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Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology

Günther Schlee 2013


Wad an-Nail

On the market place of Wad an-Nail, ʿAwad Karim and I meet Abdullahi, the ḍaamin for the Mbororo, or "guarantee man", as ʿAwad translates this term (see contributions to Schlee, 2004, for similar functions in livestock markets elsewhere). The security officer who had quizzed us at the bus stop had already pointed him out to us, identifying him as sheekum, or "their sheikh".

Abdullahi explains to me that he is a Rufaʿa Arab, but that he has had dealings with the Mbororo since 1963. They come here every rainy season, and he is responsible for them as a ḍaamin, i.e., he has to guarantee that the animals they come to sell have not been stolen. He claims to speak Fulfulde perfectly.

He explains that the Mbororo will move south again in October/November in spite of the war. According to Abdullahi, the following sections (khashm al-beyt) are now present in the area:

  • Mbororo (in the narrow sense of the term)
  • Weyla (= Woyla)
  • Daneeji (baggar abyad – [Fulɓe group with] "white cattle")
  • Uuda
  • Fallaata Malle
  • Dagara
  • Booɗi.

Abdullahi says that the nomadic Fulɓe (Mbororo in the wide sense of the term) who spend the rainy season in the Wad an-Nail area come from the south, from Yabus, Jikaw, and Gambela. (In fact, they come from quite a few different areas, and we met none who have been inside Gambela State, Ethiopia, this year.)

Abdullahi himself was with Mbororo in Jikaw during the last dry season (seef), as he has been for the last three years. He accompanies them as a trader, selling salt and medicines.

He describes his route, which leads along the road to Geesan (Geissan), then to Musay, Gooja, Baabar, Undu, Ahmar Dallu, Raaba, Kashan Karo, Khartuum bee Leel (literally: "Khartoum by night"), Khor Ad-Dhahab ("Gold Valley"), Jabal Faabo, and Musai. All these locations are within Blue Nile State, Sudan. In Musai one crosses into Ethiopia. He claims that there are no problems on the Ethiopian side with the population or the authorities.

(In this Abdullahi agrees with Mbororo informants, who never report difficulties encountered in Ethiopia or say explicitly that there were none. Oddly, this contradicts information collected from Ethiopians, who emphasise the ecological damage caused by Mbororo and report attempts to expel them. A possible explanation for this apparent contradiction is that the difficulties experienced by the Mbororo in Ethiopia pale in comparison with what they have to face in the southern parts of the Sudan [Southern Blue Nile and Upper Nile] each year and, therefore, soon fade from memory.)

The Mbororo only go to Jikaw in the dry season. I tell Abdullahi that Nuer cattle there wade in the flood in the rainy season and graze under water. He confirms that he has heard this, but he has never seen it himself.

We rent an old Toyota Landcruiser, with a certain Ya’aquub as owner/driver, and, taking a Mbororo named Derdi along, set out to find the hamlet of Maahi Bello, our old acquaintance.

His brother, Harun Bello Usmaan, addresses me in Oromo. He says he (and that applies, basically, to the other members of this hamlet) was in Oromia for three years. He first went there nine years ago and stayed for three years, but he has not gone there for the past six years. Later he says seven years. He names the following locations: 

Place names Coordinates, if found on map(s) or located by GPS (+ waypoint No.) Comments
Dambi Dolo (Dembi Dolo on some maps) Lat. 8° 31' N / Long. 34° 47' E  
Gabba Arabi   See notes from November 26, 2001. Probably Gaara Arba, north of Qelem Manamo (waypoint 101: Lat. 9° 10' 45.94" N / Long. 34° 31' 42.11" E). But: the information gathered in Qelem Manamo in November 2001 refers to the time before 1992.
Sambata Gudda    
Jimma (near Dembi Dolo)
Lat. 8° 57' 19.99" N /
Long. 34° 44' 38.12" E
Waypoint 112
Beeki (Begi) Lat. 9° 20' 53.25" N /
Long. 34° 31' 46.9" E
Waypoint 097
Kobor Dafinno
Lat. 9° 28' 41.8" N /
Long. 34° 33' 35.41" E
Waypoint 093

In another enumeration:

Place names Coordinates, if found on map(s) or located by GPS (+ waypoint No.) Comments
Baye Ndogo    
Waddo Goodere    
Guddu Julu    
Mandi (Mendi on some maps) Lat. 9° 48' N / Long. 35° 6' E  
Gaara Korma    
Gaar Arba    
Jichaw (Jikaw on some maps) Lat. 8° 22' N / Long. 33° 46' E  
Warr Ababo    
Gabba Arabi   Gaara Arba (questionable identification)
Sambal Durra    
Sambata Gudda    
Gabba Arbi    
Dambi Dolo (Dembi Dolo) Lat. 8° 31' N / Long. 34° 47' E  
Gambela Lat. 8° 14' N / Long. 35° 15' E  
Bongo Lat. 8° 10' N / Long. 34° 50' E The identity with Bonga on the map is almost certain. The Uduk refugee camp there is known to the informant.
Itang Lat. 8° 12' N / Long. 15° 42' E  
Daajo (Dago or Dago Post on some maps) Lat. 9° 12' 6" N /
Long. 33° 57' 29" E
Beeki (Begi) Lat. 9° 20' 53.25" N /
Long. 34° 31' 46.9" E
Waypoint 097
Kubri Yaabus (Kubri Yabus on some maps) Lat. 9° 57' N / Long. 34° 10' E  

These places have all been mentioned as stopover points in the migration of the camps with their herds. Individuals, of course, have a wider range of mobility. In addition to the above localities, Harun has visited the markets in the following towns: 

Place names Coordinates, if found on map(s) or located by GPS (+ waypoint No.) Comments
Najo Lat. 9° 30' 34.11" N /
Long. 35° 29' 47.93" E
Waypoint 077
Naqamte (Nek'emte on some maps) Lat. 9° 05' N / Long. 36° 32' E Trip by car
Gambela Lat. 8° 14' N / Long. 35° 15' E  
Abobo Lat. 7° 53' N / Long. 34° 32' E Informant claims to have seen the lake.
In 1997, when the northern National Alliance, jointly with the SPLA, took possession of Kurmuk, this group was on the Ethiopian side of the Sudanese-Ethiopian border. They fled back into the Sudan.

There seems to be some reluctance to talk about losses in people and animals in connections with these events, but there appear to have been such losses. Since then (presumably he means in these eastern reaches), Harun’s and Maahi’s people have not been further south than Khor Baakori, south of Damazin.

In the dry season (seef) of this year, they have been in Ad-Dariyel, an oil area in Upper Nile. The oil people have drilled wells there and have allowed the herds to drink.

At one point Harun says that they have never paid any fees to anyone for water and grazing. Only zakat and the herd tax were paid to agencies of the Government of the Sudan (GoS). But later he mentions that, some four or five years ago, they had to make payments to Shayoor, a Nuer militia leader who delivered the payments to Nasir, to Riek Machaar. That was before Zubair Mohamed Salih, the second man in the GoS, was shot down with his aeroplane.

In this area there is a water problem. (Access to the Nile is blocked by settlements and gardens. Nomads rely on natural and artificial ponds, which collect rain water.) When the water here is gone, they want to go south, but not to the areas of Geissan and Kurmuk, because mines have been planted there. They will probably take a more westerly route and then cross the border with Ethiopia near the Takaamul Scheme.