My Memories of El-Fasher Abu-Zakariya the Capital of the Former Darfur Province
By Mahmoud A. Suleiman
I am writing about El-Fasher Abu-Zakariya from a very different perspective than the disastrous events and atrocities continued plaguing the people of Sudan in Darfur who have endured genocide, ethnic cleansing and other atrocities for over a decade and related to the issue/crisis of the region that I wrote about in my previous articles and books.
The City nicknamed El-Fasher Abu Zakariya after the Name of the Prince Zakariya the father of Sultan Ali Dinar, who has had a major role in the development of the city. As for naming the city Fasher there are many interpretations and numerous speculations that make it difficult tipping which one is the closest to the truth. Speculations speak of attribution of the name to a bull found in the location of the city near the famous lake and that the name meaning the Council of the Sultan or the Seat of the Sultanate. There seems a lot of speculation in the Etymology of the naming the City El-Fasher, that makes it extremely difficult to suggest any of the other interpretations constitute the undoubted truth. Moreover, El-Fasher also, at occasions, referred to as Fasher al-Sultan; the term Sultan is thought to relate to Sultan Ali Dinar Ali Dinar (Arabic: علي دينار) (born in February of 1865/ 1856 – martyred in November 6, 1916) was a Sultan of the Sultanate of Darfur and ruler from the Keira dynasty. Ali Dinar led a rebellion in 1915 when the colonial British considered him as a supporter of the Ottoman Empire to launch a punitive expedition, dubbed the Anglo Egyptian Darfur Expedition, in which they killed him.
The reign of the sultans of the Fur dynasty in the city of El-Fasher spanned nearly five centuries from 1445 until 1916. The first Sultan was Suleiman Solonq, and the last was Sultan Ali Dinar ibn Zakariya.
The historians tell that the Sultans of the Fur Dynasty used to run the Sultanate at the beginning of the era from Jebel Marra. However, Sultan Abdul Rahman Al -Rashid, who succeeded Sultan Tairab in power found it difficult to manage the Sultanate, which has expanded beyond the edges of the Jebel Marra area. Accordingly, Sultan Abdul Rahman Al -Rashid decided to move to the area more central and his choice fell on Rahad Tendeltey (the Valley/lake/pool) in the area located in the eastern plains of Darfur to establish his (Fasher) meaning the (Castle), especially as the region would facilitate the cultivation of the land and animal husbandry. Furthermore, Sultan Rashid began the construction of his first palace on the north bank of the valley and then followed the building of homes for his Entourage and Guards. Soon afterward people flocked to Fasher El-Sultan – as it sometimes referred to metaphorically -and turned it into a populated city. Thus, El-Fasher originated and emerged as an administrative capital, a role that did not leave El-Fasher via the eras and ages.
The city of El- Fasher is based on six hills of sand dunes, fixed mid-rise, which gives the city of El- Fasher, the property unmatched by any other city in Sudan. The city looks high from all sides and sloping toward the centre and where the big market erected (locally known as ‘Underneath-Market; as there is another market place named the ‘Upper-Market’. People describe the city of El-Fasher and refer to it using the phrase: “”Paris at night and topography during the day”, according to a book authored by Salah El-Tom Min Allah. Reference fromمنتديات كووورة Kooora Forum: http://forum.kooora.com/?t=31662962). A common citation to describe the features of the city of El Fasher, with cliffs and at night, when you overlook from a very high point, one believes seeing lights from any point in the city at night.
The famous wells called (Hagar Qaddo, meaning Pierced Stone) feature as of the important landmark for the City of El-Fasher. Furthermore, there is still more phrases and parables attributed to the wells:” drink from it and come back to it”! This is an indication of the difficulty to obtain the water that irrigates or saturates one’s fill; it cannot fill him and he has to resume drinking again!” It is an evidence of the difficulty of obtaining water. The foregoing phrases come from the folklore. One finds a clear lack of infrastructure and development in Darfur throughout the colonial period and the successive governments, which did not provide any of the fundamentals of development. Also, key to the city of El Fasher one finds the market called (Umdafosso) and Kheir-Khanaga, meaning (Benevolence strangled) where the current Head Quarters of the state police and has a famous prison carries the same name. Umdafosso market is famous for being similar to the Popular Market in the capital Khartoum. In it, one finds there fruits such as oranges of all types incoming from the Jebel Marra area. also available in the market all the components of Darfuri foods, such as Kawal, Mirees,Dodiray, Furundo, Abu Mortoqha and many more!.) as it is also available, as well as mountain honey, ghee and the famous Original yoghurt.
