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."
5 of 10