Christianity in Sudan

Andrew C. Wheeler

The State of Studies

Like Ethiopia, but unlike other parts of Eastern Africa, Sudan bas a very long Christian history going back to the early centuries of the Christian era. Consequently the history of the Church in Sudan is a story fascinating in its historical, geographical and cultural diversity. There is diversity too in the thoroughness with which scholars have engaged with this long history, certain periods being much less covered by historical study. Before embarking on the story of Christianity in the Sudan through nearly 1500 years we need briefly to study the thoroughness with which that story has been studied.

The history of the Church in Sudan can be divided into three main phases:

i) 543-1504 The Church in Ancient Nubia. This period in the history of northern Sudan has perhaps been best served by scholars, both historians and archaeologists. During the colonial period (Sudan became independent in 1956) much valuable archaeological work was done. Much of this work was published in Sudan Notes and Records and later in the archaeological journal Kush, published from 1952. [1] The most valuable secondary work on Christian Nubia belongs to this period. Monneret de Villard’s Storia della Nubia Cristiana (1938) remains indispensable despite the fact that it has not been translated into English.

The announcement in 1959 that the Aswan Dam was to be increased in height, greatly enlarging the lake behind it, resulted in an attempt to salvage the archaeological remains of Nubia before they vanished forever beneath the waters of the lake. No comparable effort to save archaeological sites bas ever been made. Doubtless many archaeological treasures have been lost forever but the gains were immense, especially in the field of Christian remains. Many churches were uncovered, preserved in near perfect condition in the sand. The most exciting finds were at the major ecclesiastical center of Faras. Many of the fine murals from Faras can be seen in the National Museum in Khartoum. More recently important excavations have been conducted at Soba on the Blue Nile, not far upstream from Khartoum. These have been conducted by the British Institute in Eastern Africa, and have revealed that Soba contained churches of a size and grandeur beyond that previously supposed. [2]

Probably the best academic summary of the present state of studies of Christian Nubia (although the Soba excavations have been conducted more recently) is contained in William Y. Adams’ Nubia: Corridor to Africa. [3] At a more popular level there is the valuable book by Giovanni Vantini, Christianity in the Sudan. [4] Despite its title the book is largely concerned with the Nubian period and contains a useful collection of photographs of murals and other remains.

ii) c. 1700-1885. Catholic Missions to Nubia. This second phase, up to the time of the Mahdiyya has, not surprisingly, been a particular interest of Catholic mission historians. Much of the primary and secondary material available is in Italian and therefore not readily accessible to English speakers. In addition much of the writing has a devotional slant that spoils its historical usefulness. Despite the abundant literature available on Daniel Comboni we still await the major biographical study that this missionary pioneer and theorist deserves. [5] A valuable collection of the ethnographic writings of the Catholic Mission to Central Africa, written between 1842 and 1881 has been published in England (The Opening of the Nile Basin eds Elias Toniola and Richard Hill. London 1974).

iii) 1899 - the present day. It is this third period, the period of the modern evangelization of Sudan since the establishment of the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium, that presents us with the most historiographical problems. We still lack any broad-based scholarly or popular account of the development of the Sudanese Christian community in this century. Substantial work bas been conducted on mission and Christian sources but this has usually been done as an aspect of another field of study (e.g. education or colonial history. [6] The Christian community in Sudan lacks any adequate account of its origins and development. A certain amount of mission history has appeared [7] but in general this has paid little attention to the emergent Sudanese Christian community and its experience except as an extension of the mission, and certainly lacked any sense of the whole Christian community in the Sudan.

The particular history of the Sudan, especially in the south, in this century, has also inhibited the production of such a work. The paucity of mission resources, the inadequacies of condominium policy and the immensity of southern Sudan resulted in very minimal educational development in southern Sudan. This, together with the fact that southern Sudan has been embroiled in civil war for most of the period since 1956 bas prevented the emergence of a group of academically qualified Sudanese who might have undertaken such a task and carried it out with the vigor we see in other East African countries. The lack of such a class of scholars and the impact of the civil war has also prevented the kind of local studies and oral work, on which any comprehensive study must be founded, being carried out.

ln the Sudanese situation what is needed is a general ecumenical account of the development of the Church in this century, based no doubt in large measure on mission and archival sources that can act as a departure point for Sudanese studies of the future. Working from and reacting against such an account Sudanese students of the Church could provide the corrective of the perspective of the Sudanese Christian experience, as well as the local studies that would both fill out and sharpen the account.

In the meantime Sudanese Christians feel the tack of any adequate and comprehensive account of their origins and grown to guide them and root them at a time of profound challenge to their identity and very existence.

This present account will reflect the shortcomings that exist in the field of Sudanese church history and will reflect the particular character of the author’s experience with the (Anglican) Episcopal Church of Sudan. Until we possess balancing accounts from different sections of the Christian community, an adequate account of the experience of the whole will be impossible.

The Church in Ancient Nubia (543-1504)

Nubia had always been on the fringes of the Biblical world and probably had some Christian contacts from the beginning of the Christian period. Indeed the New Testament indicates this in the account of the conversion of the “Ethiopian” in Acts 8 vv 26-40. This man was the servant of the Kandake, which was the official title of the Queen Mother in the kingdom of Meroe in northern Sudan, and so was the first Sudanese Christian. However, there is no evidence that any Christian community resulted in Sudan from this man’s conversion.

On the other hand there have always been close political, commercial and intellectual links between Egypt and northern Sudan and we may suppose that as the Christian faith became firmly established in Egypt, by the close of the 1st century, there were Christian contacts with Nubian from an early date. Traders, no doubt Christian among them, traveled up and down the Nile in search of gold, the slaves and other commodities that had bound Egypt to its southern neighbor over the centuries. The persecutions of the Roman Emperors Decius (in 250 AD) and Diocletian (in 297 AD) no doubt drove Christians southward into exile, and then, in the 4th century when Christianity was first tolerated and then recognized as the official religion of the Roman Empire other Christians fled to the south to escape the perceived “worldliness” of the Egyptian Church. Traders, refugees and malcontents had their impact and archaeology has uncovered Christian artifacts (crosses and inscriptions on pottery) dating to the 5th century, before the official conversion of Nubia. We may assume that the eventual conversion of Nubia occurred in much the same way as in other parts of the Mediterranean world with the conversion of the ruler following the conversion of an increasing number of his subjects.

From about 350 AD a bishop was established at Philae on the borders of Nubia and at about the same time the old kingdom of Meroe finally collapsed into chaos. [8] The following 150 years were years of confusion in northern Sudan, but at the beginning of the sixth century, three kingdoms emerged from the wreckage of the Meroitic state. These kingdoms are known by either the Greek or Arabic forms of their names. The most northerly kingdom bordering Egypt and reaching as far north as the 1st cataract (Aswan), was Nobatia, or Nubia. Faras, near the 2nd cataract was the center of this kingdom. To the south, centered in the region of Old Dongola and stretching from the 3rd cataract to the River Atbara was the kingdom of Makouria or Maqurra. To the south again with its capital at Soba, not far up the Blue Nile from Khartoum, was the kingdom of Alodia, or Alwa.

The official conversion of all three of these kingdoms in the middle of the 6th century is related no doubt to the need for a firm ideology for the newly established kingdoms but also to the political and religious rivalries of the Byzantine Empire. The story is told in some detail by John, the Monophysite [9] bishop of Ephesus in his “Ecclesiastical History.” [10] From his and other contemporary accounts the following picture emerges. The impulse towards the conversion of Nubia originated at the royal court in Byzantium with a Monophysite monk called Julian. The empress Theodora, who was of Monophysite persuasion, backed a mission led by Julian and frustrated a rival duophysite mission supported by her husband and duophysite Emperor Justinian (527-565). As a result the northern kingdom of Nobatia was converted to Monophysite Christianity about the year 543 AD. A rival duophysite mission was unsuccessful. Under circumstances that are still not clear, the kingdom of Makouria was converted to Melkite (duophysite) Christianity around 570 AD. About 580 AD, Bishop Longinus who had previously effectively established the Church in Nobatia following Julian’s departure reached Alodia and it was converted to Monophysite Christianity. By the year 600, the Nile Valley was essentially Christian from its mouth 10 the source of the Blue Nile in Ethiopia.

As the Coptic Church in Egypt established itself as Monophysite and when, with the 7th century Arab conquest, Melkite influence was eliminated, it was inevitable that eventually Chalcedonian and Byzantine influence in Nubia should decline. Throughout the history of the Nubian Church duophysite tendencies can be traced but even when Makuria absorbed Nobatia in about 700 AD; it was Monophysite faith that triumphed. However the Nubian Church retained Orthodox as well as Coptic features. Greek was retained as the liturgical language until the 9th or 10th centuries, when it was replaced by Old Nubian, for example.

The Christian dominance of the Nile Valley was not to last for long. In the years following the death of Muhammad (632 AD), Arab armies spread out of Arabia overrunning much of the Christian Middle East. Egypt fell to the armies of Amr bin al-As in 641-642 AD. His victory was greatly assisted by the Coptic dislike of Byzantine rule, an attitude reflected in the ecclesiastical struggle between Monophysites and Melkites. With the establishment of Muslim power in Egypt, Coptic Christianity became securely Monophysite and the Melkite party collapsed.

The Muslim conquest of Egypt changed the situation of the Nubian Church. Frontiers then did not constitute the kind of barriers they do today and Nubian bishops were still appointed by the Patriarch of Alexandria and Nubian Christians still went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem where they had their own chapel. Nubian kings did on occasion intervene in Egyptian affairs on behalf of their co-religionists. [11] But communication with the rest of the Christian world was much more difficult and these Christians living beyond the bounds of Roman law and Greek culture were largely unknown in the West.

The Arab armies sought to extend their conquests to Nubia. Major military expeditions in 643 AD pushed deep into Nubia but were repulsed by the fearsome Nubian archers. Following the invasion of 652 an agreement, known as the Baqt, was made between the two sides. Both sides agreed to refrain from attacking the other, and a regular trading relationship was established. Nubia supplied slaves annually to Egypt and the Egyptians supplied quantities of grain, cloth, wine and horses to the Nubians. This agreement (which reflected the historic relationship between Nubia and Egypt) proved durable and relations between the two countries were stable for nearly 600 years until the Fatimid rulers in Egypt were overthrown in 1172.

The period of the Baqt was the period in which the Christian kingdoms of Nubia flourished. Mercurios united the two northern kingdoms in about the year 700, and about 800 the southern kingdom of Alodia was incorporated. The union of the three kingdoms ushered in a rich cultural and religious period in Nubia’s history. The ideological and religious shift that had taken place in Nubia was profound. Within very few years, certainly within a century, the traditions in religion, art, architecture (especially tombs) that went back to the pharaohs were overthrown. The new ideology provided inspiration for a new and especially rich flowering of Nubian culture.

