1902 Encyclopedia > Soudan

(modern spelling: Sudan)

Soudan, or Sudan (Bilad es-Sudan, "Country of the Blacks"), a term applied by mediaeval Arab geographers to the region of Africa south of the Sahara mainly inhabited by peoples of Negro blood, hence corresponding to the expressions Nigritia, Negroland, at one time current amongst European writers. It liens mainly between 5° and 18° N. lat., consequently entirely within the tropics, and in its widest sense stretches right across the continent from Cape Verd on the Atlantic to Massowah on the Red Sea. But the term is more usually restricted to the region bounded N. by the Sahara, S. by Upper Guinea and the lands draining to the Congo basin, W. and E. by Senegambia and the Abyssinian highlands repressively (see vol. 1. plate II.). Within these limits it has an extreme length of about 3000 miles between the Senegal river and Abyssinia, extending southwards at some points 660 miles, with a total area of perhaps 2,000,000 square miles, and a population approximately estimated at from 80 to 90 millions. From the arid and sandy northern wastes to the well-watered and arable Soudanese lands the transition is effected by an intermediate zone of level grassy steppes, partly overgrown with mimosas and acacias, with a mean breadth of about 60 miles, between 17° and 18° N. lat., but towards the center reaching as far south as 15° N. Excluding this somewhat uniform transitional zone, the Soudan, properly so called, may be described as a moderately elevated region, diversified with extensive open or rolling plains, level plateaus, and even true highlands, especially in the south-west. It constitutes three distinct hydrographic systems, corresponding to the three main physical divisions of Western Soudan, draining through the Niger southwards to the Atlantic; Central Soudan, draining to the great central depression and landlocked basin of Lake Tchad; and Eastern (Egyptian) Soudan, draining through the Nile northwards to the Mediterranean. Between these systems the chief water-partings are – (1) the Marrah Mountains of Dar-Fur, whence flow the Bahr es-Salamat west to the Shari, and numerous intermittent wadies east to the Nile; (2) the Monbuttu uplands (Mount Baginze), separating the western headstreams of the white Nile from the Welle (Bahr Kuta), which, according to the latest information, flows, not to the Shari as Schweinfurth supposed, but to the Congo through the Mbangi; (3) the so-called "Kong" Mountains, dividing the Niger basin from the Volta and other streams flowing in independent channels south to the Gulf of Guinea. The Adamawa highlands, culminating in Mount Alantika (9000 to 10,000 feet), do not form a divide, as was supposed, between the Binue (the main eastern tributary of the Niger) and the Logon and other streams flowing east to the Shari (the great southern affluent of Lake Tchad). Flegel, who has recently explored the upper course of the Binue, found that it sweeps right round the east foot of Mount Alantika, and is even navigable round this bend and some way southwards. On the other hand, the central hydrographic system of lake Tchad had been greatly reduced in size since Lupton, Grenfell, and other recent explorers have made it evident that the Bahr-Kuta (Welle) flows not to the Shari but to the Congo basin. The Shari basin, which is now known not to reach farther south than about 6° N. lat., may even be almost considered, physically as well as politically, as subsidiary to the Niger hydrographic system, for there are indications that the Logon once flowed into the Binue by the Mayo-Kebbi. The Mayo-Kebbi is a long flat trough or valley in 9° 30’ N., with a level swamp at the bottom receiving as a backwater the overflow of the Logon, and also draining through the Binue to the Niger. By canalizing the Mayo-Kebbi the Binue and Shari basins might be permanently connected, in which case the Niger system would afford a navigable waterway from the Gulf of Guinea to the southernmost limits of Baghirmi.

