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A Hadendoa Beja nomad, from The New Student's Reference Work (1914).

Hadendoa is the name of a nomadic subdivision of the Beja people, known for their support of the Mahdiyyah rebellion during the 1880s to 1890s.[1] The area historically inhabited by the Hadendoa is today parts of Sudan, Egypt and Eritrea.

According to Roper (1930), the name Haɖanɖiwa is made up of haɖa 'lion' and (n)ɖiwa 'clan'. Other variants are Haɖai ɖiwa, Hanɖiwa and Haɖaatʼar (children of lioness). The language of the Hadendoa is a dialect of Bedawi. Arabic is widely spoken as a second language. There are no current estimates as to the number of Hadendoa. SIL Ethnologue (2000) cited a 1992 estimate of 30,000 in Sudan, and a 1970 estimate of 20,000 in Eritrea, or roughly 50,000 out of a total number of 1.1 million Beja.


The southern Beja were part of the Christian kingdom of Axum during the 6th to 14th centuries. In the 15th century, Axum fell to the Islamization of the Sudan region, and although the Beja were never entirely subjugated, they were absorbed into Islam via marriages and trade contracts. In the 17th century, some of the Beja expanded southward, conquering better pastures. These became the Hadendowa, who by the 18th century were the dominant people of eastern Sudan.

The Hadendoa were traditionally a pastoral people, ruled by a Hereditary Chief, called a Ma'ahes, who, in colonial times, was directly responsible to the Anglo-Egyptian government of Sudan. Osman Digna, one of the best-known chiefs during the Mahdiyyah rebellion under Muhammad Ahmad, was a Hadendoa, and the tribe contributed some of the fiercest of the Dervish warriors in the wars of 1883–98. So determined were they in their opposition to the Anglo-Egyptian forces that the name Hadendoa grew to be nearly synonymous with rebel.

Their elaborate hairdressing gained them the name of "Fuzzy-wuzzies" among the British troops during the Mahdist War. Osman Digna was a Mahdist general who led the Hadendoa to break a British infantry square in the Battle of Tamai, although he ultimately lost the battle itself. This was the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling's poem, Fuzzy-Wuzzy. They earned an unenviable reputation during the wars by their hideous mutilations of the dead on the battlefields. After the reconquest of the Egyptian Sudan (1896–98) the Hadendoa accepted the new order without demur.

In World War II the Hadendowa allied themselves with the British against the Italians who were supported by the tribes hostile to the tribe, including the Beni-Amer.[2]


  1. ^ Martin, Hugh (1899) Kassala: An Historical Sketch in The United Service Magazine. London: William Clowes & Son. 1899. pp. 58–. 
  2. ^ Orville Boyd Jenkins , Profile of the Beja people (1996, 2009)


  • Roper, E. M. Tu Bedawie: an elementary handbook for the use of Sudan government officials. (Hertford, 1930)
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Hadendoa". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.  This work in turn cites:
    • Count Gleichen, ed., Anglo-Egyptian Sudan (London, 1905)
    • F. R. Wingate, Mahdism and the Egyptian Sudan (London, 1891)
    • G. Sergi, Africa: Anthropology of the Hamitic Race (1897)
    • A. H. Keane, Ethnology of the Egyptian Sudan (1884)