The Journal of African History


a1 Durham University

Article author query
willis j   [Google Scholar] 


Recent scholarship on ‘neo-traditionalism’ and colonial governance in Africa has challenged assumptions about the ‘invention of tradition’ and the ability of the colonial state to create wholly innovative kinds of local authority. This article explores one episode in the development of the authority of Ali el Tom, probably the most famous ‘traditional’ ruler in Condominium Sudan. It suggests that Ali el Tom's authority was a creole product, which drew on local moral codes and colonial forms of authority, but was not fully part of either. The willingness of his people to accept this sometimes abusive authority relied on a partly illusory sense that it was familiar; but this willingness was not unlimited, and on occasion actions from below set limits to the invention of authority and tradition.

Key Words: Sudan; colonial administration; chieftaincy; courts; governance.


1 I should like to thank the anonymous referees of the Journal, and the members of the seminar group at the Institute of African and Asian Studies, University of Khartoum and the African Studies seminar of the University of Oxford, all of whom endured earlier versions of this paper. I should also like to express my thanks to the staff of the Sudan Archive at Durham and the National Records Office, Khartoum. Research for this paper was made possible by an AHRB project grant.