From the Kong highlands, some of whose peaks appear to attain elevations of 6000 to 7000 feet, Western Soudan falls gradually towards the north and north-east down to the Great Desert, where the City of Timbuktu still maintains an altitude of 770 feet above sea-level (Lenz). South-east of the Niger the land rises in terraces of 1000 and even 3000 feet, above which isolated crests range from 5000 to 9000 feet. This little-known western highland region, comprised between the Binue and the lower Niger, and extending from Adamawa to Cameroons on the Bight of Biafra, corresponds with the eastern highland region of Abyssinia, lying between the Blue Nile and the Tagazze and dominating the Red Sea. North of Adamawa the land falls rapidly down to the vast depression of central Soudan, whose lowest part is flooded with the waters of Lake Tchad (Chad or Tsad), the largest area of inland drainage, next to the Aral-Caspian basin, in the eastern hemisphre. This freshwater lacustrine depression, usually 10,000 square miles in extent, expands to 40,000 and even 50,000 square miles when swollen by the flood-waters of its great feeders,-the Logon Shari from the south and the Komadugu from the west. From the Tchad depression, which is still 1150 feet above the sea, the ground rises again eastwards in the direction of Wadai and Dar-Fur, to heights of 3000 feet and upwards, culminating in the volcanic Jebel Marrah (6000 feet), which forms the nat5rual eastern limit of Central Soudan, and the great divide between the Tchad and Nile basins. But politically the line between Central and Eastern Soudan is usually drawn more to the west along the conventional frontiers of Wadai and Dar-Fur, the latter province, although never completely reduced, being claimed as part of Egyptian Soudan. This region constitutes two distinct physical divisions,-the first comprising the provinces of Dar-Fur and Kordofan, bounded E. by the White Nile and S. by the Bahr-el-Arab, a tableland in which the steppe formation predominates, while the second is skirted east by the Bahr el-Jebel and stretches from the Bahr el-Arab southwards to the Monbuttu uplands, a vast plain watered by the numerous south-western headstreams of the White Nile. This plain rises gradually towards the south and south-west to the highlands, which appear to culminate in Mount Baginze, and which form the water-parting between the Nile and Congo basins. Included in Eastern Soudan is also the extensive plain of Senaar, stretching from the Nile eastwards to the Abyssinian uplands, and rising southwards to the Fazok and Berta highlands.

The prevailing geological formations are the crystalline rocks, such as granites, diorites, slates, gneiss,. Underlying the old and new alluvia of the plains, and found associated with sandstones in the highlands. In the Kong Mountains the granites underlie the sandstone, but in the Tagale group (South Kordofan) they pass over to porphyries and syenites, interspersed with extensive diorites and auriferous quartz veins. Volcanic rocks (basalts, lavas, tufas) appear to be restricted to the isolated Defafaung and Alantika Mountains (Adamawa), although solfataras occur in the Tagale district, wehre sulphur abounds. Mineral waters are also found in Dar-Fur and Adamawa. The most widely diffused minerals are iron and copper, the oxides of iron occurring almost everywhere from the white Nile to the Niger, while pure copper is met especially in Dar-Fur and Fertit. Gold is chiefly restricted to the Tagale and Kong Mountains, Bambarra, and Adamawa; and lead, antimony, and tin are confined to a few isolated districts. Characteristic is the apparently total absence of limestones, coal, salt, and natron, the supplies of salt being imported mainly from the Sahara. Report however, speaks of a large lake in the Jebel Marrah, from which salt is obtained.

The climate of Soudan is distinctly tropical, with two well-defined seasons, hot and rainy from April or May to October, warm and dry for the rest of the year. The former is accompanied by tremendous thunderstorms and continuous downpours flushing all the khors, wadies, and other watercourses, flooding large tracts along the lower courses of the Shari, Logon, Komadugu, and Niger, and interrupting the communications for weeks together in Baghirmi and Bornu. Before the rains set in the glass seldom falls below 98° or 100°F., rising at noon to 104°, while the mean annual temperature at Kuka (Bornu) is about 82°F. But in the dry season it is often lowered to 58°, and under the influence of the cool north-east winds water often freezes on the uplands, snow falls in Dar-Fur, and fires are kept up in the houses in the central districts of Kano. The chief ailments are argue and other marsh fevers in the low-lying tracts subject to inundations, the Guinea-worm, cutaneous diseases, and leprosy. The fevers are dangerous alike to Europeans and natives.

