My memories of El-Geneina the Seat of the Dar Masalit Sultanate in the Darfur Province
By Mahmoud A. Suleiman
El-Geneina the Seat of the Sultanate of Dar Masalit
El Geneina, the capital of the Sultanate of Dar Masalit located on the banks of the great Valley (Wadi) Kaja. Moreover, this may have arisen after the Sultanate moved its capital from the ancient capital city of historical Dergail. Dergail was the first capital of the Sultanate of Dar Masalit (1870 -1920 AD). The Masalit have a unique administrative system linking the tribe with a strong bond that does not neglect any individual in the tribe. The administrative hierarchy is pyramid shaped. It begins at the top by the Sultan, who represents Summit. After the Sultan come in a descending order the Firshas- plural of Firsha-, Umdas, Damalij (singular Dimlij), Sheikhs, Khalifas (singular Khalifa) and Warang. This administrative system empowered the members of the tribe as one part of a heart, one powerful hand, and a cohesive group for collective responsibility. The distance between the country’s capital Khartoum and the city (El Geneina), capital of Dar Masalit is about 1200 km (745.7 miles). El-Geneina City is about 350 kilometres from El-Fasher and only 27 kilometres from the Chadian borders. It is located 800 metres above sea level.
A succession of Sultans came to the Sultanate of Dar Masalit in the following order; Sultan Hajjam Hassaballa, Sultan Ismail bin Abdul Nabi, Sultan Abbaker Ismail bin Abdul Nabi, Sultan Taj al-Din bin Sultan Ismail Abdul Nabi, Sultan Bahraddin bin Abbaker Ismail, Sultan Abdul Rahman bin Bahraddin (Andouka) and Sultan Saad bin Abdul Rahman Bahraddin. In times past, as history told, the Masalit were known as fierce warriors who fought hard battles such as Battle of Drouti that took place in 09. 11.1910 against the French troops and the Knights led by the Masalit Sultan Taj al-Din Ibn Ismail Ibn Abdul Nabi to protect their famous independence. Sultan Taj al-Din was martyred in the famous battle of Drouti. That was besides the famous battle of (Kerendenq), on 04. 01. 1910 in which the Masalit lost more than 7 thousand martyr: Masalit historians say, “If not for this fierce fighting that the Masalit fought against the French, we are currently part of Chad.”
The Masalit tribal group of Sudan is concentrated in the Dar Masalit (“home of Masalit”) District of the former Darfur Province. Dar Masalit had a special status compared to the former other five Districts of the Darfur Province; in that the top Administrator was referred to as Quartermaster (Arabic Mutamadمعتمد ) of Dar Masalit. Whereas the top Administrator in the other Districts was referred to as Inspector of a District. El Geneina Fort
At this juncture, it is worth mentioning and worth noting that the region known as the Dar Masalit constituted of other ancient civilized Native or Tribal Administrations, such as the Sultanate of Dar E-Gimir in the region of Kulbus, Dar Jebel Native Administration in Siliya, Native Administration of the Erenga tribe in Sirba and Girga Native Administration in Abu Sourouj. The colonial rule, the Condominium Colonization of Anglo – Egyptian in Sudan at the time imposed that reality to facilitate the rule of that the region, which borders Chad and Central African Republic with the extension of the same tribes across the geographical unmarked borders as those in Dar Masalit. At the time, those tribal groups in Chad were under French colonial power, which was the competitor to the English in the African Continent. Sudan’s western Province of Darfur was an independent sultanate until incorporated formally into greater Sudan in 1918 at the insistence of Britain. The book, by Ustaz Ibrahim Yahiya Abdul Rahman titled “Masalit” indicated that the tribal groups of Masalit Lived along the line stretching from Lake Chad to the west to Sudan borders with Ethiopia in the east. Masalit are present also in the South Darfur state in the areas of Gireida and Jughana, and in the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan, in the irrigated area of Gezira between the Blue and White Niles. Masalit also live in south and east of Gedaref State in the Eastern Sudan, and in the villages connected to the borders of Ethiopia. Three kingdoms in the region preceded the Masalit Sultanate, the kingdoms of the Dajo, Tunjur, and Fur.
