Palace-museum recalls restive Darfur’s royal past

A picture shows the gold-painted throne of Sultan Ali Dinar, the regioun's last sultan who ruled between 1891 and 1916, at the palace in the centre of Darfur's El Fasher on April 13, 2016. Dinar was the last of the Keira dynasty of sultans to rule the region as absolute monarchs, controlling their subjects and raising tribute via an elaborate feudal system. / AFP PHOTO / ASHRAF SHAZLY / TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY ABDELMONEIM ABU IDRIS ALI


El Fasher / AFP

Tucked between palm trees and verdant lawns in the centre of Darfur’s El Fasher, the palace of the restive Sudanese region’s last sultan has become a rare focus of pride, 100 years after his death.
Silver swords, antique rifles, richly coloured robes and even the throne from which autocrat Sultan Ali Dinar ruled Darfur’s vast expanses between 1891 and 1916 line the walls of the palace museum.
Marginalised and underdeveloped since Dinar’s fall, the western Darfur region descended into bloody conflict in 2003 with millions of people forced to flee their homes, leaving the museum as one of the few traces of a rich past.
“The museum is a source of pride for all the tribes of Darfur,” said Eslam Abaker, an El Fasher resident relaxing on the lawn in front of the palace.
“I came to see it first a year-and-a-half ago, but I have come back many times,” the 25-year-old said. Cases display the silver coins minted as the region’s own currency, intricately decorated broadswords belonging to the sultan’s lieutenants and Dinar’s gold-painted throne.
Dinar was the last of the Keira dynasty of sultans to rule the region as absolute monarchs, controlling their subjects and raising revenue via an elaborate feudal system.
Hailing from the Fur ethnic group (Darfur means “domain of the Fur” in Arabic), Dinar’s reign came to an end in 1916 when he backed the Ottoman Empire at the height of the First World War.
Sudan’s British and Egyptian rulers sent troops to crush his rebellion, chancing on his camp in November that year and shooting him dead in the ensuing melee, before absorbing Darfur into Sudan.

Past overshadowed
by war
Dinar’s descendants still live in El Fasher—one even bears his title—but they can only imagine the power he wielded.
“When I go into the museum I get a strange feeling,” said Abdelrahman Tijani Dinar, a great-grandson of the sultan.
The sprightly 73-year-old lives in El Fasher not far from the palace and grew up hearing stories of his illustrious ancestor. “I try to build up a picture of the sultan through the exhibits and through oral accounts,” he added proudly.
But the region’s heritage has been overshadowed by its dark recent past.

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