The general public haven’t really heard about the tribe who call themselves Magyarabs and live in Sudan. They think that a certain Ibrahim el Magyar is their forefather. Even Count Almásy met one of them during one of his trips. The name of the tribe means ‘the Hungarian tribe’ (‘Magyar’+ ‘ab’). Is there really a tribe in Sudan with Hungarian origins?
The mysteries of the river Nile have been making humanity curious for a long time. According to history, the part of Africa that was called Nubia was the connection between the Mediterranean and African regions. Merchants, different kind of ethnicities wandered through Nubia from the south to the north and vice versa. But they weren’t the only ones. Armies also crossed this area.
Legend has it that their ancestors came in 1517 with Sultan Selim the First’s army when he conquered the region. It is told that he also had groups originating from previously conquered lands in his army; this is how it Hungarians could also march with him. He sent some troops to Wadi Halfa, the place where the Magyarabs live today. Their leader was Ibrahim el Magyar, who married a local Nubian woman and settled down there. The tribe claims to be the descendants of Ibrahim el Magyar and the other soldiers.
This story is backed up by Gábor Pécsváradi’s, a Franciscan monk’s report, in which he states that he met a group of Hungarians who were part in the Ottoman army in 1516 in Jerusalem. There is also another proof: the Magyarabs speak Nubian and, despite the strict rules of their language, they say the word ‘magyar’ with pride.
The most trustworthy source is Laszlo Almásy’s episode in one of his books called Hungarian descendants on the island of the Nile. The Africa-researcher was on expedition in the Sahara between 1934-35 when he visited Wadi Halfa. He got into a conversation with a tradesman who mentioned the name of Ibrahim el Magyar. This attracted the traveller’s attention so he started asking the tradesman. He told him that he is a member of the Magyarab tribe and that they originate from Europe, and that they were brought there by Sultan Suleiman 400 years ago. Almásy visited the tribe the next day. They kept repeating that they aren’t Arabs; they were resettled from Europe by Suleiman. The word ‘ab’ means ‘tribe’ in Nubian, so if we translate their name we get ‘Magyar/Hungarian tribe’
The next expedition that reached Wadi Halfa was in 1965 led by Istvan Fodor, the great Arabist and interpreter. He researched their history, their behaviour, and their culture. He mentioned that their hair seems to be a bit reddish while the Nubians all have black hair. Their skin is lighter and their eyes are smaller, just like the hair and the eyes of Hungarians. He also collected some sayings which are very similar to Hungarian ones. ‘Rá’sz el-mágyár zejj el-hágyár’ means that the head of the Hungarians is as hard as a stone. ‘Ál-Mágyárí lá jiszálli fíl-meszgyid’ means that Hungarians don’t pray in mosques. Their habits differ from ours but still don’t follow Islamic traditions completely.
After Lake Nasser had been filled up, most Magyarab villages got submerged. They were resettled in new villages and their lives changed forever. They spread in many different directions and did not depend on each other anymore.
There was a Great Africa Expedition in 2013. Although they only spent a few days with searching for the Magyarabs, the expedition was followed by a big media interest.
A more in-depth expedition could trust-worthily clarify the origins of the tribe that proudly advertises its Hungarian roots, and could answer many questions.
Written by Alexandra Béni