Such a statement may seem rash in the light of our limited knowledge of medieval Nubia. Our knowledge is limited to the riverain area of northern kingdoms. Only now, with recent excavations at Soba is our knowledge of the southern kingdom, Alodia, beginning to develop. Of Christian expansion away from the river we know very little. However, each new advance in archaeology indicates that we had previously underestimated both the quantity and quality of Nubian achievement. This has been emphasized recently with the excavations at Soba. One Arab writer refers to Soba with its “fine buildings and large monasteries, churches rich with gold and gardens.” Another writes that in Soba “there is a very large church, skillfully planned and constructed and larger than all the other churches in the country; it is called the Church of Manbali.” [12] Historians were skeptical, but recent excavations have uncovered churches of great size and magnificence. [13]

Elsewhere Christian remains are plentiful, more so than for any other period of Nubian history. The remains of more than a hundred churches have been discovered, many now of course lost beneath the waters of Lake Nasser. Abu SaIeh speaks of 400 churches in Alodia alone, and from what we know there is no reason to doubt figures of that order. The cathedrals in the major ecclesiastical centers of Dongola, Ibrim and Facas used dressed stone for the main part of the walls and for the roof-bearing interior columns. Burnt brick was also used substantially. From the 8th century it became common for the internal walls to be decorated with murals, at least in major centers, and this practice continued with the production of many fine works until the decay of the kingdoms in the 13th century. The murals draw on the established traditions of Orthodox and Coptic iconography indicating that Nubia was not as culturally isolated as has often been assumed, but reveal also a distinctive Nubian vigor. Saints and Nubian bishops and kings appear, but also very striking Biblical scenes. The Faras paintings, now in the National Museum in Khartoum are perhaps the finest. Especially effective are the nativity scene and the picture of the three young men in Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace, protected by the Archangel Michael. [14]

The largest and most ornate churches in Nubia are, on the whole amongst the earliest. These are of the Greek basilica type, often having five parallel aisles as in the great cathedrals at Qasr Ibrim and Soba. By the 8th century Nubian churches were developing their own distinctive features, the most unusual being a passageway behind the eastern apse, connecting the two corner rooms. The sanctuary area also became enlarged in relationship to the whole building, probably to accommodate a choir. With the passing of time Nubian churches became smaller, in the end often being large enough only to accommodate the officiates, the people standing outside, as can still be observed in Ethiopia. [15] Encroaching sand was a constant threat to the Nubian churches. Buttresses were constructed to strengthen walls, further walls were built to protect the entrances, but over a prolonged period the struggle was in vain. Many of the churches were engulfed by sand and abandoned. The result was the seemingly miraculous preservation of many of the churches with their wall-paintings, as happened at Faras.

Arab authors testify to the importance of monasteries in Nubia, but definite archaeological evidence for such monasteries is rather scanty. None of the monasteries so far uncovered compares in size to the great monasteries of Egypt. A significant number of these monks may have been Copts seeking the remoteness and isolation of Nubia. Certainly such manuscripts and other inscriptions as have survived (for example on grave stelae) show Coptic influence. Greek (especially in the liturgy) and Coptic were important ecclesiastical languages, and their prominence up until the 13th century alongside Old Nubian indicates that the Nubian Church retained cultural links with the Mediterranean world.

Some scholars have drawn the conclusion from these fragments of information that the Nubian Church was not truly indigenous, that it was dominated by Coptic priests, monks and bishops, was controlled from the royal court, and was not deeply rooted among the people. Sorne Christian writers in particular, concerned to explain the eventual disappearance of Nubian Christianity, have sought to find some such fatal defect (as it would appear from the 20th century [16]). ln fact the evidence rather points the other way. ln the Faras paintings, for example, Biblical figures and Coptic saints are represented with light skins whereas Nubian churchmen and royalty are represented as dark-skinned. If the bishops were dark-skinned Nubians, we may assume that most of the clergy were as well. [17] The Nubian Church did eventually come under the authority of the Patriarchate of Alexandria but from the 10th century there was a Metropolitan [18] in Nubia with the authority to consecrate bishops.

Following such a flowering of architecture, art and culture, the historian is presented with the difficult task of accounting for the surprising and rapid decline and collapse both of Church and State in Nubia. Unfortunately literary sources for this period, mainly in Arabic, are rather scanty, but they do present a story of constant dynastic conflict and upheaval that resulted in the accession of a Muslim prince to the throne in Dongola in 1323. The cause of this internal decay is complex and can only be touched on briefly.

ln 1172 the Fatimid rulers in Egypt, who had upheld the Baqt agreement, were overthrown by the Ayyubids led by the great warrior Salah ad-Din who was struggling with the Crusaders in Palestine and was nervous of a second Christian power on his southern flank. A de-stabilized Nubia was very much in his interest, and from 1172 there was periodic conflict in the border area, and as far south as the cathedral city of Qasr Ibrim.

During the 13th century, the Nubians lost their total control of the Nile trade routes into Egypt. Aggressive trading peoples from Darfar, Bornu and beyond in the west were forcing their way into Nubia. To the west the developing trans-Saharan trade routes were opening up new sources of gold, ivory and slaves for the rulers of Egypt. All in all, a stable, prosperous Nubia was of less and less consequence to Muslim Egypt. Then in 1260 another coup d’état in Egypt brought the Mamluks to power. They proved to have even more aggressive designs on Nubia. King David’s attempts in 1272 to turn the tables and re-assert Nubian military power led to a series of wars in which the Nubians invariably came off worst. Nubia began to slide into military feudalism. [19] As central royal power declined, local lords established themselves as warrior chiefs, binding their supporters to them in a complex of legal and contractual obligations. Secular feudalism eroded the unifying vision of a Christian kingdom.

As Nubia fragmented and the authority of a discredited royal dynasty decayed, the Mamluks were able to intervene more directly in the affairs of Nubia, plundering and sacking until in 1323 a Muslim was established on the throne in Dongola. They then left an exhausted and shattered country in peace.

In addition to the military assault throughout this period there was a constant migration of nomadic Bedouin tribes into Nubia from Egypt. Disenchanted with the sedentary life and political restraints of Egypt they pushed south in search of pasture for their herds and a freer way of life. Hungry and rapacious they presented another challenge to order and stability in Nubia They largely passed by the settled towns of the Nile Valley near modem Abu Hamed and passing south towards the Atbara River and into Alodia They were not well instructed in Islam but they prepared the way for the later conversion of the people of the Nile Valley to Islam.

It would be wrong to suggest that Christianity tamely surrendered in the face of political chaos and the migration into the country of Muslim Bedouin tribes. Many churches were destroyed during the Mamluk invasions. But others were built to replace them–sometimes powerfully defended with walls or built on islands in the Nile or on defensible hill tops. The Christian kingdom of Makouria effectively came to an end in 1323 but seems to have been succeeded by a number of small Christian principalities that lasted much longer. Following the collapse of Makouria we hear of another small Christian kingdom called Daw or Dotawo. This lay in the rocky valley of Lower Nubia and included Faras and Ibrim. Dotawo was less affected by the attacks of the Mamluks and the Bedouin migrants, who had largely passed further east. Here Christianity lasted for another 150 years after it disappeared in Dongola. There was a Christian King called Joel as late as 1484, but we hear nothing of Christianity in Lower Nubia after that date.

The southern kingdom of Alodia or Alura had been absorbed by Makouria in about 800 AD but seems to have re-established itself as an independent Christian state following the fall of Makouria. Being further south the kingdom avoided the Mamluk incursions but from the 13th century faced the arrival of Arab nomads who occupied the abundant pasture lands. The capital city, Soba, fell to the Arabs under their leader Abdalla Jamma in 1504. Shortly thereafter the Arab Abdallab were themselves subdued by the Funj advancing from Sennar. The Funj were pagan but the state they founded which lasted until the early 19th century gradually adopted Islam as its religion.

We know little of Christianity in Alodia after its fall to the Abdallab and to the Funj. The Jewish traveler David Reubeni passed through the Funj kingdom in 1522 and found Soba a heap of ruins. Portuguese Jesuits in Ethiopia in the first half of the 16th century, however, heard reports of Christians in Nubia. One such Jesuit had been at the Ethiopian Court in the 1520s. He reports, “The people (of Nubia) are neither Christians, nor Moors (Le. Muslims), or Jews, but they live in the desire of being Christians.” [20]

This brief report suggests not the rapid replacement of Christianity by Islam, but a long period of decline in the face of political confusion, Muslim immigration and isolation from the outside Christian world–a vacuum, in effect, which Islam in the end came to fill.

Another Jesuit, Francisco Alvares, who was also in Ethiopia in the 1520s, reports that, “While we were in the country of Prester John (Ethiopia) there came six men from that country as ambassadors to the Prester, begging him to send them priests and monks to teach them. He did not choose to send them…” [21]

Alvares speaks here of Nubia but it may well be that these men came from Alodia (Alwa) which was the closest part of Nubia to Ethiopia and that this represents the last call for help from the Christians of that part.

We may assume that from the middle of the 16th century, if Christianity survived at all in Nubia, it did so only in isolated pockets. Reports of isolated communities of Christians persisted. A recently discovered letter written in 1742 by an Italian missionary friar in Cairo reports a community of Christians on the island of Tangos in the Nile in Nubia. [22] In 1768 the traveler James Bruce described a convent of Franciscans in Upper Egypt devoted to “persecuted Christians in Nubia, when they can find them.” [23]

These varied reports give a picture of an extended and confused period of transition during which Nubians had little clear apprehension of either Christianity or Islam. Christian faith may have persisted in certain isolated communities but the rich creative civilization of Christian Nubia had long since died. The political turmoil and disintegration of the late 13th and early 14th centuries had brought about its demise.

Why did Christianity in Nubia die out? Sorne writers, with an eye to the position of Christianity in northeast Africa today, have harshly criticized Nubia Christianity for its foreignness, its superficiality, its domination by the kings, its lack of a vernacular Bible or liturgy. [24] All these accusations can be comprehensively rebutted. Christianity in Nubia was overwhelmed by the result of Mamluk policy. Nubia was unable to withstand politically or socially the upheavals caused by Mamluk political and military interference and by the immigration of nomadic Bedouin tribes. Christians in Nubia resisted such pressures over several generations before eventually succumbing to the confusion, the violence and the isolation. [25]

Catholic Mission to the Sudan (1500-1885)

There can have been few organized communities of Christians in Nubia after about 1550. In the vacuum Islam established itself, not only amongst the Arab tribes roaming the deserts and grasslands but amongst the Nubians living along the banks of the Nile, and amongst the Funj who ruled most of riverain Northern Sudan from Sennar their capital on the Blue Nile.

But Nubia did not entirely vanish out of the awareness of the rest of the Christian world. Coptic Christians continued to live or travel in Nubia throughout the Funj period. They travelled as merchants or served the kings of Sennar as secretaries, accountants or teachers. Following the establishment of Turco-Egyptian rule in the Sudan after the invasion of Muhammed Ali in 1820 many more Copts came to Sudan in trade or administration. By the middle of the 19th Century there were thirteen Coptic parishes in the Sudan serving many of the major towns, including Khartoum and El Obeid. These churches however served the Coptic community and were not in any sense missionary or evangelistic. [26]

The Catholic Church also retained a memory of and an interest in the Christians of Nubia. Throughout the period, despite periodic conflicts and expulsions the Catholic Church retained a vital interest in the Ethiopian Church. The route to Ethiopia through the Nile Valley was usually safer than the Red Sea route and so stories, rumors and information about Nubia and the possibility of Christians still living there filtered back to Europe. There were, it was rumored “many Christian Arabs without a pastor” living in Nubia. It is possible that some of these reports concerned Portuguese who had been expelled from Ethiopia and had settled in the borders between Ethiopia and Sennar. The reports were in any case greatly exaggerated.

In 1671 the Pope set up the Mission of Upper Egypt-Fungi–Ethiopia to make contact with the Christians of these areas. It soon became clear that there were no such Christians in Nubia and subsequent Papal Missions (1698 and 1711) passed straight through to Ethiopia, [27] though they brought back valuable information about Sudan.

Sudan was brought back into regular contact with Europe and the Mediterranean world when Muhammad Ali Pasha, the Ottoman Turkish ruler of Egypt invaded Sudan and in 1821 overthrew Badi VI, the last Funj king. Turkish-Egyptian rule was slowly extended, albeit often in a merely nominal and ineffective form to most parts of the modern country of Sudan. The modem Sudan began to take shape at this time.

