Slavery and Society in Dar Fur
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Slavery and Society in Dar Fur book
For approximately a hundred years, between 1750 and 1850, the Dar Fur Sultanate was probably the major supplier of slaves to the Egyptian market and the prosperity of its rulers was intimately bound up with the fluctuations of the slave trade.3 The trade from Dar Fur to Egypt and North Africa has been described elsewhere,4 here I wish to survey the nature and role of slavery within the sultanate. Since the material presented here derives largely from research on other topics, the survey is a tentative one, hopefully to be modified and corrected by research specifically directed towards slavery and related topics. Much discussion, indeed controversy, has been devoted to the slave trade in the Sudan (used here and throughout for the Democratic Republic of the Sudan) and its attempted suppression by such stalwarts of nineteenthcentury British public opinion as Sir Samuel Baker and Charles Gordon; more perhaps than for any other part of Muslim Africa.5 Much less attention has been paid to slavery within the Sudan, despite growing evidence which suggests that the bulk of the slaves imported into the Northern Sudan were destined for the home market and that ‘the heritage of slavery’ has had profound political and economic consequences for the contemporary Sudan.6 The use or misuse of the slavery issue in the
propaganda of both sides of the North/South conflict is but one example of these consequences. Historically, Northern Sudanese Muslim society was a slave-owning society and the attitudes which arose from this fact, reinforced by what may be termed a ‘frontier mentality’, served to produce a complex of ideas and opinions, ethnic and religious prejudices, economic behaviour and expectations that pervaded all aspects of society and which survive in an attenuated form to this day.7 In the nineteenth century and before, among the Northern Sudanese political and military elites of the Funj and Dar Fur Sultanates as well as later among the Khartoum traders in the south, there was an intimate connexion between horse warfare and chivalry (Ar.furusiyya), slave raiding, the nomadic ethos and disdain for physical labour, clientship and slavery.