Wet collodion on
23.5 x 29.5 cm
Epigraphic Survey, Oriental Institute,
University of Chicago
Family Portrait, by Zangaki.
Though many early travelers
encountered the Bishareen in Nubia, none wrote a detailed account of them.
The Bishareen appear once to have had a fair idea of their own history,
and there are reports that before the time of the Mahdi in the 1880s, they
possessed some written accounts of their traditions. They lived in an area
stretching from Aswan southward to Berber on the Nile River and Kassala on
the Atbara River. Perhaps descendents of the earlier nomadic Bedja and
Blemmyes, their legendary birthplace was Gebel Elba, near Aidhab; their
name is traced to an eponymous ancestor "Bishar." Armed with broad swords,
large round hide shields, at times caparisoned in chain mail passed down
from the Middle Ages, their camel-mounted warriors were visions of the
Prophet's own men. During the Mahdist wars in the Sudan, they were of
somewhat divided loyalties: some followed the Mahdist chief Osman Digna,
others annihilated Mahdist raiding parties, and some served as native
irregulars with the British. Following the defeat of the Khalifa by the
British at Omdurman, the Bishareen declined. Although this group portrait
bears no signature, the two women reappear as models in at least one other
photograph signed "Zangaki."