For the first time, there was a steady flow of information into Europe from the Upper Nile. Administrators, ivory and slave traders, adventurers and explorers brought back information not only from northern Sudan but also from the previously unknown lands south of the great Sudd swamp.

In Malta, a Catholic priest named Annetto Casolani was collecting all the information he could about the Upper Nile. His vision was of a great new missionary venture, using the Nile as a highway to carry missionary work far into Central Africa. He communicated his plans to the Vatican and on April 3, 1846 the Pope set up the Vicariate Apostolic of Central Africa. This was in essence a missionary diocese under the direct authority of the Pope. Casolani was consecrated bishop and entrusted with the task of evangelizing not only Sudan and the Nile Valley but also a vast area to the south and west. The first party of missionaries reached Khartoum in 1848. Casolani had already resigned as leader following disagreements with Father Ryllo who succeeded him, though he remained with the mission. Ryllo soon died, however, and leadership passed to Dr. Knoblecher who led the mission through its next few important years. New recruits arrived throughout 1849 and 1850 and the mission’s base in Khartoum was firmly established. In 1849, Knoblecher led an exploratory expedition to the south and decided on a site for a mission station at Gondokoro, just north of modem Juba on the east bank of the river. The first Catholic mission in southern Sudan was established at Gondokoro in 1852. Knoblecher instructed and baptized eight Bari young men in 1852.

In 1854, a further station was opened at “Holy Cross” amongst the Kic Dinka by Father Bartholomaus Mozgan. The site can be located on modern maps at Kanisa (Arabic - Church) on the opposite bank of the Nile to Jonglei.

Already, in January 1853, Father Angelo Vinco, the pioneer missionary at Gondokoro had died of fever, but he was just the first of many Catholic missionaries to die in southern Sudan. Despite many deaths, valuable work was done on the Dinka, Bari and Moru languages. Vocabularies and grammars were produced and invaluable anthropological information gathered. [28] Preparations were begun for an indigenous priesthood when a young Bari man, Francis Logwit, and a young Dinka, Anton Kachwal, were sent to Europe for education.

By 1858, however, twenty-two missionaries had died in Sudan. Others had to be invalided home. These included Daniel Comboni who nonetheless dedicated the rest of his life to the cause of the gospel in Africa. Knoblecher, himself weak from fever, travelled back to Europe to seek advice about the continuation of the mission. At Aswan, he met a group of missionaries coming up the Nile to Khartoum. “I don’t know whether we shall ever meet again,” he said to them. “I am worn out. I feel I shall soon die.” He was right. Sick and tired, he died at Naples on April 16, 1858, at the age of 36.

Father Matthias Kirchner became the leader of the mission. He considered that it was only possible to continue to work in southern Sudan with the help of a religious Order who would have the necessary resources and men to overcome the losses through sickness. Accordingly he travelled to Europe and arranged for the Vicariate Apostolic of Central Africa to be entrusted to the Franciscans. He then withdrew all his missionaries from the south to await their arrival. In 1862, two parties of Franciscans (both priests and laymen) of various professions arrived. An immediate attempt was made to revive the work in the south, but the losses through disease were too high. A number of the Franciscans died before reaching Khartoum, and others died in the south. In 1862 alone twenty-two deaths were recorded.

Between 1848 and 1862, forty-six Catholic missionaries had died. The Pope considered the cost too high and ordered the mission to be closed. Two Franciscans remained in Khartoum to guard the mission property. The remainder withdrew to Egypt.

The first attempt to open a mission to Central Africa using the Nile route had failed. Amongst the reasons for its failure, two stand out. First, it is clear that the missionaries never acclimatized to conditions in southern Sudan, often departing for the south after only the briefest stop in Khartoum. In these days, before the development of modern tropical medicine, they were easily susceptible to the endemic diseases of southern Sudan. Kirchner’s attempt to establish an acclimatization station at Shella (1860) came too late to influence events.

Secondly this first attempt to evangelize southern Sudan took place at the same time as ruthless European and northern Sudanese traders were savaging the south in their quest for ivory and, increasingly, slaves. It was difficult for the peoples of southern Sudan to ‘distinguish between “Turks” (a term that covered Europeans as well as all non-African intruders) who carried the gospel, and “Turks” bent on pillage and exploitation, particularly as they lived side by side in Gondokoro. The Kic Dinka, who had lived closely with the missionaries of Holy Cross, were able to discern the difference. “If you abandon us, who will defend us from the Danagla [29] armed men, when they come to take away our children? You have helped our poor, and cared for our sick; who will console and cure us?” [30] Sir Samuel Baker, surveying the ruins of the mission at Gondokoro a little later related the failure of the mission to “the internal traffic in slaves.” [31] The first attempt at the evangelization of the Upper Nile may have ended in failure, but the story is one of heroism and sacrifice.

The vision was kept alive by Daniel Comboni, who had been invalided home from Sudan in 1859. His experience had taught him one invaluable lesson, that Africa would never be evangelized by Europeans alone. In 1864, following a time of prayer at the tomb of St. Peter in Rome, he drew up a plan for re-opening the Mission to Central Africa He called this A Plan for the Regeneration of Africa by means of Africans. [32] Much of what Comboni has to say in his plan is commonplace today, but in its time it represented a very radical thinking. The huge loss of missionary life in Southern Sudan between 1848 and 1862 had taught him that Africa would only be evangelized by Africans themselves. He proposed a series of training centers on the African coast where European missionaries could train Africans for this work. At a time when Africans were still being sold as slaves, Comboni’s confidence that Africans could become craftsmen, teachers, priests and bishops and be responsible for their own church life was truly startling. Comboni translated his Plan into a number of European languages and sought to persuade people of its importance. Few were interested, though the Pope encouraged him to develop his ideas.

Already in 1861, Comboni had visited North Africa ports seeking gifted young Africans whom he could bring back to Italy for education and training in the Christian religion. ln 1867, he started a seminary in Verona to train priests and laymen for missionary work in Central Africa, and the same year he founded two schools in Cairo, one for African boys and the other for African girls who had been rescued from slavery, to be trained for evangelism. In 1872, a society was founded in Verona for nuns committed to missionary work in Africa. The same year the Pope appointed Comboni Pro-Vicar Apostolic of Central Africa. He had authority to re-open the mission and to implement his Plan on the African continent.

Comboni reached Khartoum in 1873. The Plan indicated that education and training were of the first importance. He had started schools and colleges in Italy and Cairo. Now he began schools for freed slaves in Khartoum. The name of Comboni is associated to this day with education, and many Catholic schools are named after him.

Comboni decided not to return to southern Sudan. He wanted no repeat of the loss of life that had brought the previous efforts to a halt. In addition, he wanted to avoid his missionaries being associated with the unscrupulous traders and adventurers who still disturbed the south. Comboni turned his attention to Kordofan, the huge province southeast of Khartoum that included the major city of El Obeid, as well as the remote Nuba Mountains which had been less influenced by Islam and Arab culture than other parts of northern Sudan. He established farms at Malbes near El Obeid and at Dilling. New converts were established with their families on these farms. His plan was that these farms would in time become self-sufficient African Christian communities that would witness to the Christian faith and to the way of life that faith inspired. As always, Comboni’s idea was to train Africans to carry out the evangelization of Africa themselves. About thirty families were established on these farms and they later became the heart of the Sudanese Catholic Church. This strategy did however run the risk of isolating new converts from their own communities and heritage, so restricting the possibility of any truly popular Christian movement, or any real interaction between the Christian faith and traditional culture and belief.

There was not sufficient time for the validity of Comboni’s Plan to be adequately tested. In 1877, the Pope showed his approval of Comboni’s methods by consecrating him bishop, but in 1881 he returned from a visit to the Nuba Mountains very ill with malaria. He died on October 10, 1881. Already, however, his work was under threat from the rapidly spreading revolt of Mahdi.

In June 1881, Mohammad Ahmed, a religious teacher on Abba Island in the Nile, announced that he was the expected Mahdi, the divine leader chosen by God at the end of time to restore justice and true religion. He established his early headquarters in the Nuba Mountains and in 1882 the Christian communities at Malbes and Dilling were both overrun and scattered. Many of the members of the Mission, European and African, priests and lay people, were imprisoned by the Mahdists, a number of them dying in captivity.

Mgr. Francesco Sogaro, Comboni’s successor as Vicar-Apostolic, ordered the withdrawal of the missionaries from Khartoum to Cairo where they continued their work amongst the Sudanese Catholic Christians who had fled the Mahdi. Father Josef Ohrwalder, who had been captured by Mahdist troops in Kordofan, was taken as a prisoner to Omdurman when Khartoum fell to the Mahdists in 1885. There he ministered to the other Christian captives of the Mahdi before escaping to Egypt with other missionary captives in 1891.

Had Comboni’s work, then, ended in failure? Certainly little was left as the Mahdist armies swept all before them, beyond a few Christian families who survived to welcome the missionaries return fifteen years later. On the other hand, Comboni’s personal courage and dedication remained an inspiration, much as General Charles Gordon’s death defending Khartoum against the Mahdists inspired Protestants. His Plan remained a relevant challenge towards the evangelization of Africa, particularly in the confidence it placed in African ability to undertake the task. In Verona, Comboni left behind two missionary societies and training institutes committed to the evangelization of Africa, who would at the turn of the new century spearhead a new attempt at the task.

It is also important to record the impact of Comboni’s work on individual lives, as these stories do give an indication of the strengths of both Comboni’s methods and his personality. Antonio Dubale was a young Ethiopian who was ransomed from slavery by Comboni on a visit to Aden in 1861. He eventually studied for the priesthood in Rome and was ordained by Comboni in 1877. He worked with Comboni in Khartoum, Malbes and El Obeid where he died in 1881.

Deng Sorur, a Dinka from Abyei, escaped from slavery and eventually, under Comboni’s direction, prepared for the priesthood. He was the first southern Sudanese Catholic priest.

Bakhita Quasce was the first Sudanese Catholic nun. She was a Nuba girl, born about 1840. She was bought back from slavery in Cairo, and then educated in Italy. She later became a teacher at Comboni’s missionary college for Africans in Cairo, also teaching in mission schools in Khartoum and El Obeid. In 1881 she was admitted as a nun to the Comboni Sisters. She was captured by the Mahdists when they took Obeid in 1882. She eventually escaped to Egypt where she died in 1899. [33]

Except in the lives of a handful of such people, there was little to be seen in 1885 for the labors of such men as Casolani, Knoblecher, Kirchner and Comboni. Yet in their implacable opposition to slavery, in their unshakable commitment to the cause of an African Church, particularly in the case of Comboni, they constitute the foundations of the Sudanese Catholic Church of the 20th century.

Christian Mission during the Condominium 1899·1955

In the North

The Mahdi died a few months after the fall of Khartoum and the task of continuing his mission and consolidating the new state fell to his faithful supporter, the Khalifa Abdullahi. [34] It soon became clear following military failures against the Egyptians and the Ethiopians that the Mahdist movement would not spread outside Sudan. The Khalifa dedicated himself to establishing the Mahdist state within Sudan.

The independent African state, however, was to be destroyed by outside forces, by the ambitions of competing European powers who had their eyes on the Upper Nile Valley. From the Congo Free State (now Zaire), the Belgians were extending their control towards the Nile and into Bahr el Ghazal. The French also had dispatched an expedition from West Africa to establish a post on the Upper Nile. In Ethiopia, the Italians had been defeated at Adowa by the Ethiopian troops of Emperor Menelik (1896). To support the Italians (to whom the British had treaty obligations), to advance British claims on the Nile Valley, to satisfy the desire of the British public for revenge for Gordon’s death, an Anglo-Egyptian force under Sir Herbert Kitchener was sent up the Nile.

