Beja people

The Beja people (Beja: Oobja, Arabic: البجا‎, Tigre: በጃ) are an ethnic Cushitic people inhabiting Sudan, Egypt, and Eritrea. In recent history, they have lived primarily in the Eastern Desert. They number around 1,237,000 people.[1] The majority of Beja people speak the Beja language as a mother tongue, which belongs to the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family. In Eritrea and southeastern Sudan, many members of the Beni Amer grouping speak Tigre. While many secondary sources identify the Ababda as an Arabic-speaking Beja tribe due to their cultural links with the Bishaari, this is a misconception: The Ababda do not consider themselves Beja, nor are they so considered by other Beja peoples.[2]

Beja
Oobja
Aksum, iscrizione di re ezana, in greco, sabeo e ge'ez, 330-350 dc ca. 02.jpg
The fourth century Ezana Stone commemorates a Kingdom of Aksum foray into Beja territory and Meroe.
Total population
3,597,000
Regions with significant populations
 Sudan2,371,000
 Egypt1,099,000
 Eritrea127,000
Languages
Beja · Sudanese Arabic · Tigre
Religion
Star and Crescent.svg Islam
Related ethnic groups
Ababda · Afar · Agaw · Oromo · Saho · Somali · Tigre · other Cushitic peoples

HistoryEdit

 
Beja figure on Twelfth Dynasty ancient Egyptian tomb

The Beja are traditionally Cushitic-speaking pastoral nomads native to northeast Africa. A geographer named Abu Nasr Mutahhar al-Maqdisi wrote in the tenth century that the Beja were at that time Christians.[3] Beja territories in the Eastern desert were made tributary by the Kingdom of Aksum in the third century.[4] The Beja were Islamized beginning in the 15th century. The now-Islamic Beja participated in the further Muslim conquest of Sudan, expanding southward. The Hadendoa Beja by the 18th century dominated much of eastern Sudan. In the Mahdist War of the 1880s to 1890s, the Beja fought on both sides, the Hadendoa siding with the rebels while the Bisharin and Amarar tribes sided with the British,[5] while some Beni Amer - a subset of the Beja who live largely in modern Eritrea - sided with the Ethiopian Ras Alula in certain battles such as Kufit.[6]

 
Beja bedouins

The Beja Congress was formed in 1952 with the aim of pursuing regional autonomy against the government in Khartoum. Frustrated by the lack of progress, the Beja Congress joined the insurgent National Democratic Alliance in the 1990s. The Beja Congress effectively controlled a part of eastern Sudan centered on Garoura and Hamshkoraib. The Beja Congress sabotaged the oil pipeline to Port Sudan several times during 1999 and 2000. In 2003, they rejected the peace deal arranged between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army, and allied with the rebel movement of the Darfur region, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army, in January 2004. A peace agreement was signed with the government of Sudan in October 2006. In the general elections in April 2010, the Beja Congress did not win a single seat in the National Assembly in Khartoum. In anger over alleged election fraud and the slow implementation of the peace agreement, the Beja Congress in October 2011 withdrew from the agreement, and later announced an alliance with the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army.

GeographyEdit

 
A Bisharin Beja man.

The Beja people inhabit a general area between the Nile River and the Red Sea in Sudan, Eritrea and eastern Egypt known as the Eastern Desert. Most of them live in the Sudanese states of Red Sea around Port Sudan, River Nile, Al Qadarif and Kassala, as well as in Northern Red Sea, Gash-Barka, and Anseba Regions in Eritrea, and southeastern Egypt. There are smaller populations of other Beja ethnic groups further north into Egypt's Eastern Desert. Some Beja groups are nomadic. The Kharga Oasis in Egypt's Western Desert is home to a large number of Qamhat Bisharin who were displaced by the Aswan High Dam. Jebel Uweinat is revered by the Qamhat.