An exuberant forest vegetation is favored by the rich alluvial soil and tropical heat wherever moisture abounds. Of large growths the most characteristic and widespread are – the baobab (Adansonia), reaching north to the 13th parallel and attaining a girth of 80 feet; the superb deleb palm, covering extensive tracts especially in the east, where it grows to a height of over 120 feet; the shea or butter tree (Bassia butyracea), in the Niger basin and Kong uplands; the cotton-tree, dun palm, tamarind, several varieties of euphorbias, acacias, ad mimosas, the heglyg (Balamites aegyptiaca), and jerjak of Wadai, which yields a kind of vegetable honey. Owing to the absence of salt the date-palm is very rare. The chief cultivated plants are cotton, maize, several kinds of durrah (Sorghum vulgare, S. cernuum, &c), hemp, tobacco, gourds, water-melons, indigo (of excellent quality and growing everywhere, wild and cultivated), and lastly the guru or kola nut (Sterculia acuminata and S. macrocarpa), which in Soudan takes the place of the coffee berry. Cotton of the finest quality has been raised on the rich alluvial plain of Taka and Senaar.

The beasts of prey, nowhere very numerous, are chiefly represented by the lion, panther, hyaena, and jackal. Elephants in herds of 400 or 500 frequent the swampy districts about Lake Tchad, but are not found farther north than the 12th or 13th parallel. The ordinary African rhinoceros is common, and the rare one-horned species appears to have been met with in Wadai. The wild ass, zebra, giraffe, and antelopes in considerable variety abound on the eastern steppe lands, and endless species of monkeys in the forest districts. Crocodiles, some of great size, from 16 to 18 feet long, infest all the large rivers, the sangwai,- a web-footed variety, occurring in the Niger. The hippopotamus also abounds in these waters, which teem with fish, mostly of unknown species. These attract numerous flocks of waterfowl,- pelicans, spoonbills, cranes, ducks, and many unknown species. In the Tchad, Fittri, and other districts the fish are captured, dried, and exported in large quantities to Fezzan and the countries beyond the Niger. Flies and mosquitoes swarm in the marshy, and locusts in the dry districts; and in the woodlands insect life is represented by myriads of termites and some very species of bees, wasps, and ants, besides beetles and butterflies in considerable variety.

The term Bilad es-Sudan is fully justified by the ethnical conditions of this region, which may be regarded as the true home of the Negro variety of mankind. Here this still everywhere forms the substratum of the population, constituting the distinct aboriginal element, in many places exclusively, in others intermingled with foreign intruders from the north and east. As far as can now be determined, these intruders belong to two separate branches of the Caucasic stock-the hamitic and the Semitic. The Hamitic is represented by three divisions-Fulahs, Tibus, and Berbers-all of whom arrived in remote prehistoric times; the Semitic by one division-the Arabs, who arrived at various periods since the spread of Islam in North Africa. The bulk of the Arab tribes appear to have penetrated from the Nile basin through Kordofan to Dar-Fur and Wadai, or from the Mediterranean seaboard through Fezzan and across the Sahara to the tchad basin, and hence are still mostly restricted to the central and eastern districts. Owing to their later appearance and stronger racial sentiment they have kept more aloof from the surrounding populations that the Hamites, who have everywhere intermingled with the aboriginal Negro element. The result is that the present inhabitants of Soudan are of a very mixed chartacter,-more or less pure Negro peoples predominating in the Niger basin, in Adamawa, Baghirmi, Wadai, parts of Dar-Fur and Kordofan, and in the Nile basin south of 10o north latitude; half-caste Negroes and Fulahs especially in Western Soudan; half-caste Negroes and Berbers in the northern districts of Western and Central Soudan; half-caste Negroes and Tibus (Dasas) mainly in Kanem and Bornu, true Fulahs scattered in isolated groups between the Niger and Tchad basins; true Berbers (Tuaregs) in the Timbuktu and Moassina districts; true Arabs chiefly in Baghirmi, Wadai, Dar-Fur, and Kordofan.

