My memories in Kutum the capital city of the North Darfur rural council
By Dr. Mahmoud A. Suleiman
I am writing about the town of Kutum from a very different perspective than the disastrous events and atrocities continued plaguing the people of Sudan in Darfur and related to the issue/crisis of the region that I wrote about in my previous articles and books. This time I try to retrieve my memories in that town where I received my Primary Education at a time educational opportunities were scarce in the Darfur Province generally and North Darfur in particular. In this regard, I shall give a description of the town of Kutum where I started my education in the late fifties of the twentieth century.
At the time, Darfur was referred to as the Province of Darfur like anyone of the Nine Provinces of Sudan that included (Khartoum, Kassala, Kordofan, Northern, Blue Nile, Bahrel Ghazal, Equatoria, and Upper Nile). That was the administrative system since the days of the Anglo-Egyptian colonial rule. On the other hand, Darfur Province was divided administratively into Six Districts that included the North Darfur District, Kutum being the capital, South Darfur District, Nyala was the capital; West Darfur District, Zalingei was the capital, East Darfur District, UmKaddada was the capital, City Council and the outskirts District of El Fasher, El-Fasher was the capita and Dar Masalit, Geneina was the capital. Dar Masalit had a special status for its geographical location in the Western borders of Sudan with Chad and/or Geopolitical historical reasons. Accordingly, Geneina (Dar Masalit) had instead of a District Inspector a District Commissioner, Arabic Mutamad.
Wadi Kutum, like a seasonal River divides the Kutum town into two parts north and south separating it into two halves each one on one of the two banks. The wadi flows from south to north with abundant water during the rainy season while dries and depleted of water in summer time as a dry riverbed. On the western bank of the Wadi, one finds the main town centre, residential neighbourhoods, Kutum boys Elementary School, Kutum Girls Elementary School, the mosque. The section of the town on the south bank is located between the Wadi and the mountain dome, which overlooks the city and includes a number of residential neighbourhoods, government offices and the Dispensary, the only healthcare facility that provided Healthcare for the Residents of the Town and its suburbs, the courthouse, police station and the prison. Mount Qubba in the skyline is where people believed the presence of the Dome- the mausoleum – of Sheikh Saleh, a Holy man.
“كتمKutum, in olden days was a market town, in North Darfur Province about 120 kilometres (75 miles) northwest of El-Fasher. It is about 988 kilometers ( 677 miles) away from the capital of Sudan, Khartoum. People occasionally refer to Kutum as bride of North Darfur for the natural beauty of its geographical location along Wadi Kutum” surrounded by hills linked to the mountainous series of Jebel Marra massive and Jebel Si. Kutum, nicknamed bride of North Darfur, is one of the most beautiful cities in the former Darfur region in terms of the nature and the environment.
See page 27: My book titled “The Autobiography I wrote Begins at a Zaghawa Village in Darfur”, and Wikipedia quote reference
The town of Kutum is, renowned for its moderate weather that tends to be cooler throughout the year and shady tree-lined green beside the lush gardens and towering palm trees.
Moreover, wells water of the city of Kutum considered the sweetest and healthiest compared to other localities in the Darfur Province and only comparable to it the water of UmKaddada town in the Eastern Darfur Province. Neighborhoods in the Town of Kutum, the capital of North Darfur rural council include Dababeen, Zareeba, Kamboot, Mangming, Hilat Kujjay, and Karanik.
The undistorted civil administration institution before its liquidation by the successive regimes at the time played pivotal role to keep society’s cohesion without oppression
Many tribal groups and ethnicities lived in harmony and peaceful coexistence in the town since time immemorial. The main tribal groups under Kutum District administration, to name a few, were: Tunjur, Berti, Kanein, Fur, Zaghawa and Arab nomadic tribes of Mahariya under the chiefdom of Sheikh Dood Mahdi, Jalloul under the chiefdom of Sheikh Hilal Mohammed Abdalla, Iteifat under the chiefdom of Sheikh Abdalla Jadalla, Ereigat, Zayadia under the chiefdom of Sheikh Juju and Sheikh Rabeh and Beni Hussein under the chiefdom of Sheikh/Nazir Adam Hamid.
Now we come to the circumstances that made me come to the city of Kutum in North Darfur for the first time in my life.
I was one of the few lucky pupils to find a place in Kutum Elementary school during the colonial latter years of the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium era that jointly administered Sudan by Great Britain and Egypt since 1898 out of the ruins of the Turko-Egyptian sphere of influence and the theocratic Mahdist state. For how that happened, there was a story! During the period of time I am writing about, for a pupil to move from a Sub-Grate school to the very few Elementary schools in the Northern District of Darfur Province was dependent upon the recommendation of the native administration leader of the locality (traditional tribal leader). To the surprise and disappointment of my father, I was unlucky; not selected to go to Kutum Elementary School. Here my father made the unusual step and decided to take me to Kutum without going through the unwritten traditional system. At the time, there were no means of transport from Dar-Zaghawa to any parts of the District other than on camel’s back.
