The issue of Sudanese identity (Arab or ‘African’) has been for a long time a matter of heated debate among the intellectuals, researchers and the educated class in general. Some classifies Sudan as an Arab country, a second group believes deeply in ‘African identity’ – in ethnic/cultural sense, whereas a third group holds that Sudan is a mixture of both – an Afro- Arab country. However, a new trend sees that Sudan is neither pure Arab, nor African but a nation of a ‘unique identity’ – of its own – that it is advisable to describe it as ‘Sudanic’ identity based on “Sudanism’ just that of “Americanism” which has grown out of intermingling of emigrants from different parts of the world.
To understand the complications of the Sudanese identity, it is significant to briefly review the background of the formation of the Sudanese nations.
The present Sudan comprises a cluster of diverse ethnic and cultural groups of Afrcian and Arab origins. This diversity is a product of a long process that dates back to pre-history. To trace such complicated formation of the modern Sudan is beyond the scope of this article. It suffices here to just outline the broad features of this tradition.
The present Sudan was linked to the Middle East since the ancient times.The Sudan, deeply entrenched in Africa, has an old history of close contacts with the worlds of the Mediterranean and the Middle East, particularly Egypt and Asia minor.
Archaeological excavation of sites on the Nile above Aswan has confirmed human habitation in the river valley during the Paleolithic period that spanned more than 60,000 years of Sudanese history. The earliest inhabitants of the Sudan can be traced to ancient Negroid people who lived in the vicinity of Khartoum in nelolithic (middle stone age) times. They were hunters and gatherers who made combed pottery and later stone grinders. Towards the end of the neolithic they had domesticated animals and setteled in sedentary way of life in fortified mud-brick villages.
These Negroid peoples were clearly in contact with pre-dynstic civilization to the North of Egypt. Skeletal remains suggest a blending of negroid and Mediterranean populations during the Neolithic period (eighth to third millenia B.C.) that has remained relatively stable until the present, despite gradual infiltration by other elements. (2) At the end of the fourth millennium B.C. kings of the First Dynasty conquered Upper Nubia beyond Aswan, introducing Egyptian influence to a non-Negroid people who were scattered along the river bank.
Scholars admit that at the height of Meroitic power there was northward orientation of the culture of the Sudan which began in the Kerma period which emerged in the nineth and tenth centuries B.C. and survived into Napatan times whose influence reached as far south as Karima.
This indicates the link of Sudan to the Middle East. However, this may be true with regard to the far northern part of Sudan. But the greater part of the country had also witnessed influx of peoples from African origins.
(To be continued next week).