My Memories of Austaney
By Mahmoud A. Suleiman
Many people have no idea about what Austaney is. Nevertheless, this Austaney is a name that brings back to me resounding memories of my formative years and beyond. Austaney is a name for a small village, a hamlet in the countryside in the Tina Dar Zaghawa or country of Zaghawa Kobe “Beri be’ or “house of the Beri “or Beri territory in the Northwest of the former Darfur Province or Darfur Region. Tina is also spelled Tiné in French (Français) and al-Tina in Arabic. Moreover, Tina in the Zaghawa Language- Beria is Touna.
The village of Austaney lies about twelve miles in the south of Tina, the Headquarters of the seat of the Sultanate of Zaghawa Kobe. The Kobe Sultanate was an ancient “royal” institution handed down from a generation to generation spanned as a unified administrative unit under the authority of one Sultan over hundreds of years. The Kobe Sultanate was divided into two following French Colonials’ invasion of Zaghawa Kobe homeland area in 1922.They divided it into two parts. The part west of Tina River (wadi Tina) followed to Chad whereas the other eastern part of the Tina River (Wadi Tina) became part of Sudan. The division of the Sultanate occurred after a fierce incommensurate battle in which traditional weapons of spears and swords used against the modern machine gun warfare. Before the wave of ecological changes and the drought and desertification that hit the area, Austaney had fertile soils suitable for seasonal rain fed agriculture and livestock grazing of cattle, camels, sheep and goats along with horses and donkeys. The population in the village spends the rainy season planting millet, sorghum, watermelon and various legumes and some vegetables, such as okra and onions in their holdings or farms. The villagers use the produce of their holdings as stable food and /or sell the surplus in the town of Tine market, through either barter or sale in cash.
In the Austaney village prevails more joy and celebration especially weddings which abound in the harvest season when prosperity is rife and available along with festivals accompanied by dancing to the music of singing and mirth to the sounds of drums where joined together by girls and young men in dance concerts in complete innocence, joy and fun and pleasure. Moreover, the prosperity of the harvest season, usually marks the marriages abound in the village. The elders in the village represent the wise people who are the owners of authority and arbiters for resolving disputes and finding solutions such as submitting compensation, Diya (blood money) to the deceased’s family. They try preemptively resolving all of life issues of concern to residents of the village. The Issues include marriage and compensation for those individuals affected by loss of kind using traditional methods known as ‘Judia’ to guard against development of disputes into crises. The wise people of the village also manage other affairs of life before getting out of control. Moreover, the Sultan in line with the established norms and traditions recognises the outcome of provisions of the village elders. Besides that, there is the Sheikh of the village. Thus, the villagers live in security and peace and tranquility in spite of the absence of formal services from the state as is the case in all parts of rural Darfur.
The people of the village, during the dry season when the drinking water sources in the region for humans and the animal set off scarce, people of Austaney move to places of sustainable water source where there are bore hole wells. Therefore, they move into the Tina Wells area, choose a suitable place, and erect makeshift semi camps buildings. Valley of Tine, which represents an important upper tributary that communicates with the Hawar valley, Wadi Hawar is the main source of sustainable water source for the Dar Kobe in Sudan. Accordingly, the Austaney village folks go to where sustainable water wells available in the Valley of Tine/ Tina during the dry season to secure drinking water for their livestock and their households.
Austaney village consists of around three hundred huts/cabins, spread in a large area of sandy plateau surrounded by trees of Savannah climate. At some places, there are forests before hit by the drought and desertification. The household in the village usually formed of the extended family system consisting of three generations of children, parents and grandparents. However, such a family usually has three or so hunts within their compound surrounded by a fence made of straw. The skilled women in the household build the fence. Many house-based business in the village fall within the responsibility of women whereas the society norms task men with harder work of looking after livestock, travelling for obtaining material for livelihood and digging water wells.
One would like to mention names of few out of the many elder wise men of the village of Austaney that remained still stuck in the memory despite the passage of decades since I left those people of the village who remained to the heart and mind. The list will be long. Nevertheless, they include Dahiya Jorbu, AKA Abu Tabudi, Togu Mahmoud – AKA Abu Airmiya, Beraybo Abu Hussein, Aurei Hassan Suleiman Dorshong-AKA Abu Suleiman, Idriss Beraybo -AKA Abu Tabudi, Hashim Jugouy, Issa Gaga, Fadul Haday – AKA Abu Hawa, Gibi Hassan –AKA Abu Tomiya and my late father Abbaker Suleiman -AKA Faki Abbaker and many others.
