Map of Beja Territory














Beja Girl  



There are between two and two and a half million Beja. They live primarily in north-eastern Sudan but also spill over into Eritrea and Egypt. Port Sudan on the Red Sea coast is their main city.


For more than four thousand years the Beja have roamed the hot and dry Nubian desert and the bleak Red Sea Hills in search of pasture for their herds of camels, cattle, sheep and goats. It is a harsh place in which to live.


The Beja people keep to themselves and don't make friends easily with strangers. They are not Arabs and their origin is uncertain. Some assert that the tribe is descended from Kush, the son of Ham, and migrated to the Sudan after the flood.


Many Beja are still nomadic or semi-nomadic pastoralists. If it rains they cultivate crops. Some are dock workers in Port Sudan.


To-Bedawie, spoken by the Beja, is the largest unwritten language in Africa. Its structure is largely analysed and material is now being written in it. However, literacy will be a major challenge. There are five divisions of the Beja people; the three Sudanese divisions largely speak only To-Bedawie. It is estimated that approximately 20% of Beja speak Arabic.


All Beja are Muslims and have been since the thirteenth century. Very few of them fully understand Islam or pray and fast as Islam requires. They do, however, practice folk Islam, blending Islam with their traditional beliefs, which include magic and witchcraft.


Beja life is centred around social gatherings at which they celebrate their loves, ideals and battles in songs and poetry. Coffee drinking has become an obligatory ritual at all these gatherings. This coffee is sometimes spiced with pepper!


Only a few Beja have ever become Christians.