Magyarabs, a Hungarian tribe in Africa
The general public haven’t really heard about a tribe who call themselves Magyarabs and live in Sudan. They say 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 ‘Hungarian tribe’ (‘Magyar’+ ‘ab’). Is this true? Is there a tribe in Sudan with Hungarian origins?
The mysteries of the river Nile have been intriguing humanity for a long time. In history, the part of Africa called Nubia was the connection between the Mediterranean and African regions. Merchants, 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 I.’s army when he conquered the region. It is said that he had people from previously conquered places in his army; this is how it could be possible that he had Hungarians as well. He sent a troop 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 that their ancestors are Ibrahim el Magyar’s descendants and descendants of other soldiers who did the same.
This story is backed up by Gabor Pecsvaradi, Franciscan monk’s report in which he writes that he met Hungarians part of the Ottoman army in 1516 in Jerusalem. Another proof can be that 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 Almasy’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 Desert in 1934-35 when he visited Wadi Halfa. He got into a conversation with a tradesman who pronounced the name of Ibrahim el Magyar. This attracted the traveller’s attention and started asking the tradesman. He told him that he is a member of the Magyarab tribe and that they originate from Europe, they were brought there by Sultan Suleiman 400 years ago. Almasy 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 by Istvan Fodor, the great Arabist and interpreter. He researched their history, behaviour, culture. He said that their hair is a bit reddish whereas the Nubians have black hair. Their skin is lighter and their eyes are smaller just like 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 have diverged 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 but their lives changed for ever. They have spread and are not depending on each other anymore.
There was a Great Africa Expedition in 2013. Although they only spent a few days researching the Magyarabs, the expedition was followed by big media interest.
A more in-depth expedition could trustworthily clarify the origins of the tribe that proudly advertises its Hungarian origins, and would answer many questions.
Written by Alexandra Béni