Baggara people



The Baggāra ("cattle herder") are a grouping of Arab ethnic groups inhabiting the portion of Africa's Sahel mainly between Lake Chad and southern Kordofan, numbering over six million.

They are known as Baggara in Sudan, and as Shuwa/Diffa Arabs in Chad and Nigeria.

The Baggāra mostly speak Chadian Arabic, with the exception of those in South Kordofan, who speak Sudanese Arabic.

Baggara People

  • 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.

They also have a common traditional mode of subsistence, nomadic cattle herding, although nowadays many lead a settled existence. Nevertheless, collectively they do not all necessarily consider themselves one people, i.e., a single ethnic group. The term "baggara culture" was introduced in 1994 by Braukämper.

The political use of the term baggāra in Sudan denoting a particular set of tribes is limited to Sudan. It often means a coalition of majority Arabs and a few indigenous African tribes, mainly the Fur people, Nuba peoples and Fula people, with other Arab tribes of western Sudan, mainly the Juhaynah, as opposed to Bedouin Abbala tribes. The bulk of "baggara Arabs" live in Chad, the rest live, or seasonally migrate to, southwest Sudan (specifically the southern portions of Darfur and Kordofan), and slivers of the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Niger. Those who are still nomads migrate seasonally between grazing lands in the wet season and river areas in the dry season.

Their common language is known to academics by various names, such as Chadian Arabic, taken from the regions where the language is spoken. For much of the 20th century, this language was known to academics as "Shuwa Arabic", but "Shuwa" is a geographically and socially parochial term that has fallen into disuse among linguists specializing in the language, who instead refer to it as "Chadian Arabic" depending on the origin of the native speakers being consulted for a given academic project.

Baggara & Abbala Tribes

Origins and divisions

The origin of the Baggara is determined. According to a MacMichael, the group arrived in Wadai between Bornu and Darfur, where they spread from 1635 onwards through the fusion of the Arabic speaking population with the indigenous groups. Like other Arabic speaking tribes in the Sahara and the Sahel, Baggara tribes have origin ancestry from the Juhaynah Arab tribes who migrated directly from the Arabian peninsula or from other parts of north Africa.

Cattle husbandry is practised in areas that are less harsh than those where camels are found. As a consequence the migratory patterns of the baqqara tribes are less extensive !han those of the "abbala". The annual rainfall in the "cattle belt" is seldom less !han 500 mm and animal husbandry is frequently associated with crop production.

Southern Darfur is a major cattle raising area, the principal tribes here being the Rizeigat, the Habbaniya, the Ta'aisha, the Beni Halba, the Beni Hussein and the immigrant Fellata. The total population of 410,000 in these tribes represents 83% of the Province's cattle nomads and 33% of all such in the Sudan.

ln Southern Kordofan il is the Messeriya (both Humr and Zuruq), the Hawazma and the Awlad Humeid that are the principal tribes. Their population amounts to 272,000, this being 86% of Southern Kordofan cattle nomads and 22% of all those in the Sudan. The Awlad Humeid are also found in White Nile as are the Seleim, Ahamda and Gima people, as well as part of the Kenana. These tribes comprise almost the totality of cattle nomads here and are equivalent to 17% of Sudanese cattle nomads.

ln Blue Nile the dominant tribes are Rufa'a el Hoi, Rufa'a el Shariq, the Kenana and the Kawahla. Kenana people also inhabit Kassala Province as do the Shukriya: some of the camel-owning groups also have comparatively large numbers of cattle. Numbers of cattle nomads are smaller in both these Provinces. The tribes listed total 121,000 in Blue Nile and 124,000 in Kassala and are respectively 97% and effectively 100% of cattle nomads there, equivalent to 9% and 10% of all the Sudan's cattle nomads.

