Sudanese Personality: A Psycho-Anthropological Analysis

KHARTOUM ( – Author, Dr. Mohammad Abdel Aziz al-Talib, in this book highlighted  the sources that form the Sudanese personality as recounted by writers who discussed the matter first, and then explained his own approach.

Some of those writers had embodied all historical and geographical factors;  that include Sudan’s geographical location, the nature of its economic pastoral activity, the history of Sudan’s ancient kingdoms and civilizations, the advent of Islam, the spread of Sufism (mysticism), the merger of the Arab component with the local component, the colonial rule, the Mahdiyya State, the national and partisan movements, the military coups, the autocratic regimes and the popular upheavals as factors contributing to the formation of the Sudanese personality.

Some writers have summed those factors into just two: political oppression and economic backwardness and their roots.

The Author concedes to the role of all those factors in the formation of the Sudanese personality. He then asserts that the most outstanding of those factors are the geographical location of Sudan that neighbors two worlds (African and Arab), the country’s expansive area, its barrier-free long border and its numerous waterways. The second factor is history.

Sudan’s geographical location has helped with easy cultural-ethnic intermingling with neighbouring entities. Sudan, however, had never been just a bridge where the Arab –Islamic culture had crossed into Africa. It was also not just a pot where the Arab and African cultures had melted. To the contrary, Sudan had always had its distinct character ever since the dawn of history.

Dr. Yousif Fadl, according to al-Talib, says that observers of the Sudanese personality had noticed that this personality had managed to Sudanize both the Arab and African cultures before accepting them. Moreover, the Sudanese personality had managed to assert its own entity within the framework of the African culture to which it belongs.

Further, the climatic characteristics (where climates vary from desert, Mediterranean, semi-desert and poor savannah and where tropical hot weather prevails) is reflected in the sharp emotional reactions of the Sudanese personality, fury in particular.


This hot weather has also affected economic productivity both in quantity and quality. For regardless of the vast natural resources, the extremely hot weather had impeded productivity, where the farmers are forced to work just during the morning and evening hours, which are very low as compared with the working hours in cold zones of the World.


Moreover, Sudan’s terrain, characterized by flat highly fertile soil, adequate water from rivers and rain, provide the country’s inhabitants, most of whom engage in agriculture and animal husbandry, with easy ways of life. This factor, coupled with the sufi (mystic) factor embedded in the Sudanese personality is seen as an impediment to progress, as many of the people’s ambitions stop at providing the year’s needs of cereals and where people contend with simple livelihoods. This easy nature also reflects on the people’s good manners and the prevailing spirit of tolerance and lovable sociability.

As for the second factor in the formation of the Sudanese personality, which is history, Dr. al-Talib said the prevailing system of government and its ways of governance had profoundly affected individual traits and, accordingly, the characteristics of the community and the formation of the national personality. The Sudanese personality is naturally rebellious and hard to subdue. This can be attributed to the open structure of the pasture which is reflected on the personality of the citizen who loves freedom, rejects authority, is bored from stillness and continuity. This is aided by the mystic component that disdains earthly interests. Sudan’s history has seen numerous revolts and continuous rebellion against the authority. This rebellious nature may hide for a while but it will reemerge sooner or later.

Clues for this rebellious nature are many and can be seen in the spirit of pride and high sensitivity towards debasement, self-esteem and a high sense of honour.

Another role of history in the formation of the Sudanese personality is shown in the very visible characteristic of the Sudanese personality that is the fancy for politics and the deep awareness of its complications and the keenness to follow political events and give a say about them. This can be attributed to a number of factors, including the central role of the State in the society as a distributor of resources. This could accordingly mean that the life of citizens hinges upon what the State can do. This has reflected in political instability, continued unrest, the connection between politics and religious groups, a spirit of revolt, university students’ activity   etc.

