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FUNJ SULTANATE. In about 1500, after several turbulent centuries of transition in Nubia, a new Islamic government reunited much of the northern Nile-valley Sudan in the area bounded by Egypt, Ethiopia, the Red Sea, Darfur, and the vast swamps of the White Nile. Within this precapitalist agrarian polity, an ethnically heterogeneous class of subjects, through an ingeniously structured system of payments in labor and in kind, supported a hereditary ruling elite known as the Funj. The Funj monarch ruled from an elaborate central court through a hierarchy of subordinate governors over the eight central provinces and tributary princedoms such as Fazughli and Taqall, and beneath these, the numerous lesser lords of districts and tribes. The Funj government, though Islamic by faith and (for administrative purposes) Arabic by speech, also drew heavily upon older Sudanic traditions of statecraft; notably, the geographical and historical coherence of the Funj elite depended on the institution of matrilineal kinship inherited from the states of medieval Christian Nubia.

During the latter half of the seventeenth century, a series of strong sultans brought the originally mobile royal court to rest on the Blue Nile at Sinnar, henceforth the eponymous capital of the realm. They also opened the country to unprecedented commercial relations with neighboring lands via royally sponsored caravans; by 1700 Sinnar had become a large and cosmopolitan city. Exposure to imported commercial capitalist principles from the Islamic heartlands stimulated the appearance of an indigenous middle class within the Funj kingdom during the eighteenth century; about twenty new towns arose, and the money economy interposed itself into many social and political relationships. Meanwhile, increasing contact with the cultural usages of the Islamic heartlands also challenged the sultanate’s corporate, communal vision of Islam, according to which all loyal subjects of the king were Muslims by definition, despite folkways that were often heterodox. During the eighteenth century, middle-class religious sophisticates imported standard legal handbooks from the Islamic heartlands. They wielded the principles found therein as a weapon of social criticism against the tolerant Funj version of a medieval synthesis that had accommodated universal faith to particularistic culture. Henceforth, communal loyalty to the Muslim king was no longer a substitute for conformity to the stipulations of religious law.

Middle-class partisans of the intrusive fundamentalist Islamic culture began to identify themselves as “Arabs” and undertook to seize power. The old matrilineal dynasty was overthrown in 17i9, and in 1 762 a clique of middle-class warlords known as the Hamaj imposed one of their own as ruling wazir (vizier). Yet no new order was achieved; rather, the collapse of Funj kinship discipline precipitated civil war at all levels of government. In 1820-1821 the remnants of the kingdom fell to Muhammad `All, Ottoman viceroy of Egypt, with little resistance.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

James, Wendy. “The Funj Mystique: Approaches to a Problem of Sudan History.” In Text and Context: the Social Anthropology of Tradition, edited by R. K. Jain, pp. 95-133. Philadelphia, 1977. Perceptive critique of the diverse and sometimes misleading uses of the term “Funj” by scholars.

O’Fahey, R. S., and Jay Spaulding. Kingdoms of the Sudan. London, 1974. Survey of the history of the kingdom.

Spaulding, Jay. The Heroic Age in Sinndr. East Lansing, Mich., 1985. Examines the decline and fall of the kingdom during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Spaulding, Jay, and Muhammad Ibrahim Abu Salim. Public Documents from Sinnar. East Lansing, Mich., 1989. Surviving government records of the kingdom, in Arabic with an English translation and notes.

JAY SPAULDING

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/funj-sultanate/
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  • writerPosted On: March 10, 2013
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