Kitchener advanced carefully, taking two years to reach Abu Hamad and building a railway across the desert to supply his troops. Finally in September 1898 the modern, well-equipped army of Kitchener met the army of the Khalifa at the hills of Karari, outside Omdurman. The Mahdist army, equipped with swords, spears and ancient rifles was destroyed. 11,000 Sudanese soldiers were killed and 16,000 wounded. [35] The Khalifa retreated with the remainder of his troops into Kordofan where he was eventually hunted down and killed in November 1898.

By the Anglo-Egyptian Conventions of 1899, a joint British and Egyptian administration was set up, known as the Condominium Government. Kitchener was appointed the first governor-general in January 1899. He was followed the same year by Sir Reginald Wingate who remained as governor-general until 1916.

As soon as Omdurman fell, several missionary groups pressed for permission to enter Sudan. Members of the Comboni missionary orders, together with the Sudanese Catholic converts who had fled to Egypt from the Mahdi, were eager to return to Sudan. Bishop Francis-Xavier Geyer travelled Europe raising money for the mission, and following the Battle of Karari in 1898, Monsignor Roveggio of the Verona Fathers (the order Comboni had founded) opened up work in Omdurman in the Masalma quarter where most Christians (Catholics, Ethiopians, Copts and Armenians) had settled during the Mahdia. They took as their first task the gathering together of the small Christian community in Omdurman.

If the Catholics were inspired by the example of Comboni, it was Gordon who was the inspiration of Protestant missions to the Sudan. After his death in 1885, so great was the interest in Sudan that the Church Missionary Society in England was compelled to open a fund for a Gordon Memorial Mission that would send missionaries to the Sudan when that became possible. In 1898 a young clergyman, Llewellyn Henry Gwynne, was waiting in Egypt for permission to go to Sudan. In 1899, be obtained permission and travelled to Khartoum with Dr. H. J. Harpur of the CMS hospital in Cairo, to make an assessment of the situation. Harpur returned to Egypt but Gwynne stayed on, living at first in a tent. Forbidden to carry out evangelism, Gwynne prepared for a long wait and filled his time by learning Arabic and acting as chaplain to the British forces in Khartoum.

Rev. J. Kelly Giffen was an American Presbyterian missionary in Egypt when the news came that British and Egyptian troops had entered Omdurman. He was eager for the American mission to begin work in Sudan and so in 1900 he visited Omdurman with a fellow missionary, Dr. Andrew Watson and stayed with Gwynne and Harpur. Like Gwynne, Giffen’s vision at that time was for evangelism amongst the Muslim population of North Sudan. Unlike the Catholics and the CMS, the Presbyterians already had a large church in Egypt. The Evangelical Church in Egypt was founded by American Presbyterians and consisted mainly of converts from the Coptic Church. Consequently following the report that Giffen brought back to Egypt the mission set aside Giffen and his wife and also Dr. H. T. McLaughlin and his wife for work in Sudan and the Evangelical Church chose an Egyptian pastor, Rev. Gebra Hanna to go to Sudan to work amongst the Coptic and Evangelical Christians, and to begin a witness amongst Muslims.

The British authorities (Lord Cromer, the British Agent in Cairn, Kitchener, the governor-General in Khartoum, and his successor, Wingate) were extremely reluctant to permit missionary activity in the Sudan. They feared what they regarded as Muslim “fanaticism” and regarded missionaries as potential trouble-makers who might provoke further Mahdist rebellions. Public opinion in Britain and America however was so strong that they were unable to exclude the missionaries but they did endeavor to restrict their work as much as possible. All direct evangelism was forbidden, and the government reluctantly gave permission for educational and medical work as long as no attempt to spread the Christian faith amongst Muslims was made. This policy lasted throughout the Condominium period.

Sir Reginald Wingate was a devout Christian. He wanted to see a Christian South that would balance the strength of Islam in the North, and so he urged the missions to consider opening work in southern Sudan. The Catholics (who already had a history of work in the south) and the Presbyterians were not averse to this but Gwynne felt strongly that his call was to Muslims of the north, those for whom, as he saw it, Gordon had died. It was only with reluctance, and after the Catholics and Presbyterians had started work that Gwynne turned his attention to the south.

Circumscribed by government policy throughout the Condominium period, the witness of the missions in the north took particular forms. The first we might term chaplaincy work. There were many foreigners in Khartoum, Omdurman and the northern towns – not only from Europe and America, but also from Egypt, Ethiopia and many countries of the Middle East, and many of these were Christians. The Evangelical Church ministered to the many Egyptian Christians in Sudan, many of whom were there in government service as teachers or administrators, or in commerce. The Catholic missionaries sought to minister to many of the Christian groups who could be found in the capital– Catholics, Copts, Ethiopians, Armenians, etc. ln time many of these formed their own churches, but there has been until today a strong Catholic Church in Masalma, the Christian quarter of Mahdist Omdurman, with a wide ministry to many Christian groups.

It was natural that Gwynne should take special responsibility for the spiritual welfare of the many British people in government in the army, or in education. As administration became more settled, Anglican churches were opened for the British expatriate community in the Northern Sudanese towns of Atbara, Wad Medani and Port Sudan. Today these churches belong to the Episcopal Church and serve migrant workers from the South and from the Nuba Mountains.

The second form of witness that the missions developed in North Sudan that satisfied government anxieties was in the field of education. The Government did little to encourage modern western education. They were content to support the traditional Quranic education of mosque and Khalwa. [36] Gordon Memorial College in Khartoum was founded with the limited objective of training clerks and craftsmen for government service. It has been upgraded over the years, later providing technical education, and is today the home of Khartoum University.

The missions were responsible for the first modem schools in Sudan, seen as a service to the Sudanese people and also as a low-key form of Christian witness. ln 1900, the Verona Fathers started two schools for girls, one in Khartoum and one in Omdurman. CMS opened a school for Coptic girls in Khartoum in 1902. Soon the schools attracted Muslim girls from both Egyptian and Sudanese homes. CMS opened further schools, in the northern towns. The Presbyterians opened a boys’ school in Khartoum in 1905. A school for girls, begun in Khartoum North in 1909, later became the first girls’ secondary school in Sudan. These mission schools were the foundation of all later modern primary and secondary education in the Sudan. At first, the government did sponsor a number of kuttabs (elementary schools) but in the 1920s this policy was abandoned in favor of the traditional religious education of the khalwas.

At first Sudanese families were reluctant to send their sons to mission schools. Then in the 1930s, as the nationalist movement began to gain strength, they saw the advantages of western education and many Sudanese Muslim boys began to enter the schools. The schools had always been popular for the useful domestic skills that girls learned there.

The other sphere of work open to the missions within government restrictions was medical work. Both the Catholics and CMS maintained clinic work in Khartoum and Omdurman. In 1912, CMS opened a hospital in Omdurman that placed great emphasis on the training of Sudanese medical staff. The site is now that of the government Psychiatric hospital.

Throughout the Condominium and since independence there has been severe restriction on Christian work in most parts of northern Sudan. [37] This has in part been due to official policy, and in part the natural antipathy of a predominantly Muslim population. The one area of opportunity throughout the period has been the increasing number of Southerners coming to the northern towns in search of education and work. The large congregations that meet in northern towns today, and which have done so since the 1940s, consist mainly of these migrants, together with others from the Nuba Mountains, mainly young and mainly male. The two extended periods of civil war since independence have accentuated this development, as many thousands have fled the south and settled in shanties around the main towns.

In the South

No account of Sudan’s history in the 20th century can avoid the issue of North and South, and yet that issue is a great deal more complex than many presentations suggest. Whilst it is true that most Northerners are Muslims, and that northern culture has been heavily influenced by Arabic culture and language, this is a process that has been going on quite slowly since before the final collapse of the Christian kingdoms, and is still not complete. The Nubas for instance, from their hilltop strongholds withstood Islam well into the 20th century and many have become Christians, in part as a continuing defiance of the Arab Islamic advance. On the other hand, certain of the nomadic tribes of western Sudan (Kordofan and Darfur) seem to have intermarried locally in only a limited way and appear even today to be essentially Arab peoples (e.g. the Baggara). The genealogies of the different northern tribes are extremely complex, reflecting a strong desire to assert an elevated Arab origin, that is probably in excess of the reality, but indicating a complex history of interrelationship between immigrating Arab tribes and established Sudanese tribes. The Nubians of the Dongola region (the Dunaqla), for example, retain a far stronger memory of their Nubian origins than many surrounding Nubian groups and continue to speak a Nubian dialect often in preference to Arabic. [38]

Southern Sudanese on the other hand, until the 19th century, retained a large measure of isolation from northern Sudan. ln the west there has been seasonal conflict over the rich grazing lands of Bahr-el-Arab between the Baqqara and the Dinka and Nuer for centuries, but the vast Sudd swamp that chokes the progress of the Nile has isolated and protected most of the peoples of southern Sudan until modern times. The opening of a route through the Sudd in the mid 19th century opened the south to the depredations of ivory and slave traders, and to the ineffective and corrupt efforts at administration of Egyptian and Mahdist governors. Since the 1840s, North and South have increasingly been tied together by common experience, by political administration and by commerce but the relationship has always had dimension of oppression and exploitation and an undercurrent of violence.

To understand the unfolding significance of the Christian community in the history of Sudan, it needs to be set against the changing relationship of North and South during the period. The establishment of the Condominium government in Khartoum indicated a radical change for the North but at first meant little change for the South. The cycle of violence continued as patrols of British and northern Sudanese troops tried to “pacify” the South. In 1904-05, the powerful military princedoms of the Azande were suppressed. From then through until 1919 a series of punitive expeditions sought to compel the Dinka, the Nuer, the Anuak and other southern tribes to come under British administration and protection. Daly comments on the situation in 1918: “Two decades of violence in the Southern Sudan…had rendered the atrocious unexceptional” [39]

The 1920s throughout British-ruled Africa were the heyday of Indirect Rule. The discovery that British administration could be both expensive and ineffective led to the conviction that African peoples could be more satisfactorily governed indirectly through their own traditional rulers. The policy was applied vigorously in northern Sudan and did in the case of many British colonial officers arise from a genuine respect for traditional Sudanese institutions. Applied to Southern Sudan, it became rather an excuse for perpetuating official ignorance and neglect. Officials in Khartoum rarely travelled to the South, entrusting its administration to ex-military “bog Barons.”

The policies that emerged in the South in the 1920s were given official standing in January 1930 when the Civil Secretary [40] Harold MacMichael issued a memorandum on Southern Policy. [41] In order to promote the protection of the traditional tribal structures, the South was to be protected as far as possible against Arab and Islamic influences. Northern administrative staff were to be withdrawn, Arab traders included. Arabic discouraged, and British officials were to use English and local vernacular languages. The Rejaf language Conference of 1928 had already applied these principles to education. English rather than Arabic was to be encouraged as the southern official language and six southern languages (Bari, Dinka, Latuka, Nuer, Shilluk and Azande) were chosen to be the basis of elementary education. Southern policy satisfied missionary desire for protection against Muslim infiltration in the South, but the government had little interest in the development of education, or any other form of progress in the south. MacMichael admitted in later life that “he had left the south alone,” and that “he was not really interested.” [42]

The problem of administering northern and southern Sudan within one country was a severe and complex one. It is however, difficult to escape the conclusion that Southern Policy was nothing short of disaster, and contributed to the tragic outcome of a prolonged civil war which is perceived to have racial and religious roots. Southern Sudan was locked into a policy of minimal development, of artificial isolation from the Muslim north that gave no opportunity for the development of tolerance and mutual understanding, a policy that prevented the emergence of an educated political class. It was by contrast the missionaries who represented the forces of progress and change in Southern Sudan, in education, both academic and technical, and in medical care.