These five major areas of cattle production are thus home to 1.26 million baggara people who collectively own 11.47 million cattle, 6.40 million sheep and 1.81 million goats. The majority of the baqqara are of Arab origin, the major exception being the Fellata who are recent immigrants from West Africa. Penetration by the baqqara southward into the savanna belt has resulted in some admixture of indigenous African blood into the people: they remain, however, for the most part faithful to Islam and use Arabie as the mother tangue.

The baggara were able to escape some of the worst effects of the 1984 drought. This applies particularly to those living in Blue and White Nile Provinces as they were able to retreat to the better-endowed riverain areas.



Demography. Statistics from the 1955-1956 census give the Rural Nomad population of Kordofan Province as 393,519. Statistics from the 1973 census give the Rural Nomad population of Kordofan as 406,710 and that of Darfur as 411,580. These figures are not broken down into tribal divisions; for comparison, Cunnison (1966) gives the 1955 Humr population as 54,997. Camping-unit composition and size vary seasonally, but generally range from 8 to 20 households, with a total camp population of 40 to 100 persons. The number of people who can camp together depends partly on factors such as the size of cattle herds and the availability of grazing and water.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Baggara speak a dialect of Arabic that is distinct from classical Arabic and from the Sudanese dialect, although the dialects are mutually intelligible.


History and Cultural Relations

Baggara genealogies claim that their origins go back centuries to connect with the Juhayna in the Hejaz before the days of the Prophet Mohammed. It is unclear how the Baggara reached their present areas. One theory suggests that after the Arab invasion of Egypt ( A . D . 1100-1200) the groups that became Baggara continued across North Africa to Tunisia, then came south across the desert into western Sudan. According to another theory, they were part of an invasion up the Nile Valley into Ouadaï and Bornu in the late fourteenth century. Throughout the centuries, there has been movement east and west. The Baggara, on the southern fringes of the sultanates of Darfur, Ouadaï, and Bagirmi in the west, and Al-Fung to the east, between the two Niles, moved east and west along the line of the sultanates according to their political fortunes. The Baggara retained access to goods and booty while avoiding payment of tribute. New tribes were added to the Baggara between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries—for example, the Beni Khuzam and the Beni Helba. By the eighteenth century, the Baggara were concentrated to the east of Lake Chad, and north of Lake Chad in Darfur and Dar Ouadaï. At this period, some of the groups began moving eastward; first the Reizegat (into eastern Darfur), followed by the Messiriya, the Humr, and the Messiriya Zuruq, and the Hawazma. Cunnison (1966, 3) says that the Humr probably moved eastward from Ouadaï about 1775, and that by 1795 there were references to the Messiriya in the southwestern corner of what is now Kordofan. Baggara groups have become widely scattered, as a result of their lateral movement over the centuries. Although different groups tend to be concentrated in particular areas, territories are not as discrete as might be expected. There is some overlap and concurrent use of many areas. For example, the Hawazma and the Messiriya traverse much of the same territory, and they may, in the rainy season particularly, be found in adjacent camps. Kordofan and Darfur are characterized by great ethnic diversity and interdigitation; no group is wholly isolated or bounded from other groups. In the various regions, Baggara have close associations with camel nomads (Hamar, Shenabla), settled agriculturists (Nuba, Daju, Tungur, Bedayria, Gimaʿa, Zaghawa, Dar Hamid), and camel and sheep nomads (Maʿalia). Symbiotic relationships between herders and farmers are typical wherever pastoralists are found. In Kordofan, the relationship between the Hawazma and the Nuba is particularly significant. Traditionally, the Nuba were concentrated on and around the hills of the Nuba Mountains, rather than on the plains. Some Nuba groups claim to have always lived on the hills, whereas others moved up into the inaccessible areas as protection from Baggara raids and Mahdist troops. Whatever the case, the Hawazma and the Nuba represent an important example of symbiotic use of the same savanna ecozone. The Nuba are settled farmers who grow sorghum. They provide the Hawazma with some manufactured goods and with labor for both cropping and herding. For their part, the Hawazma provide animal products, milk, hides, and manure to the Nuba.