The third historical source is the incoming migrations over Sudan’s long history that remarkably led to the building of the Sudanese personality as seen in the existing cultural content and the ethnic make up. Those migrations were Arab, Egyptian, Turkish, African, British, Greek, Syrian, Indian, Moroccan, Mauritanian .. etc.

The author believes that the Arab migrations were the most influential in the formation of the present-day personality. The British migration comes second and then the Turkish. That is because the Arab migrations had brought Islam and Arabic to the Sudan and resulted in intermarriages with the locals. Accordingly, Arabic replaced the local languages, thus begetting the Sudanese colloquial Arabic that borrowed from Arabic and lent Arabic from its lexicon. But the British immigrants did not intermarry with the locals. Their influence was cultural as the Britons introduced the systems of the modern education and government. The Turks were a minority at the popular level and melted down in the general Sudanese sum.

The author is of the view that all these factors had interacted and contributed to the formation of the national Sudanese personality. Such interactions had resulted in specific behavioural patterns including the tendency to view some local values and customs as if they are part of the religion. He gave four examples for such traits: Sufi (mystic) leaders had avoided a clash with the existing cultures and allowed their followers to borrow from the local cultures.

Another example is the paternal mentality where the households are used to the existence of a father who gives them a sense of security. This has also transcended from the biological father to the spiritual father or the Sufi sheikh who serves as an alternative father.

A third example is the facial scars that date back to the Kingdoms of Kush and Meroe. Here a tribe’s member has special signs which are scarred on the cheeks, a phenomenon that contradicts the teachings of Islam that prohibit the changing of God’s creation. Also, the dead are carried on traditional beds to the cemetery, a practice that dates back to the Kerma Kingdom (2500-150 BC) and still continues.

The author relates what he calls the bedouin-urban stage he sees prevalent now in Sudan. He attributes the phenomenon to the hasty transition from rural to urban life. He said certain factors had caused the shrinking of bedouin life as people were forced to desert their villages and move to the cities. As a result, he said, 30% of the Sudan’s population now lives in Khartoum, instigating the spread of shanty towns, ecological degradation and the emergence of marginal occupations.

This phenomenon of the transitional stage reflects negatively on the Sudanese personality as it begets a deep struggle between the rural heritage and the requirements of the modern state, its modes of living and its complex relationships. That struggle is usually settled in a botched manner, often at the expense of one of its sources. For example, the commitment to the values of the traditional society in the dispensing of official work of the modern state hampers this work. Also the involuntary migration from rural areas has created a degradation of the original environments, caused them to lose their elite and this had reflected negatively on the migrant himself.

Accordingly, the ways of life of the bedouin –rural society are a strange hybrid of the two lives where the individual behaves as a bedouin in urban positions and vice versa.

After this vertical and horizontal account of the behavior of Sudanese, the author specifies three sources for the Sudanese personality (1) the traditional pastoralist bedouin society (2) mysticism (3) the affluent nature.

These sources had engendered the clear traits of the Sudanese personality as represented in cooperation, solidarity and identification with the society. This is a matter that results from the need for cooperation in environments with a degree of rarity. For that reason we notice that the most remarkable characteristics of Sudanese are familial socialization and social cohesion in good and bad, a phenomenon clearly seen in the diaspora. Another aspect is a strict commitment to customs and traditions as the traditional society furnishes the individual with guarantees of safety and fulfills a lot of his motivations in exchange for this fulfillment. The society obliges its members to commit to a package of rules and criteria and deters the wayward through tactics of social control.

Some of the outstanding qualities of the Sudanese are generosity and hospitality, two authentic Arab traits cherished by a bedouin for which he gets fame or shame. Another established trait of Sudanese is intrepidity and a high sense for helping others in distress or trouble, qualities associated with generosity, hospitality and an inclination towards human cooperation and identification. These are established traits that resisted all modern social changes. These attitudes often lead a Sudanese into legal problems and complications.

