How Sudan came to have its name, and why there are two Sudans

Nii Ntreh May 9, 2020 at 10:00am

May 09, 2020 at 10:00 am | History

Nii Ntreh

Nii Ntreh | Associate Editor

May 09, 2020 at 10:00 am | History

Sudan was teased out of the Arabic reference for the land "Bilad-as-sudan", meaning land of the black people. Photo: UNAMID

The Republic of Sudan is one of the biggest countries in Africa by land size and by population metrics. But this is mild praise compared to the weight of historical significance attached to the territory majestically named The Sudan.

Archaeological remains show that the territory has been occupied for over twenty millennia. However, the history of organized society in Sudan usually begins with discussions on Kerma culture that sprang up around central and northern parts of modern Sudan in the 16th century BC.

Kerma was the upper Nubian kingdom. At its height around 15th century BC, Kerma is known to have rivaled the neighboring Kemet, or better known as ancient Egypt.

Ancient Egypt eventually annexed Kerma. This was the height of ancient Egypt’s imperial hegemony that saw the inception of the Pharaohs, the title of Egypt’s monarchs beginning from the 16th century BC.

Most of the lands immediately south of the Nile were Egyptianized during the hegemony of the Pharaohs, and what is now Sudan was not spared. Art and architectural discoveries in modern Sudan bear witness to this development.

But after the 20th dynasty of imperial Egypt, the empire began to wane around the 11th century BC. Coincidentally, a promising kingdom in Nubia, Kush, was in infancy.

The kingdom of Kush in Nubia conquered a very weakened Egypt in the 8th century BC. Indeed, the 25th dynasty that ruled Egypt were Kushite monarchs until an Assyrian people took over Egypt.

Kush’s capital Meroe was the important city in Nubia, and by extent Sudan until the 4th century AD. By the time Meroe fell to the Axumites, Nubia was Christianized.

Right to the rise of Axum, what was Sudan or Nubia was not a nation but rather a vast land in the south of the Nile valley populated by kingdoms, loosely-connected by culture, that waxed and waned.

It was from about the 9th century AD, when the Arabs started calling the land bilad-as-Sudan meaning “land of the black people”, that Sudan started looking like today – a nation of Africans with strong Arabic and Islamic heritage and influence.

Different Arabic dynasties arose in Sudan after the 10th century AD. A sense of nationhood in Sudan was quite tangible by the mid-18th century after Muhammad Ali Pasha conquered the land and established the Ali dynasty.

By the 1900s, Sudan was under British colonial control. The country gained independence in 1956 but has since fought several civil wars, one of whose results was the creation of the Republic of South Sudan, the largely Christian-populated nation severed from the largely Islamic Sudan in 2018.

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