In the subjoined table of chief Soudanese races the Negro divisions have little more than a linguistic value.

Negro and Negroid Peoples.

Mandingoes: Mandinka, Malinka, and in the east Vangarawa, the dominant race between the Joliba (Upper Niger) and Kong Mountains, where their simple and harmonious speech is everywhere current as the chief medium of intercourse; fine Negro type, tall, very dark complexion from coffee-brown to black, long frizzly and woolly hair; agriculturists and traders; mostly Mohammedans outwardly; population six to eight millions. Chief subdivision the Bambarras, whose capital is Sego on the Joliba; population 2,000.00.

Sonrhai or Songhai: An historical race whose empire stretched in the 16th century from the northern bend of the Niger to the atlantic and Morocco; speech of a monosyllabic type, still current in the Timbuktu district and oases of Western Sahara; population 2,000,000.

Tombo, Mosso, Gurma: Three little known Negro peoples west of the Niger, within the great bend; affinities uncertain; form semi-independent petty states, apparently tributary to Moassina and Gando.

Nupe or Nufe: large Negro nation along both sides of the Niger from Rabba to the Binue confluence, subject to Gando.

Yoruba: Powerful Negro people between lower Niger and Dahomey; capital Ilosin; Mohammedans, pagans, and Christians (protestant).

Batta: The chief Negro people in Adamwa, now subject to the Fulahs, pagans and Mohammaedans.

Haussa: Largest, most widespread, and intelligent of all the Sudanese Negro peoples, mainly between the Niger and Bornu; speech very musical, the chief commercial medium in Western and Central Soudan, and current in parts of Tripolitana; shows distinct traces of hamitic influences (Krause); mostly Mohammedans.

Mosgu or Masa: Widespread Negro family between Lake Tchad and Adamawa and stretching east to the Shari; chief subdivisions-Mandara, Margi, Logon, Gamergu, Margomi, Keribina; mostly pagans and uncultured.

Yedina (Buduma) and Kuri: Predatory Negro tribes in the islands of Lake Tchad; appear to be related to the Kolokos or Mekaru of Logon and Bornu; nominal Mohammedans, population 30,000.

Baghirmi: The dominant people in Baghirmi; cultured Mohammedans; very industrious and skilled weavers and dyers; population over a million.

Maba: The chief Negro nation in Wadai, mainly in the Wara and Abeshr districts, about the headstreams of the Batha.

Fur or For: The dominants race in Dar-Fur, which takes its name from them; akin to the Nubas; chief subdivision Kunjara.

Nubas: large Negro nation; Jebel Nuba, and other parts of Kordofan, the original stock of the Nile Nubians; chief subdivisions-kargo, Kulfan, Kolaji, Tumali.

Nilotic Negroes: Shilluks, Dinkas, Bongos, Baris, A-Madi (Mittu), and many others about the Bahr el-Jebel and south-western tributaries of the White Nile.

Funj: A very mixed Negroid race, Senaar.

Hamites – Pure and Mixed.

Tuaregs: A main branch of the Berber race, dominant throughout the Western Sahara and southern steppes; powerful, especially in the Timbuktu district and on the north frontier of Bornu.

Sorinka or Assuanek: Called also Serekuli or Serrakolet, i.e., "white people"; half-caste Tuareg and Negro nation scattered in small communities from the Niger to the Atlantic, and numerous especially in Senegambia and Moassina; cultured Mohammedans, and active traders.

