Abbala people



The Abbala people are an Arabic ethnic group of the Sahel located in Sudan and Chad.

The Abbala are named after their subsistence practice of camel herding.

The term "Abbala" is mostly used in Sudan to distinguish them from the Baggara, a grouping of Arabic ethnicities who herd cattle. Although, the two groupings share a common origin from the Juhayna tribe of the Arabian peninsula and it is a common way to distinguish Rizeigat who herd camels in Northern Darfur and those who herd cows in Southern Darfur. According to Braukämp (1993) some of the Abbala people experienced a cultural change to Baggara culture after being pushed from the Sahel region into the savanna. This resulted in a switch in livestock to cattle, which are better adapted to the savanna environment.

  • the "abbala" or camel-owning group, who also herd sheep and goals but who have no or very few cattle
  • the "baggara" or cattle group ( the term is extended here to caver all cattle raising groups, inrespective of ethnies belongings), also with sheep and goats and very small numbers of camels.


Abbala tribes and distribution

ln Kassala Province the plains around Kassala town, the strip extending from the Atbara river valley to the Ethiopian border and the central Butana neighbouring Gezira and Khartoum Provinces are the main camel herding areas. These groups own at least 1.15 million camels, 4.23 million sheep and 0.80 million goals:

  • Hadendowa
  • Beni Amer
  • Rashaida
  • Bisharin
  • Shukriya
  • Lahawin
  • Bawadra
  • Kawahla
  • Ahamda

ln Northern Kordofan the northern sandy semi-desert areas, the sandy "qoz", the "gardud" sandy and clay pediplains and the gum belt are the strongholds of camel production. These groups and other tribes of the region raise 1.16 million camels, 2.84 million sheep and 2.1 O million goals:

  • Kababish
  • Kawahla
  • Hawawir
  • Hamar
  • Shenabla
  • Dar Hamid

Carnel production is practised in areas in Northern Darfur that have similar ecology to those in Kordofan. Carnel numbers are smaller in Darfur, 0.69 million, than in the other Provinces and they are accompanied by 2.62 million sheep and 1.46 million goats.There are many tribes involved, the main ones being the:

  • Meidob
  • Zaghawa
  • Zayadiya
  • Rizeiqat(parts of them).

Carnel owning groups comprise about 1.48 million people, 48% of whom are found in Northern Kordofan, 35% in Kassala and 16% in Northern Darfur with the remaining 1 % scattered in other northern provinces. With the exception of the Kababish, camel-owning tribes that do not keep cattle are small with an average of about 60,000 people owning in the region of 100,000 camels and about four times as many small ruminants.

The majority of camel tribes are Arabs. Those which are not (e.g. the Beja) have been strongly influenced by Arab culture and religion, and are Muslim and speak Arabie, beside their indigenous language. The exceptions are the western Meidob and Zaghawa who, in particular, have retained much of their own languages.

Animais are raised for subsistence and to provide products for sale or exchange. Cereal grains are the principal commodity that camel tribes need to import into their economies. ln the past, in addition to providing material sustenance, animais were a source of prestige for the owner. Traditional attitudes to production are changing and a more market oriented production system is gradually developing.

Differences in wealth are evident among the abbala. The majority of families own some 30 camels and 100-300 head of small ruminants. Families with larger numbers of each species are "rich", those with smaller numbers are "poor". Small ruminants are the category of stock which provides most of the interchange within the system, at least until enough are acquired to convert into the more desirable camels.

Abbala and Baggara Tribes

Production systems

Carnel owning groups are pastoralists in that livestock provide their main wealth and subsistence. Grain, usually bulrush millet but sometimes sorghum in wadi beds is occasionally grown in favourable places or in good years: most grain is acquired by purchase or exchange, however. ln times of low animal productivity, or when gum prices are high, then gum is tapped by some pastoralists to provide additional income.

The traditional way of lite is being steadi ly eroded under modern influences. lnduced and spontaneous settlement is taking place, perhaps more soin Kassala than in the western provinces. lt is estimated that the percentage of animais owned by the abbala has been reduced from about 85 in 1970/1971 to about 60 in 1989/1990. Semi-nomadism or transhumance is associated with rainfed cultivation and with access to crop residues on the large state - and privately - owned agricultural schemes.

Carnel herders who also cultivate do th is either on private land or in some of the major development projects. The Beja, for example, grow "dura" or sorghum in wadi beds and on the terraces during the short flood periods that prevail iri the Red Sea hills. ln addition, some Beja have tenancies in the Gash and Baraka schemes where in addition to cereals (including Sorghum or bulrush millet in the Baraka) they grow cotton and castor as cash crops.

The Butana tribes have a similar system, some growing cereals on small plots near their settlements or cultivating as tenants on the New Halfa scheme: some of the richer members of tl:lese tribes own small mechanized farms. ln Darfur and Kordofan the abbala tribes grow some "dukhn" in the southern parts of their respective "dar''.

Livestock and crops, while not completely integrated as a system, complement each other. Sorne animais are sold every year to raise cash for household goods and even to buy feed or medicines for the other animais. The type and number of animais sold varies according to the needs and to the owners' perceptions of herd structure.


Community and individual wealth

Although there are 18 important tribes whose main wealth is camels 49% of the people involved and 51 % of the camels are in live tribes or tribal groups. These live tribes, however, own only 36% of the sheep and 39% of the goats of the total of these species that belong to the abbala. The live groups in question are the Beja (Hadendowa, Amarar, Bisharin and Beni Amer), the Kababish, the Rashaida, and the Meidob and the Zaghawa.

The concept of individual wealth can be related to the numbers and types of animais that a family owns. A family obviously varies in size but is normally considered to average seven people, these being the head of the house and his wife, Iwo married sons and one unmarried son or daughter. "Rich" Baja, for example, own somewhere in the region of 50 camels (Table 4), while rich Rashaida own 400 and even a "poor" Rashaida owns an average of 40 camels. ln total the Beja tribes, who comprise about 23% of camel owners, own about 19% of ail the camels belonging to the "abbala" and slightly over 18% of sheep and goats combined. The Kababish comprise about 12% of the people, own 11 % of the camels and 17% of the small ruminants. The Rashaida are the riches! of the camel tribes: they amount to 5% of the people but own 10% of the camels although they are not so well off in small ruminants, owning only 8% of these animais. The Zaghawa (5% of people, 7% of camels and 17% of sheep and goals) and Meidob (4% of people and 5% and 14% of camels and small ruminants) are intermediate in standing.