Southern Policy was abruptly abandoned in 1946 when it became apparent that the Sudan was heading for independence in the near future. Attempts were made to develop education, to redress the neglect of past decades, to identify and consult Southern political leaders. But it was too late. Southern leaders, most of them educated in mission schools, were mistrustful of British aims, fearful of northern political domination, and determined to resist any attempt to impose Islam in the South. The Sudan became independent on January 1, 1956, but already in the previous August the Equatoria Corps of the Sudan Defense Corps had mutinied. Independent Sudan’s story of conflict and disintegration had begun.

The story of the emergence of a Christian community in Southern Sudan must be seen against this backdrop of government policy. The aspirations of both the Muslim and Christian communities are perceived by Sudanese to be at the heart of post-independence conflict in the Sudan. Religion is a highly political issue in Sudan and its political context must always be kept in view.

As we have seen, the Condominium government was reluctant to allow missionaries into Northern Sudan and evangelism was forbidden. Both to divert their attention from the north and because he wanted to see a Christian south counterbalancing a Muslim north, Wingate encouraged the missionaries to go south. However, he was not prepared to leave them free to go where they willed. Wingate wanted to avoid any possibility of the kind of religious war that had ravaged Uganda ten years previously. Each mission was to be given a “sphere” in which to work, so separating the missions.

In the Upper Nile Province, the territory stretching from the East Bank of the Nile up the Sobat River to the Sudan-Ethiopia border was allotted to the Presbyterians. The West side of the Nile in Upper Nile and up the Bahr-el-Ghazal river to the west was given 10 the Catholics and CMS was given the East and West banks of the Nile further south in Equatoria. The CMS sphere did not stretch as far south as the modem borders of the Sudan. A large area known as Lado Enclave stretching south-west from modem Juba to the Nile-Congo divide was administered by the Belgians until 1910 when it came under the Condominium rule. The East Bank was still administered by the Uganda Protectorate. These spheres had been established by 1903 and were incorporated in the Sudan Government Missionary Regulations (1905) by which also the missions were bound not to conduct evangelism in Northern Sudan, or to establish any mission station north of the 10th parallel (i.e. north of Malakal). The spheres policy continued to apply throughout the Condominium period though it became more precise and more complex as mission work: extended and new missions entered Sudan.

The Catholics were most eager to embark on work in the South. They had never lost Casolani’s original vision of the Nile as a great highway carrying the gospel to Central Africa. The heroic failures of the 19th century steeled them for renewed effort. Roveggio had brought a steam boat called the “Redemptor” with him from England when he arrived in Khartoum in 1900. There it was assembled and in 1901 Roveggio led an expedition to the South in the “Redemptor.” A station was opened at Lul on the Nile amongst the Shilluk. Roveggio reached Gondokoro before turning back. He died shortly afterward. He was replaced by Bishop Francis-Xavier Geyer. By 1903 the spheres policy committed the Verona Fathers to working in the western province of Bahr-el-Ghazal rather than pursuing the Nile route to Uganda. From 1903 the Verona Fathers developed mission stations in Bahr-el-Ghazal, an area which has remained staunchly Catholic. The government post at Wau became the center of Catholic work and here they opened an important trade school and an elementary school for the children of the town. However the loss of life was high and, as 40 years earlier, threatened the closure of the mission. Wingate’s encouragement persuaded Geyer to persevere. During the next ten years (1906-15) no more missionaries died.

But in some ways the work in Bahr-el-Ghazal could not fully satisfy the Catholics. The Nile was the road to the Central Africa and it was beside the Nile that nearly fifty missionaries had died between 1848 and 1862. Despite the “spheres” regulations the Verona Fathers gained permission in 1910 to open a station at Gondokoro where they met a tiny remnant of those who had been baptized there fifty years before. This was later closed and further stations were opened at Rejaf East, and Juba on the Nile. From here the work of the Verona Fathers spread into Northern Uganda to Gulu, Moyo and Kitgum. Casolani’s dream was, in the end, fulfilled.

The American (Presbyterian) Mission had wanted to work in the North amongst Muslims but as early as November 1900 they had been warned this was not possible and had been encouraged to go south. In 1901, Giffen and McLaughlin visited Upper Nile and selected a site at Doleib Hill near the mouth of the Sobat River. After some delay, they were able to establish themselves there in 1902, with permission to evangelize the Sobat River area. The work of the American Mission was always rather different to that of the Verona Fathers and CMS. It was never very extensive, usually only having a small number of missionary personnel. The emphasis was always on education and practical training, and on economic development, rather than any narrow form of evangelism.

Kelly Giffen had his own philosophy of missionary work to which he gave the title “The Dignity of Labor.” This was based on two ideas: 1. Only by labor could improvements be made in the country. 2. Working is a way to cure the sin of idleness.

But it was not easy to persuade people that working with and for the missionaries was a good idea. Most people’s experience of such work was the forced labor extorted by successive governments. Such organized work was a curse, not a blessing. So Giffen developed a third idea: 3. All work should be paid labor. Only so could it be “free,” as a man was free to accept or refuse such work.

At first pay was made daily in beads, wire or cloth. Later they were paid in money at the rate of 3 piastres a day. But no one would work for money unless there was something to buy so Giffeb opened a shop where people could spend their money on a variety of useful items.

The government became anxious about these radical projects of the Americans and the shop was closed. Many practical skills were taught at the mission– carpentry, brick-laying and agriculture – but Giffen’s hope of developing a small scale cash economy where these practical skills could be profitable was frustrated. It was a philosophy that perhaps owed more to American individualism than to the gospel but it is one of the very few attempts in Southern Sudan in the early 20th century to prepare southern Sudanese for any kind of participation in the modern world. The strongly practical orientation of the American missionaries led them quickly into education. They opened a school in 1903 that quickly gained government approval. Over the years it expanded and developed, becoming a boarding school in 1924 and becoming the center of a large network of “bush schools.”

In 1907 the mission bought a boat to enable them to take Medical help up the Sobat River to the Nuer people. This work eventually culminated in the construction of a hospital high up the Sobat River amongst the Nuer in 1923. The Presbyterians mission work was eminently practical, but evangelism and church planting proceeded slowly. The first baptism took place in 1913, and by 1923 about 200 people had been baptized. Of the three main churches in Southern Sudan, the Presbyterian Church is by far the smallest.

CMS was the last of the three missions to begin work in the South. Gwynne had always been interested in the South but was also hopeful that eventually there would be greater freedom for evangelism in the North. However, by 1905, it was becoming urgent for CMS to take up its “sphere” in the South, before it was taken over by one of the other missions.

By 1905 Gwynne had gathered together a team of six to begin work in the South. There were three ordained men, including Archibald Shaw who was to remain in Sudan for many years, a doctor, a builder and an agriculturalist. Gwynne also arranged for Dr. Albert Cook the pioneer Medical missionary of Mengo Hospital in Uganda to travel to meet them to advise them. Cook mounted an expedition to accompany him, driving a herd of cattle all the way so that they should not be without fresh milk or fresh meat. Gwynne’s group left Khartoum in a sailing boat in December 1905, reaching Mongala, the government post in Equatoria, in January 1906 and finding Dr. Cook already there. At first, a station was opened at Bor but this was soon moved to Malek just to the south. Malek was to be the CMS headquarters in Southern Sudan for many years. Gwynne then returned to Khartoum, and Cook returned to Uganda.

Things were difficult from the start. Within one year all except Shaw had left, either because of sickness, the harshness of conditions, or because of Shaw’s irascibility. In 1908, Shaw himself went on leave and Malek was closed for almost a year. CMS wanted to abandon the work, and only Shaw’s persistence and doggedness kept it open. He returned late in 1908 with a new recruit, and further reinforcements arrived in 1910 and 1911. The work amongst the Dinka was very slow. A further station was opened amongst the Ciec Dinka at Lau in 1912, but in 1920 it had to be abandoned. The first person to be baptized was Jon Aruor, one of Shaw’s house servants. He was baptized on September 17, 1916.

The mission would surely have collapsed without Shaw’s determination. It was entirely due to him that the mission still existed to take advantage of new opportunities when they came. In 1910, the Lado Enclave passed from Belgian to Anglo-Egyptian administration. The Verona Fathers and CMS were both interested in extending their work into the Enclave. The Catholics had by far the better case. They had many workers, the mission had advanced steadily and they already had a mission station among the Azande at Mupoi on the edge of the Enclave. The CMS mission on the other hand was small and the missionaries had made little impact on their existing sphere. In the end it was Gwynne’s friendship with Wingate which secured the opportunity for CMS. It was an important decision for today the Episcopal Church, successor to CMS, is strongest in what used to be the Lado Enclave.

The entry of CMS into the Enclave was delayed by a serious outbreak of sleeping sickness. However, in 1913, work was opened at Yambio, the administrative center of the Azande country, named after the Azande prince who had died during the British conquest in 1905.

Shaw was eager to push on with establishing mission posts throughout the Enclave. ln his view the establishment of Anglo-Egyptian administration meant the spread of Islam.

Mohammedanism is gaining ground everywhere here. Under the Belgian regime in the Lado Enclave, the country and government were frankly pagan. Since the Anglo-Egyptian government has taken over, they have poured some 500 Mohammedan soldiers and officials into every position of authority in the country besides a certain number of traders. [43]

It was to counter this tendency that the Southern Policy was developed in the 1920s. In the meantime, Shaw was resolved to establish a Christian presence in the Enclave. In 1917, Rev Paul Gibson was sent to Yei amongst the Kakwa People. Gibson commenced an important education work there. In 1920, a school was opened al Juba on the banks of the Nile, then just a small village but now the main town of the South. In 1920, also educational work was begun al Kajo-Kaji amongst the Kuku on the border with Uganda. Completing a hectic year of advance, a few days before Christmas in 1920 Kenneth Fraser and his wife Eileen arrived at Lui amongst the Moro people to begin impressive medical work. By 1920, CMS, largely due to Shaw’s effort, had demonstrated its determination to play an active part in evangelizing Southern Sudan, in developing education and medical work, and certainly in Shaw’s perception holding back the advance of Islam. These centers, established in the Lado Enclave between 1913 and 1920 have become the heartland of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan. The vigorous branches of that Church are those clustered around the Bari language dialects (Bari, Kakwa and Kuku with their centers respectively in Juba, Yei and Kajo-Kaji), those that in some sense came within the Azande military empire (the Azande, the Baka, the Mundu and a number of smaller tribes centered on Yambio and Maridi) and those groups who speak one of the Moro dialects or regard Moro culture and language as dominant (the different Moro clans, the Avokaya, the Morokodo, and the different Jur groups, centered on Lui, Mundri and Amadi). There has been consistent CMS and Episcopal Church work amongst the Dinka tribes, notably at Malek amongst the Bor Dinka and at Rumbek amongst the Agaar Dinka, as well as other centers. But on the whole, little impression was made on the intricate and delicately balanced Dinka cultural and socio-economic system. Only in the 1960s in the first civil war were large numbers of Dinka converted to Christian faith, and then it was young men in the towns. Reports persist during the current civil war of great growth in the Christian communities deep in the countryside. In both cases, church growth can be related to the dislocation of war and its impact on the cohesion of rural religious and socio-economic systems.