Fulahs: The most powerful, intelligent, and widespread of all the Soudanese peoples; from their original home in Senegambia (Futa-Toro, Futa-Jallo) have spread since the 18th century throughout Western and Central Soudan, and as far east as Dar-Fur everywhere propagating Islam, overthrowing the native Haussa and other states, and founding new kingdoms in the Niger basin, in Adamawa, and Central Soudan; are called Fellari by the Haussas, Fulan by the Arabs, Fellata by the Kanuri, the term meaning "fair" or "light colored; pure type, distinctly Caucasic, regular features, long black hair, brown or ruddy complexion, slim well proportioned figures; but the language, which presents several remarkable features, shows only faint traces of Berber influence, and appears on the whole to be essentially a Negro form of speech, adopted probably during residence from the remotest times in Negroland; population seven to eight millions.

Dasas: The southern branch of the Tibus, chiefly in Kanem and northern Bornu; type and speech show distinct Negro influences.

Kanembu: The people of Kanem, with settlements in eastern Bornu; also originally Tibus, but betraying still more decided Negro influence.

Kanuri: The ruling race in Bornu; speech a development of the Dasa and kanem; type half-caste Tibu and Negro.

Zoghawa, Baele, Ennedi: Mixed Tibu and Negro tribes; northern Dar-Fur, originally from Borku and Wanganya, Eastern Sahara; speech akin to dasa.


Aulad Soleiman Arabs: In Kanem
Aulad Rashid: Mahamid: South-east of Borku, and in Dar-Fur.
Salamat, aulad Hamed: Between the lower Shari and Bahr-el-Ghazal.
Hamr, Hamran: Kordofan.
Kababish: "Goatherds; "widespread along west side Nile, from Kordofan to Dongola.
Bakkara: "Cowherds; "south of the Kababish to left bank of Bahr-el-Arab.

Politically Western and Central Soudan are divided into eight independent and semi-independent states, which in their order from west to east are under:-

Bambarra, divided into two nearly equal sections by the Joliba, which traverses it from south-west to north-east, is ruled by the Negro Bambarras of mandingo stock. It has recently been brought under the influence of the French penetrating eastwards from their possessions on the Senegal. The capital is Sego, on the right bank of the Joliba.

Moassina, Gando, Sokoto, Adamawa, the four so-called "Fulah States," occupy the Niger basin between Bambarra and the Binue confluence, the whole of the Binue basin, and the region lying between the Niger and Bornu. Moassina (Massina) lies on both banks of the Niger from Bambarra to Kabara, the port of Timbuktu, and is peopled by Fulahs. Bambarras, and Sonrhais; capital hamda-Alahi, on the right bank of the Niger, below Jenne, which is its chief trading place. Timbuktu, with surrounding district constitutes a separate territory governed by a kadia, or hereditary mayor, who lately sent envoy to Paris for the purpose of seeking French protection against the rival Tuareg and Fulah tribes. Gando, so called from its capital on an eastern tributary of the Niger, stretches along the main stream southwards to the Binue confluence, including the Nufe territory and part of Yoruba. The lower part is extremely fertile, abounding in cotton, indigo, rice, and all varieties of African grains. It comes within the limits of the region over which the British protectorate has recently been extended. Besides the capital, there are several large towns, such as Bida (30,000 to 50,000 inhabitants) in the north; Rabba (40,000 to 50,000), head of the steam navigation on the Niger, and a chief station on the great trade route running from Lagos on the Guinea Coast northwards to Gando and Sokoto; Egga (8000), on the left bank of the Niger, center of the British trade; Lokoja, facing the Binue confluence, and English factory, headquarters of an Anglican mission and seat of a Negro bishop. Sokoto, sometimes spoken of as the "empire of Sokoto," is the largest and most powerful of all the Soudanese states, stretching from Gando to Bornu, and from the Binue northwards to the Sahara (see Sokoto). In it are absorbed all the former "Haussa States," and to it Adamawa is also tributary. The inhabitants are chiefly Fulahs and Haussas, intermixed with many aboriginal Negro peoples, especially in the south and south-east. The land is generally fertile, yielding rich crops of cereals, cotton, tobacco, indigo, sugar, yams, black pepper, ginger, melons. The capital and residence of the sultan is Sokoro, in the extreme north-west. Other large town are-katsena, before the Fulah invasion a place of 100,000 inhabitants, now reduced to 7000; Kano, in Barth’s time the "London of Soudan," and still with 50,000 souls (matteucci); Wurnu (15,000); Gombe, in the province of Calam (20,000); Yakoba, or Garu-n=Bauchi (150,000); Keffi Abd es-Senga (30,000), in Zegzeg, a great center of the ivory trade, and converging point of the two great caravan routes from the north (kano) and the west (Egga). Adamawa, so named from its Fulah conqueror Adama, and formerly known as Fumbina, or "Southland," is ruled by a Fulah basal of Sokoto, who keeps in subjection the Battas and innumerable other Negro peoples; it lies between Sokoto, Bornu, and Bagirmi, merging southwards in the unexplored equatorial region back of the Cameroons. The capital is Yola, at the northern foot of Mount Alantika. Adamawa appears to be one of the finest and healthiest regions in Africa, splendidly diversified with lofty highlands, fertile valleys, and grassy plains, overgrown in someplaces with forests of bananas, baobabs, and plantains, in others yielding abundant harvests of cereals, cotton, and indigo. The horses and cattle introduced by the Fulahs thrive well on the rich pastures, and elephant abound in the woodlands.

