03 October, 2011

The Hadhrami Influence in Sudan

Early in the 19th Century, due to famine and hunger, like my father, many people from Hadhramaut migrated fled to other countries. Most of these were from Wadi Hadhramaut, especially from Wadi Do'an and Tarim. They left, usually by dhow or by sambouk. One can only imagine how hard the circumstances might have been to force a people, most of whom were very young, to take such perilous journeys and go into complete foreign, alien lands. Many of them left their parents, families and even wives and children behind. Most of these young men (yes: this great migration of the Hadharem was almost totally made up of men only, and young) when reaching the foreign lands, would marry there - Muslim local, native women. In most cases, it would be a very long time before they returned to Hadhramout to see their wives, children and families; many of whom could have already passed away. Many, too, never returned to the Homeland.

Due to the pressure of famine and the very bad economic conditions in Hadhramout, the opening of the Suez Canal which created all sorts of economic opportunities for the Hadhrem -  they migrated in droves. Of these migrants, many went to Sudan; some times, via Saudi Arabia. Of the early Hadhrami migrants, the main destination was the sea port, north-east of Sudan, north of Port Said, on the Read sea - Suakin (سواكن). Then, historic, medieval Suakin was the main sea-port in Sudan. It was bustling with Sudanese, Yemenis, Saudis, Turks and Egyptians. Like Jeddah is the place to be, now; Suakin was the place to be, then. Most of the migrants to Sudan were from Wadi Do'an and Wadi Hadhramout. In Sudan, most married. The Hadherem, especially of old, loved women. It is very rare to find an old Hadhrami man who had not married several times. Many, in Sudan, had several wives.

As is today, people of Hadhramout, mainly through their honest, patient and resilient character - were easily welcomed and accepted wherever they went. And with time, they thrived and integrated. Thrived through trade. They would normally, at first, have small shops. With time, many became very wealthy. In Suakin, they had small shops or traded or plied in goods and animals; sometimes to as far as to Saudi Arabia or Eritrea. In the 1950s, with British planning, Port Said took over Suakin as the main port and largest market on the Red Sea, in Sudan. With the fast development of Port Said, the Hadhramis too, increased in numbers in the new port city. Apart from Suakin and Port Sudan, the Hadharem also settled in: Tokar (طوكر‎‎), Hala'ib (حلائب), Aqiq, (العقيق) Karora (كارورا) and Gash (القاش). Some, moved to Kassala.

At this time, in the 1950s and onwards - there were two categories of Hadhramis; those who had permanently settled in Sudan (these were mainly the ones who had settled in Suakin before) and those who would, later, just come to Sudan, spend a year or two or three, work, and return home to Hadhramout; and then again return to Sudan. Just like the Hadharem of Saudi Arabia today: there are those who are permanently settled there and those who go there, work, visit home for a few days and then go back to Saudi Arabia and continue working. Unlike the earlier Hadrami settlers who owned shops, businesses and land, the new arrivals had to make do with being laborers, cooks or bakers. Some, in Tokar, took up to cultivation. And unlike earlier Hadhrami migrants - who settled in other countries like: Sudan, other Eastern African countries, India and South Asia - and who gradually lost very close ties with Hadhramout; these new arrivals, who go back home to Hadhramaut regularly, maintained and still have very close ties with the Homeland.

From the earliest of times, adventurers from Hadhramaut may have come and settled and created colonies on the coast of Sudan. Reportedly, some of the Beja people who live along the Red Sea are descendants of some of these earliest Hadhrami migrants. Today, there are still many Hadhramis, or their descendants, in the country - mainly along the coast. It is interesting and notable that, in the interior of Sudan, compared to the coast, even today, even in Khartoum, there are very few Hadhramis. The Hadharem who went much earlier, married the indigenous Sudanese; but those who went in later, mostly married the progeny of the earlier Hadhramis. And they have, in most cases, continued marrying among themselves. In this way, the Hadharem in Sudan have integrated with the locals in a way; but at the same time have not assimilated with the locals as much as like in East Africa, India and South Asia.

What has very much helped the Hadharem in Sudan to easily adapt to Sudan; and preserve their identity more than the Hadrami migrants to other places out of Arabia - is Sudan using Arabic, being Muslim and being very close in culture to Hadhramaut. In Sudan today, the Hadharem, on the coast and the few who are inland - have done very well economically and socially. Today, too, Hadhramis are not only shopkeepers, cooks, bakers and laborers; they are involved in a variety of other professions and activities. They have become, too, involved in mining, agriculture and many are now highly educated.