SOODAN, SOUDAN, or SUDAN, more correctly Berr or Biled es-Sudan, the Land of the Blacks, is the general name given by Arab writers to Negroland, where it confines on the desert, or to the countries along the S. frontier of the Sahra. The application of the name, however, is often special, and appears to vary in different authors, not so much owing, perhaps, to the political fluctuations of the African interior, as to different degrees of intimacy with the several commercial routes across the desert; though the relative importance of those routes must, doubtless, have risen or declined with the power of the tribes who used them, and the prosperity of the trade to which they ministered.

Berr-es-Sudan extended, we are told, from the Nile in the East to the Atlantic Ocean in the West, that is to say, nearly across the African continent. But when the Arab writers proceed to details, and attempt to describe the several nations occupying this long line, it is obvious that they omit alto gether the Yolofs, Seracolies, Foolahs, and other nations dwelling on the Senegal. Towards the Atlantic their knowledge was bounded by the Magharawa, a Berber tribe, who occupied the coasts near Arguin, and the districts of the gum-forests. The most W. kingdom of the blacks (Soodan), as they distinctly state, was that of Ghanah, and Ghanah was unquestionably near the N. bend of the great river (the Jolibn, Issa or Quorra), and not far from the site of the modern Timbuctoo. Yet El Bekri, in one of the earliest accounts of Ghanali extant (of the llth century), mentions Silla, which lies much higher up the river above Jenne (or Ghenne), whence Ghinewa and Guinea), S.W. from Timbuctoo. The name Silla belongs to the language of the Mandingoes, who are thus recognized among the Soodan of that age. But early in the 13th century, the Susu, a people of Mandingo race, conquered Ghanah, and founded Timbucto ; they gave way, however, in a few years to the Mali, a people of the same race, whose original seat appears to have been Bambarra, on the Joliba. How long the Mandingoes remained masters of the chief commercial frontier of the Berr-es-Sudan we know not, as Arab writers enable us to trace the empire of Mali during only a century and a half, but the title of Mali was still very eminent in the 16th century, and is not yet quite forgotten. The people im mediately South of Ghanah were the Inkizar (Nkisar), the Kigsoor of Caillie. The Kigsoor or Nkisar language is that known to the tribes of the desert as the Songhay or Sungay, which extends from Jenné or Ghenné, on the Joliba, East to Sai, where the same great river, flowing South, takes the name of Quorra. It is, in short, the language of the country embraced by the great winding of the river, which flows North from Jenné to the borders of the desert (near Timbuctoo); then running East a few days, turns South or Southeast. to Ghurma and Nufi. The chief place of this country was Kagho or Kugha, on the river above Sai, of which little is known at the present day, though it will probably be found to exist still under the name of Googra. The river of Ghanah flowed, according to the Arabs, into the lake or sea of Quorra, and the river at Nufi, or from Eabba downwards, is still called the sea. They added, that a branch (the Tchadda) went E., which was supposed to join the Nile; near this branch they placed the Yemyem or Lemlem, the wild people reputed to be cannibals, who, though they seem to retreat before close inquiry, are still connected by tradition with the hills of the Bauché (boors or peasants), in the Houssa country. While the Mali ruled this part of Negroland, they pushed their conquests East beyond the river from Kagho to Tekadda in the desert, where there were copper-mines. There can be no doubt that the name usually read Tekadda is the Tekiddi of Dr. Barth, a little way North of Aghades. This movement of the Mali shows the early connection which subsisted between Kagho and that part of the desert, a connection proved also by the prevalence of the Sungay language at Aghades, a remarkable fact pointed out by Dr. Barth, who errs materially, however, in his explanation of it, for he seems to regard Timbuctoo as the first source of that language, which was in reality diffused along the frontier of the desert from Timbuctoo to Aghades, by the commercial activity of the natives of Inkizar, between Jenné and Kagho.

From this prevalence of one language at the chief markets on the Southern borders of the desert, we are justified in drawing the important conclusion, that wherever the names Soodan, or Sudan, and Berr-es-Sudan, are used specially, and not in a general sense, they apply to the country and people embraced within the limits of the Sungay language, that is to say, from Jenné in the West to Aghades in the East, or the whole frontier of Negroland lying between the terminations of two great routes across the desert, namely, that from Tafilelt or Wed Nun, and that from Tripoli. The most Eestern nation of the Berr-es-Sudan mentioned by early writers, is Kanem, which seems to have enjoyed an undisputed superiority before Bornu rose into notice.

Darfur and Kordofan, connected with Egypt from the earliest times, were never expressly mentioned as parts of the Berr-es-Sudan, though with Bergoo, Waday, Sennar, &c., they are often now designated under the name of Eastern Soodan. Mention is made of Guber, Zcgzeg, Kabi, Kwara, Nufi, &c., but the general name Houssa, under which these provinces are now included, never once occurs. Makrizi appears to have known Adamava, on the Benne or Tchadda, and Umburm, S. of that river. The country South and Southeast of Inkizar, or behind Dahomey and Asientie, was called Wangara the name still given to it by the people of Houssa.

The recent explorations of Dr. Barth show that the sources of the Benne (Tchadda) and Faro (its chief affluent) are in the heights which send their waters in the opposite direction to the Calabar and Gaboon; and that the country, as far at least as the sixth parallel, is a plain, diversified only at wide distances by insulated mountains of no great elevation ; nor do the accounts of the natives which reach some distance Southeast, indicate anywhere the existence of chains of high mountains.

With the champaign character of the country may perhaps be connected the wide diffusion of the Fellatah, whose equestrian habits would exclude them from rugged and mountainous districts. These remarkable people are now known to extend, in an almost uninterrupted chain of independent states, from the banks of the Senegal to those of the Benne in Adamava; and report adds that they are not very distant from the White Nile in lat. 5 North (Jomard’s Edrisi; The Negro- land of the Arabs, 1841.) [3.950-51]


Blackie, Walker Graham. The Imperial Gazetteer: A General Dictionary of Geography, Physical, Political, Statistical and Descriptive. 4 vols. London: Blackie & Son, 1856. Internet Archive. Online version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web. 31 July 2020.

Last modified 20 August 2020