Bornu, with Kanem, in the north, now reduced, and the tributary state of Logon in the south, completely encircles Lake Tchad, except at the south-east corner, where Baghirmi is wedged in between Logon and Wadai; it is mostly a flat low-lying region with fertile plains yielding durrah, maize, cotton, and indigo, watered by the Komadugu, Logon, and Shari, all of which flood their banks for miles during the rainy season. The ruling race are the Kanuri, cultured but fanatical Mohammedans of mixed Tibu and Negro stock. The capital of Bornu is Kuka (50,000 to 60,000 inhabitants), near the west coast of Lake Tchad, a great center of the Soudanese trade with the Sahara and Tripolitana, and terminus of the main caravan route from Murzuk (Fezzan) across the desert to the Tchad basin; the capital of Logon is Logon-birni, residence of a vassal prince. Population of Bornu estimated at 5,000,000.

Baghirmi, a Negro state, since 1871 tributary to Wadai, comprises the rich and well-watered plains of the lower Shari, with undefined southern limits. Capital Masena; ppulation about 1,500,000, of whom three-fourths Baghirmi, the rest Kotokos, fulahs, and Arabs.

Wadai, a powerful Mohammedan state occupying the whole region between baghirmi and Kanem in the west and Dar-Fur inn the east, and claiming exclusive ivory and slave-hunting rights in the southern (upper) Shari basin. The capital is Abesh, on a head-stream of the batha. The country is mainly a hilly plateau rising to 3000 feet above the sea, and yielding good crops of maize dukhn, durrah, cotton, indigo. Population four to six millions, chiefly mabas and other Negroes, and numerous Arab tribes, with some scattered baghirmi, Fulah, and Kanuri settlements.

Eastern Soudan, comprising Dar-Fur, Kordofan, Senaar, Taka, and the Negro countries on the white Nile and its south-western tributaries, respectively called the Equatorial and Bahr-Gazal Provinces, belonged politically to Egypt till the rebellion of the late Mahdi. Since his death in 1885 most of these provinces appear to have lapsed into a state of anarchy and barbarism, in which few vestiges remain of the peace and order introduced by the European officers of the khedive. The Equatorial Province, however, and the Suakin district have been exempt from these troubles,- the former being still held till 1886 by the governor, Emin Bey, for the khedive, while in the latter the natives themselves succeeded in the same year in putting down the "rebels" or party of Osman Digma. For details of Eastern Soudan, see articles Nile, Nubla, and Senaar.
( A. H. K.)

The above article was written by: Augustus Henry Keane, F.R.G.S., Emeritus Professor of Hindustani, University College, London; late Vice President, Anthropological Institute; author of Stanford's Asia, Africa, Ethnology; Man, Past and Present; etc.

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