Masalit people

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Total population
Regions with significant populations
Sudan, Chad
Related ethnic groups
Fur, other Nilotic peoples

The Masalit (Masalit: masara; Arabic: ماساليت‎‎) are an ethnic group inhabiting western Sudan and eastern Chad. They speak the Masalit language, which belongs to the Nilo-Saharan family.


The Masalit primarily live in villages in the Geneina and Habila districts, located in the western Gharb Darfur state in Sudan. They also dwell in parts of the southern Janub Darfur state.[1]

According to Ethnologue, there were 440,000 total Masalit speakers as of 2011. Of these, 350,000 inhabited Sudan.[1]

Masalit traditions trace their original homeland to Tunisia. Passing through Chad, they eventually settled in the Sudan vicinity.[2]

The Masalit are also known as the Kana Masaraka, Mesalit, and Massalit. They are primarily subsistence agriculturalists, cultivating peanuts and millet. Further south in their territory, they grow various other crops, including sorghum. The typical Masalit house is constructed of conical wood and thatch.[2]

Most Masalit today adhere to Islam, which they first adopted in the 17th century through contact with traveling clerics. Some vestiges of their earlier faith still exist in their traditional culture.[2]


The Masalit speak the Masalit language. It belongs to the Maban group of the Nilo-Saharan family.[1]

Masalit is divided into several dialects, with the variety spoken in South Darfur differing from that of West Darfur. The northern Masalit dialect is spoken to the east and north of Geneina.[1]

The Masalit language is most closely related to the Marfa, Maba and Karanga languages. It shares 45% of its vocabulary with Marfa, 42% with Maba, and 36% with Karanga.[1]

Most Masalit are bilingual in Arabic, except in the central area, where the Nilo-Saharan vernacular is primarily spoken.[1]

Masalit is currently written using the Latin script.[1]


According to Hassan et al. (2008), around 71.9% of Masalit are carriers of the E1b1b paternal haplogroup. Of these, 73.9% bear the V32 subclade. Approximately 6.3% also belong to the haplogroup J1. This points to significant patrilineal gene flow from neighbouring Afro-Asiatic-speaking populations. The remaining Masalit individuals are primarily carriers of the A3b2 lineage (18.8%), which is instead common among Nilotes.[3]

Maternally, the Masalit entirely belong to African-based derivatives of the macrohaplogroup L according to Hassan (2010). Of these mtDNA clades, the L0a1 (14.6%) and L1c (12.2%) lineages are most frequent. This altogether suggests that the genetic introgression into the Masalit's ancestral population was asymmetrical, occurring primarily through Afro-Asiatic-speaking males rather than females.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Masalit language". Ethnologue. Retrieved 22 September 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c Olson, James Stuart (1996). The Peoples of Africa: An Ethnohistorical Dictionary. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 375. ISBN 0313279187. Retrieved 22 September 2016. 
  3. ^ Hassan, Hisham Y. et al. (November 2008). "Y‐chromosome variation among Sudanese: Restricted gene flow, concordance with language, geography, and history" (PDF). American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 137 (3): 316–323. doi:10.1002/ajpa.20876. Retrieved 22 September 2016. 
  4. ^ Mohamed, Hisham Yousif Hassan. "Genetic Patterns of Y-chromosome and Mitochondrial DNA Variation, with Implications to the Peopling of the Sudan" (PDF). University of Khartoum. Retrieved 21 September 2016. 

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