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Masalit people

Flag used by some Masalit nationalists
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Wadai Region Chad and West Darfur Sudan
 Chad112,000 (2019)[1]
 Sudan297,000 (2022)[1]
Masalit, Chadian Arabic, Sudanese Arabic[1]
Sunni Islam
Related ethnic groups
Maba, Fur, Zaghawa, Nilo-Saharans

The Masalit (Masalit: masala/masara; Arabic: ماساليت) are an ethnic group inhabiting western Sudan and eastern Chad. They speak the Masalit language.


The Masalit primarily live in Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, though a few thousand also live in Al Qadarif State in eastern Sudan, and in South Darfur.[1] According to Ethnologue, there were 462,000 total Masalit speakers as of 2011, of whom 350,000 resided in Sudan.[1]

Masalit tradition traces their origins to Tunisia. After migrating through Chad, they eventually settled in present-day Sudan.[2]

The Masalit are also known as the Kana Masaraka/Masaraka, Mesalit, and Massalit. They are primarily subsistence agriculturalists, cultivating peanuts and millet. Further south in their territory, they grow various other crops, including sorghum. The typical Masalit dwelling is conical in shape, and constructed of wood and thatch.[2]

Masalit tribes were among the rebel groups that fought against the Sudanese central government and the pro-government Janjaweed militia, during the War in Darfur that started in 2003. Reprisals and ethnic cleansing led to an estimated 170,000 deaths over two years, and intermittent violence persisted afterwards. As part of the 2023 civil war in Sudan, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) (a successor to the Janjaweed) launched a new campaign of ethnic cleansing in Darfur. In June 2023, Khamis Abakar, a Masalit and the governor of West Darfur, accused the RSF of genocide; he was later killed.[3]

Dar Masalit Sultanate

The Masalit people used to live under the Dar Masalit sultanate, a small state that existed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Before 1874, the Masalit were divided between multiple polities in the region. However, after the conquest of the Sultanate of Darfur by the Ottomans and Egyptians in 1874, the Masalit were unified into a Sultanate by Hajjam Hasab Allah. However, Hajjam's rule was seen by the Masalit population as oppressive.[4] Thus, he was ousted in 1883[4] by Ismail Abdel Nebi, who took control of the Sultanate.[5]


The Masalit speak the Masalit language, which belongs to the Maban language group of the Nilo-Saharan language family.[1]

Masalit is divided into several dialects, with the variety spoken in South Darfur differing from that of West Darfur. The northern Masalit dialect is spoken to the east and north of Geneina.[1]

The Masalit language is most closely related to the Marfa, Maba and Karanga languages. It shares 45% of its vocabulary with Marfa, 42% with Maba, and 36% with Karanga.[1]

Most Masalit are bilingual in Arabic, except in the central area, where the Nilo-Saharan vernacular is primarily spoken.[1]

Masalit is written using the Latin script.[1]


According to Hassan et al. (2008), around 71.9% of Masalit are carriers of the E1b1b paternal haplogroup. Of these, 73.9% bear the V32 subclade. Approximately 6.3% also belong to the haplogroup J1. This points to significant patrilineal gene flow from neighbouring Afro-Asiatic-speaking populations. The remaining Masalit are primarily carriers of the A3b2 lineage (18.8%), which is instead common among Nilotes.[6]

Maternally, the Masalit entirely belong to African-based derivatives of the macrohaplogroup L according to Hassan (2010). Of these mtDNA clades, the L0a1 (14.6%) and L1c (12.2%) lineages are most frequent. This altogether suggests that the genetic introgression into the Masalit's ancestral population was asymmetrical, occurring primarily through Afro-Asiatic-speaking males rather than females.[7]

Notable Masalit people

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Masalit language". Ethnologue. Retrieved 22 September 2016.
  2. ^ a b Olson, James Stuart (1996). The Peoples of Africa: An Ethnohistorical Dictionary. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 375. ISBN 0-313-27918-7. Retrieved 22 September 2016.
  3. ^ "Genocide returns to Darfur". The Economist. 5 October 2023. Retrieved 7 October 2023.
  4. ^ a b Kapteijns, Lidwien (c. 1983). "The Emergence of a Sudanic State: Dar Masalit, 1874-1905". The International Journal of African Historical Studies. 16 (4): 601–613. doi:10.2307/218268. JSTOR 218268.
  5. ^ Davies, R. (c. 1924). "THE MASALIT SULTANATE". Sudan Notes and Records. 7 (2): 49–62. JSTOR 41715557.
  6. ^ Hassan, Hisham Y.; et al. (November 2008). "Y‐chromosome variation among Sudanese: Restricted gene flow, concordance with language, geography, and history" (PDF). American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 137 (3): 316–323. doi:10.1002/ajpa.20876. PMID 18618658. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 September 2016. Retrieved 22 September 2016.
  7. ^ Mohamed, Hisham Yousif Hassan. "Genetic Patterns of Y-chromosome and Mitochondrial DNA Variation, with Implications to the Peopling of the Sudan" (PDF). University of Khartoum. Retrieved 21 September 2016.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ "These African asylum seekers came to Israel alone as kids. Now they could face deportation: 'Israel is part of who I am'". Haaretz. 2018-02-18. Retrieved 2024-03-20.
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Masalit people
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