The Mahdist State in the Sudan, 1881-1898

The Mahdist State in the Sudan, 1881-1898

The Mahdist State in the Sudan, 1881-1898

The Mahdist State in the Sudan, 1881-1898

Excerpt

Before the later eighteenth century the territories forming the modern Republic of the Sudan were almost unknown to Europeans. The dwellers in Egypt and Africa north of the Sahara were hardly better acquainted with these vast regions except through the caravans which annually made their way northwards to Upper Egypt or to Cairo, bringing gold and gum, ivory and ebony and, above all, slaves. The books of three travellers gave Europe a detailed if incomplete picture of the Sudan. James Bruce in 1790 described his journey by the Nile from Abyssinia to Aswān, during which he visited the court of the Funj sultan of Sennar. In 1800 William George Browne published an account of his journey to Darfur and residence there when the Fūr sultanate was at the height of its power. In 1813 and 1814 the Swiss traveller, John Lewis Burckhardt, went up the main Nile as far as Shandī and then crossed the eastern Sudan to Suakin.

The name of the Sudan was not in those days applied to the whole of the territories through which these travellers passed. From the First Cataract of the Nile, south of Aswān, to the Sixth or al-Sabalūqa Cataract, north of the junction of the Blue and White rivers, was the region known as Nubia (Bilād al-Nūba), which thus extended on both sides of the modern EgyptianSudanese frontier at Wādī ḥalfā. Nubia was not a unified state but consisted of a series of petty tribal monarchies, strung out along the river but with no depth away from the strip of cultivable land. South of this lay the eastern portion of the Sudan proper (Bilād al-Sūdān), 'the Land of the Blacks' of the medieval Muslim geographers or the 'Nigritia' of some eighteenth- and nineteenthcentury European writers. Within this region lay the decadent Funj sultanate with its capital at Sennar on the Blue Nile. In the west was the rival sultanate of Darfur, the outlier of a chain of trans-Saharan Muslim principalities stretching across Africa on the border between Arab and African cultures. The term 'Sudan' in its full sense includes the whole of this great belt of territory, extending from the Red Sea to the Atlantic. In this work it will be used in the restricted sense of the Sudanese territories which in . . .

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