A large Number of Neighborhoods and historical places form the city of El Geneina. They include Ardamata neighbourhood that accommodates most of the official Government Departments. The Valley or Wadi Kaja divides the City into two halves. Other neighbourhoods that form the city on Geneina include Neighborhood of Abbo Shatoot, Khour Jahannam, Deesa, Doutey, Dergail, Kerendenq, al-Tadamun, Naseem, Kifah, Imtidad (meaning extension), Thawra A and Thawra B , Schools Neighbourhood A and B, the Market Neighborhood and many others. And there is a milestone for the city of El Geneina – dubbed something ostentatious and boasting: “El-Geneina country and not the poor house!” Other important localities of Dar Masalit include Mesteray, Morney, Assirni, Aish Barrah, Habeela, Gokar, Fourubaranga, Kondobay, Arara and Jebel Moon. Several Valleys, known as Wadi, feed Wadi Kaja with rainwater during autumn such as Wadi Azoom and Wadi Baraiy.
Of the milestones of City of El-Geneina was the Palace built by Sultan Abdul Rahman Bahraddin on the top of the mountain, which overlooks the city. At the bottom of the Palace stays Lake Kellenqa and the Lush gardens and twigs. The Sultan Palace is located east of El Geneina Amireya Intermediate School for boys built in the fifties of the twentieth century, where many generations of students who came from all over the Directorate Darfur then studied! The Wadi Kaja is renowned for its high current and severe flooding during the rainy season leading into catastrophic drowning of nearby neighbourhoods destroying buildings and putting lives of inhabitants in risk.
The photo below is of Sultan Baharuddin (Endoka) bin Abbaker Ismaʿil of Dar Masalit, on arrival of Anglo-Egyptian Forces, 1916 – 1917. Endoka’s long reign (1910 -1951) spanned the period between the Fur Sultanate and Sudanese self-government.
Photos from the history of Sudan 1800-1956 Sultan Baharuddin Sultan Dar Masalit
Reference: Durham University Library 1/10/12.
Having given the background history of Dar Masalit and description of the City of El-Geneina, seat of the Masalit Sultanate, I report my memories of El-Geneina. I am writing about the town of El-Geneina 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 City where I received my Intermediate studeDarfur from where I come in particular. The first time feet stepped the soil of El-Geneina City in Dar Masalit day I arrived on the back of a camel , coming from Tina village in the far north west of the Sudan and administratively belonged to the North Darfur Rural Council, the District of north of the then Province of Darfur in the fifties of the twentieth century. I was one of the lucky eighty pupils found a place in one of the only two Intermediate Schools for the whole of the Darfur Province. The two Intermediate Schools at the time, one was in Nyala city and the other in El-Geneina.
The entry examination involved all the four-year curriculum of Elementary school level in arithmetic, geography, history, Arabic and religion. The entry examination into intermediate school in the 1950s was a competitive and nerve-wracking task, given the limited places at the only two schools of Nyala and Geneina compared to the huge number of candidates that amounts to about 1000 from all over Darfur Province. There were only eighty places for all the students to contest with each other. I was one of the fortunate to secure a place in Geneina Intermediate School. Three of my classmates from Kutum Elementary School were also accepted in Geneina with me. They were Mohmed Adam Tahir Nurain, from Door, Mohmed Kheir Mohammadain Adam Sabi, from Umbaru and Mohmed Abdalla Osman (Sabi Korma), from Korma. The rest of our classmates had to go back to repeat the year at Kutum and try again or seek other career prospects such as joining the School of Radio Signals Corps of the Sudanese Army where students learn communication and information systems or join the Institute of Religious Science.
The selection process was an arduous one too. The Examinations committee usually met following the marking of the examination answer papers of the candidates by the Nyala Intermediate schoolteachers. The applicants were role called and notified immediately of the results of their examination. Successful students had to undergo individual interviews by the Commission. The criteria for acceptance also included age cut off. Students older than 14 years will not be admitted to the Intermediate school even if they were successful in the examination. Instead, they were be given the chance to choose either the Elementary school Teacher Training Institute in Bakhta-Ruda, White Nile, Al-Jazeera Province or a place in a Technical Training School in al-Obeid, Kordofan Province.
A hike on Camelback from Tina to el-Geneina in west Darfur
Now that the vacation was over it was the time for me to pack up and pull away to school. Nevertheless, that requires much equipment, including how to get the vehicle, usually a camel, to take me to the town of El Geneina, hundreds of miles away from Tina.
