My Memories of a Trek on a Camelback

My Memories of a Trek on a Camelback

By Mahmoud A. Suleiman

The English Dictionary (ED) defines Camelback, as a back with a hump-shaped curve on a sofa or other piece of furniture; a camelback sofa.

The memories on my way from Tine to El Geneina on a camelback in the late fifties of the Twentieth Century is a Trek, I though it worthwhile to explore and reflect on. They are the memories that remained after the passage of decades that went by slowly with the times without the return but engraved in remote distant memory, so long as there some blessing of longevity existed. Moreover, of the reasons that made me remember that period is the beloved nostalgia for the past beautiful time to the self, which is a feature of all human beings on earth, irrespective of their colour, creed, culture, ethnicity or tribal affiliation, gender, geographical location of their region and the language of communication.

The memories I am going to recall in this narrative are unimaginable by today’s judgement and by current generations and seem some sort of pure fantasy and imagination. Furthermore, the trek in those days was not a luxury hiking which tourists take for pleasure or for reporting in preparation of documentaries. Nevertheless, one would not undermine what some today’s reporters go through in their arduous journeys to achieve the goal they are aiming at.

Before the long arduous trek preparations need to be in place the most important of which including travel subsistence food and drink. We will refer to that important element later.

The travel on camelback treks passes through an awesome impressive topography of landscape of vegetation and trees as well as dense forests covered with greenery and valleys that resemble rivers in the rainy season (autumn).  The scenery of hills and towering mountains made the extra joy to the regions through which the traveler on his way from North West to South West of the former Darfur Province. Among the large valleys (Wadis) one comes across are the valley of Wadi Tina, Wadi Saira, Wadi Barday, Wadi Gauze Ginno, Valley of Siliya, Valle of Sirba, Wadi Kondobay and the Valley of the Great Wadi Kaja and many other Wadi valleys.

Moreover, at that time, the waves of the drought and desertification did not strike the region. The region enjoyed abundant rainfall in autumn and providing   all kinds of plants and trees typical of the savannah region where moderately hot seasons come and replaced by cool winters, which the inhabitants tolerated without the need for heating which is already not available and did not cross the minds of the inhabitants of those areas! All that one needs at that time for protection from cold and feel either warm a cloth made of cotton to cover with at nighttime or a woolen blanket for those people who can afford.

In that charming nature, all kinds of wild animals existed. They included deer, ostriches, giraffes, rabbits, and all types of birds especially the Guinea fowl and along with the predators such as lions and tigers, jackals, wolves and hyenas and foxes. There used to be elephants in the area according to the tales of the elders at the time but apparently, they migrated southwards for more environments conducive for their habitat.

The most striking feature at the period I am trying to recall was the establishment of security and peace.  All the areas and localities enjoyed at that time, peace and security. Things such as banditry were something not heard about nor there were any wars between the tribes of different localities. Thanks to God and thanks to the presence of the Traditional or Civil Administration System.  All the tribal groups used to have Native Administration. The Native Administration was a respected strong authority representing the police, justice and wisdom, the pillars of good governance and the rule of law.

Furthermore, there  existed  a strong civil administration besides the strong social fabric between components of the societies of tribes and clans in addition to the non-proliferation of firearms and the absence of the presence of oppressive arbitrary system of governments waging proxy wars against citizens employing militias and mercenaries such as the bad time of today’s Sudan.  

For this reason, the traveler was not afraid of any aggression during his trip either to himself or to his possessions or money, but predators during the night in the rare cases towards domestic livestock. That was unlike what happens constantly in this era where personal insecurity and property looting became the norms caused by the proliferation of armed crime of plunder and murder of the proliferation of weapons and the lack of security, injustice and lawlessness that prevail.

Among the most prominent noble qualities in those days, that the middle and upper secondary schools though very few used to be institutions for national gathering of students from all regions of Sudan where they are provided with opportunity to develop a sense of national belonging and cultural exchange. In that, for example, a student from Dongola in the most northern Province of Sudan get to acquaint himself with the local culture of people in the Darfur Province and vice versa. Moreover, the Civil Service left by the British colonials was competent with high morality and devoid of corruption, nepotism or racism and law-abiding citizens.

As expected, there was extreme lack of modern means of transportation in the period as there were no cars and other modern means of mobility available. The only cars heard of at the time were the Commer Lorries There was no option other than traveling on camelbacks and horses and donkeys as the basis for travel to meet the needs of life for food, drink,  cladding and trading for business. The only cars heard of were Government trucks known as Commer Cars. They cruise   the villages, hamlets and towns of the District from time to time on administrative missions as a carrier for the local government officials and there was no room for citizens to use.

