1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Suakin
SUAKIN, or Sawakin, a seaport of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan on the west side of the Red Sea in 19° 7′ N., 37° 20′ E. Pop. (1905), 10,500. Suakin stands on a coralline islet connected with the suburb of El-Kef on the mainland by a causeway and a viaduct. Access is gained to the harbour through a winding and dangerous passage over 2 m. long, terminating in at deep oval shaped basin several acres in extent, and completely sheltered from all winds. For centuries the chief port of the eastern Sudan, Suakin has been since 1906 to some extent superseded by Port Sudan (q.v.), a harbour 36 m. to the north. The customhouse and government offices present an imposing frontage to the sea, and the principal houses are of white coral stone three storeys high. The mosques are not remarkable. The mainland part of the town is surrounded by a high coral wall, built in 1884 to resist dervish attacks. About a mile beyond is a line of outer forts. The climate is very hot, damp and unhealthy, and in the summer months the government headquarters are removed to Erkowit 35 m. west of Suakin, on a plateau 3000 ft. above the sea.
Suakin is less conveniently situated than some neighbouring points (e.g. Port Sudan) for the trade with the Nile Valley. The island is without water and the harbour indifferent; yet the settlement is ancient. Here, as at Massawa, traders were presumably attracted by the advantages of an island site which protected them from the raids of the nomad Arabs of the mainland. The country inland belonged in the middle ages to the Beja (q.v.), but the trading places seem to have been always in the hands of foreigners since Ptolemais Theron was established by Ptolemy Philadelphus for intercourse with the elephant hunters. After the rise of Mahommedanism many Arabs settled on the coast and mixed with the heathen Beja, whose rule of kinship and succession in the female line helped to give the children of mixed marriages a leading position (Makrizi, Khilat, i. 194 seq., translated in Burckhardt's Travels in Nubia, app. iii). Thus in 1330 Ibn Batuta found a son of the amir of Mecca reigning in Suakin over the Beja, who were his mother's kin. Makrizi says that the chief inhabitants were nominal Moslems and were called Hadarib. The amir of the Hadarib was still sovereign of the mainland at the time of J. L. Burckhardt's visit (1814), though the island had an aga appointed by the Turkish pasha of Jidda. The place was seized in 1517 by the Turks under Selim the Great, but Turkish control did not extend inland. Mehemet Ali after the conquest of the Sudan leased Suakin from Turkey. This lease lapsed with the pasha's death, but in 1865 Ismail Pasha reacquired the port for Egypt. Till the suppression of the slave trade Suakin was an important slave port and it has always been the place of embarkation for Sudan pilgrims to Mecca. Legitimate commerce, rapidly growing before the revolt of the mahdi (1881), was greatly crippled during the continuance of the dervish power, though the town itself never fell into their hands. After the fall of the khalifa trade revived, the imports in 1899 being valued at £180,000, as against £170,000 in 1880. In 1906 the figures were: imports, £324,000; exports, £113,000. Pearl fishing is an important industry and cotton is cultivated in the neighbourhood.
Suakin was the headquarters of the Egyptian and British troops operating in the eastern Sudan against the dervishes under Osman Digna (see Egypt, Military Operations, 1884, seq.). When these operations were begun a project for linking Suakin to Berber by railway, first proposed during Ismail's viceroyalty, was revived and a few miles of rails were laid in 1884. Then the Sudan was abandoned and the railway remained in abeyance until 1905–1906, when the line was at length built. The railway has a terminus at Suakin, but Port Sudan was chosen as the principal entrepôt of the commerce carried by the railway. Notwithstanding the rivalry of its newly created neighbour, the trade of Suakin continued to develop. The port is connected by submarine cables with Suez and Aden and with Jidda, which lies 200 m. north-east on the opposite coast of the Red Sea (see Sudan § Anglo-Egyptian).