The distance of a journey from Tina in Dar Zaghawa to El-Geneina on a camelback was usually estimated by days and nights rather than by miles or kilometers, as is the case today! The route of the voyage takes a tortuous course and goes through arid and semi-arid land permeated by plains and valleys and mountain ranges. Moreover, there are the villages, markets and areas where livestock owners and herders gather, which drinking water sources were usually such as wells, reservoirs and ponds. Camels, the beasts of burden as referred to, the ship of the desert as it nicknamed sometimes, are very cost effective vehicles since they need no frequent food or water during a long the journeys which made it easier for their owners and the passengers alike. Therefore, one does not require carrying fodder or water for a camel during a journey. Nevertheless, travelers on a camelback do need to take with them sufficient quantity of food and drink for the long hard travels. It is not surprising that Natives and Bedouins call the Camel “The gift of God” (“Ata Allah”).
Preparations made ready for me to make headway to al-Geneina to start my education at the public (Government) Intermediate School. Those were exciting moments of life for me. My father asked a close relative, who had planned to go to El-Geneina, a favour for giving me a lift on his camel. That person was Fadul Bajji, a benevolent cousin, who was an expert in the travel on the back of camels and had a wealth of knowledge of the region. My luggage and travel accessories were few besides being light weighted. The back of that camel had accommodated both of us as well as of our baggage. The luggage formed of pouches made of goatskin and a bag made of tin and a water bladder called girbah (قربة), a hose made from the entire skin of a goat, when filled with water it becomes moist and flexible keeping drinking water cool due to constant evaporation its contents. We set out for El-Geneina of Andouka Baharuddin, Sultan of pan Dar Masalit.
After trekking on the camelback from Tina, we stopped over in Tundubay Village to say hello to some relatives and for taking rest and recreation before setting towards the villages of Damanik and Jirjeera. Jirjeera was the seat of the Sheikhdom (Girgid) of the Ina-Kaira Clan of Zaghawa Kubé. We spent few hours in Jirjeera to meet with some kin living in the area. We loaded our camel with our luggage and traveled on our way to the town of Kulbus, which is the seat of the Sultanate of Gimir tribe. We passed by the Hilailat village near Kulbus and crossed Wadi Barday. At the time Sultan Hashim Idris was the leader and the Native Administrator of the Gimir Tribe in Dar Gimir, referred to as Dar Mow (ماو) by their Zaghawa Kobe neighbours. The ruling family in the Gimir Tribe is the in-laws for the Zaghawa Kubé clan in Tina because Sultan Dosa Abdurrahman married Mairam Nurelsham Sultan Idris, the mother of late Dr. Idris Dosa. They considered us as guests of honour and welcomed visitors. We stayed overnight and left at dawn towards Jebel Moon in Dar Jebel. After twelve hours journey we arrived at the town of Gauze Gina in Jebel Moon. Our host this time was Feke Ibrahim and we spent the night in his home. Feke Ibrahim, as his title Feke indicates, was an Islamic cleric, religious leader who as traditional Muslim scholar has practiced and learnt the Holy Qur’an in Arabic by rote memorization of all its 6666 verses. Feke Ibrahim was a good friend of our relatives in Tina. He used to visit Sultan Dosa now and again for Healing by the Qur’an. At that time, there were no health services in Dar Zaghawa. The people in those days had to travel either to Kutum or to El-Geneina to seek medical treatment when they get seriously ill; very few people could afford the cost. In the circumstances, they rely on traditional ways of healing such as herbal medicines, cautery, cupping, amulet and mahaya. Mahaya is the words of the verses of the Holy Qur’an written with special ink on a wooden tablet referred to as (Loah لوح). The wooden tablet then cleansed with water and the wiped out black solution is given to the patient to drink.