However,  at this juncture I have to mention that in  few urban areas come forth trucks or Lories termed  Ford  because their manufacturer was the Ford Motor Company  of the United States of America (USA). Those Lories people dubbed them by the term ‘Tijariya’ a Sudanese term for ‘Commercial’ vehicles. The Tijariya Lories usually do not come to the villages and areas where business was not available. Accordingly, if the villagers wanted to access to the cities and commercial centres their only means of travel, but animals such as camels and horses.

On the other hand, the preparation of food and drink for the traveler must precede the start of the journey on riding the back of animals to travel. The camel, the beast of burden, is without doubt, one of the most hardships bearing animals. That is reason for calling a camel the ship of the desert. A camel that carries passengers and their heavy luggage and goods for traveling across treacherous roads besides its superior ability to withstand hardship, hunger, thirst and weightlifting and speed that reaches about 25 to 30 miles per day while carrying a heavy cargo on searing sun of the desert.

The traditional food and drink for a traveler on camelback consisted on those days were very basic local household made. It consisted of millet porridge and different types of dried meet and okra sauces and water for drinking and for tea making. Dried foods were the preferred types of ingredients for livelihood during those types of journey. Those were the preferred types of provision of food and drink for traveling across the bush and/or arid land on camelback. Moreover, for keeping ammunition of water for the journey, a sack or a bladder made from goatskin to save drinking water while traveling on camel caravan as water source to combat the thirst, which is inevitable when facing dehydration caused by the stinging hot sun. Wisdom tells that one should be cautious so as not to be exposed to the death of thirsty.

Upon completion of the contents necessary for travel, the traveler rides his camel and heads towards his destination on the camelback after bidding a farewell to the family members, other relatives and neighbours and acquaintances.

On our trip from Tina/Tiné, the seat of the Zaghawa Kobe Sultanate under Sultan Dosa through many areas included Tundubay, south of Tina, the seat of the Sultanate of Zaghawa Sub-clan Kabka or Begî under Sultan Hassan Burgoo Hassan. Our journey came to the locality of the Zaghawa Ina kayra clan Sheikhdom in Jirjeera. After a long trekking, we arrived at Kulbus, the seat of the Gimir Sultanate followed by the locality of Siliya, the seat of the Dar Jebel Firsha. By the way, the term ‘Firsha’ represents the paramount chief of a tribal group in Dar Masalit. After Siliya, we came to Sirba, the seat of power of the Erenga tribal group. The next destination was Kondobay, which accommodated plethora of tribal groups. Kondobay market is an important station for a traveler to alight for rest and shopping. Other destinations on our way after passing through Kondobay were Abu Suruj, Dourti and Ardamata prior to reaching Geneina the seat of the Sultanate of Dar Masalit. Our next place for overnight sleep before entering the city of El Geneina early tomorrow morning was a village on the outskirts of the city of El Geneina. Our Camel trip from to Tina to the city of El-Geneina took three nights and four days, a foregone conclusion!

The trip in spite of the long distance and rough roads was very entertaining because the traveler passes through different places where meets various friendly populations living in constantly changing environments and environments devoid of fear of banditry. That kind of friendly peaceful environment would not be the generosity of our time.

It may be fair to say that in spite of the lack of basic services provided by the State to the people of the places that we experienced during our trip,  the citizens had been living in tranquility because they neither  did  complain of fear and nor they suffered from hunger. They were living contented in tranquility and a relative prosperity.

In a bid for the sake of humor, while talking with one of my former colleagues, a classmate   of my generation I asked him his feeling about the journey both of us took on camelback, the topic of this article, his first uttered phrase was I hope if only those beautiful days come back to us but hard to happen!

Extreme degrees of nostalgia, aren’t they?

The End

Dr. Mahmoud A. Suleiman is an author, columnist and a blogger. His blog is

2 thoughts on “My Memories of a Trek on a Camelback”

  1. Hello, Sir. In the late fifties? Wow, I had not been around just yet, then 🙂 Never ride a camel myself, but yes, I guess riding on a camelback has its own merits—being slow yet incredibly strong (with all those weights and under that heat), the camels leave the riders no choice but being observant.

    And yes, those good ol’ days—when travelers need to worry only about being attacked by wild animals, not by other people. I guess we’re lucky enough to have experienced all that (something today’s generation might have a hard time visualizing it). Cheers!

  2. Sir,
    This is an amazingly insightful and captivating journey for the reader. The readers feel as though they are on camel back themselves and can actually visualize the journey with vivid colors, sounds and fragrances. Those were times of peace. Everyone felt they were Sudanese and loved the Sudan. This article is a documentary in itself and is far from being just a sheer nostalgic anecdote. Thank you, sir, for taking us on a camel ride into history.
    Warm greetings.

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