The Rezaigat Camel Nomads of the Darfur Region of Western Sudan: From Co-Operation to Confrontation

By Mohammed, Adam | Nomadic Peoples, December 2004 | Go to article overview

The Rezaigat Camel Nomads of the Darfur Region of Western Sudan: From Co-Operation to Confrontation


Mohammed, Adam, Nomadic Peoples


Introduction

The Rezaigat camel nomads live on the fringes of northern Darfur. They are part of the larger Rezigat tribe, the majority of whom are cattle nomads who occupy the southern part of the Darfur region. The Rezigat camel nomads are divided into five subclans: the Mahameed, the Mahriyya, the Iraigat, the Itaifat and Aulad Rashid. Each clan has its system of tribal leadership with an 'nazi' at the top of the administrative hierarchy (Waha locality records). In addition to these five major subclans, there are two smaller subclans, the Shattiyya and Mahadi who have no independent leadership structure.

The Rezaigat camel nomads present a rather unique pattern of nomadism and nomadic behaviour. First, their number is quite small: Their 'Waha' locality records estimate their number as being only 240,000. They can be located in five camp centres locally known as dammers, constituting a small area of the arid region of northern Darfur. Second, they are among the very few pastoralists in the region who continue with the mobile tradition of migrating in search of pasture and water for their herds. Most former pastoralists in the region have become sedentary or transhumant. For instance, since the 1950s most of the cattle nomads here have become sedentary peasants, and 'only a minority still carries out seminomadic cycles of transhumance, between dry season and wet season pastures' (Braukamper 2000). The Rezaigat camel nomads retain this pattern of nomadism, and this has recently brought them into violent conflicts over land use with many peasants. Indeed, they are now the community most involved in the ongoing ethnic (Arab/non-Arab) violent conflict in the peasant homelands locally known as Gabila dars.

Thirdly, their hostile attitude towards other ethnic communities is a rather recent development. Historically they had not been part of the raids and counter raids that characterised the life of other camel herders to be found in the same ecozone, which extends all the way from the Nile in the east to the Ennedi Mountains in present day Chad (see Beck 1996). Until the end of the 1960s, they had even been hailed for demonstrating a relationship of co-operation and mutual benefit with all the settled farmers in whose dars camel nomads looked for pasture and water. This prompts the question of why such a docile ethnic community should suddenly become hostile towards its neighbours and get involved in violent conflicts?

This report tries to answer this question and examines the settlement option for the Rezaigat camel nomads. The report is divided into three parts: a background to the Darfur region and the modes of living of its population; discussion of the camel nomads' change from a life of co-operation to one of confrontation; and finally, the examination of the settlement option. It concludes with some general remarks and policy recommendations.

Background

Pastoralists' life and involvement in conflict in Darfur cannot be clearly understood without reference to the ecozones occupied by them and by settled farmers. For practical purposes, an effective central control of pastoralists has been possible only since the 1920s, when Anglo-Egyptian rule completed its policy of pacification vis-a-vis the pastoral nomads in western Sudan. These nomads had been and still are occupying two distinct strips of land in the extreme north and extreme south of western Sudan.

Beck (1996) describes the northern ecozone prior to the colonial completion of effective pacification of nomadic groups as extending all the way from the Nile in the east to the Ennedi Mountains (now northern Chad) in the west. The nineteenth century and the time before the 1920s are remembered as times of violence and lawlessness. Beck (1996: 74) quotes Harald MacMichael in one of his reports as saying that in: 'west Sodari the only law and only boundary was the sword'. Raiding and counter-raiding characteriised the life of the main groups that lived on this strip of land.

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