Pastoral Baggara live in camping units called furgan (sing. fariq ). Residents in a camp typically belong to one or more patrilines of a lineage. Houses are arranged on the perimeter of a circle. Cattle are brought into the center of the camp at night, to mill loosely about, near the household of their owners. Adult, married women own the houses and their housekeeping contents. Dry-season houses are generally larger than rainy-season houses—3.6 to 4.5 meters in diameter, as compared to 3 meters in diameter, and 3 meters in center height, as compared to 1.8 to 2.4 meters. Houses are spherical, built by placing saplings in holes around the perimeter, then bending them over and tying them to form a dome. Smaller branches, tied onto the frame horizontally, support the structure, which is then covered with thatch in the dry season or with mats and tarpaulins in the rainy season. A bed for a woman and her young children is built first, and the house frame is then built around it. Men and older boys sleep on cots in the center of the camp, near the cattle. Another important component of a camp is the men's tree—or a sun shelter constructed instead—where men gather to eat, talk, or nap and to receive male visitors. The men's tree is usually in the center of the camp or just outside the camp circle. Sedentary Baggara live in agricultural settlements or towns, often in compounds grouped according to lineages. The houses of the settled Baggara are built of mud brick and have thatched roofs, which is typical of other sedentary Sudanese. Corrals are built of thorny trees and shrubs to contain young animals. No fences are built around the camp itself or the houses in the dry-season camps, which are located in the people s home territory, or dar, but fences are built around houses in the rainy-season camps.


The household

The household is usually and extented rather than a nuclear family unit. The reasons for this are the mixed species nature of the livestock holdings which often require separate herding and management and the diversity of other production tasks which demand varied skills and strengths. The household thus usually comprises a man and his wife and their married sons plus unmarried sons and daughters. The household unit comprises sub-units, each with its own house or tent, usually placed close to each other and perhaps around the periphery of the bedding ground of the animais.

Sons who succeed in establishing their own herds and their own households usually camp and move in proximity to their father. Other family units, also of close relatives, are also found grouped at some distance the one tram the other.


Production systems

The baggara are pastoralists by the same definition as are the abbala, in that almost all their wealth and most of their incarne derives from livestock. They are less mobile than the camelowning group, most are in fact semi-settled or many even have at least part of the family fully settled. Strictly speaking it would probably be more appropriate to refer to !hem as transhumants rather than as nomads.

The cultivation of cereals , especially "dukhn ", is a widespread practice among the cattle people. ln Kassala the "dukhn" is often replaced with "dura ". Many families particularly in Darfur region also collect gum on a regular basis and many own gum trees and actively promote their regeneration and growth. Crop residues , from own fields and !rom the large scale developments, are an important source of dry season livestock feed.

There is also a graduai transition to more commercial livestock production among the baqqara, as among the abbala. Sorne rear cattle with more commercial ends than their fellows and rely on goals for the provision of household milk and meat. Subsistence is still provided by animais but cash raised from their sale or the sale of their products is spent on domestic needs or on consumer goods or is used to pay taxes. Sorne cash may be recirculated into the herd by purchase of breeding females. Decisions on which animais to be sold are usually made by the household head. Both cattle and sheep are sold but the relative proportions of each vary in the several provinces and among the tribes.


Acquisition of animals

The most common method of acquiring livestock is, of course, through birth and natural increase. Herds can also be built up by purchase of animais. Money for purchase cornes from savings, trom sale of other animais, !rom wage labour or from remittances !rom relatives involved in commerce. Pastoral societies have, however, several other mechanisms for ensuring that all their members share in and benefit from the common wealth. Many of these mechanisms are designed to ensure that, within the context of sharing, the wealth stays in the family or at least in the tribe.


