Baggara and Abbala Arabs
Total population
(Numbering over 6 million)
Regions with significant populations
Chadian Arabic, Sudanese Arabic
Predominantly Sufi Islam
Related ethnic groups
All Bedouin groups, Africans, Chadian, Arabs, Guhayna
Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Baggāra.

The Baggāra are a grouping of Arab ethnic groups inhabiting the portion of Africa's Sahel mainly between Lake Chad and southern Kordofan, numbering over one million.[5] They are known as Baggara in Sudan,[6] and as Shuwa/Diffa Arabs in Chad and West Africa. Their name derives from the Arabic word (Arabic: بقارة) literally meaning "cattle herder".[7]

They have a common language, Shuwa Arabic, which is one of the regional varieties of Arabic. 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.[7]

The political use of term "baggara" 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 Fur, Nuba and Fallata) with other Arab tribes of western Sudan (mainly Guhayna), as opposed to Bedouin Abbala Arab 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.

Origins and divisions

The origin of the Baggara is undetermined. According to a 1994 research paper, the group arose in Chad from 1635 onwards through the fusion of an Arabic speaking population. 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. [8]

Baggara tribes in Sudan include the Rizeigat, Ta’isha, Beni Halba, and Habbaniya in Darfur, and the Messiria Zurug, Messiria Humur, Hawazma, and Awlad Himayd in Kordofan, and the Beni Selam on the White Nile. For complete and accurate account about Baggara tribes, see: Baggara of Sudan: Culture and Environment. The Misseiria of Jebel Mun speak a Nilo-Saharan language, Miisiirii, related to the Tama of their traditional neighbors.

The small community of "Baggara Arabs" in the southeastern corner of Niger is known as Diffa Arabs for the Diffa Region. They occupy the shore of Lake Chad and migrated from Nigeria since World War II. Most of the Diffa Arabs claim descent from the Mahamid clan of Sudan and Chad.[9]


Baggara belt
Arab horseman photographed by French Colonials, at Dékakiré, Chad. c.1910s. From L'Afrique Équatoriale Française: le pays, les habitants, la colonisation, les pouvoirs publics. Préf. de M. Merlin. (published 1918).

The Baggara of Darfur and Kordofan were the backbone of the Mahdist revolt against Turko-Egyptian rule in Sudan in the 1880s. The Mahdi's second-in-command, the Khalifa Abdallahi ibn Muhammad, was himself a Baggara of the Ta'aisha tribe. During the Mahdist period (1883–98) tens of thousands of Baggara migrated to Omdurman and central Sudan where they provided many of the troops for the Mahdist armies.

After their defeat at the Battle of Karari in 1898, the remnants returned home to Darfur and Kordofan. Under the British system of indirect rule, each of the major Baggara tribes was ruled by its own paramount chief (nazir). Most of them were loyal members of the Umma Party, headed since the 1960s by Sadiq el Mahdi.

The main Baggara tribes of Darfur were awarded "hawakir" (land grants) by the Fur Sultans in the 1750s. As a result, the four largest Baggara tribes of Darfur—the Rizeigat, Habbaniya, Beni Halba and Ta’isha—have been only marginally involved in the Darfur conflict. However, the Baggara have been deeply involved in other conflicts in both Sudan and Chad. Starting in 1985, the Government of Sudan armed many of the local tribes among them the Rizeigat of south Darfur and the Messiria and Hawazma of neighboring Kordofan as militia to fight a proxy war against the Sudan People's Liberation Army in their areas. They formed frontline units as well as Murahleen, mounted raiders that attacked southern villages to loot valuables and slaves. [10]

The Baggara people (and subgroups) were armed by the Sudanese government to participate in the counterinsurgency against the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army. The first attacks against villages by the Baggara were staged in the Nuba Mountains. The Sudanese government promoted attacks by promising the Baggara people no interference so they could seize animals and land. They formed the precursors to the Janjaweed - an infamous para-military.[11]

During the Second Sudanese Civil War thousands of Dinka women and children were abducted and subsequently enslaved by members of the Missiriya and Rezeigat tribes. An unknown number of children from the Nuba tribe were similarly abducted and enslaved.[12] In Darfur, a Beni Halba militia force was organized by the government to defeat an SPLA force led by Daud Bolad in 1990-91. However, by the mid-1990s the various Baggara groups had mostly negotiated local truces with the SPLA forces. The leaders of the major Baggara tribes declared that they had no interest in joining the fighting.


  1., "Although the most recent census, conducted in 2008, puts Darfur’s popu- lation at 7.5 million, the NCP of President Omar al Bashir insisted that tribe and religion be omitted from the database, reportedly for fear that Sudan would no longer be defined as an Arab, Islamic state. Estimates of the Arab population of Darfur range from 30 per cent, based on the census of 1956, to the 70 per cent claimed by Arab tribal leaders in a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in September 2007. Given that many Arabs from Chad have settled in Darfur in the last several decades, and that the rate of migration to Sudan’s more developed centre is higher among non-Arabs, who are less dependent on pastoralism, a figure of 40 per cent is probably closer to the mark."
  2., cumulative total of Arab communities
  5. Baggara of Sudan: Culture and Environment - Culture, Traditions and Livelihood by Biraima M Adam
  6. Adam, Biraima M. 2012, p. 17.
  7. 1 2 Owens 1993, p. 11.
  8. deWaal and Flint 2006.
  9. DeCalco 1979.
  10. International Crisis Group 2007, p. 2.
  11. Flint, J. and Alex de Waal, 2008 (2nd Edn), Darfur: A new History of a Long War, Zed Books.
  12. United States Department of State, 2008


Further reading

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 10/24/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.