23/03/2015
lisa monaghan

Voll (1978). Review Historical Dictionary of the Sudan

Individual entries, consisting of a few lines to almost a page in length fill about 75 pages of this volume, number seventeen in Scarecrow Press's African Historical Dictionary series. Approximately 140 of the slightly over 310 items treat either individuals and organizations of the condominium and postindependence eras. Politics dominate the entries and the dictionary concisely and conveniently guides the reader through the multitude of parties and associations in both the northern and the southern regions of twentieth century Sudan. The author's expertise in Sudanese Islam is apparent as he describes the intellectual and historical roots of religious brotherhoods and traces out their role in contemporary politics. Entries concerning prominent Sudanese families usefully discuss the role kin groups have played in the religious and political history of the Sudan. The dictionary's brevity and its heavy emphasis on politics and Islam, however, accentuate the major difficulties faced by any historical dictionary: selectivity, balance, and precision. The entries include some superfluous items, while omitting other, more important ones. A Sudanese political leader whose main accomplishment apparently was to retain his post as minister of irrigation during a period of numerous cabinet changes possesses an entry (p. 26). "Fuzzy-wuzzy," a term the British applied to the Beja people, is defined (p. 48), while the ethnic groups of the far western Sudan are represented by one entry: the Fur who are, in any case, very briefly discussed under the name of their region, Darfur, and not as an ethnic group. The Wahhabi religious movement of the Arabian

Peninsula had only an indirect role in the Sudan, but shows up in the entries. The zar or destour spirit possession belief, widespread among women in the Nile River valley, is absent. Entries devoted to the Funj and Keira sultanates outline dynastic changes and disputes (more thoroughly for the Funj than for the Keira), but fail even to mention, much less include a separate entry for, the long-distance trade networks such as the Forty Day Road and the Nile valley
routes that played important roles in the economies and politics of those states.

Category: Anthropology and History

Sub-category: Socio-Cultural Groups and Practices