai about the end of the 18th century and to have come from North Africa. They speak a purer Arabic than the riverain tribes. The Nubas are split into many tribes, each under a mek or king, who is not uncommonly of Arab descent. The Nubas have their own language, though the inhabitants of each hill have usually a different dialect. They are a primitive race, very black, of small build but distinctive negro features. They have feuds with one another and with the Baggara. During the mahdia they maintained their independence. The Nubas appear to have been the aboriginal inhabitants of the country and are believed to be the original stock of the Nubians of the Nile Valley (see Nubia). In the northern hills are communities of black people with woolly hair but of non-negro features. They speak Arabic and are called Nuba Arabs. Some of the southern hills are occupied by Arab-speaking negroes, escaped slaves and their descendants, who called themselves after the tribe they formerly served and who have little intercourse with the Nubas.

The capital, El Obeid (q.v.), is centrally situated. On it converge various trade routes, notably from Darfur and from Dueim, a town on the White Nile 125 m. above Khartum, which served as port for the province. Thence was despatched the gum for the Omdurman market. But the railway from Khartum to El Obeid, via Sennar, built in 1909–1911, crosses the Nile some 60 m. farther south above Abba Island. Nahud (pop. about 10,000), 165 m. W.S.W. of El Obeid, is a commercial centre which has sprung into importance since the fall of the dervishes. All the trade with Darfur passes through the town, the chief commerce being in cattle, feathers, ivory and cotton goods. Trade is largely in the hands of Greeks, Syrians, Danagla and Jaalin. Taiara, on the route between El Obeid and the Nile, was destroyed by the dervishes but has been rebuilt and is a thriving mart for the gum trade. El Odoaiya or Eddaiya is the headquarters of the Homr country. It and Baraka in the Muglad district are on the trade road between Nahud and Shakka in Darfur.

Bara is a small town some 50 m. N.N.E. of Obeid. Talodi and Tendek are government stations in the Nuba country. The Nubas have no large towns. They live in villages on the hillsides or summits. The usual habitation built both by Arabs and Nubas is the tukl, a conical-shaped hut made of stone, mud, wattle and daub or straw. The Nuba tukls are the better built. In the chief towns houses are built of mud bricks with flat roofs.

History.—Of the early history of Kordofan there is little record. It never formed an independent state. About the beginning of the 16th century Funj from Sennar settled in the country; towards the end of that century Kordofan was conquered by Suleiman Solon, sultan of Darfur. About 1775 it was conquered by the Funj, and there followed a considerable immigration of Arab tribes into the country. The Sennari however suffered a decisive defeat in 1784 and thereafter under Darfur viceroys the country enjoyed prosperity. In 1821 Kordofan was conquered by Mahommed Bey the defterdar, son-in-law of Mehemet Ali, pasha of Egypt. It remained under Egyptian rule till 1882 when Mahommed Ahmed, the mahdi, raised the country to revolt. It was in Kordofan that Hicks Pasha and his army, sent to crush the revolt, were annihilated (Nov. 1883). The Baggara of Kordofan from that time onward were the chief supporters of the mahdi, and his successor, the khalifa Abdullah, was a Baggara. In Kordofan in 1899 the khalifa met his death, the country having already passed into the hands of the new Sudan government. The chief difficulty experienced by the administration was to habituate the Arabs and Nubas, both naturally warlike, to a state of peace. In consequence of the anti-slave raiding measures adopted, the Arabs of Talodi in May 1906 treacherously massacred the mamur of that place and 40 men of the Sudanese regiment. The promptness with which this disturbance was suppressed averted what otherwise might have been a serious rising. (See Sudan: Anglo-Egyptian, § “History.”)

See The Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, edited by Count Gleichen (London, 1905); H. A. MacMichael, Notes on the History of Kordofan before the Egyptian Conquest (Cairo, 1907); John Petherick, Egypt, the Sudan, and Central Africa (London, 1861); Ignaz Pallme, Beschreibung von Kordofan (Stuttgart, 1843; trans. Travels in Kordofan, London, 1844); Major H. G. Prout, General Report on Province of Kordofan (Cairo, 1877); Ernst Marno, Reise in der egypt. Equat. Provinz (Vienna, 1879); papers (with maps) by Capt. W. Lloyd in the Geog. Journ. (June 1907 and March 1910); and the bibliography given under Sudan: Anglo-Egyptian.