NamesEdit

The Beja have been named "Blemmyes" in Roman times,[7] Bəga in Aksumite inscriptions in Ge'ez,[8] and "Fuzzy-Wuzzy" by Rudyard Kipling. Kipling was specifically referring to the Hadendoa, who fought the British, supporting the "Mahdi," a Sudanese leader of a rebellion against the Turkish rule administered by the British.[5]

LanguageEdit

 
Geographical distribution of Beja speakers.

The Beja speak the Beja language, known as Bidhaawyeet or Tubdhaawi in that language. It belongs to the Cushitic branch of the Afroasiatic family.[1]

The French linguist Didier Morin (2001) has made an attempt to bridge the gap between Beja and another branch of Cushitic, namely Lowland East Cushitic languages and in particular Afar and Saho, the linguistic hypothesis being historically grounded on the fact that the three languages were once geographically contiguous.[9] Most Beja speak the Beja language, but certain subgroups use other lingua franca. The Beni Amers speak a variety of Tigre, whereas most of the Halengas speak Arabic.[9]

Although there is a marked Arabic influence, the Beja language is still widely spoken. The very fact that the highest moral and cultural values of this society are in one way or the other linked to their expression in Beja, that Beja poetry is still highly praised, and that the claims over the Beja land are only valid when expressed in Beja, are very strong social factors in favour of its preservation. True enough Arabic is considered as the language of modernity, but it is also very low in the scale of Beja cultural values as it is a means of transgressing social prohibitions. Beja is still the prestigious language for most of its speakers because it conforms to the ethical values of the community.[9]

SubdivisionsEdit

 
A Beja shield made of animal hide from the 20th century, in the collection of the Walters Art Museum

The Bejas are divided into clans. These lineages include the Bisharin, Hedareb, Hadendowa (or Hadendoa), the Amarar (or Amar'ar), Beni-Amer, Hallenga , Habab , Belin and Hamran, some of whom are partly mixed with Bedouins in the east.

Beja society was traditionally organized into independent kingdoms. According to Al-Yaqubi, there were six such Beja polities that existed between Aswan and Massawa during the 9th century. Among these were the Kingdom of Bazin, Kingdom of Belgin, Kingdom of Jarin, Kingdom of Nagash, Kingdom of Qita'a and Kingdom of Tankish.[10]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b "Bedawiyet". Ethnologue. Retrieved 14 October 2016.
  2. ^ ضرار, محمّد صالح (2012). تاريخ شرق السودان. Khartoum: مكتبة التوبة. p. 36.
  3. ^ Ruffini, Giovanni. "Abu Nasr Mutahhar al-Maqdisi". Medieval Nubia: A Source Book. Retrieved 19 June 2018.
  4. ^ Hatke, George. "Aksum and Nubia: Warfare, Commerce, and Political Fictions in Ancient Northeast Africa". Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. New York University. Retrieved 19 June 2019.
  5. ^ a b Orville Boyd Jenkins, Profile of the Beja people (1996, 2009).
  6. ^ Wingate, Francis (1891). Mahdiism and the Egyptian Sudan: Being an Account of the Rise and Progress of Mahdiism and of Subsequent Events in the Sudan to the Present Time. London: Macmillan and Company. p. 230.
  7. ^ Stanley Mayer Burstein, Ancient African Civilizations: Kush and Axum, p. 167 (2008)
  8. ^ Hatke, George. "Aksum and Nubia: Warfare, Commerce, and Political Fictions in Ancient Northeast Africa". Ancient World Digital Library. NYU Press. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  9. ^ a b c Martine Vanhove, The Beja Language Today in Sudan: The State of the Art in Linguistics 2006.
  10. ^ Elzein, Intisar Soghayroun (2004). Islamic Archaeology in the Sudan. Archaeopress. p. 13. ISBN 1841716391. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  • A. Paul, A History of the Beja Tribes of the Sudan, Cambridge University Press, 2012.

External linksEdit