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Luxury, Status, and the Importance ofSlavery in the Nineteenth- and Early-Ttuentieth-Century Northern Sudan HeatherJ. Sharkey Princeton University Almost immediately after the official abolition of slavery in 1899, the Condominium administration began to worry about the exodus of slaves from the farmlands of their owners and the corresponding slump in the northern Sudan's overall agricultural output.1 In an influential article entitled "Economic Development and the Heritage of Slavery in the Sudan Republic," McLoughlin comments on this period's labor shortage and the hardship that it created. He explains that the pains of social and economic adjustment were not surprising, since "the Sudan has been a slave-based economy for at least three millennia."2 McLoughlin's portrayal of slavery in the Sudan is open to question on two grounds: he suggests that slaves had indeed been the cornerstone of the Sudanese economy for millennia, and implies that the demand for slaves over that time span had primarily reflected a demand for their productive labor. Both conclusions, though containing some truth, are essentially flawed. It is true that the territories of the Sudan had exported slaves for millennia . One of the earliest extant written sources, dating from the fourth millennium B.c., indicates that Egyptians under the Pharaoh Seneferu penetrated Nubia up to the fourth cataract and collected slaves from the area between Abu Hamad and Khartoum. Later Ptolemaic records mention the Sudanese ivory and slave eunuchs which were subject to duty at the port of Alexandria.3 And so it continued, with the Sudan providing slaves and other exotic goods to the successive Pharaonic, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Early Islamic, Mamluke, Ot-® Northeast African Studies (ISSN 0740-9133) Vol. 1, Nos. 2-3 (New Series) 1994, pp. 187-206 187 188 Heather I Sharkey toman, and Turco-Egyptian empires of Egypt. In many ways one could argue that the current boundaries of the Democratic Republic of the Sudan represent the legacy of that southward push for slaves and other luxury goods.4 Nonetheless, the mere fact that slaves were a luxury item for external markets—on a par with ivory and ostrich feathers—in no way proves the existence of a widespread internal Sudanese demand for that same item. In fact, the passage of time has so thoroughly obscured internal slave-owning practices of the past few millennia that positing any theories on its overall social and economic impact becomes futile. Yet, where sufficiently detailed sources do begin to exist—namely, after the foundation of the Funj and Kayra sultanates in the early 16th and early 17th century respectively—it appears that slave-owning operated on a minor scale. As O'Fahey and Spaulding have noted, slave-owning, by and large, remained a prerogative of the elite during the few centuries preceding the Turco-Egyptian conquest of 1820. The practice was limited to the sultans, petty chiefs, and feudal noblemen of the Funj and Kayra dynasties who settled slaves on entire villages to farm the royal lands, who made slaves a prominent part of court life and the administrative hierarchy, and who reserved the right to bestow the privilege of slaveowning on others.5 O'Fahey speculates that the [Kayra] slave-owners were "the great, the rich, and the holy," and indeed that slaves "were a symbol of power, wealth, or sanctity."6 By the early 19th century, within the power vacuum that had been created by the slow but steady demise of the Funj dynasty, prosperous traders of the riverain areas began to acquire slaves.7 But it was only with the Turco-Egyptian conquest of 1820 that a revolution in slaveowning occurred. One of Muhammad Ali's main reasons for launching the conquest was to obtain access to a cheap pool of slaves for his armies. And so, he initiated massive slave hunts on an unprecedented scale in the nonMuslim southern regions. Many slaves he incorporated into his armies, but countless others (including women and children) he sold in northern Sudanese markets for profit.8 Independent slave-and ivory-traders followed in his path over the ensuing decades.9 Soon the market was Luxury, Status, and the Importance ofSlavery 189 flooded with slaves; cheap prices meant...


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