Sinyar are the members of a minor ethnic minority in Chad and Sudan (West Darfur). Most speak Sinyar, a Nilo-Saharan language, as well as Chadian Arabic and Fur. They are Muslims and culturally Fur.

Sinyar People

Introduction / History

The Sinyar are a Muslim people living in Chad and Sudan at the confluence of three seasonal rivers—the Wadi Azum, Wadi Kaja, and Wadi Salih. They cali themselves the Shamya, a name taken from their assumed common ancestor.

The Sinyar population exceeds 30,000 people; they live in forty villages, half in Chad and half in Sudan. The main Sinyar settlement is at Foro Boranga. Sinyar oral tradition traces their origins to Arabs in Egypt, but they maintain kinship and coresidence with the Berti.

The Sinyar are not Arabs. The northern Sudanese Arabs see them as inferiors. Most Sinyar people have only known war and violence for their entire lives.

Non-Sinyars in the area reject this notion of Sinyar origins, claiming that the Sinyars are descendants of non Muslim slaves.

For centuries, the Sinyars have been organized into semi-independent, tribute-paying sultanates. They were subject to the Keira Sultanate of Dar Fur until 1863 and then to the Daju Sultanate of Dar Sila. The Sinyar homeland was overrun by a Turko-Egyptian army in 1879, and, in 1881, the slave trader Babikr Zibeir made inroads there. Sultán Abu Risha of Dar Sila invaded in 1882, and Mahdist troops arrived several years later. With the border settlement of 1924 between the French and the British, the international fron- tier between Chad and the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan split the Sinyars between two political administrations.

In recent years, the Sinyars have faced environmental and political challenges. Much of the Sinyar región is infested with the tsetse fly, and several decades of drought have forced population movements northward. Increasing human populations have brought about deforestation and severe declines in local wild- life populations. In addition, the severe civil wars in Chad in the late 1970s and 1980s forced large numbers of Sinyar refugees to seek tranquility across the border in Sudan. Most Sinyars today are farmers, raising grains or herding cattle.

Economy and life

The Sinyar make their living by agriculture and animal husbandry. The Sinjar people depend on rain for their crops and animals. Unfortunately, drought is common in the Sahel Desert in North Africa. When the crops do not receive sufficient rain, the Sinyar and their animals may starve. Malnutrition and disease are rampant among the Sinyar. Many children do not live to see their 12th birthday.

Some Sinyar men have left their families and work in Egypt or the Gulf countries, sending money home to their families. The Sinyar has an oral culture. Few can read or write. Some boys go to Muslim schools to learn the Koran and Arabic. A tiny group of wealthy Sinyar can send their sons to Khartoum or even Europe to get a formal education. These educated men become the administrators and representatives of the Sinyar regions.

The government of Sudan has persecuted the Sinyar people in Sudan so that many have fled to Chad for safety.

There are few, if any, believers among the Sinyar. At present, there are no Scriptures or radio programs in their language of Sinyar.



The Sinyar live in village compounds. Walls of rocks, earth and wood keep out the lions, hyenas, and robbers. Sinyar houses are round and between 15-20 feet in diameter. Each village has a male chief who makes judicial decisions and deals with outsiders. Men spend their time taking care of animals and growing crops. They raise cattle, camels, goats, and sheep. These provide meat, dairy products, wool, and hides. The Sinyar grow peanuts, millet, sorghum, melons, onions, and other vegetables. Women help in the fields and care for their children. Although the Koran forbids drinking alcohol, the Sinyar brew, drink and sell their beer made from millet. Women supplement their family's diet by gathering berries, honey and grasses. Men hunt birds and antelope.


Men may have up to four wives if they can afford them. Most men have one wife. Children, especially sons, are viewed as blessings from Allah. Many children die before reaching adulthood. Sinyar men and women have as many children as they can. Grown children have the responsibility of taking care of their parents.