Sorghum has always been closely associated with the culture of the Sudan. Sorghum, as a basic element in the nutrition of Sudanese, has a lofty record in the daily life, traditions and beliefs of the people of this country.
According to Dr. Mahmood Bashir, Chief Inspector of antiquities at the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums, sorghum is known in Sudan as early as the Nubian Kingdom of Kush (785 BCE-350 CE) as sorghum drawings were found in the ancient brightly colored pottery unearthed in the Berber Cemetery, North of the country.
He said drawings of sorghum crop ears were also found in the drawings of King Shorkaror of Meroe in Jebel Gaili East of Khartoum (Meroe is the second phase of Kush Kingdom). In one of these drawings, the King is seen receiving a bundle of sorghum ears from a God, in a ceremony for the repatriation of prisoners of war. All these monuments date back centuries before Christianity.
Signs of the presence of Sorghum were also found in different excavations. In Kuwa (East of Dongola) sorghum was found in ancient dwellings, a signal that it had a role in the nutrition of ancient Sudanese. In Tangasi sorghum grains were found in artifacts representing burial ceremonies. That is an indication of the importance of sorghum in the local beliefs and traditions.
Dr. Bashir said the cultivation of sorghum was known even earlier in Kassala, in the East of the country, during the Modern Stone Age according to recent excavations.
Of late American researcher Jeremy Bob has found a clue that the Kush Kingdoms had relied on sorghum in their nutrition. Bob had translated an ancient hieroglyphic text that showed the Kushites had used to consume sorghum porridge. The text shows that the ancient Egyptians had used to refer to other ethnicities by the type of food they ate. In the text the ancient Egyptians had referred to the Kushites as eaters of porridge.
Dr. Bashir said the clay pots found in cemeteries (like the ones found in Berber) are commonly called 'the beer jars'. This beer was a basic element in funeral furniture kept with the deceased. Their continuous presence in such events is an indication that these drinks were an important component of the sacrifices presented during burials.
The Kushite tradition of presenting sorghum beer during rituals and as sacrifices has been proved by a variety of artifacts. This tradition was clearly visible during the Kerma dynasty (the first phase of Kush Kingdom). It was even more visible during the Kingdom of Meroe. Thousands of fractures of jars, cups and bowels used in drinking sorghum beer were found on mountaintops of the Bajrawiyya monumental area. Here the pottery had used to be smashed once the funeral was over.
In contemporary Sudan the sorghum farming operations are marked by several rituals, starting from seed sowing up to harvesting and storing. In Gedarif region (East), considered Sudan's sorghum granary, sorghum cultivation starts in mid-July, the beginning of the rainy season, on a vast area of five million acres. Farmer Alsir Ali says each of the Gedarif farming communities follows its own social rituals while cultivating or harvesting sorghum. Each of these operations is carried out collectively. But the presentation of karama (sacrifice) is common when seeds are sown. This karama could be a slain sheep or simply boiled grains (the latter is known as baleela). At the harvest season similar offerings are made, in addition to coffee and dates. At night dancing and singing concerts are held, each tribe performing its own folklore. In association with the harvest, other happy occasions are organized such as weddings and circumcisions.
In the Nuba Mountains district of the mid-west the harvest season is a season of celebrations in which dancing and singing concerts are held. Sporting contests like wrestling also held within these festivities. The Nuba wrestling is a culture in its own right and is reflective of the social, artistic and cultural heritage of the Nubas. The wrestling season is a season for trade; for gain or loss. Among the youth it is a season for making acquaintances, friendships, romance and marriage proposals. The wrestling season is a holiday for all the communities living in the Nuba Mountains District. It is an occasion for interaction among the different communities. In addition, wrestling is a bodily sport where the contenders put to display their bodily might and their moral values. The norm is to try to defeat the foe without harming him. Wrestling in the Nuba region is indeed a special case. Chairman of the South Kordofan Farmers Association Ghareeg Kambal said wrestling among the Nubas is a tradition of heroism and manhood; it is a sort of knighthood. That is why the wrestler is trained in a special manner. The wrestling season is a season of folktales, rituals and festivals that engulf the entire region.
After the harvest, the crop is stored in big ravines dug in the ground, known as the matmoora. At the bottom of this matmoora sorghum stalks are lay on top of which the sorghum grains are heaped. On top more sorghum stalks are stretched as a cover. Then the matmoora is covered with clay and can be opened when the need arises or is emptied by the coming of the rainy season to avoid sorghum rotting. The farmer usually sells part of his crop with the rising prices and keeps part of it as seeds for the next cultivation season.