Animal management

There is little or no capital investment by the owners in animal management. Herding is done in the age-old way, one or more herdsmen being constantly with the stock when they are at pasture. Ali household members, from the very young to the very old, women as well as men , have some responsibility at some point in the production process. Herds are, strictly speaking , often larger than what is strictly required to assure subsistence because there is always risk of loss through epidemic disease, starvation as a result of drought and loss to predators (human thieves as well as animal killers). Animais are also the principal investment vehicle of pastoralists, a means of capital accumulation, a store of wealth and, possibly, a source of pride and prestige.

ln recent years, and especially since the 1984 drought, there has been a tendency for concentration of livestock in fewer units. lt is the age-old story as the rich (and probably financially capable and economically astute) have got richer and the poor have got poorer. For the poor, as for the rich , the costs of production have shown a steady and in many cases an obviously unmeetable rise. Water may now have to be paid for, herders want wages and not a portion of production (although they probably continue to appropriate or misappropriate that also) , supplementary feed and minerais have to be bought, and drugs (once provided free) are expensive. Commercial attitudes are also developing which by their nature require concentration of animal wealth in fewer hands. The move to commercial production is exemplified by the shift in age, from older to younger, of the stock that are trekked from the production areas through local marketing to the major urban and export channels in the capital.


Organization of labour

ln the pas! ail labour was found in the family. Men were primarily responsible for herding and care of the livestock and women largely looked alter the domestic needs of the household but also had some clearly defined livestock tasks. As families have become involved in agri culture it is again the men who do most of the work but women are important at sowing and harvest limes.

ln general terms the old order still prevai ls. There has, however, been a shift to employing labour from outside the household and, conversely, for household members to seek paid work outside the family business of herding and farming.

The household head is the senior manager: he supervises the overall requirements and allots tasks to individuals of his family. A "murah" of 300 sheep requires two men to herd it as does one of 100 head of camels. Smaller herds, of any species, may be combined with those of other families and herded communally on a labour rotation basis. A few cows, sick animais and young animais born out of season are herded near the camp or settlement by the women of the household or by young boys.

The tasks associated with daily management of the herds and flocks include supervision of grazing, protection of the stock and the provision of water. Ensuring that animais have adequate water is a major and often time-consuming and laborious task and largely explains the need for two herders for relatively small groups of animais. Even so, more labour may be required to provide water, especially if the source is a deep well or has low output. The dry season is particularly demanding of labour as grazing may be distant from water sources and these latter produce little water.

At the camp the women and girls are responsible for many tasks. They are helped by boys until these are eight years old, when they are given herding tasks. Female activities are diverse, including preparing and cooking food, providing domestic water, gathering fuel, collecting wild fruits and herbs, mending lents, curing skins and working leather, spinning and weaving, looking alter the poultry and sick animais, and processing the milk to butter or cheese.

ln general there are no taboos in most tribes against women undertaking the milking of the animais. They do in tact often milk all species except camels, which are too big and strong for them. Women afso help with shearing in those groups that take wool from sheep for neg-making.

Animal wealth should increase with family size so that sons are fully employed and are also fully provided for. If herders have to be hired they have traditionally been paid largely in kind: a "hog" or 2-year old camel for herding camels for a year and six or seven "fini", or yearling sheep of mixed sexes, for looking alter sheep. Times are changing, however, and according to a Rashaida "paid herders are becoming kings and we have to meet their terms".

The use of hired labour has greatly increased during the 1980s. Principal reasons for this include a reduced family size and some educated members of the family moving to better paid jobs in the local centres, the national capital or even abroad. An ironie situation exists in some cases where sons of owners have gone to Sàudi Arabia or the Gulf States to look alter expensive racing camels or other high value stock. The increased need for seeking herders from outside the fami ly has resulted in a classic demand-supply situation and labour has become expensive. Wages vary by tribe and by species herded (a camel herder expects twice as much as a shepherd) but hired labour imposes additional costs on the owner such .as the provision of food and clothing and the use of a donkey or other riding or pack animal.

