Ja'alin tribe

The Ja'alin, Ja'aliya, Ja'aliyin or Ja'al (Arabic: جعليون) are an Arabised Nubian[2][3][4] tribe in Sudan, constituting a large portion of the Sudanese Arabs. They are the largest among the Sudanese Arabs and are also one of the three prominent tribes of indigenous Arabised Nubians in northern Sudan - the others being the Shaigiya and Danagla. They trace their origin to Ibrahim Ja'al, an Abbasid noble, whose clan originally hailed from the Hejaz and married into the local Nubian population. Ja'al was a descendant of al-Abbas, an uncle of prophet Muhammad. The Ja'alin formerly occupied the country on both banks of the Nile from Khartoum to Abu Hamad.[5] The tribe once spoke a now extinct dialect of Nubian as late as the nineteenth century.[6] Many Sudanese politicians have come from the Ja'alin tribal coalition.[7]

Sudanais de la tribu Galieh..jpg
Warrior from the tribe of the Ja'alin
EthnicitySudanese Arabs
LocationNile river basin between Khartoum and Abu Hamad
LanguageSudanese Arabic[1]
ReligionSunni Islam


The Ja'alin trace their lineage to Abbas, uncle of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.[5] At the Egyptian invasion in 1811 they were the most powerful of Arab tribes in the Nile valley. They submitted at first, but in 1822 rebelled and massacred the Egyptian garrison at Shendi with the Mek Nimr, a Ja'ali King (mek) burning Ismail, Muhammad Ali Pasha's son and his cortege at a banquet. The revolt was mercilessly suppressed, and the Ja'alin were thence forward looked on with suspicion. They were almost the first of the northern tribes to join the Mahdi in 1884, and it was their position to the north of Khartoum which made communication with General Gordon so difficult. The Ja'alin then became a semi-nomad agricultural people.[5]

The Anglo-Egyptian re-conquest of the Sudan began in 1896. In July 1897 Ja'alin tribal leaders refused to allow the Mahdist forces to occupy the Ja’alin town of Metemmeh, a strategic point on the Nile, 180 kilometres downstream of Omdurman. They feared the occupation would be oppressive, threatening both lives and property. After the Khalifa refused an offer from their leaders for the Ja’alin themselves to protect this stretch of the Nile from advancing Anglo-Egyptian forces, the Ja'alin leaders requested protection from General Kitchener, commander of the Anglo-Egyptian army. In response, the Mahdist forces attacked Metemmeh, killing several thousand Ja’alin, including women and children,[8] with the killings continuing in the following year.[9] As a consequence, Ja’alin tribesmen supported the Anglo-Egyptian forces on their advance on Omdurman in 1898, including supplying an irregular force of 2,500 cavalry,[10] which helped clear the east bank of the Nile of Mahdist fighters in the days before the Battle of Omdurman.[11]


This group of over four million people live in cities and large towns along the banks of the Nile River, especially in the ancient town of Shendi which has historically served as their tribal capital. The area is very hot and dry, with an average yearly rainfall of about three inches. In the summer, which lasts from April through November, daytime temperatures can reach as high as 120 to 130 °F (49 to 54 °C).[citation needed]


Some Ja'alin still farm and raise livestock along the banks of the Nile River, but in the 21st century, they more commonly make up a large part of the Sudanese urban population, forming a large part of the merchant class. Although many have moved to cities, such as the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, they still maintain their tribal identity and solidarity. Famous for maintaining ties with their origins, they keep in contact with their original home and return for frequent visits, especially for marriages, funerals and Muslim festivals.[1]


Historically, a small group called the Meyrifab was sometimes classed with the Ja'alin, but the Ja'alin themselves rejected this inclusion.[12]


  1. ^ a b c "Gaalin in Sudan". Joshua Project. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
  2. ^ Adams 1977, pp. 557-558: "Although claiming a purely Arab pedigree, they [the Ja'alin] are in fact made up overwhelmingly of Arabized Nubians, with only a small admixture of genuinely Arab blood".
  3. ^ Holt 1970, p. 329: "(...) most of the settled clans of the main Nile are regarded as descendants of a certain Ja'al, who is, furthermore, stated to have been an 'Abbasid. Disregarding this assertion (a typical genealogical sophistication), we may reasonably see in these Ja'aliyyun the descendants of the arabized Nubians of the late Middle Ages".
  4. ^ Kramer, Lobban Jr. & Fluehr-Lobban 2013, p. 223: "Despite their claim of an Arab pedigree, the Ja'aliyin may also be considered a southern group of Arabized Nubians".
  5. ^ a b c   This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Jā'alin". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 15 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 103. Citation: The Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, edited by Count Gleichen (London, 1905)
  6. ^ O'Fahey, R. S., Spaulding, Jay (1974): Kingdoms of the Sudan. Methuen Young Books. ISBN 0416774504. pp.28-29
  7. ^ Moorcraft, Paul (April 30, 2015). "Omar Al-Bashir and Africa's Longest War". United Kingdom: Pen & Sword Books.
  8. ^ ‘An Officer’ (1899). Sudan Campaign 1896-1899. Chapman & Hall London, Chapter VII.
  9. ^ Philip Ziegler (1973). Omdurman. Collins. p. 55.
  10. ^ Winston Churchill (1899). The River War volume 2. Longmans. pp. 57, 91–93.
  11. ^ Philip Ziegler (1973). Omdurman. Collins. pp. 47 & 90.
  12. ^ The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 1888.


  • Adams, William Y. (1977). Nubia. Corridor to Africa. Princeton University. ISBN 0691093709.
  • Holt, P. M. (1970). "The Nilotic Sudan". In P. M. Holt; Ann K. S. Lambton; Bernard Lewis (eds.). The Cambridge History of Islam. Vol. 2A. Cambridge University.
  • Ibrahim, Abdullahi Ali (1988). "Breaking the Pen of Harold Macmichael: The Ja'aliyyin Identity Revisited". The International Journal of African Historical Studies. African Studies Center. 21 (2): 217–231. doi:10.2307/219934. JSTOR 219934.
  • Kramer, Robert S.; Lobban Jr., Richard A.; Fluehr-Lobban, Carolyn (2013). Historical Dictionary of the Sudan. The Scarecrow. ISBN 978-0810861800.
  • Wilson, Sir Charles W. (1888), "On the Tribes of the Nile Valley, North of Khartum", Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 17: 3–25, doi:10.2307/2841664, JSTOR 2841664 (see pages 16 and 17)

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