To the North of the Nuba region and in North Kordofan the communities are pastoralist and do not grow much sorghum. Instead they grow millet that can cope with drier climates. In this region, farmers also work collectively in all farming operations. They hold brief festivities in which exchanges of poetry and some songs glorifying courage and other noble values are presented. When the crop is harvested men pound it with sticks to separate the grain from the ears. Women are then called to clean the crop from hay and dust, a process called 'tidraa', where the women pour down the crop from above letting the wind take away the hay and dust, while the grains go down clear and clean. This operation is also accompanied by a simple ceremony in which a sheep is slain.
In the Blue Nile District towards the border with Ethiopia, festivals no less than those of Gedarif are held at the cultivation season. Saleem Tribes' Chief Usama Abdallah says the sowing of seeds is accompanied with a ceremony in which sheep are slain and dancing and singing concerts are held. In the Blue Nile there are three types of farms: The jubraka, which is a series of farms around village homes where inhabitants grow their own need of sorghum. Then we have the bildat farms (outside the villages) where sorghum is grown commercially, and on a wider scale. Then we have vast farms run by large scale farmers. Here big companies engage in the production of sorghum and other crops on a large scale, using machinery and modern technology.
The farming processes in the Blue Nile are associated with festivities that begin with what is called "jada'annar" in which all tribal chiefs assemble near to the Roseiris town. Here a tribal chief lights fire on a big dry tree branch and throws it far away at a place which will later on be the location for the harvesting festival. Each tribe will then bring a sample of its crop. The audience exchange grain ears as a sign of love and fraternity. A big drum (known as the nahas) is then brought to the scene, signaling the beginning of festivities of singing and dancing. Sheep are slain on the occasion. Tribes parade their attires and accessories. In the past even tribes that used to walk nude were allowed to show up in this festival. Night dancing continues throughout the harvesting season and can drag on for over a month. When the crop is collected it is pounded with sticks, cleaned and stored inside the inhabitants' homes. This is about the small farming families. Bigger farmers directly transport their crops to the markets.
Nutrition-wise, sorghum is the staple food of many of the country's citizens. It is grown in vast areas around the country, namely in Central and Eastern Sudan and in the regions of the Blue and White Niles and Kordofan in the mid-west.
Sorghum of different varieties is of tremendous economic value. In addition to its value as human food, its byproducts are an important animal and poultry fodder. It is also an important export due to growing demand on international markets. It is also gaining increasing demand with the turn towards the production of bio-fuel. Sorghum, which is widely grown in areas with abundant rainfall around the country, can also grow in areas with scarce rainfall. Sorghum that enters into the production of traditional foods, sorghum bread (kisra) porridges and gruels, has also been mixed with wheat to produce bread in a bid to cut imports of wheat. It is also one of the basic sources of glucose sugars.
Food expert Nazik Mohamed Fadl says that every 100 grams of sorghum can give 381 calories. It has a 0.26 protein content, 0.05 oil, 1.27 carbohydrates, 2 milligrams calcium, 0.47 iron and 9 milligrams sodium. Its nutritional value increases when fermented. It also contains the gelatin substance which is anti-allergic to the wheat gelatin sensitivity.
According to Fadl also, sorghum is useful as a windshield in farming areas. Sudan's sorghum is of three colors: white, yellow and a mix of these two colors.
Sorghum is rich in fibers that help reduce cholesterol in the blood and is believed to guard the body against colon cancer.
Yellow sorghum is rich in vitamin A while white sorghum is less rich in this vitamin. Sorghum contains reasonable amounts of folic acid and is believed to boost immunity.
Sorghum, according to Fadl, is considered a good sedative and diuretic. Boiled sorghum is useful in kidney troubles, kidney stones and some types of rheumatism and gouts. Sorghum infusion is a light moderator of hypertension and drives toxins out of the body.
Confectionaries now use sorghum to produce pop corn. Some factories grind and refine it into starch.
Sorghum flour is used in making face masks and helps in sunburns. Its shampoo is a good hair cleaner.
Fadl said Sudan has conducted successful studies on the production of mixed flour (sorghum + wheat) to cut the bill of imported wheat flour.