The labour problem is one that is mainly confined to traditional male tasks. Female family members have, as yet, not had the same opportunities in \'lducatlon and in travel as their menfolk and at least for the time being most are still at home.


Community and individual wealth

While camels are the main wealth of the abbala they comprise only 18% of total animal numbers, with sheep contributing about 56% of numbers and goals about 26%. ln contras! the baggara cattle amount to 58% of all animais owned by the group, sheep are a further 32% and goals about 10%. lndividually and collectively the total number of animais kept by baqqara is more than that kept by abbala. Numbers alone, however, should no! be considered to be true indicators of real wealth as the relative values of the species in money and production terms are certainly more important.

The 27 major cattle tribes , together with the minor tribes that are also classed as baqqara collectively own 11 .5 million cattle, 6.40 million sheep and 1.81 mi llion goals. The Rizeiqat are the major tribe in Southern Darfur and own 52% of the provincial cattle and 51 % sheep. ln Southern Kordofan some 80% of cattle and 85% of sheep are owned by the two Messeriya tribes and the Hawazma. ln the other provinces livestock wealth is relatively evenly distributed among the tribes.

At the level of the family there are differences in wealth of a type similar to that noted for the abbala. lnequalities between "rich " and "poor" are however more evident in the two western provinces than in the east.

The Rizeiqat are the richest individuals overall: they constitute only 12% of all baqqara but own 22% of the cattle and 11 % of the sheep owned by the groupas a whole. The Seleim, the Ahamda, the Gima, the Rufa'a el Hoi and the Rufa'a el Shariq own marginally greater proportions of cattle than are their representation in human numbers but these tribes plus the Kenana and the Awlad Humeid are relatively richer in sheep.



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Baggara are cattle pastoralists. Herds are comprised primarily of cattle, although Baggara also herd sheep and goats. Camels are kept for riding and as pack animals, and oxen are also specially trained for riding and carrying loads. Many households also have donkeys. Most pastoral Baggara have fields of sorghum in their dar, which they plant at the beginning of the rainy season, before leaving on their annual trek. Some households also plant sesame and beans. Usually crops are left unattended; therefore yields are low. Few households grow sufficient grain to provision them for the entire year. Baggara women milk the cows, allocating appropriate quantities for household use and for sale. Women earn considerable amounts by selling raw milk to seasonal cheese factories during the rainy season, when yields are higher. Women also sell processed milk in the form of a sort of liquid yogurt and clarified butter. In the dry season, they sell small quantities of milk door-to-door in the towns near their camps. The Baggara seem to be unusual in the sense that women not only provide productive labor but also maintain control of their efforts, keeping any cash income they earn to be used for household expenses or goods for themselves. Men sell small numbers of cattle for such expenses as buying sorghum or paying school fees. Small stock are also sold. Hawazma Baggara have significant links between the men's and the women's productive activities, as well as between pastoral and agricultural households. Baggara men frequently have more than one wife—one may reside in a pastoral camp and another in an agricultural village or a town, for example. Some products and labor are exchanged between the two types of households. Because men and women have autonomous cash resources and Baggara women earn substantial amounts, Baggara men may go away for international wage labor for one or two years at a time. Women largely manage to support their households; accordingly, men save their earnings to purchase more cattle upon their return.

Industrial Arts. Women make mats (which are used both for house coverings and for seating), gourd containers, and a variety of leather goods (including containers and bags). Men make cots and a variety of equipment that is used in animal husbandry, including hobbles, chicken coops, and braidedgrass bull saddles. Pottery, metal items, and clothing are purchased.

Trade. Some Baggara men are experts in marketing animals, both large and small stock. These men may act for themselves and also as agents for their relatives. Baggara women frequently sell milk products in the "women's market." They may also sell chickens and, occasionally, the goats that they own. Men do all the trading in larger animals in a separate market. Once in a while, Baggara have enough sesame or sesame cake (used as a supplementary animal feed) to sell, but they also purchase these items. Baggara men frequently purchase veterinary medicines and either administer them themselves or hire veterinarians to do so.

