The Republic of the Sudan: a Regional Geography

By K. M. Barbour | Go to book overview

Chapter XIV
EASTERN SUDAN

EASTERN SUDAN is defined for the purposes of this work as the country lying to the east of the Blue Nile and to the north of the line of permanent villages and regular cultivation that runs approximately from Sennar through Gedaref to the valley of the Setit river (Fig. 81). To the north it follows the division between Desert and Semi-desert, as shown on the vegetation map, and so includes the whole of the Red Sea hills as far as the Egyptian frontier. The principal occupation of the inhabitants of the region is animal rearing (Fig. 84), but two important areas of irrigation are also included, while in many parts, where the mean annual rainfall is even less than 300 mm. (12 in.), a little speculative unirrigated agriculture occurs, some of it being remarkably successful.

The region forms the northern and central portions of Kassala Province, and includes several units, each possessing a distinctive personality and bearing a generally recognized name. These are the Butana, lying between the Nile and Atbara rivers, the Atbai, which is the Beja country lying to the west of the Red Sea hills and their continuation into Eritrea, the Red Sea hills themselves, and the Red Sea coastal plains. Just as none of these units is sufficiently populous to warrant its establishment as a separate province, so it has seemed best to describe them all in the same chapter.


THE BUTANA

The Butana is a gently undulating plain with a rather lower rainfall and better drainage than the Gezira. It lies too high for irrigation from the Nile and is too dry for regular rain-fed cultivation, but good grass growth and freedom from flies in the summer make it well suited to animal rearing. In the south and east it is covered with a dark, heavy clay soil, apparently formed in situ with a few granitic hills standing out as landmarks. In the northwest there is an extensive outcrop of the Nubian Series, giving reddish sandy and gravelly soils and dissected by several long drainage systems such as the Wadi el Hawad. In the centre there are hill-masses formed of various rocks of the Basement Complex, on which very mixed desert soils occur. In the extreme north, at the latitude of Atbara, the mean annual rainfall is barely 100 mm. (4 in.), but southwards it rises to as much as 400 mm. (16 in.), where the limit of cultivation is reached. There is a marked variety in the density of vegetation corresponding to variations in site, soil, and rainfall, with semi-desert scrub in the north-west, treeless grassy savannah in much of the centre, and some Acacia savannah in the south.

The west and south-west Butana are occupied by semi-nomadic tribes, Shukriya and other Arabs, who migrate short distances every year, and depend for their sustenance on animals and cultivation, although they sometimes work as cotton-pickers in the Gezira. In the centre there are other Shukriya, who are wholly nomadic, migrating long distances and depending almost entirely on their animals to support them. In the east, the Lahawin who live along the Atbara river are mainly animal-owners, but they also grow some grain and other crops.


The Western Butana

The villages of the western Butana are to be found along the Rahad and Dinder rivers and farther north opposite the irrigated Gezira. In the former area the inhabitants are chiefly of the Arab Kawahla tribe and of various mixed elements belonging to the Dar Bakr administration from Gedaref. Agriculture is the chief means of subsistence, unirrigated crops of dhura being usually successful, and the river banks are also cultivated as the rivers subside. The villagers also have important herds of cattle, sheep, and goats, which they send northwards into the drier parts of the Butana during the rains to escape the flies. The local grazing is

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