Tragedy in Sudan brings back old burial tradition

Yasmine Farag, Monday 22 May 2023

Ongoing violence in Sudan has revived an old burial tradition used before in times of crises, bringing with it bitterness and sorrow.

A photo posted on social media of burying the two Egyptian doctors in their house s garden in Khartoum.


Hundreds of civilians have been killed in the fighting that began on 15 April between the Sudanese army led by General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti. 

Fearing for their lives and with a lack of access to cemeteries, some Sudanese have been forced to bury the dead inside their family homes, workplaces and other public spaces.

Sudanese journalist and political analyst Ammar Awad Al-Sharif told Ahram Online that this has its roots in the cultural traditions among the people of southern Sudan, specifically the Dinka tribes, who until recently buried their dead in their homes according to their beliefs about spirits and the afterlife.

This measure spread to the rest of Sudan after a devastating famine that struck in 1888/1889, known as "Year Six" in the country's history.

According to Al-Sharif, the famine was one of the worst in Sudan's history, and it was so severe that people were forced to bury their dead in their homes due to the sheer number of corpses and the extreme weakness and emaciation of the living, who were unable to carry their loved ones to burial grounds.

On 4 May, the well-known Sudanese actress, Asia Abd al-Majeed, was killed in a crossfire in northern Khartoum. Her family buried her in a kindergarten she had been working in recently, as transporting her body to the cemetery was deemed too risky. In the early days of the conflict, a student was killed at the University of Khartoum after being hit by a stray bullet. His colleagues were forced to bury him inside the campus also due to the ongoing clashes in the area surrounding the university.

On 6 May, two doctors, Egyptian anesthetist Dr. Magdolin Youssef Ghali and her sister, dentist Dr. Majda, were killed when their home was hit by shelling during fighting in Khartoum. Snipers on rooftops and ongoing shelling made it difficult to transport the bodies to the cemetery. So, the authorities allowed their burial in the home garden under medical supervision. A video of the burial of Dr. Magdolin in her home garden went viral on social media in Sudan, sparking outrage and demands to stop turning residential areas into battlegrounds.

According to reports, bodies littered the streets of Khartoum in the early days of the conflict. Some residents were unable to bury their relatives due to the impossibility of moving around the city. This has raised concerns about the risk of decomposing corpses in the open, which could become a health disaster.

Millions of Sudanese around the capital have since hidden in their homes with dwindling food, water and electricity. Even before the war, more than 15 million people faced severe food insecurity in Sudan, according to UN's World Food Programme.

The turmoil has seen hospitals shelled, humanitarian facilities looted and foreign aid groups forced to suspend most of their operations.

Burhan and Daglo seized power in a 2021 military takeover that derailed Sudan's transition to democracy, established after President Omar Bashir was ousted following mass protests in 2019. But the two generals later fell out, most recently over the planned integration of the RSF into the regular army.

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