We decided to leave early in the morning from the town of Goz Ginno or Goz Minna and headed to Siliya, the seat town of Dar Jebel. The Native Administrator of the tribal group was Firsha Tairab. He was the leader of the Misseriya Jebel tribe. Jebel Moon is a mountainous region located in the northern corridor of Dar Masalit. On our way to El-Geneina we had passed and through many localities. They included hamlets, villages and small towns. Goz Ginno, Aro Sharow, Siliya, Jebel Moon, Saraf Jidad, Sirba, Abu Suruj, Kondobay, Dourti and Ardamata were important destinations. The northern corridor of Dar Masalit, now referred to as West Darfur covers a large territory stretching from Beer-Dageeg and Kondobay villages about 20 Km north of El-Geneina. El-Geneina to Kulbus is 200 KM. Mostly people from the Erenga and Misseriya Jebel tribes populate the area. Our Intermediate School was in Deesa in the western part of the El-Geneina City, very close to the Customs office. One finds very close to our Intermediate School existed the Quarantine for the isolation of people suspected of communicable diseases.
Our Intermediate School was a modern newly built on a spacious beautiful land escape neighbouring the Palace of Sultan Abdurrahman Bahraddin to the west. The Sultan’s Palace was on a top of a hill from where one can see all the town of El-Geneina and its surroundings. El Geneina, in West Darfur, was a little town, at the time, only 30kms from the eastern Chadian border town of Adre.
Mr. Hassan Bayoumi, from El-Dwaim in the White Nile district of Blue Nile Province was the Headmaster. Other teachers included our English teacher Ustaz Ahmed Abdelazim; History teacher Ustaz Hassan; Arabic and Religion teacher Mualana Sheikh Mustafa who was a graduate of al-Azhar in Cairo, Egypt; Geography teacher Ustaz Malik Haidoub from Khartoum; Mathematics teacher Ustaz Abdelwahid from Old Halfa in the Northern Province of Sudan; Ustaz Mahjoub Sakkoja from Omdurman and Ustaz Mahmoud Jaden nicknamed Wad Karmadodo the footballer from al-Mawrada neighbourhood of Omdurman and Ustaz Mubarak Hassan Khalifa, from Khartoum. Over those four years we had at the school many notable other teachers came and went whom one has all the respect and owe them respect and gratitude.
El-Geneina Intermediate School expected Good and disciplined behaviour at all times from the students. Nobody went outside the school grounds without a prior permission from the authorities. The permission to go out for the majority of the pupils who resided in the boarding houses only granted only by the in-house Tutor. Pupils went out on Fridays without permission to visit relatives or go to El-Geneina market, though the school admin expected back for the roll call at 6 pm.
My classmates came from diverse backgrounds and from all parts of the community across Darfur Province and from the whole country. The following is list of their names.
Abdurrahman Adam Salih from Mukjar
Mohammed Ahmed Imam from Kass
Abbaker Tambour from Arwalla
Adam Ibrahim El-Haj from Jebel Marra
Ahmed Ibrahim el-Haj from Shattaya in Jebel Marra
Ahmed Saleh Hamid from Zalingei
Mohamed El-Hassan Ahmed El-Mekki from Zalingei
Taj-elSir Mekki Abu-Zaid from Zalingei
Hassan Saad-eldin (Akal Dom) from Taweela
Mohmed El-Hassan Yagoub (Askoor) from Taweela
Ibrahim Musa from El-Fasher
Ibrahim Dawalbeit (Pillow) from Nyala
Idris Ahmed El-Haj (Kocko) from Malleet
Mohammed Ahmed Tibain from Malleet
El-Fadil Omer El-Bushari from Kabom
El-Sadiq Mohammed Hamid from Daein
El-Sadiq Mohamed Yusuf from UmKaddada
Abdurrahman El-Zaki from UmKaddada
Mohammed Adam Tahir Nurain from Dour
Mohammed Kheir Mohammadain Adam Sabi from Umbaru
Mahmoud Abbaker Suleiman from Tina
Mohammed Abdalla Osman (Sabi Korma) from Korma
Ali Abbaker from Jebel Moon
Abdalla Arabi from Sirba
Mohammed Jamma from Tanjekai
Ali Mohammed Shuaifoon from El-Geneina
Mohammed Ibrahim Shummu from El-Geneina
Abdurrahman Seif-Eldin Bahraddin from El-Geneina
Abdu Raheem Badriya from El-Geneina
Adam Mustafa Hassan from Nyala,
Abdel Sami Atalmannan from Nyala
Those were my classmates whom I am able to remember and whose names stayed in the memory over the past few decades, and I thank God very much for the blessing of health and wellness. Some of them, sadly, have died and passed away May God bless their souls and has mercy and forgiveness, we are unto God and to Him we return.
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 https://thussudan.wordpress.com/