Sudan’s history is a complex one characterized by foreign domination and conflict. After decades of civil war and genocide, the country is slowly starting to make strides toward a more peaceful future. The country’s culture, and especially the country’s music, has managed to survive years of turmoil, with many different cultural and language groups present.
The Nile River played a large part in the development of Sudan as many groups migrated to the area to reap the benefits of its fertile soil and abundant resources. Most of our knowledge of the region comes from Egyptian scripture, which labels the area as Kush and speaks of great economic ties between the two territories in ancient times, but also political conflict when the Egyptians attempted to invade.
The Kingdom of Kush evolved into the Kingdom of Meroe, the remains of which can be seen in the Pyramids of Meroe, located in the east of the country. The kingdom was extremely powerful, taking on both the Egyptians and the Romans, and coming out on top. The kingdom’s power eventually waned, however, and Egypt conquered the region in the 1820s.
In 1898, however, Egypt administered the region jointly with the British in what was to be called Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. This was an advantageous move for the British, who sought control over the economically pivotal Suez Canal. The northern and southern parts of the country were administered as different provinces, a facet which caused problems post independence.
After years of foreign rule and countless resistance movements, Sudan was granted sovereignty by Egypt and the British in 1953, and north and south were brought under one administration headed by Arabs from the north. Conflict arose after the Arab-led government backpedaled on promises made to the mostly Christian south. Army officials in the south of the country led a mutiny which was the ultimate spark of a civil war that would last for decades.
The civil war ended in 1972, with promises from the government to grant the south considerable autonomy. Soon after ceasefire, however, the country plunged back into violence which has to this day not been fully resolved. Southern Sudan was granted independence and was recognized as a separate state by the international community in 2011 but conflict in the Darfur region reached a tipping point at the same time, with the government having been accused of genocide.
The conflict in Darfur, while significantly cooled, remains ongoing. President Al-Bashir, who held the seat during the Sudanese genocide, was the first head of state to be indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.
Sudan is an extremely heterogeneous country, being home to over 500 different tribes. Each tribe has its own distinctive ethnicity and many even have their own language. Such diversity has led to an eclectic and exciting culture, and when the foreign influences of Egyptian and British colonial rule are added to the mix, it is safe to say that there is no single Sudanese culture. Many of the diverse influences can be noticed in such cultural markers as music, clothing, and cuisine.
The country has a great tradition of music. From early Sudanese resistance poets like Mahjoub Sharif who fled from imprisonment and the traditional ceremonies of cultural groups, to western influences like bagpipes and military march music, the cultural mix is unique. Today, the country’s music is still an eclectic mix of indigenous sounds and languages developed into western style hip-hop and folk music.
In similar fashion, Sudanese clothing differs from one cultural group to another, and also from region to region. There are some similarities in attire, however, as most Sudanese wear a traditional jalabiya, a loose ankle-length garment. Another item of clothing which is common among all cultures in the thawb, which is similar to a jalabiya but a bit more formal, displaying a collar and shorter sleeves.