The people of the village of Austaney were renowned for breeding cows. People tended attribute it to the presence of the majority individuals whose background origins belong to the Borsu branch clan of the Zaghawa Kobe whose name is associates cattle rearing. The name Borsu is always associated with the pursuit and looking after livestock such as cattle herders in American films. However, this does not mean that the rest of the villagers are not cattle breeders. On the contrary, that some of them had a number of cattle, including cows more than the above-mentioned Borsu. However, the Borsu are primarily breeders, and traditionally favoured cattle. It is interesting to note that the Borsu has two clans referred to as Hiri-Mayra and Habeera. Hiri-Mayra means in Zaghawa language ‘of the Red Cow’! This represents a strong evidence for the importance of cows to this clan of Zaghawa Kobe. Furthermore, you cannot ignore what livestock means for the people of Austaney in general. They are not just an economic resource but they measure social good and prestige. Therefore, raising cattle is a way of life for a great many of the residents of Austaney. The importance of livestock lies in employing it as marriage dowry besides advantage from their milk, meat, hides and the cash in case of sale.
Of the personalities of the village who is considered a bit of a maverick a man named Jibe Hassan – God’s mercy upon him- where there are a number of reported occasions when he stood for his rights in the face of the absolute authority of the Sultanas. There are a number of tales about this independent opinionated man. It was something not heard of at a time when blind obedience to the rulers of the civil or native administration as a thing imposed unquestionably on all the nationals in the administrative region of the Sultanate.
It is said that he have rejected paying the tax on all males who have reached the age of maturity and called Digniyiah; a tax payment which can be compared to the poll tax rejected by the Brutish during the reign of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Ms. Margaret Thatcher of the Conservative Party.
The Sultanate authorities arrested the maverick Gibi and put in jail but even then remained defiant. Eventually, the authorities ordered him to give a camel as a fine! Over the years, nobody asked him to pay tax anymore and he continued as a freedom fighter. Furthermore, Gibi was renowned for being an equestrian who hunted giraffes and ostriches by chasing them on horsepower. Thus, so many stories told about his adventures and his fighting for freedom, God bless him.
It is noteworthy mentioning the fact that our family after the harvest season usually leave the village and head for the town of Tina. My father owned a house in the town of Tine, which makes our family to go to Tina instead of going to the summer camps the rest of the residents of the village Austaney go to be closer to the source of drinking water for their livestock and themselves. Moreover, my father was a Qur’anic teacher at the government funded Sub grade boarding school that attracted pupils from all the localities of Tina including pupils from the town. At the time access into the elementary schools was a hard task, given the limited number of such schools in the whole District of Northern Darfur Province. The capital of the Northern District of Darfur was the city of Kutum. During the era, the Province of Darfur was divided into five administrative Districts: Northern Darfur, Southern Darfur, Eastern Darfur, and Western Darfur, the City of El-Fasher and the outskirts and Dar Masalit. The respective capitals of the six Districts included the city of Kutum as administrative capital for the north Darfur, Um Kaddada for the east, Nyala for the south, Zalingei for the west, El Geneina for Dar Masalit and El Fasher for the El-Fasher city and suburbs.
The District of Northern Darfur had only three Elementary Schools located in Kutum, Mellit and Kabkabiya. Therefore, the possibility of finding a place in one of the three is one of the impossibilities of the era. Acceptance depended on pecking order of favoritism. Older age pupils had no chance for entry into the Elementary Schools, given the limited number of the schools and size of a class that can only accommodate fifty pupils. I was fortunate finding the chance for entering the Elementary School. In that, the scarcity of schools and the lack of classrooms and God helped me and the efforts of my father facilitated paving the way for me to acquire education. The school principal/ head master called Abdul Majid Ahmed Zein from Managil in the Gezira Irrigation Scheme of the Province of Gezira of the Central Region accepted me to the delight of my father.
Regarding education in the period referred to, there is a reality calling for mentioning. The Zaghawa unlike other traditional Muslims did not reject modern education and dismissing schooling for their offspring as something relating to the Nasara (Whites or Christians). The Zaghawa chiefdoms quickly recognized the advantages they could gain from these schools and sent their children, encouraging them to continue their studies to the highest levels. However, in my generation we did not face such attitude regarding education. The main problem was, on the contrary, there was an urgent desire from the parents in the Dar Zaghawa having opportunity for their children access schooling in spite of the scarcity of chances for education.
The Austaney Village inhabitants gradually engaged in other modern trades besides raising livestock and seasonal rai-fed agriculture until the woes of the outbreak of the Darfur crisis hit them and forced them flee their homes and crossed the borders resorting to the neighbouring Chad refugee camps.
The tribal Zaghawa group has an undeniable attachment to Dar Zaghawa. Their resilience and love for their homeland is immeasurable. Since the colonial era, drought touched the Zaghawa region and forced them to move south in large numbers. A British colonial administrator noted in 1951 and reported as saying “no matter that life is hard, dogged by disappointment, and often lived under the somber shadow of famine, still they come back to the steppes and wadis which they know as home, and which they will not willingly abandon”.
In conclusion, I say that return to the Austaney remains an important goal for its former residents no matter how long travel would take, God willing.
Dr. Mahmoud A. Suleiman is an author, columnist and a blogger. His blog is https://thussudan.wordpress.com/