Foundation of the Darfur Sultanate

The founding of the Darfur sultanate made complete a succession of Islamic states across the Sudan, opening a pilgrimage route to the holy city of Mecca and extending trade not only with Africa and the Middle East but also with Europe.

Summary of Event

Darfur is located between the Nile and Chad Rivers in western Sudan. In this huge area, which was inhabited mostly by nomads, only the Jebel Marra Mountains were suitable for the formation of a central government. The trade routes, passing since ancient times through this area, brought about the expansion of three successive dynasties far beyond its homeland in the mountains. These three dynasties, derived mainly from oral and written traditions that passed from father to son, were the Daju, the Tunjur, and the Keira. [kw]Foundation of the Darfur Sultanate (1640)
[kw]Sultanate, Foundation of the Darfur (1640)
[kw]Darfur Sultanate, Foundation of the (1640)
Expansion and land acquisition;1640: Foundation of the Darfur Sultanate[1330]
Religion and theology;1640: Foundation of the Darfur Sultanate[1330]
Trade and commerce;1640: Foundation of the Darfur Sultanate[1330]
Africa;1640: Foundation of the Darfur Sultanate[1330]
Sudan;1640: Foundation of the Darfur Sultanate[1330]
Darfur sultanate

By the sixteenth century, the Tunjur Dynasty Tunjur Dynasty established an empire that extended to Darfur and Wadai, and it even established political and commercial contacts with Ottoman Egypt. However, the Tunjurs disappeared in the seventeenth century and were succeeded by the Keira Dynasty Keira Dynasty in Darfur and by the Maba Dynasty Maba Dynasty in Wadai.

According to local traditions, the disappearance of the Tunjur Dynasty and the rule of the Keira there is associated with the figure of Ahmed el-Makur Ahmed el-Makur , an Arab from North Africa, who, by the authority of one local tradition, came to the court of a Fur chief called Kurooma Kurooma . Kurooma had married a daughter of the Keira chief. Later, Kurooma divorced her and gave her to Ahmed. From this marriage came Dali Dali , the first ruler of the Keira Dynasty.

Dali, described by local traditions as having established some of the most fundamental of the Darfur sultanate institutions, divided the state into five provinces. These provinces would remain the territorial units of the Keira administration until the nineteenth century. Dali also codified the laws and customs of the Keira sultanate in the so-called book of Dali.

Local traditions credit Sulayman Solong Sulayman Solong , who lived eight generations after Dali, as the second founder of the Keira state. Sulayman ruled between 1596 and 1637, the year of his death. He and his grandson, Ahmad Bakr Ahmad Bakr , expanded the sultanate, probably to maintain long-distance caravan trade with Egypt and the rest of Sudan, trade that was well established by the end of the seventeenth century. Trade;Africa

Good political and commercial contacts between Darfur and the Nile Valley were made because of the “forty-days’ road” (darb al-arbaՙin), which served as a route to supply slaves from the inner African continent to the Ottomans in Egypt Slavery;Africa . Slaves, a main export for Darfur, were seized from the pagan peoples south of the sultanate through raids acknowledged by the authorities. These raids, called ghazwa in Arabic, were organized and led by the noblemen, who sought permission from the sultan and then led a volunteer search group. The captured slaves not only faced export but also served as soldiers, agricultural laborers, bureaucrats, and even “gifts.”

The darb al-arbaՙin was the main link connecting Darfur with the outside world. The Keira Dynasty made Kobbe, located at the southern end of the darb al-arbaՙin, the first commercial and political capital of the dynasty, attesting to the road’s significance.

A second trading axis passing through the sultanate ran from west to east and formed part of the pilgrimage route from the western Sudanic belt to the holy cities Mecca and Medina. The Sudan Road Sudan Road , as it came to be known, was increasingly traveled in the seventeenth century because Darfur and Wadai provided security for pilgrims. Also, Darfur was located along an important trade route to Tripoli and Tunis in north Africa. It is no accident that Darfur was established in a location busy with traveling Muslim holy men from West Africa and the Nile Valley and along a major trade route.

Sulayman wanted to expand his territories to increase his catchment area for slaves, who could be bartered for arms, armor, horses, and fine cloth with Egyptian and Sudanese merchants. Kordofan in central Sudan fell to Sulayman, and local traditions even credit him with expanding the borders of the sultanate to the Atbara River in the east and to the deserts of the north.

Sulayman is said to have introduced Islam Islam;Darfur sultanate to the region. He built mosques for his subjects and encouraged Islamic practices. However, the Islamization of the Darfur sultanate was a very slow process, in which indigenous, animistic beliefs expressed in rituals coexisted with the practice of Islam.

However, the most significant expansion of the Darfur sultanate took place under the reign of Sulayman’s grandson, Ahmad Bakr, expanding beyond the Jebel Marra area. Ahmad Bakr’s reign began in 1682, and by the time of his death in 1722, the sultanate reached almost to the boundaries of what is now Darfur province. Ahmad Bakr also tried to spread Islam, which until his rule was limited to court circles, throughout the sultanate by introducing teachers of Islam and by building mosques and schools.


The legacy of the founding of the Darfur sultanate is still popular in the region. Islamization continued during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as holy men, pilgrims, and traders influenced the religious practices of the peoples of the region.

The slave trade with Egypt and with the rest of Sudan increased as well, but the trade, which brought prosperity to the elite, also brought an end to the sultanate by the Egyptians. Egypt, or more correctly, the Turco-Egyptian administration in Khartoum, conquered the sultanate of Darfur in 1874, but the Keira Dynasty, continuing its fight to remain independent, retreated to its base at Jebel Marra. The British conquered Darfur in 1916, and it became part of Sudan. Darfur sultanate

Further Reading

  • Arkell, A. J. The History of The Sudan from the Earliest Times to 1821. London: University of London Press, 1966. A short survey of the circumstances of the foundation of the Darfur sultanate.
  • Ewald, Janet J. Soldiers, Traders, and Slaves: State Formation and Economic Transformation in the Greater Nile Valley, 1700-1885. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990. A description of the trade links of the sultanate of Darfur in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
  • O’Fahey, R. S. “The Conquest of Darfur, 1873-1882.” Sudan Notes and Records (1997): 47-67. A description of the decline of the Darfur sultanate.
  • O’Fahey, R. S. “A Hitherto ’Unknown’ Darfur King List.” Sudanic Africa, no. 6 (1996): 157-169. A detailed description of the legendary rulers of Darfur.
  • O’Fahey, R. S., and J. L. Spaulding. Kingdoms of the Sudan. London: Methuen, 1974. A detailed survey of the traditions surrounding the sultanate’s founding, its history, institutions, and its trade links.