Another Sudanese quality is high self-esteem, in clear contravention with the Sudanese strong identification with and submission to the existing social norms. This quality often causes a Sudanese into a sharp reaction when offended. That could be why native citizens of the Gulf Region circulate the idea that a Sudanese is like a Pepsi Cola can, so sweet and pleasant in normal circumstances, but when offended he would bubble up and overflow with fury.

Knighthood and courage are also entrenched Sudanese traits. For this the Sudanese is seen as warlike, bellicose. That is well demonstrated in the country’s national anthem with respect to both melody and words. The national anthem seems to have been built on the philosophy that there is an enemy that dictates readiness to fight it back.

One bad quality of Sudanese is randomness and absence of planning. This could be explained in the fact that Sudanese had not yet managed to control the nature and environment of their land, as when a human controls nature he would tend to be organized according to his knowledge about the relationships, components and pre-conditions of the world around him. For, in occupations of cattle herding and rain-fed farming, where human control of the environment is limited, planning becomes negligent. Randomness is also, accordingly, a characteristic of the state administration.

Another shortcoming in the Sudanese personality is disrespect for time, a trait well connected with the previous quality i.e. randomness. That is because in traditional societies time does not count. That is why the Sudanese fix their dates as such: see you after sunset, we can see each other in the evenings etc.

Generally, the Sudanese have preference for males, a quality that could be traced back to the old Arab mentality. This is a contravention of what happened in the historical Nubian kingdoms where females assumed a high position and where throne inheritance was arranged in a feminist manner. There, the nephew used to inherit the throne of his mother’s brother.

Ethnic and tribal pride is also a quality of Sudanese, a characteristic of tribal societies where the tribe is keen to consolidate its identity through myths and tales of heroism that glorify tribal ancestors.

Traits drawn from Sufism (mysticism) are asceticism and humility, which can be associated with low ambition, because an ascetic person does not have wide expectations in this ‘’short and worthless life’’. Such traits also include an excess belief in the supernatural. This can be attributed to a misunderstanding of Sufi thought, a misunderstanding that magnifies and sanctifies the Sufi sheikhs as miracle makers. Another source of this attitude can be traced back to the African tradition that sanctifies spirits and believes in superstitions. Excess belief in the supernatural reduces the individual’s inclinations for achievement. Such an individual often attributes failure to such factors as evil eye or so. Here bodily diseases are treated by the sheikhs for the belief that the sheikhs are blessed. This might lead the ailment to aggravate and may lead to death.

The author, Dr. al-Talib, then speaks about what he calls ‘’the wasted personality.’’ Here he means a misappropriation (or neglect) of capabilities until they wither and die. This wastefulness can transcend from the individual, to the community and then to the State at large. The author attributes this ‘’wastefulness’’ to the close interaction between several sources, including the prevalence of the spirit of mysticism and the asceticism and humility it entails. The second factor is the traditional mode of life where the individual’s needs are little and limited. His feeling of productive anxiety is reduced as the individual is protected by his clan upon which he depends in the tackling of daily and future living problems.

About the state the author is of the view that the state had, over the years, failed to exploit the riches it has either above or below the earth’s surface. It has failed to manage the natural and human diversity. It has failed to invest in its human resources and had, equally, failed to produce an inspiring leadership that enlivens the dormant energies in these human resources in a way that develops the country’s potential.

The author has set the blame for this failure of the state on the elite in the first place and on the society in the second place as, he maintains, the elite are a legal offspring of the society.

The author indicates that a scientific study of the national personality is important in that it leads to the understanding of realistic facts about this personality in order to be able to build scientific strategies in dealing with this strategy away from media perceptions based on idealistic pictures stuffed with the motivations of strengthening national belonging, the mobilization of the masses and leading them to identify with the government.

A scientific study of the national personality can pave the way for common understanding of the characteristics and traits of the individuals in a one group. This could, accordingly, help crystallize a national identity with visible components and characteristics that can be a reference for the individuals and that specifies their general and individual conduct as a vehicle for national unity and cohesion.