Division of Labor. Men's and women's roles are generally strictly separated. Women do the household work and the work associated with milking, including churning and marketing. Men may assist with milking, but they turn over all of the milk to the women. Women fetch water, sometimes walking for forty-five minutes in each direction to carry four gallons. Men have primary care of herds: management, herding, marketing, and health care. Men plant, tend, and harvest whatever crops are grown. Women may help with threshing, but usually they go to the distant fields only to cook for their menfolk during the harvest. Young boys may herd calves and small stock, whereas older youths and men herd the cattle. House building is done by women, the only exception being the building of the wedding house, a task in which all members of the community join. Women build kitchen structures and any other structure associated with the house. Women gather all the materials used for house building. Men build the sun shelters that are used by all the men of the camp for meals or as places to entertain male guests. Women are responsible for the everyday cooking, although men may cook meat for communal feasts. Men slaughter cattle, sheep, goats, and sometimes chickens. Women may also slaughter chickens. Men butcher cattle; either men or women may butcher other animals—always working, however, in gender-segregated groups. All members of the household, including men and children, do their own laundry. Young boys and girls begin early to help with household or herding tasks.

Land Tenure. The Baggara have communal grazing and water rights, but they own cropping land as individuals. Members of an extended family often cultivate close to one another, and they regard the area as their dar, or home territory. Because the soil fertility is low, fields may be moved every five years or so. Most groups have several blocks of land in which their members have fields. Land is passed from father to son.



Kin Groups and Descent. The Baggara are patrilineal. They are normatively endogamous, and the preferred marriage partner is one of the close cousins, either a patrilateral or matrilateral, or a parallel or cross cousin. The preferred close-cousin marriage pattern creates bilateral, multiplex kinship links, which serve to strengthen group cohesiveness. Genealogies are reckoned to a depth of five or six generations. Kinship relationships move outward to define units in a segmentary lineage system. The first segment is the iyal rajul (sons of a man), a minimal lineage of about three generations' depth. A minimal lineage forms the basis of a camping unit. A major lineage segment, known as the khashm beit ("mouth of the house"), is composed of a number of minimal lineages.

Kinship Terminology. Baggara kinship terminology distinguishes between agnatic (patrilineal) and uterine (matrilineal) kin. This descriptive system allows a person to single out specific kin and state precisely what relationship exists. Another system that is used is classificatory: it allows a person to include large numbers of people among his or her close relatives, even when close genealogical relationships do not exist. Thus, all members of one's own generation are addressed as brother or sister, and so on.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriages are traditionally endogamous and are frequently polygynous. Bride-wealth, in cattle and other goods, is provided by the prospective husband, with help from his near relatives. Part of the bride-wealth is used to buy household furnishings; some of it may also be used to buy food for the marriage celebration, which takes place in the bride's camp. After the marriage, the new couple lives near the bride's mother's house, just outside the camp circle, for about ten days. Then the new couple moves ceremoniously a residence the husband has chosen, an occasion that involves another feast, this one provided by the husband's family. In polygynous marriages, each wife owns her own house, which she operates independently. Co-wives may share meals, but not any differently than they might with other women in the camp. A divorced woman is looked after by her brother, unless she has a son older than about age 14 who can do so. Domestic Unit. The primary domestic unit is a woman and her young children, with a male protector. A man may be the protector of more than one household, either through polygynous marriages or through assigned responsibility for a divorced or widowed woman or for the wife of an absent husband (usually his brother). Residence may change several times over the course of a person's life, with movement from camp to camp or from camp to town. Residence changes may be related to a person's marriage status; a woman's pregnancy; a change in emphasis of a man's economic mode (pastoral, agricultural, or wage labor); or the location of a woman's male protector.

