Ingessana people

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Ingessana (Gaahmg, Tabi) are the members of an African ethnic group of Sudan and speak the Gaam language. They live around the Tabi Hills, southwest of Damazine and northwest of Kurmuk in the Blue Nile Province.The capital of the Ingessena area is Bao (11.350797,34.083710) and the government offices are in Soda. There are 4 major subgroups of the Ingessana: the Jok Kulelek the Jok Bulek,the Jok Gor and the Jok Tau.There are reported to be 78 hills in the area, some rising 300 meters above the surrounding flat plains. While the plains are grassland with occasional acacia trees, the vegetation in the hills has a much greater variety of plants and trees, with water sources even in the dry season.Their traditional religion is based on worship of the Sun. Extensive research on the Ingessana has been done by anthropologists Charles Jedrej and Akira Okazaki.

As Jedrej (1995) explains, the Gaahmg (Ingessana) have historically protected themselves and their hills from many invasions of outsiders. As a result, their culture is much more resistant to change than that of other ethnic groups of the Southern Blue Nile region. Mainly selfsustaining in what they cultivate in the hill area, the Gaahmg are slow to grow cash crops or to migrate for wages. As a result of past conflict with Arabs and other invaders, they have a reputation of being hostile towards strangers and even refugees.

Although the origins of the Gaahmg are unclear, the Ingessena hills were alternately raided for several hundred years by the Funj sultans of Sennar to the northwest or by the Abyssinian kings of Gondar to the northeast, the Ingessena hills being a borderland between these kingdoms that plundered for slaves and gold. The Dinka and Nuer to the southwest raided the Gaahmg for cattle during times of drought or flooding in their own areas (Jedrej 1995). From 1820-1855, the ruling Turk-Egyptian Empire demanded heavy tribute of slaves and gold. When they did not receive their demands, they attacked and imprisoned the Gaahmg, taking several hundred prisoners at a time. The Gaahmg fought back with speed and surprise attacks, causing many attacks of the Empire to be unsuccessful (Jedrej 1995).

In 1888-1889, the Mahdi government raided the Funj area and the Ingessena hills in particular, to provide for Khartoum during a severe and widespread famine, taking 1000 head of cattle from the Gaahmg on one occasion. The Gaahmg made counter attacks and held Arabs captive for ransom at ten head of cattle per person (Jedrej 1995).

From 1903-1934, the Anglo-Egyptian Government was less brutal but continued the same pattern of collecting tribute and squelching resistance. When the Gaahmg attacked tax patrols in protest to tribute collections, the Anglo-Egyptian government conducted ‘military operations’ which, although they did not involve taking slaves, seized livestock and killed those deemed responsible (Jedrej 1995).

The main occupations of the Gaahmg relate to livestock, cultivation, or craftmaking. In particular, the Gaahmg grow sorghum, sesame, maize, peppers, gourds, and tobacco. They keep cattle, goats, pigs, sheep, hens, donkeys, mules, and camels. During the dry season, young men and boys take herds of up to 50 head of cattle a hundred miles south to the Yabus River for water and pasture.

The Ingessana are also famous for their throwing knives, called koleth. There are two types of these, called "Sai" and "Muder".The designs on the blade are fixed and different for both the varieties. The "Muder" features a scorpion (deit) on the left side and an insect called fil on the other. Fil is a water insect and often stings people who are bathing but the pain is slight relative to that inflicted by a scorpion. The "Sai" also carries two creatures from nature, the snake (der) and the spider (maras) Both are represented on each side of the blade and spider four times in all,twice on each side. The shank and hilt of each variety are engraved with either pairs of small incisions (representing the footprints of a small deer, mofor) or parallel zig-zag lines called 'the millepede' (dongole) and sometimes combinations of both. The design here reflects the preference of the client or smith.

Since the 1980s, the state has become a major battleground for the ideological competition between two opposed models: Khartoum’s attempts at unifying and centralising the country with a dominant Arab-Islamic identity, which South Sudan’s separation is paradoxically reviving, versus the rebel SPLM/A’s and now SRF’s agenda for a more inclusive and devolved Sudan. Attempts to resolve Blue Nile’s past and current conflicts thus very much reflect Sudan’s existential dilemma as to how best it should define itself.

By the 1980s, land grabbing and exploitation by the centre led some in Blue Nile to identify more with the South. In 1985, the newly formed SPLM/A was quick to send Southern troops to Blue Nile and recruit from among local communities, including many Ingessana. Some of the most prominent leaders of SPLA/North are Ingessana.

As a result of on-going conflict, most of the Ingessana have since 2011 been displaced as refugees to South Sudan.