People & Culture

Arab or African?

Many of Sudan’s people consider themselves as 'Arabs' rather than 'Africans'. Arabic is the official national language. However, Sudanese people often have both Arab and African ancestry.

Lute music

Lute musicIn this video… listen to the beautiful and relaxing sounds of the lute, a traditional Sudanese guitar.

Around the edges of the country, there are groups of people who speak an African tongue as their first language.

Along the Red Sea in the east, the Bedawiye people speak Beja. To the west are the Fur and Zaghawa peoples. In the north, Nubian people live along the Nile and into Egypt. And in the mountains of the south, there are groups known as the Nuba, who speak ‘Hill Nubian’ languages.


Conflict has also arisen in the Southern Kordofan region. Here, the Nuba people see themselves as ‘African’ rather than Arab. Many groups retain their traditional African culture and follow animist beliefs in spirits. The musical festival at Kambala is a major part of Nuban culture and women brew a strong local beer – called ‘marissa’ – in their homes.

The dominant religion

Over three-quarters of people in Sudan follow the Islamic faith and most are Sunni Muslims.

In contrast, alcohol is forbidden across much of Sudan, where the Islamic religion is strictly held.

The Islamic religion plays an extremely important part in the life of many Sudanese. Men and boys pray five times a day and the call to prayer can be heard from mosques everywhere.

Settled or nomadic?

In urban areas like Khartoum, different groups mix and settle together. The capital hosts refugees of all kinds who have fled conflict inside the country. Sudan is also home to many West Africans. Known collectively as the ‘Fellata’, these immigrants are often employed on cotton farms.

But tribes remain important to the nomadic groups of Sudan who graze cattle, sheep and camels across the land. Nomadic tribes include the Kababish who herd camels across dry regions and the cattle-raising Baggara.

Drought and disputes over land rights between settled peoples and nomadic groups have brought conflict to the western region of Darfur. The government backed the ‘Arab’ settlers and the fighting continues.