In a chapter of this length there is no opportunity to give an adequate account of the impact of Christian faith on particular southern Sudanese communities. In any case, it is just such accounts that we lack in the present state of studies. A destructive civil war also threatens to harm the chances of conducting such studies in the future. Let one case study stand for all the other instances of vital interaction between Christian preaching and traditional cultural and religion, the case of the Sudan Revival of 1938. [44]

In the late 1930s, the CMS mission in Southern Sudan had become very discouraged. Dr. Kenneth Fraser, the powerful leader of medical missionary work amongst the Moro people had died in 1935. Other key missionaries had left through ill health. Shaw’s leadership of the mission, so vital between 1906 and 1920 had become authoritarian and unpredictable. Several mission stations were without missionary staff. While the missionaries were discouraged, there were ample signs of life amongst their converts– Bible study groups, fervent prayer meetings, and interest in confession and repentance. In 1938, a new missionary teacher, Richard Jones, reached Sudan and was placed in Yambio. He had been trained in Welsh revivalism at Swansea Bible College under Rees Howell. Jones preached a message of sin, repentance and forgiveness, and expected to see a response to his message. The moment was right, for many southern Sudanese, cut loose from the authority and the resources of traditional spirituality by missionary education and Medical care had not yet discovered an inner spiritual dynamic in the new faith. Jones reported to his mission:

Meetings were carried on from early evening until three a.m. and four a.m. the following morning. Confessions and the beating of breasts and wailing, eager, excited prayer and praise, many people praying at the same time, were all evidenced at these meetings. Later on, inner voices, dreams and visions began to be manifested… [45]

Repentance and restored fellowship were the key-notes of the revival, as they were of the East African Revival, happening simultaneously in Uganda and Rwanda, but with no direct relationship. The movement spread rapidly around Yambio and when Jones was invited to preach at Nugent School at Loka (the senior CMS School in Southern Sudan), a similar movement of confession and repentance occurred. Jones’ career was, however, to be very brief. Colonial authorities were worried by such a movement amongst the people and by Jones’ “instability.” A chief in Yambio was threatened that he would die if he did not repent. His ensuing death forced the District Commissioner, Major Wyet, to take action. However, before his residence permit could be withdrawn, Jones decided to leave. He had been in Sudan less than three months. He had been the catalyst, but no more than that, of a movement that continues to invigorate the Church in Sudan even today. The revival movement in Yambio, narrow and exclusive, soon collapsed amid accusations of moral failure. However, schoolboys from Loka carried the message back to Lui and the Moru country. Here, like Jones in Yambio, they were merely catalysts to a movement that rapidly outgrew their contribution. Dreams and visions occurred widely amongst the Moru people. Worship centers were founded, plans made, mission and colonial authorities defied in response to countless compelling visions. I have collected the testimony of various men and women in Moru country and nearly all deny the contribution of Matio Jere and Peter Dabai (the Loka schoolboys) as being decisive, referring rather to the overwhelming authority of visions they received. One of the Loka teachers, a Dinka named John Majak, was transferred to Akot, the new station amongst the Agaar Dinka. His arrival coincided with that of a new missionary, John Collinson. Collinson’s evangelical spirituality resonated strongly with Jon Majak’s new experience, and together they preached and saw a movement of revival similar to that which had taken place at Yambio, and amongst the Moru. It was, however, more fragile than that amongst the Moru and it did not survive the civil war of 1955 to 1972 when the church and town of Akot was destroyed. Today it is only among the Moro that this particular revival tradition survives, and here it still has the capacity to attract and motivate young people.

Mention needs to be made of one other area where there was Christian advance in the condominium period, the Nuba Mountains. [46] This term is used for an extensive area of rocky hills and intervening plains east of the Nile in southern Kordofan. It is part of northern Sudan but as an area that has, in varying degrees, resisted Islamization, the issues it presents are akin to those of southern Sudan. The condominium government had a problem. The area was north of the ten-degree line of the latitude and therefore according to the Missionary Regulations should not be open to missionary work. On the other hand, many parts of the mountains were still traditional in culture. Should this traditional culture be protected by the government, or should it be open to Islamic influence, or to Christian missionary activity? Nuba resistance to the colonial government only ended in 1920 and the government then considered that a closely-watched missionary presence was both the best way of offering some defense of traditional life against Arabization, while at the same time bringing some limited form of educational and medical development.

In 1920 the government invited the Sudan United Mission, an international and interdenominational Protestant mission whose main work was in Nigeria, to begin medical and educational work in eastern Nuba Mountains. This was a strategic step for the SUM who had long held a vision of a great chain of mission stations stretching all the way across Africa south of Sahara, as a bulwark against the spread of Islam. [47]

In 1933 the government invited CMS to help provide vernacular education in western Nuba Mountains. In 1935, the first group of CMS missionaries opened a school at Salara. CMS found it difficult to provide enough workers to develop the work as the government wished, and so government schools were also opened, often with Coptic headmasters.

Before independence, evangelistic progress amongst the Nuba was slow, converts amounting to only a few hundred. Much valuable linguistic and Bible translation work was done bath by SUM and CMS, laying the foundation for the later expansion of the Nuba churches. In 1953, Samwil Jangul, now the leading pastor of the Sudanese Church of Christ, [48] and Butrus Tia Shokai, later a bishop of the Episcopal Church, went to study at Bishop Gwynne Theological College in southern Sudan, and became the first pastor in the Nuba Mountains.

On the eve of independence the Christian communities in Sudan were still quite small and heavily dependent on missionary leadership. There were only a handful of Sudanese pastors or priests in any of the Churches. Both in the South and in the Nuba Mountains education had proceeded only very slowly. As a result the Sudanese Christian leadership and the emergent political leadership in the South had little educational background and felt poorly equipped to stand their ground in an independent Sudan that was predominantly Muslim. Independence came far quicker than the colonial government had ever thought possible. Isolation, underdevelopment, and a slow pace of evangelization meant that Wingate’s concept of a Christian counterbalance in south to Islam in the north was far from realization in 1956. Instead of a stable, healthy pluralism, Sudan entered independence with deep and unresolved tensions. Just what was the place of a small Christian Church, perceived by the Muslim majority as a creation of the colonial government, in an independent Sudan?

The Church and State in the Search for National Unity: 1956-1989

Even before independence, it was clear that Sudan’s future was to be troubled. Not only was there the unresolved question of southern Sudan’s role in national life, there was also continuous factional struggle in northern politics that prevented continuous stable government. Periodically this insoluble and debilitating struggle was suppressed by military intervention, as it was under Abboud between 1958 and 1964, and again under Nimeiri for a much longer period from 1969 until April 1985. But it is significant that when elections were held in April 1986, a year after Nimeiri’s fall, it was the Umma, representing the Mahdist Ansar sect, and the Democratic Unionist Party, the current political expression of the Khatmiyya Sect, that emerged as the most powerful parties. They had been the chief political protagonists in the early post-independence period. An important new force in contemporary politics in the National Islamic front which is closely associated with the growing Muslim Brotherhood movement and represents the most dogmatic and inflexible Muslim voice in present-day Sudanese politics. The fragmentation in northern politics has made the likelihood of any consistent approach to the southern problem very remote.

Nonetheless the place of the South in national politics has been a consistent theme in post-independence history. In 1946 the Condominium government formally abandoned Southern Policy and began hastily and belatedly to develop the South economically and educationally to take its political place in an independent Sudan. A renowned conference in the Juba cinema in 1947 convened by the civil secretary Sir James Robertson and attended by representatives of both North and South concurred with Robertson’s policy statement that the south was “inextricably bound for future development to the Middle East and Arabia and Northern Sudan.” [49] However, as independence approached, it became clear that Southerners would have few posts of importance in the new Sudan and that the safeguards promised were insufficient to protect southern interest. The mutiny in the Equatoria Corps in 1955 indicated the deep mistrust felt by many Southerners. Perhaps at some points during Nimeiri’s role Southerners felt they had a future within Sudanese politics, but many of the years of independence, especially from 1963 to 1972, and from 1983 until the present, have been consumed by armed rebellion and by the devastation of civil war.

What is the place of religion in this prolonged conflict? It must be kept in mind that the problem of the South is multi-stranded. Attempts to explain the situation or propose solutions in terms of one factor fail to convince. [50] Yet, whatever may be the historical complexities that lie behind the present impasse, religion is perceived in both North and South to be central to the problem. ln as far as national unit y can be identified as the overriding challenge facing independent Sudan, the existence of a large Christian minority in a largely Muslim state can rightly be seen as posing major questions. [51]

Following the 1955 mutiny, the southern provinces were fairly quiet until General Abboud ended civilian parliamentary rule in November 1958. His government has been described as “tactless to the point of provocation” in its dealings with the South. [52] An international Commission on Secondary Education had, in 1954, recommended that missionary schools should be taken over by the government and that Arabic rather than English should be the universal language of instruction in the South. The recommendation made good sense as national strategy but completely neglected the political and religious setting in which the policy would have to be implemented. In 1957, the missionary schools were duly nationalized but Abboud’s administration hastened the policy of Arabization and Islamization. Muslim educational institutions and mosques were subsidized. The day of rest in the south was changed from Sunday to Friday. More and more restrictions were placed on the activities of missionaries. Increasingly and openly missionaries were accused of fermenting trouble in the South. The government’s policy of Islamization established the religious question at the heart of the southern problem.

In 1962, the Missionary Societies Act established further controls on missionary activity. Preaching, teaching, or baptizing children under 18 years could be considered offenses, and in any case required an annual license. The Missionary Societies Act contained a serious ambiguity. In English, the Act referred only to foreign missionaries. In Arabic, the word used for “missionary” was qasis which means “priest” and a “mission” is called kanisa which is the word for “church.” So in Arabic, the Act could be interpreted to apply to Sudanese priests and pastors and their churches. Despite its English title, the Act was used to harass the activities of the Sudanese Church. Such actions failed to advance Islam and only succeeded in alienating many Southerners, including those who would have considered themselves moderate and non-political.

Consistently, the missionaries were portrayed as political meddlers and of encouraging secession. They were blamed, not entirely unjustly, of keeping alive the memory of northern slave raids. The CMS mission at Lui for example was built next to the great tree where slaves had formerly been assembled before being driven north. But with the actions of Abboud’s government and the presence of the elderly in the villages, these memories did not need the encouragement of missionaries. In 1964, the missionaries in the south were expelled. But already the opposition to the government was hardening. In exile in Zaire, a number of Sudanese politicians including a Catholic priest, Father Saturnino Lahure had already in 1962 formed the Sudan African Closed Districts National Union (SACONU), which took its name from the re-imposition of the old condominium closed districts in the South. The following year, it moved its headquarters to Kampala and changed its name to the Sudan African National Union (SANU). In 1963, within southern Sudan, a guerilla army called the Anyanya was formed. [53] The formation of the Anyanya marks the commencement of a nine year civil war that engulfed most parts of southern Sudan and led to the loss of perhaps a million lives.

We cannot follow here the tortuous path of national and southern politics in the following year, other than to indicate the general course of events. Abboud fell from power in 1964 and following the failure of the “Round Table” Peace conference in 1965, the governments of Mohammad Ahmed Mahjoub and Sadiq-al-Mahdi launched an aggressive campaign in southern Sudan. In June, July and August of 1965 many villages, churches and schools were destroyed and many thousands driven deep into the bush or into exile in Uganda or Zaire. Bishop Gwynne College, the theological college of the Anglican diocese of the Sudan was attacked and destroyed by northern troops. The staff and students with their families walked through the bush to Uganda. In both Juba and Wau northern troops, out of control, were guilty of large scale massacres of the civilian population. Although the war continued until 1972, it was at its height between 1963 and 1966 when an estimated half a million lives were lost, in addition to a similar number from related causes such as disease and famine. [54]

In 1969, an officer’s coup once again ended a confused and acrimonious period of civilian rule. Jaafar Nimeiri emerged as the leader of the new military regime, and was to hold on to power despite a number of coups that came close to toppling him, until April 1985. As northern politics, under military control, were gaining more direction and authority, so the rebel movement in the south was becoming more cohesive and effective under the dynamic leadership of Colonel Joseph Lagu. The time was right for an attempt at conciliation. During the summer of 1971 the World Council of Churches and the All Africa Conference of Churches, sought to bring the two sides together. A conference was arranged in Addis Ababa between the representatives of the Khartoum government (led by Abel Alier, southern Dinka, who was Nimeiri’s minister for southern affairs) and representatives of the South Sudan Liberation Movement (political wing of the Anyanya). An agreement was signed on February 27, 1972, leading to the Regional Self-Government Act for the Southern Provinces, approved on the March 3. The substantial self-government accorded to the South enabled the South to enjoy ten years of relative peace though these years were marked by political instability and wrangling, and deep division between the different political factions. Much of this resolved around the perceived dominance of the Dinkas in southern politics especially through Abel Alier who was President of the (southern) High executive Council from 1972 until 1978 and again in 1980.