Inheritance. Inheritance is patrilineal. Women inherit household goods and perhaps some small stock from their mothers. They may also inherit cattle, although their brothers usually retain control over such animals, so that they can be used to maintain the women should they be divorced or widowed.

Socialization. Mothers are the primary caretakers of young children. Fathers also show a great deal of attention to their infants and young children. Siblings often help with child care. Any adult may discipline a child or provide care, particularly when a child's mother has gone out of the camp. More and more Baggara children—particularly boys—are now attending at least some years of school; however, the eldest son may remain at home so that he can be well trained in animal husbandry. Boys may attend school through the secondary level, whereas girls rarely pass beyond six years of schooling. A small number of boys may gain some sort of postsecondary training.


Social organization

Clear raies and functions in the production process can be discerned at the levels of the tribe, the sub-tribe and the household.

The tribe

ln the pas! the tribe was a more autonomous and integrated entity than il is at present. The identity of the tribe was supported and reinforced in many ways , through traditional leadership within the unit itself, and prominent members of il being elected or appointed as local and regional councillors and sometimes assuming high office in government itself.

Success was always mixed with some measure of failure. At the regional level the tribe may often have been supreme. Equal ly often, perhaps, the self-interest of the traditional leadership overrode that of the tribe as a whole. On occasions an overriding national interest was forced on the tribe by the central autocracy from Khartoum.

The importance of these raies and these factors is now diminished but the tribe still acts, however, as the spatial and cultural unit. Tribal cohesion and self-expression is maintained in:

  • retaining the nominal right to the "dar'' (in spite of the fact that Government considers all land without individual or formai legal tille to be the property of the state no tribal land has yet been expropriated without priority going to the indigenous population - the case of the Rufa'a el Hoi and mechanized farming has already been cited, the New Halfa scheme was nominally developed to resettle the Nubians but the Shukriya and associated tribes occupy almost half of its area, and most tenancies in the Gash and Baraka schemes have been allotted to tenants from the Beja tribes, with some distinction of the rich among the tribespeople;
  • development of water sources by astute representation on boards controlling district, regional and national development plans;
  • provision of services and infrastructure by obtaining budgetary allocations;
  • improved livestock, especially veterinary, services and especially for the major epidemics such as rinderpest;
  • continued representation on political and decision making bodies at ail levels and perhaps especially on the Livestock and Meat Marketing Corporation;
  • . reinstatement recently (1991) of native administration with tribal chiefs given full administrative, judicial and taxation powers over their domains
  • and continuing the tradition of convening tribal conferences.
The sub-tribe

The sub-tribe operates in much the same manner as the tribe, with the various factions attempting to maintain their rights and privileges or to usurp those of others. As for the tribe, some cohesion has been lost and not least, here also, because individual interest is assuming dominance over that of the group. Sub-tribal groups are often in the anomalous situation of collaborating while competing. Collaborating to keep out people and interests not of the tribe and competing for influence and affluence within the tribe. The contributions of the sub-tribe to the organization of production are:

  • guarding rights to grazing, water and cultivation areas through local leadership and local courts;
  • settlement of disputes arising tram conflicts of interest;
  • organizing grazing movements and timing, by the use of scouts, and especially in the rains, by monitoring pasture condition and sources of water;
  • protecting people and property at critical times by group action (e.g. in the case of cattle theft, but this traditional response and the resort to arms is looked upon with more and more disfavour by higher authorities);
  • helping to maintain services in the group area; . representation at the local level.


Sociopolitical Organization

Political Organization. Traditionally, each Baggara camp is led by a shaykh (pl. shuyukh ). Although sons tend to inherit the position from their fathers, adult male members of a camp must agree on a man to fill the position. The shaykh's power is essentially limited to his being a spokesperson for the consensus decision of the male members of the camp, although he may wield considerable influence, owing to his wisdom and economic status. In 1911, during Turkish rule in Sudan, two additional political positions were introducted: nazir (pl. nuzara ) and ʿomda (pl. umad ). Nuzara were placed as the leaders of main tribal sections. Within each main tribal sec-tion, further divisions ( khushum beyut ; sing, khashm beyt ) are headed by umad.

