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The Baggara of Sudan and Chad

Population:      5,000,000 (1995, Biondi);
(various sources report quite varying populations in the range of 2 million or less, according to groupings of the various small tribes.)

Religion:       Islam
Registry of Peoples codes
       Shuwa  108972
       Habbania  103622
       Hemat, Baggara  103754
       Husseinat  114950
       Mahamid  106027
       Shukria  108969
       Selim  108814
       Messiria  106569
       Massalat  106390
       Fertit  103010
       Dekakire, Baggara  102502
       Registry of Language codes (Ethnologue)
       Arabic, Chadian Spoken  [shu]
       Sudanese Arabic [apd]
       Sudanese Arabic [apd]
       Sudanese Arabic [apd]
       Arabic, Chadian Spoken  [shu]
       Sudanese Arabic [apd]
       Sudanese Arabic [apd]
       Sudanese Arabic [apd]
       Arabic, Chadian Spoken (primary language for Massalat)  [shu]
       Massalat (secondary language for Massalat)  [mdg]
       Arabic, Chadian Spoken  [shu]
       Bada [bau]



The people called Baggara live in the Darfur and North and South Kordofan provinces of Sudan.  They are also in neighboring areas of Chad.  Various sources include various groups under different names in the category or separately account for the various tribes speaking Shuwa Arabic. Baggara entries, thus, also occur in various reports and datbases in Nigeria, Niger, Central African Republic and Cameroon.

Their migration into their current area actually occurred from West to East, moving in from the ara of Lake Cahd after having arrived there from the north at some eaarlier time.

The Baggara had become prosperous in the slave trade across southern Nubia.  From the 1820s, the Ottoman rulers of Egypt extended and tightened Egyptian control south to all of Nubia (Sudan).  

The British pressured their client the Khedive (prince) ruler of Egypt to stop the slave trade completely.  This angered the Baggara, who established private armies to resist attempts to halt their trade.  However, they were unable to resist the gradual abolition of slavery enforced by the British on all fronts in Africa.  

The name comes from the Arabic Baqqara, from the Arabic word meaning cattle.  They are cattle herding Arabs.  Some live in agricultural settlements or towns.

Primary sub-groups of the Baggara are the Beni Selim, the Oulad Hamayd, the Habbaniya, the Hawazma, the Messiriya, the Beni Husayn, the Humr, the Bahr al-Arab, the Reizegat, the Ta`aisha, the Beni Helba, the Beni Khuzam and the Salamat.  Several sources report the Habbaniya group separately with poipulations in Sudan varying from 215,000 to 1,000,000.

The Baggara claim origin from Arabs in the Hijaz, the Red Sea coast area of the Arabaian Peninsula, perhaps around 1100-1200 CE.  Historians believe some tribes later joined the original "Baggara," such as the Beni Khuzam and Beni Helba, in the 15th to 18th centuries.  Another name used in some sources is Shuweihat, relzted to the name Shuwa.

Various sources or databases account for the variety of tribal, cultural or linguistic affinities in various ways.  Some use the term Chadian Arabs, while some have separate categories for Shuwa, Chadian Arabs and Baggara.  Some will list all Shuwa-speaking peoples as one group.  Some sources break down smaller groups identified by the term Baggara, or various sub-groups of Shuwa speakers into smaller groups.

Some historians suggest they are are one of the Juhayna family of Arabs who migrated into Nubia in the 14th century.  This would be consistent with the later tribes who are now part of the Baggara.  Kababish and Shukriya are the two other Juhayna tribal clusters.

They speak a form of Arabic called by their name Baggara, or Shuwa.  This variety of Arabic is also called Chadian Arabic.  Linguists classify this language as a distinct language from the variety called Sudanese Arabic, though some sources comment that they are mutually intelligible.

They are mostly illiterate.  They maintain, however, a highly-developed oral tradition of storytelling.  Singing is also an important art form.

Political Situation:
In the British period, the Baggara were a major support for the Mahdist Muslim rebellion against the British-Ottoman rule of Sudan.  They were major figures in the Mahdist administration actually implemented after the death of the Mahdi.  

The Baggara led the new Caliphat in an invasion of Ethiopia in 1887, finally killing Ethiopian King Yohannes IV in 1889.  They invaded Egypt in 1889 and were repulsed from Eritrea by the Italians in 1893.

In recent decades Baggara have been involved in the Civil War in Sudan, but get caught between government and rebel forces.

The Baggara are Muslims, and tend to observe fully the Five Pillars and major practices.  Many make the pilgrimage to Mecca.  They claim descent from the Juhayna in the Hijaz, however, from before the time of Muhammad.

There are no known Christians among the Baggara.


Related Profiles
The Fur of Sudan and Chad
The Masalit People of Sudan and Chad (Includes additional external links)

For more about the Baggara

The Baggara of Sudan and Chad
Power and Lineage among the Humr Baggara -- a Book Review
Chadian Arabic -- Ethnologue
Sudanese Arabic -- Ethnologue

Haskins, Jim and Joann Biondi.  From Afar to Zulu.  NY:  Walker and Company, 1995.

Metz, Helen Chapin.  Sudan:  A Country Study.  Washington, DC:  Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1991.

Middleton, John and Amal Rassan, eds.  Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Vol IX:  Africa and the Middle East.  Boston, Mass: G K Hall and Company, 1995.

Orville Boyd Jenkins
19 September 2005
Last updated 11 May 2006

Copyright © 2005, 2006 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.
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