Culture and Heritage

The Rich Culture of the Beja

Sudan’s Marine National Parks are situated in the Red Sea State (RSS) in eastern Sudan. The population of the RSS is over 1.4 million people, with over 60% of residents living in or around the main city of Port Sudan. The annual population growth rate of the RSS is around 3%, which makes it one of Sudan’s most populated and fastest growing states. The majority of the population in the RSS belong to the Beja tribe, and its main sub-groups of Amarar, Bishariin, Hadendowa, Beni-Amer, Ababda, as well as small size deanships (e.g. Korbab, Shi’ayaab, Kumaylaab, Artayga, Ashraf, and Halenga). These tribal groups share a common language and cultural practices, which relate to management of their surrounding environment, land and resource ownership and kinship.


The Beja are among Sudan’s longest-established peoples; the first records of the Beja in North-Eastern Sudan come from Egyptian expeditions to the area c.2500BC. Nomadic traders since Pharaonic times, the Beja are also referred to in early Greek and Roman history. Influenced by the growing number of Bedu and other Arab peoples coming across the Red Sea and from Egypt, the Beja steadily converted to Islam between 1000 and 1300AD and continued to maintain and expand in their livelihoods as nomadic traders of camels and petty goods. Following a series of successive droughts and famine during the 1970s-1980s, the Beja suffered a drastic loss of livestock and struggled to recover. There was increased migration from rural to urban areas and many Beja took up a more sedentary lifestyle and making settlements more permanently established.


The language the Beja speak is called TuBedawiye. It is an unwritten Cushitic language. Partly because it is unwritten, it is slowly being eroded by the use of Arabic, especially amongst the younger and urbanized populations. Like the other indigenous population of Sudan, the Beja people have fought bravely throughout their history to defend their motherland, culture and economic and natural resources.

Beja Leadership

Beja leadership is managed through a patriarchal system represented by the traditional leaders, the Nazir, and the Omdas and then the Shiekhs. At the head of the Beja administrative system is the tribal leader, the Nazir. Each village also tends to have an Omda and a number of Sheikhs, each of whom lead large extended families. The Omda typically has a council of advisers, composed of generally affluent members of the community, who help the Omda discuss issues and challenges affecting the community. There is another council, composed of the Sheikhs, whose primary role is to deal with conflict resolution. The Sheikhs provide both political and religious leadership, representing their people in negotiations with outsiders, and promoting and sponsoring Islamic schools. The Sheikhs also provide the institutional framework for the complex and flexible Beja customary law, known as silif. Most Beja prefer to deal with disputes though this system following the customary law of the silif, and only take issues to the police and law courts if matters cannot be settled through the tribal system.

Biodiversity Conservation and Local Communities-The Importance of Marine Protected Areas for the Beja

There are no people living in Sanganeb Atoll Marine National Park, apart from the staff in the lighthouse, but Dungonab Bay and Mukkawar Island National Park, is home to a population estimated to be around 2263 individuals, living in the two main villages of Dungonab Village, on the western shore of Dungonab Bay, and Mohammed Qol Village on the mainland shore approximately 10 km south of Dungonab Bay. These communities are predominately of the two Beja tribal groups, which are the Korbab, a sub-group of the Amarar, who constitute the majority in Mohammed Qol and the south of the area, while the Bishariin, are in the majority in Dungonab village and the north of the area.

The local communities living within Dungonab Bay and Mukkawar Island National Park have been supportive of the area becoming a National Park since the outset. The conservation and protection of both cultural and  natural heritage of the parks is important for the local communities.

Recognizing the importance of addressing the needs of the local community and their well-being and working towards a state of inter-reliance between these communities and the well-being of the natural environment and marine ecosystems is paramount to the sustainable conservation of the park’s biodiversity.

The park authority, together with national and international partners, is encouraging projects that ensure that dividends from safeguarding marine biodiversity contribute to poverty alleviation and address gender disparities among local coastal communities in Sudan’s Marine National Parks.