Social Control. One administrative role of a shaykh is to assist in tax collection. Nuzara have courts at which suits are heard from their own sections. Umad are arbitrators in disputes within their omodiyat (sing, omodiya ). If the ʿomda fails to arbitrate to the satisfaction of both parties, the suit goes to one of the courts. The most serious disputes heard by the ʿomda are those involving homicide, in which settlement may involve negotiation and payment of a blood debt. Less serious disputes within a camp are handled by persuasive discussion by the shaykh, the elders, and the other senior men. Sometimes disputes arise between herders and farmers, particularly when cattle destroy crops. In such cases, the injured farmer has the right to impound the cattle in question. Then, he and the owners meet, perhaps under the men's tree, to negotiate a suitable fine. Once the fine has been paid, the cattle are released.

Conflict. In former times, the Baggara were participants in cattle and slave raids and in various military alliances with the sultanates. Today several of the Baggara tribes are involved in the ongoing Sudanese civil war, particularly in South Kordofan, and often find themselves caught between government and rebel forces.


Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Baggara are Muslims, and they observe the Five Pillars of Islam: the declaration of faith, the five daily prayers, almsgiving, fasting, and the pilgrimage to Mecca. Many Baggara men, and some women, manage to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. Since the mid-1980s, men have used the pilgrimage to Mecca as an opportunity to seek wage labor, often staying a year or two beyond the pilgrimage to work before returning home.

Ceremonies. In conjunction with or in addition to religious celebrations, Baggara celebrate life-stage transitions. Marriage and the various stages toward it are the occasions for important celebrations for both men and women. The various marriage celebrations (betrothal, marriage, moving residence) all include feasting and dancing, which provide courting opportunities for young people. Circumcision is important for both boys and girls. Giving birth is also cause for celebration. Many occasions are found for communal feasting, such as unexpected good fortune, the arrival of a visitor, the return of someone from a trip, or the condolence visitations after a death.

Arts. Baggara decorative arts are integral with the making of various practical items. Some of the mats they make, for example, may be plain, but others are quite colorful, with geometric designs woven into the fabric. Leather bags may have decorative stitching, and many containers, whether of basketry or gourds, have long leather fringe as decoration. Older Baggara women have decorative facial scarification, whereas younger women sometimes have tattoos, particularly on their lips. Women's hair braiding can also be most elaborate. Baggara are traditionally known for their poetry and songs, which are composed by both men and women to celebrate or narrate events. Baggara men participate in wrestling matches and often spend a great deal of time decorating their costumes and their bodies for the events.

Medicine. Today Baggara people seek medical care in a variety of settings, including clinics run by nurse practitioners, doctors' clinics, and hospitals. Because many of them frequently live long distances from such clinics, traditional medicine is also still important. Some men are well known as bonesetters; older women serve as midwives. A few Baggara women have been trained in Traditional Birth Attendant programs so that they can incorporate modern techniques into their midwifery practices. The use of modern medicine is also important to Baggara animal husbandry. Men often seek the services of government veterinarians, or they may purchase and administer various veterinary medications themselves. These practices are important in the prevention of animal diseases such as bovine pleuropneumonia.

Death and Afterlife.

Funerary practices accord to the Islamic stipulation that burial take place within twenty-four hours of death. An elder man or woman prepares the body for burial. After burial, many people come to visit the bereaved, and there is often a night-long vigil on the night of the death. Women mourners greet the bereaved with ritualized wailing, which includes a praise litany about the deceased. A forty-day mourning period is observed by both the men and the women who are close relatives of the deceased. This period may be more restrictive for a man, however, who may stay—with little activity and without shaving—under the men's sun shelter, where he receives visitors. The end of the forty-day mourning period is celebrated with a feast.