A Brief Revisit to Nuer’s Colonial Resistance against the British-Part (I)

Nuer DanceNuer Warriors holding spears , Dancing and chanting war songs before carrying out a raid or going to war

Egypt, with its ample and vast food production from the fertile soil along the River Nile, for centuries has staged itself as the main bread supplier to the world’s greatest empires.

From the Babylonians’ rule under the great King Nebuchadnezzar to the Great Persia under King Darius I, and to the mighty conqueror Alexander the Great of Macedonia, the benefits were both enormous and unaccountable. Even the Pagan and the Papal Rome profited abundantly from Egypt’s hospitality.

All of them found suitable and sustainable power from Egypt’s bountiful agricultural prosperity.

Despite encountering the outside world, Egyptians never lost their culture. Until the invasion by the Ottoman from 1517 to 1867, then things drastically began to change (Faroughi, 2008). For the first time in nearly 400 years of Ottoman rulership, a great conversion took place. This alteration was strange. It was religion.

Like any great empire on Earth, Ottoman czars in Egypt were not to leave without a footprint; the worship of Allah and His only prophet Muhammed found a spacious arena within an already exhausted Egyptian domain. This secular society was now a hotbed for the Muslim world.

Egypt had never seen this caliber of shock in ages. Islam was abruptly introduced. A new creed solely being forced upon them.

No more going to the altar of god Amun to worship the ancestral gods. They were to invoke the rising sun with their heads faced down six times a day. A new isometric that disgusted them but with fewer choices. Each moment of trial provoked painful memories of their past glorious days.

Things have changed over the years. Egypt no longer enjoyed the exaltation of its historical military significance in the Mediterranean world. For a brief moment in time, the silence in the middle east was felt throughout the Nile Valley.

The new players entered the game surprisingly unexpectedly. But this time no longer from the rigorous powerhouse of Southeastern Europe, north Africa, or the middle east. The warriors came from the land of the scientific birthplace, the United Kingdom.

British, highly sophisticated and civilized, engaged its new industrial revolutionary doctrine with the message of changing the world. Unlike all the empires before, this new power is very thoughtful. The kingdom initiated the trans-Atlantic slave trade and campaigned to end it.

The new order came into the scene with devastating force. Embedded with fierceness full of colonization and expanding her territory throughout the entire known world. Sudan was not to be spared. (Zirulnick, 2011). It was immersed in the dominion that would officially end in 1956 when the country attained its fragile autonomy.

But before we approach this part, a man named Muhammad Ali Pasha needs a brief revisit.

The defeat of Pasha’s more than 16, 000 troops by the collective forces of the British and allies under the much-praised military commander Admiral Edward Codrington on October 20th, 1827 at the Battle of Navarino, saw the decline of his military campaign in Greece. Ali was surprised to lose “highly competent, expensively assembled and maintained navy” defeated[1]. His withdrawal from the Greece frontier was not surprising.

Muhammad Ali Pasha assembled armies for war. Photo: National Military Museum

He turned his only remaining energy toward Africa: Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, and parts of Arabia and Asia Minor. After the defeat of the Mamluks of Egypt, the last descendants of Ottoman rulers who also won Egypt’s last victory, Ali consolidated power (H. Wood Jarvis, 1956). He envisioned setting up an empire likely that of the Ottoman throughout the North and Horn of Africa.

Using his vast military knowledge, influence, and experience, his objective was to transform Egypt like Europe’s advancing technological era.

As reported by celebrated French writer Georges Douin, “I am well aware that the (Ottoman) Empire is heading by the day toward destruction… On its ruins, I will build a vast kingdom. up to the Euphrates and the Tigris.” Said the ambitious Ali while addressing his officials in Cairo.

Born in Kavala part of Ottoman Macedonia (modern-day Greece), to a family of Albanian ancestries (Faroughi, 2008), he was sent to Egypt as a commander of an Albanian Ottoman force to regain control of Egypt from the occupation of the French under powerful military genius Napoleon (Kiel, 2013). When Napoleon withdrew from Egypt, Ali consolidated absolute power through manipulation and was named Wali (viceroy) of Egypt (Emanuel, 2019).[2]

Muhammad Ali Pasha

He came to Egypt as part of the Ottoman empire. A previously state and caliphate that gained much control of modern-day Southeastern Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa between the 14th and Early 20th centuries (Emanuel, 2019).

