Baggara - Sociopolitical Organization



Political Organization. Traditionally, each Baggara camp is led by a shaykh (pl. shuyukh ). Although sons tend to inherit the position from their fathers, adult male members of a camp must agree on a man to fill the position. The shaykh's power is essentially limited to his being a spokesperson for the consensus decision of the male members of the camp, although he may wield considerable influence, owing to his wisdom and economic status. In 1911, during Turkish rule in Sudan, two additional political positions were introducted: nazir (pl. nuzara ) and ʿomda (pl. umad ). Nuzara were placed as the leaders of main tribal sections. Within each main tribal sec-tion, further divisions ( khushum beyut ; sing, khashm beyt ) are headed by umad.

Social Control. One administrative role of a shaykh is to assist in tax collection. Nuzara have courts at which suits are heard from their own sections. Umad are arbitrators in disputes within their omodiyat (sing, omodiya ). If the ʿomda fails to arbitrate to the satisfaction of both parties, the suit goes to one of the courts. The most serious disputes heard by the ʿomda are those involving homicide, in which settlement may involve negotiation and payment of a blood debt. Less serious disputes within a camp are handled by persuasive discussion by the shaykh, the elders, and the other senior men. Sometimes disputes arise between herders and farmers, particularly when cattle destroy crops. In such cases, the injured farmer has the right to impound the cattle in question. Then, he and the owners meet, perhaps under the men's tree, to negotiate a suitable fine. Once the fine has been paid, the cattle are released.

Conflict. In former times, the Baggara were participants in cattle and slave raids and in various military alliances with the sultanates. Today several of the Baggara tribes are involved in the ongoing Sudanese civil war, particularly in South Kordofan, and often find themselves caught between government and rebel forces.


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