15 December 2017

Tales of Jewish Sudan

Every other week Rushaa Hamid looks at groups and people grappling with a Sudanese identity outside of the mainstream, publicised one. This week she focuses on the Jewish Sudanese and speaks to Daisy Abboudi who is collecting their histories.

jewish sudan

Engagement photo, Khartoum 1939

Descendants of merchants and traders, the Jewish community in Sudan at one point numbered up to 1,000 people. In the face of increasing persecution after independence in 1956 most were forced to flee, and the once active community almost entirely disappeared from Khartoum.

For those interested, easy-to-access information about the history of Jewish Sudan is limited. ‘Jacob’s Children in the Land of the Mahdi’ by Eli Malka is one such record, as is the documentary The Jews and the Longest Kiss in History. The most recent is Tales of Jewish Sudan, a collection of oral histories compiled by Daisy Abboudi.

For Daisy, the project itself started small, over the dinner table; “I grew up with stories about the Sudan from my grandparents, the way it looked, what they did. I had a vivid imagination and my grandfather was an excellent story teller so it became a very real place in my mind.  Once I was old enough to understand a bit more I started asking questions about the history of the community and my family – how they got to Sudan, why they lived there, building a family tree with real people attached to the old stories.” Upon graduating from university with a degree in Ancient History she decide to create a book and website to preserve these tales.

The result is a series of beautiful anecdotes from the tale of Yaadis to buying bulti that give a vivid sense of the day-to-day life for the community. And it is small touches, like the inclusion of traditional recipes, that demonstrate the persistence of links to Sudan even in the diaspora. “No matter where in the world Jewish people from Sudan settled, they kept the traditions of their food and they have passed on their recipes to my generation.”

In many tales there is a sense of yearning recognisable to most Sudanese living outside of Sudan. During her research Daisy found almost every interviewee discussed their happiness within Sudan and how good the Sudanese people were. “Even though the country became too politically hostile for them to remain in they remember their time in Sudan as a type of carefree, happy ‘golden age'”. For the generations who have lived entire lives outside Sudan there is still a sense of connection with the country, one that this project seeks to maintain in some small way. Though there were worries that beginning the project would make her a target of anti-Semitism from inside Sudan, Daisy says that “the vast majority of people have been excited and kind.”

It is a deep shame that this unique history is not more widely known. We as Sudanese need to acknowledge the situation we have created where our fellow compatriots could not feel safe in their own country, thus losing one aspect of our diverse nation. As Daisy says; “we should all remember the people behind politics”. It is the least we can do to preserve their history and not let the past be forgotten.


IMG_2828Rushaa is a (sort of) Sudanese writer whose work appeared in The Independent, BuzzFeed and Dazed. She’s a SOAS University of London alumna and an active member of Al-Mustakbal.



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