Ottoman rule in Sudan was through Egyptian governors. Ali was a central figure. Much assured of control of Egypt, he advanced toward the Southern part of Sudan (Reda, 1981).[3]

The author of Slavery, Slave Trade and Abolition Attempts in Egypt and the Sudan 1820 1882, Reda Mowafi mentioned that Turks through Muhammed Ali of Egypt carried out the slave trade in the area of Upper Nile, present-day South Sudan. His military assaults on the kingdom of Shilluk, Fashoda in 1830 saw a considerable number of Shilluks taken into slavery. Ali also raided Dinka villages in Upper Nile taking unmentioned numbers of Dinka into slavery.

By the time the British gained full control of Egypt. Sudan was under Anglo-Egypt’s administration. Anglo-Egypt condominium was born between 1899 and 1956. In practice, the British were in charge but remained to administer Sudan.

This invasion describes the ruler of the Eyalet and Khedivate of Egypt on the Southern part of the Nile over what is today known as Sudan and South Sudan as extensive but brief.

According to Reda, for over 65 years from 1820 when Ali initiated his rather peculiar conquest of Sudan, until the fall of Khartoum in 1885, to Muhammad Ahamad, the Mahdi, it is recorded, considerable men and women from Southern were taken into Slavery.

Ali was a man of distinct character who hated to lose. He now felt confident as the demand for slaves by Napoleon Bonaparte of France was the only option to help fight in the Mexican war.

This rather surprising entrance to the South of the Nile valley was met with doom understanding. An attempt to carry out this luxurious economic lifestyle on the Southern territory was met by the 19th century famous “South Sudanese spiritual leader”, prophet Ngundeng Bong.

Mobilizing a considerable loose alliance of armies from Southern Sudanese tribes, Ngundeng unexpectedly declared war against Turks (Turuk in Nuer).

To resist the invading forces of Turks, Dr. Douglas Johnson in his book, Nuer Prophets: A History of Prophecy from the Upper Nile in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, described Ngundeng Bong fighting this war solely in self-defense. The only victory he secured was in self-defense against the combined forces of foreign invaders.

This was the first time the Nuer came into contact with foreign aggressors. This particular victory elevated the spiritual power of prophet Ngundeng. The news of Turks being defeated by the considered as “backward naked tribe” living deep in the swamps of the Suddland was not received well by the British when they took over Sudan in the 1890s. The stigma was that Nuer were “aggressive and uncollaborative.” A term in 21 century is considered to be patriotism.  

The last part of this article will examine factors that made the Nuer to resisted the British.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad_Ali_of_Egypt#Greek_rebellion

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad_Ali_of_Egypt#Greek_rebellion


  1. Faroqhi, Saraiya (2008). The Ottoman Empire: A Short History. Shelley Frisch, translator. Princeton, New Jersey: Markus Wiener Publishers. p. 60. ISBN 978-1-55876-449 1OCLC 180880761.
  2. By Ariel Zirulnick Staff writer (Kiel, 2013) (Reda, 1981)
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad_Ali_of_Egypt#Greek_rebellion
  4. H. Wood Jarvis, Pharaoh to Farouk, (London: John Murray, 1956), 124.
  5. Georges Douin, ed. Une Mission militaire francaise aupres de Mohamed Aly, correspondance des Generaux Belliard et Boyer (Cairo: Société Royale de Geographie d’Egypte, 1923) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad_Ali_of_Egypt#cite_note-17
  6.  Aksan, Virginia (2013) [2007]. Ottoman Wars, 1700–1860: An Empire Besieged. Routledge. pp. 306–307. ISBN 978-0-582-30807-7. Born in the late 1760s, at Kavala in Macedonia, Mehmed Ali was the son of an Albanian Ottoman soldier.
  7. Kiel, Machiel (1990). Ottoman architecture in Albania, 1385-1912. Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture.
  8. Emanuel Beška, Muhammad Ali´s Conquest of Sudan (1820-1824). Asian and African Studies, 2019, Vol. 28, No. 1, pp. 30-56.
  9. Reda Mowafi  (Author) 145 pages, Humanities Pr (March 1, 1985)
  10. Reda Mowafi, ‘Slavery, Slave Trade and Abolition Attempts in Egypt and the Sudan 1820-1882, Scandinavian University Books 1981 p.21


Ramciel Broadcasting does not share in any part of this historical opinion by the writer. The writer can be reached through his Facebook account: Èlbòw Çhûól. He is a degree holder in political science and international relations. He is also a well-known political activist and public figure).

The last part of this article will be published next week at the time by RB. It will examine Factors that made the Nuer of South Sudan resist the British, why their uncollaborative spirit is a massive betrayal to their current status in the South Sudan political setup.

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