The years following the expulsion of the missionaries in 1964 were years of great suffering and turmoil for Southerners yet they were the years in which the Church in Sudan grew to maturity both as an institution and in the quality of its life. The Anglican Church consecrated its first Sudanese bishop Daniel Deng Athong, in 1955. He retired in 1961 because of ill health, probably brought on by his deep distress at the atrocities in the south that followed the mutiny of 1955. Elinana Ngalamu and Jeremia Dotiro were consecrated as bishops in 1963 to assist Oliver Allison, the last missionary bishop who pastored his far flung flock throughout the war from Khartoum. Following the return of peace the Episcopal Church of the Sudan became independent Province within the Anglican Communion in October 1976 with Elinana Ngalamu as its first Archbishop. The Catholic Church had established its national structures a little earlier in 1974 when the various vicariates and prefectures were elevated to two metropolitan sees (Khartoum and Juba) and five suffragan sees.

However it is in the quality of the Churches’ life that most development can be seen. Before the escalation of the civil war in 1963 all the Churches were recording rapid growth. In 1960, for example, the Catholic Church was reporting a growth rate of 15% per annum in the Juba vicariate, and 25% per annum in the Mupoi prefecture (amongst the Azande). [55] From 1963 almost all the population of southern Sudan fled either deep into the bush, or into exile in northern Sudan, or the neighboring countries of Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Zaire and the Central Africa Republic. In the insecurity and deprivation of these years great numerical growth took place, as well as a profound spiritual deepening. Much of this, given the instability of the times, is hard to describe or quantify. Illuminating cameos are provided in such personal accounts as Bishop Oliver Allison’s Through Fire and Water [56] and John Maluu Ater’s account of his experience during the war. [57] The stories of those years continue to circulate orally in churches and are used to encourage Christians in the present conflict.

One factor that undoubtedly was important in the rapid growth of the Church in these years was the social dislocation caused by the war. Traditional patterns and structures everywhere were thrown into confusion. Young people taking refuge in the towns were open to new world views and new commitments of faith. This was particularly evident amongst the pastoral Nilotic tribes (Dinka, Nuer, Shilluk etc) who had previously shown little interest in Christian teaching. Beginning in Khartoum and Omdurman, but spreading to the other main towns (like Juba, Mau or Malakal) where young people had fled from the war or come in search of education or work the 1960s saw the development of large youth congregations, active in evangelism. The earliest of these may have been the E.C.S. Dinka congregations in Khartoum North, founded by Gabriel Geu, but the movement characterized an the main Churches and all the southern Nilotic tribes, together with certain groups, especially the Moro, from the Nuba Mountains. The war in the south led to the emergence of a vital and youthful Church based in the North. There had always been congregations of Southerners in the North, but this new movement was different in its size, in its evangelistic fervor, and in the dedicated effort it put into primary level night classes to prepare its members for work in the businesses, hotels and industries of the North. The Church is now a significant and permanent part of the northern religious and social scene, a fact of great relevance to the contemporary debate over the place of Islam and Christianity within the Sudanese state.

The war also united the religious and political identities of many Southerners. The Churches in southern Sudan, and their parent missions, had largely tried to remain aloof from post-independence politics. The assault of Abboud’s regime on Christianity in the South was felt by Southerners to be an assault also on the southern sense of identity. As the concerns of national unity and of Islam were increasingly united in northern perception, so in southern perception Christian faith was increasingly identified with the issue of southern rights and aspirations. It was scarcely possible to be a Southerner concerned with the development and integrity of the South, and to be a Muslim. Christian faith and a southern identity became virtually synonymous.

The Addis Ababa Agreement (1972) gave the South ten years of somewhat tense and anxious peace. The dream of a “Christian” South largely responsible for its own affairs and speedily making good all the development losses of the previous 10 to 15 years rapidly faded. The memory of the “movement” and a generalized sense of a “Christian” South were not enough to maintain unity. Southern politics, particularly after about 1976 became embittered and factional as the political representatives of the farming peoples of Equatoria struggled against the political power and expertise of the politicians of the pastoral Dinka and other Nilotic peoples. ln 1978 elections in the South led to the resignation of Abel Alier and the political emergence of Joseph Lagu as President of the High Executive council with prominently Equatorian support. From there on southern politics became increasingly confused and turbulent, leading to ever greater intervention and manipulation from Khartoum, against the spirit of the Addis Ababa Agreement.

The Churches, however, largely watched this from the sidelines. The phenomenal growth of the Churches continued, particularly in the rural areas, though it might be argued that the Churches were failing to reach the educated youth of the expanding secondary schools and of the universities, as well as the emerging professional classes and the ranks of government officials. The growth was largely in the rural areas where many previously unevangelized areas were reached during this period and churches founded. [58] Theological education was re-established and developed steadily. The Catholics developed their seminary at Bussere near Wau, and later at Munuke, outside Juba. The Episcopal Church re-built its theological college at Mundri in the years following 1975. It had been destroyed in 1965. Training there advanced until almost sixty students were in pastoral training by the time the College was again abandoned in July 1986 in the face of rebel activity. A program of theological education by extension involved nearly 300 students in local churches in theological and pastoral training by 1986. This program proved ecumenically attractive, being taken up by the Catholic lay-training centre in Juba, by the Presbyterian Church in the South, the Evangelical Church in the North, and being translated from English into Arabic. The Episcopal Church also ran Arabic training in the Omdurman Bible Training Institute. The other Protestant Churches also established theological and biblical training, the Presbyterians at their original headquarters of Doleib Hill at the mouth of the Sobat River, and the Sudanese Church of Christ and the Sudan Interior Church running a joint evangelist school at Melut on the While Nile, north of Malakal.

These years (1972-83) were years of great advance in the Christian Churches of Uganda. This was notable particularly in the area of rural development. The Sudan Council of Churches ran a large number of development projects in North and South. [59] Other international Christian agencies like Norwegian Church Aid (NCA), ACROSS and Lutheran World Relief co-operated with national Churches and with the government, medical and educational programs widely throughout the South. The influx of Ugandan refugees into Sudan following first the fall of Idi Amin and then Obote involved the se agencies as well as the Churches, in cooperation with the UNHCR. Only someone who experienced these years in southern Sudan can adequately appreciate how the Churches grew in size, in their evangelistic and developmental endeavors, and in their institutional complexity. David Barrett’s figures [60] give some impression of the growth of these years.

<td colspan=3> * projection</td>
1970 1975 1980 2000*
Christians 2,375 1,165,786 1,507,370 1,939,300 4,488,000
% of Population 0% 7.4 8.3 9.1 11.5

Southern politics however became increasingly unstable as politicians fought increasingly for their own rather than regional interests. This gave the northern government ample opportunity for interference. In 1981, President Nimeiri proposed to “re-divide” the South into three separate regions, transparently a plan to “divide and rule.” This plan was supported by Lagu, indeed promoted by him, and many Equatorians who saw it as an opportunity to escape the political dominance of the Nilotics. Confused maneuverings followed but in June 1983 Nimeiri unilaterally “re-divided” the Southern Region into three regions, based on the former Equatoria, Bahr-el-Ghazal, and Upper Nile.

This was only one of the issued that re-awakened the old North-South hostilities, and also divided Southerners. There was constant flouting of the Addis Ababa Agreement by the central government, and Southerners became increasingly suspicions of government intentions in major development projects like the Jonglei Canal, and the exploitation of the South’s newly discovered oil reserves. The progressive collapse of the economy and the bankruptcy of the government put increasing pressure on the provision of government services in the South (and throughout the country). However, the most emotive development was the imposition of a form of sharia law on all parts of Sudan in September 1983. This was the climax of a long process in which Nimeiri had become increasingly involved with renascent fundamentalism. The technocrat secularist army colonel who came to power appears not only to have appreciated increasingly the political potential of Islam, but also seems to have undergone some kind of religious conversion himself. In particular he fell increasingly under the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and their leader Hassan el-Turabi. It was the imposition of sharia law (though there was no practical possibility of it becoming a reality in the South) that finally alienated southern and Christian opinion from the Nimeiri regime.

Already in May 1983 a mutiny at Bor had begun the revolt. The Sudan People’s Liberation army (SPLA) was soon formed under an ex-army colonel, John Garang’ de Mabior. This rapidly replaced other rebel groups like the Anyanya II, and by the summer of 1986 controlled most of the southern countryside, except some southern border areas and was confining the national army to the garrison towns.

The response of Christians to this emerging situation was by no means uniform. There was universal opposition to and bittemess against the sharia laws, particularly as reports began to reach the south of amputations and other harsh punishments being exacted in the North, together with some evidence that members of the Christian community were suffering in disproportionate numbers. Leaders of Catholic and Episcopal Churches issued statements in 1983 expressing Christian concern for the more renewal of society whilst rejecting harsh punishments as a means to that end. On the other hand the “re-division” issue had divided Southerners, mainly between the Equatorians on the one hand and the Nilotic tribes of Bahr-el-Ghazal and Upper Nile on the other. The SPLA was seen as being a predominantly Dinka movement and as far as many Equatorians were concerned “re-division” had been about ending Dinka dominance. Southerners and southern Christians therefore found themselves deeply divided over the rebel movement. The Churches as a result have found it difficult to speak with any clear voice in the present conflict other than on the issue of sharia law and the growing power of the National Islamic Front, the political arm of the Muslim brotherhood. The Dinka and Nilotic communities within the major Churches have on the whole sympathized with the SPLA. Many of them have joined up, and virtually all have relatives involved in the struggle. Equatorians on the other band have been equally cynical about central government intentions but have also mistrusted the Dinka-dominated SPLA. This division remains until the present (1989) although the evident success of the SPLA has drawn increasing numbers of Equatorians to the cause, many of whom are Christians.

The fall of Nimeiri in April 1985 was due in some measure to the political pressure created by the success of the SPLA, but events since then have not fundamentally altered the situations in the South. The transitional military government of Siwar-al-Dahab (April 1985 to May 1986) and the civilian government of Sadiq al-Mahdi (May 1986) have prosecuted the war with a ferocity only matched by that of the SPLA. The result has been a terrible devastation of the South on a scale that far outstrips that of the first civil war. The year 1988 saw possibly half a million deaths from war, famine and disease. Virtually the entire population of Southern Sudan is displaced, either in North Sudan, in the remote bush in wretched refugee settlements in the few southern towns left to the government, or in exile outside the country. [61]

The present war has presented the Churches with issues of a complexity that the first civil war did not. As the war has divided Southerners, so the attitudes of Christians and of Church leaders has been divided. The tribal dimension of the war has roused tribal tensions throughout the South and all the Churches have felt the strains of tribalism. This has been most evident in the Episcopal Church. One of its strengths has been its reliance on vernacular languages and its organization on that basis. As a large and widely spread Church, organized on tribal and vernacular lines, it has felt the divisions of the war keenly. Combined with internal struggles for power this has resulted in a split that is, at present, unresolved. On the other hand there have been a large number of reports from the homelands of the Dinka, long dominated by the SPLA, of many baptisms and confirmations, and of the emergence of many new congregations in areas where previously there were few Christians. At its highest level the SPLA has not expressed any sense of Christian identity, and has in general used a Marxist or secularist terminology. But there are many and increasing numbers of Christians in its forces. Reports indicate that amidst the brutality of an unusually savage war many Dinkas, both combatant and non-combatant are finding in the Bible and Christian faith the key to present experience and future hope. The opening line of a recent hymn written by a young Dinka woman, Martha Aluen Longdit runs, “Death has come to reveal the faith of the people.” One outcome of the war is going to be the renewal and great expansion of the Dinka Church, and perhaps the Church amongst the other Nilotic tribes. In other parts of the South, particularly in Equatoria the experience of the war has been more ambiguous and more divisive. The suffering has been great but often it has not been clear what the Christian response should be.