Travel to the town of Kutum was a monumental task and used to take about five to seven days on the back of a camel. We finally arrived in the town of Kutum on board of a pickup truck belonged to the Rural Council of North Darfur after two days. We stayed as guests in the house of an old friend and a relative of my father. Next morning, my earnest father decided to take me to the school to present his case about me to the authorities. He managed to meet the Headmaster Abdelmajid Ahmed al-Zein who was originally from a village in the Gezira-Managil-Irrigation Agricultural Scheme (GMAS) that started in 1924. The Managil extension scheme started in (1957); opened in 1963. The Headmaster Abdelmajid was a kind, respectful and considerable man who accepted my enrollment in the first year of his primary school in Kutum. Obviously, my father was jubilant full of great joy, as it was feared that the school principal might refuse to accept me in his school, which would make him feel disappointed in addition to his fears of gloating people upon his return to Tina in vain.
Although I was very happy for joining Kutum Elementary school similar to my father, I wished if I were enrolled in the second year class instead as I found out that my knowledge base was beyond the level of first year grade. Two days later and at the peak of my boredom, I decided to adventure going to the Headmaster conveying my concerns and I did. The headmaster was very impressed by my boldness and took me to the Second grade class during the mathematics lesson. The teacher was the Deputy Headmaster Ustaz Ahmed Abu al-basher. He was from UmKaddada, which was renowned for its educated sons and daughters the majority of whom engaged in the noble profession of education and taught several generations of sons and daughters of the Darfur Province.
UmKaddada was the capital town for the Eastern Darfur Rural Council. The Headmaster Mr. Abdelmajid Ahmed al-Zein requested the permission of his deputy Ahmed Abu al-Basher to accommodate me for a trial in the class to see whether my claims for excellence would breed true or not. To the surprise of Mr. Abu al-Basher, I managed to resolve the Arithmetical problems written on the blackboard with the correct answers in a short time scale and before the rest of the students finish their solutions to the simple mathematical calculations that involved addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. With that impressive presentation, I secured my position in the second year class, at the sought-after Kutum Elementary School, in July 1952.
My father purchased new colourful clothes included a blue jallabiya (Arabic: الجلابية) with a turned over collar and a head cap along with locally made pair of leather shoes (markup) for me. My father took me to the barber, El-Haj Senusi to have my hair cut in a fashionable and trendy form, referred to as Tiffah or Kurray locally! I secured a space in the dormitory of the boarding school (Boarding House) for my bed by the warden, as majority of the pupils from outside Kutum several miles away from their home villages. The catering staff at the school fed us reasonably well with morning milk tea, Asida breakfast, Kisra lunch and another Asida at supper.
The day at the school starts with Gymnastics coached by a young teacher Zein al-Abideen Mahmoud, he was also from UmKaddada. Five lessons forty-Five minutes each followed and break in between every two lessons and of course breakfast after the first two lessons. In the afternoon, we played football on the gravel-sandy football course east of the school. In the evenings students entertain themselves by some drama, poetry chanting (Inshād) competition called Dobeit (الدوبيت), kind of distich and folklore. The pupils were from diverse tribal groups and cultural backgrounds. Pupils to Kutum Elementary School came from all over the Northern Darfur District, from Dar-Zaghawa: Tina, Kornoi, Fourawiya, Umbaru, Muzbat, Umharaz, Anka, Dour and Deesa. Other pupils came from Fatta Borno, Korma, Jebel See, Kebkabiya, Hamra, Kofout, Foolu, Wadi Bowah, Kassab, Malha and of course from the different quarters of the town of Kutum such as Dababeen, Mangming, Zareeba, Hillat Kuggai and al-Karanick. I remember the names and the places of some of my fellow students. They include:
Hamid al-Tayeb Salih, Mohammadain al-Tigani Al-Tayeb Salih, Ahmed Mahmoud al-Tayeb Salih, Yousif Hassaballa Salih “Nicknamed police Kornoi”, Abdullahi Ahmed Bosh, Ibrahim Zubeir Ismail Abdurrahman, Abdurrahman Jabaralla from Kornoi; Abdurrahman (Tilay Bosbos!) from Anka; Ali Muhammadow Adam Sabi, Abdurrahman Muhammadow Adam Sabi, Mukhtar Muhammadow Adam Sabi, Sharif Mohammadain Adam Sabi, Mohamed Kheir Mohammadain Adam Sabi, Ali Mohammadain Adam Sabi, Ibrahim Mohammadain Adam Sabi, Mohammadain Ali Mohammadain Adam Sabi, Mustafa Ali Mohammadain Adam Sabi, Mohamed Kheir Salih Mohammadain Adam Sabi, Yagoub Hamad, Mustafa Awad from Umbaru; Idriss Jamma from Um Haraz; Issa Tahir Nurain, Mohamed Adam Tahir Nurain, Tigani Adam Tahir Nurain, Hamid Manna Mohmed, Abdullahi Hassan, Mohmed Hassan (Bangussu), Ishag Ali Hassan, Abdelbagi Osman from al-Dour; Siddiq Mohamed Ibrahim Abdelfagara, Omer Mohamed Ibrahim Abdelfagara, Salahuddin Abulfatah, Mustafa Karamelddin, Ahmed Ali Kuway Ahmed, Abdurrahman Ali Hussein (Kajjam), Mohamed Ali Abdelmajid, Mohmed Abdalla Zurgu, Hassan Zayed, Abdullahi Imam, Mohmed Ali Foolu, AttalMannan Hussein Ramadan and his late brother Hamza Hussein Ramadan from Kutum; Hamza al-Magdoom Yousif, Abdullatif Adam Mahmoud, Adam Ahmed Nimair from Fatta Borno; Mohamed Abdalla Osman (Sabi Korma) from Korma; Musa Younis from Kebkabiya; Mohmed Hassan Kunjouk from Jebel Si; Haroun Harin, al-Sayir Bargawi from Sireif; Mohmed Abdalla Jadalla, Mohmed Ali Itaifie, Balila Haj Mukarram, Hassaballa Ajeena, Mahdi al-Dood, Jamma Omer Fayig from Khirait and many others whom I cannot recall and the space is not enough to accommodate!
During the period I have been trying to document modern education was reluctantly extended solely to sons of tribal chiefs (Tribal Chiefs in the Native Administration), a policy adopted by the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium. The school administration allowed pupils on Fridays to go to the town centre on foot, as there were no such things as public transport. Even our teachers Ahmed Abu al-Bashar, Abdullahi Al-Sheikh (Nicknamed Koshoma), Zein al-Abideen Mahmoud, Abu-al-Basher Yousif including the Headmaster Abdelmajid Ahmed al-Zein walked to the town. The School term used to extend from July to March after which pupils leave headway to their home villages and hamlets on holidays.
The Rural Council of North Darfur, which belonged to the Local Governments’ Authorities administratively, granted travel allowance for pupils from Kutum to and from pupils’ native homelands. The Rural Council authorities granted the Pupils travel warrants that they take to the travel agent at the time Mr. Mohammed Ibrahim Abdelfagara nicknamed Gurja. Either the agent rent a camel or number of camels for a group of students going to same destination otherwise the pupil was paid cash calculated according to the distance in days on a camel back of the student’s destination. The distance from Kutum to Tina from where I came judged as seven days. The daily rent of a camel was equivalent to twenty piasters! One Sudanese pound (LS) was one hundred Piasters, a very strong currency at the time. One Sudanese pound used to be equivalent to about three US Dollars or so! We were six pupils from Tina at Kutum Elementary School in 1953.
Our group included Bushara Omer Tom, Abdurrahman Bushara Dousa, Omer Dousa Abdurrahman, Hashim Fadul Tom Abdurrahman, Hussein Yahiya Hamid and Mahmoud Abbaker Suleiman. We were very close to each other by virtue of being kin and partly we had to stick together to defend each other against some older students who used to bully us individually. By the way, it seemed there was no clear age limit of the pupils. I am not exaggerating when I report that there were few senior students at the school who were reported to have been married and had children. Most of those lucky enough to find a place in an Elementary school usually belonged to the ruling families in the native administration; probably had preferential treatment for acceptance in the school through mediation and nepotism.
The journey from Kutum to Tina after the school holiday was another task to endure. If fortunate, pupils might find a space on a vehicle belonging to the Local Council leaving to the Dar-Zaghawa, if the driver would agree to take them on the truck. I remember the driver named Abdurrahman, nicknamed (Abdurrahman Dageeg). He was a large sized tuff formidable man who had the absolute authority on whether agree or not to agree to allow people on board his truck. However, he was reasonable with pupils whom he used to refer to them as “Troublesome creatures الطلبة الغلبة” alluding to the predominance of students involved in protests and riots in the process of bringing political changes in the country.
The town of Kutum with its impressive beauty and broad sandy seasonal river-like valley (Wadi Kutum) that separated it into two parts east and west impressed me considerably. Rocky hills and mountains from all its sides except the eastern quarter surrounded the town. During the rainy season, headwater tributaries of the sand filled Wadi Kutum carry loads of water, sometimes though ephemeral but with strong stream which made crossing hazardous. I recall a classmate who lived in the hamlet called Zareeba who, sadly, drowned while attempting to cross to come to school from its eastern bank.
Gone by the good old days; my cherished memories remained through the decades!
Dr. Mahmoud A. Suleiman is an author, columnist and a blogger. His blog is thussudan