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Durham University

Special Collections

The Sudanese under Anglo-Egyptian rule

Hadendoa tribesman bowling in a cricket match from the collection of P.P. Howell

Hadendoa cricket match (P.P. Howell, SAD.58/9/)

The lives of the Sudanese under Anglo-Egyptian rule are documented, albeit intermittently, in the official and personal records of the British officials. Many of the collections even include letters written by the Sudanese themselves. The general policy of Indirect Rule, combined with the desire of District Commissioners not to interfere with tribal customs, ensured that their daily lives remained relatively untouched by colonial rule. Nevertheless, the adoption of Christianity by the tribes of Southern Sudan is clear evidence of the success of missionary activity and would have unforeseen consequences in the post-independence years.


(Please click on the thumbnail images below to see the full image and any additional pages)

(G.H. Martin, SAD 46/7/35)

Letter written in a Romanised version of the Bangala language by E. Lukuche, Sudanese teacher, to the Rev. G.H. Martin, describing the progress of the Church Missionary Society School at Loka, 25 May 1933

With the notable exception of Sudanese Arabic, which was the dominant language of Northern Sudan, it is rare to find written examples of other Sudanese languages in the papers of British officials. This is particularly the case for the tribes of the Southern Sudan, for whom no written tradition existed and where knowledge and communication were usually transmitted orally. Amongst the myriad of dialects and local languages spoken in the Southern Sudan, Bangala was the lingua franca for many. It was adopted by tribes in a number of regions, particularly Equatoria, and also utilised by Christian missionaries to preach the Gospel to Sudanese tribes.

(C.R. Williams, G//S 1058/12)

Brass coated helmet worn by a Latuka tribesman during a tribal dance, Didinga Hills, ca. 1930

An important feature of tribal life in both Northern and Southern Sudan was tribal gatherings. Tribal dances were a particularly significant aspect of these celebrations, in which costume played an important function in defining role and identity.

(P.P. Howell, SAD.48/17)

The accompanying photograph is of a Shilluk tribal dance, celebrating the installation of the Shilluk reth (king), 1940

Traditional celebrations among tribes were often huge events lasting a number of days. Here the Shilluk warriors celebrate the installation of the new reth (king) by performing a traditional tribal dance. The entire celebration lasted five days and included speeches, dances and re-enactments of historic battles.

(C.R. Williams, SAD.48/1)

Picture postcard by Liechtenstein & Harari, entitled 'Barbarin', ca. 1930

The production of colonial picture postcards for the Western market was a particularly popular commercial activity in the early 20th century. This picture postcard was produced by the Cairo-based organisation, Liechtenstein & Harari, one of over 120 companies who were active in providing this service for the Sudan.

(P.P. Howell, SAD.68/4)

Romanised transcription of Nuer song by P.P. Howell, Assistant District Commissioner, Zeraf District, Upper Nile Province, 1943

Working in virtual isolation, the District Commissioner often became genuinely devoted to the tribes under his jurisdiction and acquired a large body of knowledge about their customs and the minutiae of Sudanese tribal life in general. Given the heavy reliance on oral communication in transmitting knowledge amongst tribal members and the dispersal and displacement of tribes in the post-colonial environment, much of this information probably would not have survived had it not been for the recordkeeping of the District Commissioners during the Condominium era.

(G.H. Martin, SAD.41/6/)

Photograph of Pastor Andarea Apaya delivering a sermon to the local Sudanese, Lui, ca. 1950

 As a consequence of missionary activity in Southern Sudan, many Sudanese developed a strong attachment to the Christian religion which was to have important consequences for their relationship with the predominantly Arab North in the post-independence period.  The photograph exemplifies the popularity of, and devotion to, Christianity, with crowds of Sudanese gathered around Pastor Andarea Apaya.

(H.B. Arber, SAD.90/10)

Photograph of Nuba wrestlers at a King's Day Sporting event in Kordofan, January/February 1946

King's Day was celebrated yearly in the Sudan to mark the anniversary of the visit of King George V to Port Sudan in January 1912 - the first visit by a reigning monarch to the Sudan. King's Day was popular amongst British and Sudanese alike. It was usually marked by large gatherings involving sports events participated in by local Sudanese. It also gave the Sudanese the chance to demonstrate their skills in their own traditional sports before a large audience. In the Nuba mountains these included stick fighting and wrestling.

(H.B. Arber, SAD.90/10)

Photograph of Sudanese men and boys in traditional dress at the festival of Id al-Fitr, at the end of Ramadan, in Abbassiyah, ca. 1936-1940

Though the government took various approaches to discourage the spread of Islam into Southern Sudan, in the North Muslim festivals, such as Ramadan, flourished under Anglo-Egyptian rule. Many British officials developed an interest in Muslim ways - even to the point where some of them chose to fast during Ramadan.