At the time of writing there are no indications that peace is near. National politics continue to be fragmented and without direction. The SPLA continue to escalate the war in the South, but fail to bring the government to the negotiating Table.

There is a sense in which the issues which face Sudan now and to which she still fails to find answers are the same as those which faced the Condominium government once the country had in large measure been pacified. What is the place of an African non-Muslim South within a Sudan that is predominantly Arabized and Muslim? The British answer vacillated between isolating and incorporating the South. The steady progress of Christian missions in the South during the condominium period helped develop southern identity and distinctiveness, just as British policy inhibited any overarching sense of national identity. At independence the religious question was already deeply embedded in the wider question of how national unity could be forged. Two prolonged periods of civil war, and the growth of the Church in the South, together with the spreading influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and an orthodox consciousness in the North have not brought a resolution any nearer. The Church’s hope must rest in a pluralist democratic Sudan where Christians can play their full part as citizens. The dilemma is that resurgent Islam finds that concept insufficient as an expression of Muslim political aspirations.


1. Many articles on Christian Nubia appeared in Sudan Notes and Records (S.N.R.). A History of the Sudan to 1821, 1st edition, London, 1955 still constitutes a valuable summary of the archeological achievement of the Condominium period.
2. A major study of these excavations, published by BIEA, should appear shortly.
3. London 1977, chapters 14-15.
4. Bologna 1981.
5. See Chiocchetta, P. Daniel Comboni: Papers for the Evangelization of Africa. Rome, 1982.
6. See for example P.N. & N. Sanderson, Education, Religion and Politics in Southern Sudan. 1899-1964. London and Khartoum, 1981 and Robert D. Collins, Shadows in the Grass, Britain in the Southern Sudan 1918-1956 New Haven, 1983.
7. See for example Fosberg. M. Last Days on the Nile. New York 1966 Jackson, H.C. Pastor on the Nile. A Memoir of Bishop Llewellyn Gwynne. London 1960.
Spartalis, P. J. To the Nile and Beyond. The Work of the Sudan United Mission. 1981.
8. The Kingdom of Meroe was founded in about 300 BC. The most accessible account is probably in Adams, W.Y. Nubia: Corridor to Africa, London 1977, Chapter II.
9. The monophysite/duophysite division in the churches of the eastern Mediterranean occurred as a result of the Council of the Chalcedon, 451 AD. The duophysites, who were also the royal or Melkite party, upheld the Chalcedonian definition of the two natures of Christ, who was both God and Man. The Monophysite party, which was dominant in the Egyptian (Coptic) Church, held that there was but a single nature in Christ who was the God-man. The two parties represented political as well as religious interests.
10. Extensive extracts from John Ephesus account are given in Adams op. cit. pp 441-2 and in Vantini, G. Christianity in the Sudan. Bologna, 1981 p.38-39
11. e.g. in 745 Kyriakos invaded Egypt in protest at the imprisonment of the Patriarch and managed to secure better conditions for the Christians.
12. Both quotations, the first from Al- Yaqubi, the second from Abu-Saleh, in Vantini o. p. Cit. p. 132. “Manbali” is probably to be understood as “Emmanuel” distorted first in the language of Alodia, and then in transliteration into Arabic.
13. Azania vol. XVIII 1983 pp 165-180.
14. Reproductions of these can be found in Vantini op. cit.
15. For a description of architectural development in Nubia see Adams op. cit. pp. 471-481.
16. The work of J. S. Triminham is particularly prone to this weakness, but it can also be detected in Vantini’s work.
17. This was first printed out, to my knowledge, by M.C. Pirouet in an unpublished paper Christianity in Nubia: A Re-assessment.
18. “Metropolitan” is a complex term in Eastern Christian usage. Its closest parallel in Western usage is the term “Archbishop.” The important point with regard to Nubia was that the Metropolitan probably had the authority to consecrate bishops independently of the Patriarch of Alexandria.
19. This process has been described in Adams W. Y. op .cit p 508
20. Vantini op. cit p. 202 citing Portuguese Jesuit journals in Beckingham C.F. and Huntingford G.W.B. The Prester John of the Indies London 1958.
21. Vantini op. cit. p. 202
22. Adams op. cit p. 543
23. Adams op. cit. p. 543 citing Bruce. Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile. Edinburgh 1790. Vol. 1. p. 98. Italics are in the original.
24. See especially J. S. Triminham, Islam in the Sudan. Oxford 1948.
25. The interpretation of this section rests largely on the works of Adams (op. cit.) and Pirouet (unpublished paper cited above).
26. Vantini, op. cit. pp 233-4
27. The second of these missions (1705) never reached Ethiopia, but was turned back by the King of Sennar.
28. A fascinating selection of this material can be found in Elias Toniola and Richard Hill (008). The Opening of the Nile Basin. London 1974.
29. Literally the Nubian tribes of the Dongola Reach in N. Sudan. Here a term for northern Sudanese slaves.
30. Toniola and Hill (eds.) op. cit. pp 15-16
31. Ibid p.17, citing The Albert N. Yanza London 1866
32. The Plan and Comboni’s subsequent career is discussed in Vantini op. cit pp 241-5. The Plan itself and related documents have been published in Daniel Comboni: Papers for the Evangelization of Africa. p. Chiocchetta, Bologna, English translation 1982.
33. These three brief biographies are taken from Vantini op. cit pp. 244-5.
34. A convenient account of the Mahdist state in Sudan and its destruction can be found in A History of the Sudan, Holt, P.M. and Daly, P.M. London, 4th edition, 1988 pp 85-113.
35. Many accounts of this campaign exist, including that of Winston Churchill who was present (The River War, 2 vols. London 1899). An outstanding account using Sudanese sources is provided by “Ismat Hasan Zulfo in Karari and translated by Peter Cleark (London, 1980) .
36. In origin the Khalwas were secluded retreats for initiates to the Sufi mystical orders that dominated Sudanese Islam. In the 20th century they have become schools for instructing the young in the Qur’an.
37. The major exception to this being the Nuba Mountains, on which see below.
38. A brief account of this complex matter can be found in Holt and Daly, op. cit. pp 3-9, a fuller account in Yusuf Fadl Hasan. The Arabs and the Sudan from the 7th to the early 16th century. Edinburgh 1967.
39. Daly, M.W. Empire on the Nile Cambridge. 1986 p.1551
40. The Head of the Condominium Government was the Governor-General but the administration of the country was the responsibility of the Civil Secretary.
41. See Daly op. cit. pp 414-19
42. Collins R.O., Shadows in the Grass. Yale 1983 citing an interview with Mac Michael, 1963
43. Shaw to CMS 1910. C.M.S. Archives.
44. See Wheeler A.C. Richard Jones and the Sudan Revival of 1938 forthcoming in Scottish Bulletin of Missionary Research.
45. C.M.S. Archives (AL/163/9)
46. The term Nuba needs to be distinguished from the term Nubian. The term Nuba was first used in Arabic for the Nubians of the Nile Valley and also more vaguely for other peoples further south. The term was eventually dropped with regard to other areas but was retained for the Nuba Mountains no doubt partly because of the great diversity of ethnic groups that inhabit the mountains. Sorne of these do have a Nubian origin, and speak Nubian languages, having been driven south into the hills by the advancing Arab tribes in the Middle Ages. Other tribes, themselves diverse, have inhabited the Nuba Mountains for a very long time (2-3000 years) and have no Nubian connection.
47. See Spartalis, P J. To the Nile and Beyond. 1981. Karl Kumm, the founder of the mission (1911) had a vision of such stations “from the Niger to the Nile”
48. The Church founded by the SUM.
49. The text of the Proceedings of the Juba Conference can be found in Beshir, M.O. The Southern Sudan: Background to Conflict. London, 1968. pp 136-163.
50. e.g. Abdul Rahman Abu Zayd Ahmed in War Wounds: Development Costs of Conflict in Southern Sudan, London 1988, pp 5-15 who attempts an explanation, full of good insights, in terms of underdevelopment.
51. See here a useful article written by William B. Anderson entitled “The role of religion in the Sudan’s search for unity” in Africa Initiatives in Religion, Nairobi, 1971.
52. Holt and Daly, op. cit p.178.
53. Taking its name, evidently, from a kind of snake poison used by the Mahdi people.
54. Eprile, C. War and Peace in the Sudan. 1955-1972, London, 1974 p.49.
55. Barrett, D.B. World Christian Encyclopedia, p. 641
56. Published by Africa Christian Press c. 1976. John Malou became the first E.C.S. bishop of Wau in 1984. He was killed in May 1986 when the helicopter he was travelling in was shot down near Rumbek.

  1. 58. It would for example be possible here to chronicle the methodical and steady evangelization of the outlying areas of the Moro archdeaconry of the ECS in this period.
    59. Established in 1965, being the successor to the Northern Sudan Christian Council. It brings together an unusually wide spectrum of Christian groups: Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant.
    60. World Christian Encyclopedia p. 638. It needs to be kept in mind that reliable statistics on any subject are difficult to obtain in Sudan.
    61. Much of the foregoing is based on newspaper accounts, letters and personal accounts of friends. See also War Wounds: Sudanese People Report on their War ed. Twose, N. and Pogrund, Ba London 1988.

Suggested Reading:

i) Ancient Nubia
Adams, W.Y. Nubia: Corridor to Africa. London, 1977 espec. chs. 14-17
Vantini, G. Christianity in the Sudan. Bologna, 1981

ii) The 19th Century
Chiocchetta, P. Daniel Comboni: Papers for the Evangelization of Africa. Rome 1982.
Gray, R. A History of the Southern Sudan 1839-1889, Oxford, 1961. Toniolo, E. and Hill, R. Eds. The Opening of the Nile Basin, London, 1974.

iii) The 20th Century
Anderson, W.B., “The Role of Religion in the Sudan’s search for unity,” in Barrett, D.B. (e.d) African Initiatives in Religion. Nairobi, 1971.
Beshir, M.O. The Southern Sudan: Background to Conflict, London 1988. The Southern Sudan From Conflict to Peace. Khartoum, 1975.
Collins, R.O. Land Beyond the Rivers: The Southern Sudan 1898-1918 New Haven & London.
Shadows in the Grass: Britain in the Southern Sudan, 1918-1956, New Haven & London 1983.
Daly, M.W. Empire on the Nile: The Anglo-Egyptian, Sudan 1898-1934. Cambridge, 1986.
Eprile, C. War and Peace in the Sudan, 1955-1972, London, 1974.
Holt, P.M. And Daly, M.W. A History of the Sudan, from coming of Islam to the Present Day. 4th ed. London 1988.
Sanderson, L.P. And Sanderson, N. Education, Religion and Polities in Southern Sudan 1899-1964. London, 1981.
Twose, N. and Pogrund, B. War Wounds: Development Costs of Conflict in Southern Sudan. London & Washington 1988.