At the same time that the Ottomans brought northern Nubia into
their orbit, a new power, the Funj, had risen in southern Nubia
and had supplanted the remnants of the old Christian kingdom of
Alwa. In 1504 a Funj leader, Amara Dunqas, founded the Black Sultanate
(As Saltana az Zarqa) at Sannar. The Black Sultanate eventually
became the keystone of the Funj Empire. By the mid-sixteenth century,
Sannar controlled Al Jazirah and commanded the allegiance of vassal
states and tribal districts north to the third cataract and south
to the rainforests.
The Funj state included a loose confederation of sultanates and
dependent tribal chieftaincies drawn together under the suzerainty
of Sannar's mek (sultan). As overlord, the mek
received tribute, levied taxes, and called on his vassals to supply
troops in time of war. Vassal states in turn relied on the mek
to settle local disorders and to resolve internal disputes. The
Funj stabilized the region and interposed a military bloc between
the Arabs in the north, the Abyssinians in the east, and the non-Muslim
blacks in the south.
The sultanate's economy depended on the role played by the Funj
in the slave trade. Farming and herding also thrived in Al Jazirah
and in the southern rainforests. Sannar apportioned tributary
areas into tribal homelands (each one termed a dar; pl.,
dur), where the mek granted the local population
the right to use arable land. The diverse groups that inhabitated
each dar eventually regarded themselves as units of tribes.
Movement from one dar to another entailed a change in
tribal identification. (Tribal distinctions in these areas in
modern Sudan can be traced to this period.) The mek appointed
a chieftain (nazir; pl., nawazir) to govern
each dar. Nawazir administered dur
according to customary law, paid tribute to the mek,
and collected taxes. The mek also derived income from
crown lands set aside for his use in each dar.
At the peak of its power in the mid-seventeenth century, Sannar
repulsed the northward advance of the Nilotic Shilluk people up
the White Nile and compelled many of them to submit to Funj authority.
After this victory, the mek Badi II Abu Duqn (1642-81)
sought to centralize the government of the confederacy at Sannar.
To implement this policy, Badi introduced a standing army of slave
soldiers that would free Sannar from dependence on vassal sultans
for military assistance and would provide the mek with
the means to enforce his will. The move alienated the dynasty
from the Funj warrior aristocracy, which in 1718 deposed the reigning
mek and placed one of their own ranks on the throne of
Sannar. The mid-eighteenth century witnessed another brief period
of expansion when the Funj turned back an Abyssinian invasion,
defeated the Fur, and took control of much of Kurdufan. But civil
war and the demands of defending the sultanate had overextended
the warrior society's resources and sapped its strength.
Another reason for Sannar's decline may have been the growing
influence of its hereditary viziers (chancellors), chiefs of a
non-Funj tributary tribe who managed court affairs. In 1761 the
vizier Muhammad Abu al Kaylak, who had led the Funj army in wars,
carried out a palace coup, relegating the sultan to a figurehead
role. Sannar's hold over its vassals diminished, and by the early
nineteenth century more remote areas ceased to recognize even
the nominal authority of the mek.
Data as of June 1991