Learn more about Ababda
The Ababda (or Ababde) (the Gebadei of Pliny, possibly the Troglodytes of classical writers), are a nomad tribe of African Bedouins, a subgroup of the Beja people; some still speak the Cushitic Beja language, while others speak Arabic.
They extend from the Nile at Aswan to the Red Sea, and reach northward to the Kena-Kosseir road, thus occupying the southern border of Egypt east of the Nile. They call themselves "sons of the Jinns." With some of the clans of the Bisharin and possibly the Hadendoa, they represent the Blemmyes of classic geographers, and their location today is almost identical with that assigned them in Roman times.
They were constantly at war with the Romans, who eventually conquered them. In the middle ages, they were known as Beja, and convoyed pilgrims from the Nile valley to Aidhab, the port of embarkation for Jedda. From time immemorial, they have acted as guides to caravans through the Nubian desert and up the Nile valley as far as Sennar.
They intermarried with the Nuba, and settled in small colonies at Shendi and elsewhere up to Mehmet Ali's conquest of the region in the early 19th century. They are still great trade carriers, and visit very distant districts.
As of 1911, the Ababda of Egypt numbered some 30,000, and were governed by an hereditary "chief". Although nominally a vassal of the Khedive, he paid no tribute. Indeed he was paid a subsidy, a portion of the road-dues, in return for his safeguarding travellers from Bedouin robbers. The sub-sheikhs were directly responsible to him.
The Ababda of Nubia, according to Joseph von Russegger who visited the country in 1836, number some 40,000, but have since diminished, probably amalgamated with the Bisharin, their hereditary enemies. The Ababda generally speak Arabic (mingled with Barabra Nubian words), the result of their long-continued contact with Egypt; but the southern and south-eastern portion of the tribe in many cases still retain their Beja language, To Bedawie. Those of Kosseir would not speak this before strangers in 1911, as they believed that to reveal the mysterious dialect would bring ruin on them.
- This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.