Sudan is geographically the largest nation in Africa. It’s a population of 39 million citizens that live in a land divided by religion, war and poverty. The government of Sudan and the northern two-thirds of the country are controlled by ethnic Arabs committed to making Sudan an Islamic state. The southern one-third of Sudan is made up of Africans of various ethnic tribes and religious beliefs that have fiercely resisted cultural and religious domination.
Except for the eleven-year peace agreement between 1972 and 1983, Sudan has been at war since 1955. For much of the 1990s Sudan has suffered war and famine, which continue today. Hundreds of thousands of Sudanese have died or fled as refugees to Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda to escape the fighting and hunger.
In addition, an active slave trade continues to exist in Sudan as northern Sudanese capture and sell ethnic Africans into servitude as domestic help or laborers. About 80 percent of Sudan’s economy is based upon agriculture with 10 percent of the population maintaining a completely nomadic life.
Arabs constitute the majority ethnic group and control much of the country’s political and economic power. In southern Sudan are Africans from various ethnic groups. The Dinka, Funj, Nuer, and Shilluk are some of the major tribes of the south.
Arabic is the national language spoken by about one-half of the population. Most non-Arabs speak tribal languages such as Nuer, Dinka, Anuak, and Zande. There are more than one hundred languages and over 570 ethnic dialects spoken in Sudan. English has become the principal language among formally educated Sudanese of the south while many northern Sudanese also speak English.
Most Sudanese in the north are Sunni Muslims. In southern Sudan the majority practices various animist traditions, which differ depending on tribe. Approximately 5 percent of Sudanese are Christians.
Arrival in U.S.
The resettlement of Sudanese refugees in the U.S. started in 1993.
Almost 400 refugees from southern Sudan have been resettled in Minnesota during the 1990s. The majority lives in Anoka County, Northern Hennepin County, St. Paul, and Roseville. Many in the metro area are from rural, farming tribes (Nuer, Dinka, Anuak, Nuba) and have little previous exposure to technology. Educated men often speak English while many Sudanese women have never attended school and struggle to learn English. Adjustment to U.S. culture has been difficult. Refugees from urban tribes (Zande, Mahdi) are more educated and more familiar with technology.