Beja people

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Regions with significant populations
Beja, Sudanese Arabic, Tigre
Sunni Islam
Related ethnic groups
Ababda · Tigre · Tigrinya · Agaw · Amhara · Somali · Oromo

The Beja people (Arabic: البجا‎) are an ethnic group inhabiting Sudan, as well as parts of Eritrea, Egypt, and the Sahara desert. They speak the Beja language as a mother tongue, which belongs to the Afro-Asiatic family.


The general area the Beja people inhabit is the land between the Nile River and the Red Sea in Sudan, Eritrea and eastern Egypt, called the Saharan Eastern Desert. Most of them live in the Sudanese states of Red Sea around Port Sudan, River Nile, Al Qadarif and Kassala, as well as in Northern Red Sea, Gash-Barka, and Anseba Regions in Eritrea, and southeastern Egypt. There are smaller populations of other Beja ethnic groups further north into Egypt's Eastern Desert. Some Beja groups are nomadic. The Kharga Oasis in Egypt's Western Desert is home to a large number of Qamhat Bisharin who were displaced by the Aswan High Dam. Jebel Uweinat is revered by the Qamhat.


The Beja have been named "Blemmyes" in Roman times,[1] "Bugas" in Aksumite inscriptions in Ge'ez[citation needed], and "Fuzzy Wuzzy" by Rudyard Kipling. Kipling was specifically referring to the Hadendowa, who fought the British, supporting the "Mahdi," a Sudanese leader of a rebellion against the Turkish rule administered by the British.[2]


The Beja speak Beja or To Bedawie, an Afro-Asiatic language usually classified as Cushitic, but sometimes seen as an independent branch. The French linguist Didier Morin (2001) has made an attempt to bridge the gap between Beja and another branch of Cushitic, namely Lowland East Cushitic languages and in particular Afar and Saho, the linguistic hypothesis being historically grounded on the fact that the three languages were once geographically contiguous.[3] Most Beja speak the Beja language, however certain sub-clans do not, the Beni Amers for instance speak a variety of Tigre, while most of the Halengas speak a mix of Bedawiet and Arabic.[3]

Even though the influence of Arabic cannot be denied, Beja speakers do not consider that their language is today an endangered language. The very facts that the highest moral and cultural values of this society are in one way or the other linked to their expression in Beja, that Beja poetry is still highly praised, and that the claims over the Beja land are only valid when expressed in Beja, are very strong social factors in favour of its preservation. True enough Arabic is considered as the language of modernity, but it is also very low in the scale of Beja cultural values as it is a means of transgressing social prohibitions. Beja is still the prestigious language for most of its speakers because it conforms to the ethical values of the community.[3]


A Beja shield made of animal hide from the 20th century. In the collection of the Walters Art Museum.

The Bejas are divided into clans. These lineages include the Bisharin, Hedareb, Hadendowa (or Hadendoa), the Amarar (or Amar'ar), Beni-Amer, Hallenga and Hamran, some of whom are partly mixed with Bedouins in the east.

Beja society was traditionally organized into independent kingdoms. According to Al-Yaqubi, there were six such Beja polities that existed between Aswan and Massawa during the 9th century. Among these were the Kingdom of Bazin, Kingdom of Belgin, Kingdom of Jarin, Kingdom of Nagash, Kingdom of Qita'a and Kingdom of Tankish.[4]

Bejas believe that they are the descendants of Sekhmet and her human consort. Some Egyptian Bejawi clans believe that they are descendants of Maahes Warrior Chiefs of High Priests of Amun at Thebes . Priest-Kings Pinedjem I, Psusennes I and Osorkon the Elder and their armies are believed to be the ancestors of Egypt's Western Desert Bejawi. Omdas Sheikh Qamhat Khawr al`allaqi was last remnant of one of Egypt's oldest surviving lineages. His death in 1936 was widely considered the death knell for the Qamhat Bisharin.

Egyptologist Heinrich Brugsch traced Qamhat Khawr kiji tribal clans through female lines to the 20th Dynasty Wehem Mesut. Egyptologist Zakaria Goneim traced their ancestress mother to an even earlier dynasty.


According to Ethnologue, most Beja are Muslim. The majority adhere to the Sunni denomination.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stanley Mayer Burstein, Ancient African Civilizations: Kush and Axum, p. 167 (2008)
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c Martine Vanhove, The Beja Language Today in Sudan: The State of the Art in Linguistics 2006.
  4. ^ Elzein, Intisar Soghayroun (2004). Islamic Archaeology in the Sudan. Archaeopress. p. 13. ISBN 1841716391. Retrieved 13 March 2015. 
  5. ^ "Bedawi language". Ethnologue. Retrieved 1 March 2015. 

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