El Fasher has seen significant residential development in the reign of Sultan Ali Dinar. He was interested in architecture. He built his palace and residential complex, which included residential rooms and lounges, councils and the Mosque. He formed a prominent architectural landmark in the region during that era. His Palace is now a Museum belonging to the National Authority for Antiquities and Museums.
The Neighborhoods of El-Fasher retain their same names since the time of the Sultan or before. Administratively, the City of El-Fasher was divided into eight Sheikhdoms; each one known as Rubo (Quarters) in the olden days. Each Quarter used to have a Sheikh as a Native Administrator. Each of the eight Quarters has a number of neighbourhoods nearest to it. The City of El-Fasher has more than ninety residential Neighbourhoods of different grades and levels according to the income of the population, urban planning and the general environment. The following are the most famous Neighbourhoods: Azama neighborhood, Kofout Neighbourhood, Hagar Qaddo Neighbourhood, Wahiya Neighbourhood, Hawara Neighbourhood, Fifth Quarter Neighbourhood, Hillat Tama Neighbourhood, Awlad al-Reef, Beringia Neighbourhood, Daydingah Neighbourhood, Sharafa Neighbourhood, Hamla (Meaning Campaign) Neighbourhood, Karanik neighborhood, Zayadia Neighbourhood, Wakala Neighbourhood, Tiraifiya Neighbourhood, Zongo Neighbourhood, Makraka Neighbourhood, Al-Qubba Neighbourhood, Timanat Neighbourhood, Al-Asirrah Neighbourhood, Al-Jawamaa Neighbourhood, Al-Gadi Neighbourhood, Dabba Shujeira Neighbourhood, Thawra Neighbourhoods, Maahad Neighbourhoods, Deim Shati Neighbourhood, al-Jabal Neighbourhood, Industrials Neighbourhood, Tumbassi Neighbourhood, Khour-Sial Neighbourhood, Deim Silik Neighbourhood, The Cultural Complex Neighbourhood. Livestock market in El-Fasher is an important landmark. We also find in the city of El-Fasher suburb, the infamous Prison known as the Shala Prison.
Fula or Rahad El-Fasher is the source of the water is the place, which allegedly was the cause of the discovery of the existence of the city of El Fasher by white bull in the popular narrative. Fula El-Fasher on its banks vegetables grown to meet the consumer need of the city. Moreover, a visitor find in the West of the Grand Market a Square named Nagaa, which represents as the main field for football in the city centre. Furthermore, the Nagaa Square is also place for Eid prayers and other public gatherings.
There are two sites near the City of El-Fasher, people go for leisure and excursions; one of them is Golo Reservoir and For outings and short
Sultan Ali Dinar’s Palace was one of the greatest features of the City of El-Fasher and was the headquarters of the former Darfur Province before the introduction of the Regional administrative system in Sudan during the rule of the then President Gaffer Mohammed Nimeiri who converted it into a Museum on 29 May 1977.
El-Fasher Secondary School for boys
El Fasher Secondary School has been a beacon for National Sudanese education in Darfur. It used to attract and accept on merit students from all over Sudan, which led to the overlap of the local culture with other cultures of the regions of Sudan. On other side was superiority of El-Fasher Secondary School students in the success in exams for entrance into universities, which were very few then and on top of the list was the University of Khartoum. Ironically, the government of Sudan decided to liquidate that school and turned the buildings into Al-Fateh of September University in Darfur, which later changed its name to the University of El Fasher; in what Known as revolution of higher education in Sudan in the period of 1989 2009.
My memories in the City of El-Fasher revolve around the four most important occasions. They include:
- the period of my study at high school in El-Fasher Secondary School
- the time I worked as a doctor in El Fasher General Hospital
- the coming of all the members of our family to live in El Fasher on a permanent basis after moving from our hometown in rural North Darfur
- The time when I became the founding Dean Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at El-Fasher University
- Each one of those memories has left an impact over time that will not be eliminated by the passage of years and eras.
To talk about each one of those occasions separately in detail will need manuals. For that reason, I have shortened it in the above paragraphs. Readers who are keen to learn more, I refer them to the book entitled: The Autobiography I Wrote begins at a Zaghawa Village in Darfur.
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/