Fuzzy-Wuzzy (Soudan Expeditionary Force) - A Poem By Rudyard Kipling



A derogatory term for a black person, especially one with fuzzy hair.


This term was used by 19th century British colonial soldiers for the members of an East African nomadic tribe - the Hadendoa. White settlers and military from other countries also later used the term to denote the indigenous dark skinned and curly haired population. For example, the US military in Papua New Guinea and white European settlers in Australia. The term has always been derogatory but wasn't considered so by the white population at the time.

From 'Fuzzy Wuzzy', one of Rudyard Kipling's Barrack Room Ballad poems, written in 1918. The poem is in the voice of an unsophisticated British soldier and expresses admiration rather than contempt, although expressed in terms that sound patronizing today.


Fuzzy-Wuzzy is a poem by the English author and poet Rudyard Kipling, published in 1892 as part of Barrack Room Ballads. It describes the respect of the ordinary British soldier for the bravery of the Hadendoa warriors who fought the British army in North Africa.


"Fuzzy-Wuzzy" was the term used by British colonial soldiers for the nineteenth century Hadendoa warriors supporting the Sudanese Mahdi in the Mahdist War. The name "Fuzzy-Wuzzy" may be purely English in origin, or it may incorporate some sort of Arabic pun (possibly based on ghazī, "warrior"). It alludes to their butter-matted hair which gave them a distinctive "fuzzy" look.

The Beja people were one of two broad multi-tribal groupings supporting the Mahdi, and were divided into three tribes. One of these, the Hadendoa, was nomadic along Sudan's Red Sea coast and provided a large number of cavalry and jihādiyya (referring to mounted infantry units). They were armed with swords and spears and some of them carried breech-loaded rifles which had been captured from the Egyptian forces, and some of them had acquired military experience in the Egyptian army.

 The poem

Kipling's poem Fuzzy-Wuzzy praises the Hadendoa for their martial prowess, because "for all the odds agin' you, Fuzzy-Wuz, you broke the square." This could refer to either or both historical battles between the British and Mahdist forces where British infantry squares were broken. The first was at the Battle of Tamai, on 13 March, 1884, and the second was on 17 January, 1885 during the Battle of Abu Klea. Kipling's narrator, an infantry soldier, speaks in admiring terms of the "Fuzzy-Wuzzies", praising their bravery which, although insufficient to defeat the British, did at least enable them to boast of having "broken the square"—an achievement which few other British foes could claim. The poem takes a satirical look at the British soldiers of the time who perceived themselves as invincible.

 Other references

In the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Caractacus' father refers to the "Fuzzy-Wuzzys" when speaking of his time in the army. Additionally, in the BBC situation comedy Dad's Army, Lance Corporal Jack Jones (Clive Dunn) continually refers to the Fuzzy-Wuzzies in his reminiscences about his days fighting in the Sudan under General Kitchener.

A Hadendoa warrior
Hadendoa is the name of a nomadic subdivision of the Beja people. Other Beja tribes include the Bisharin and Ababda. The area inhabited by the Hadendoa is today parts of Sudan, Egypt and Eritrea.


According to Roper (1930), the name Haɖanɖiwa is made up of haɖa 'lion' and (n)ɖiwa 'clan'. Other variants are Haɖai ɖiwa, Hanɖiwa and Haɖaatʼar (children of lioness).

The Hadendoa are traditionally a pastoral people, ruled by a Hereditary Chief, called a Ma'ahes, who, in colonial times, was directly responsible to the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan government. Osman Digna, one of the best-known chiefs during the Mahdiyyah rebellion under Muhammad Ahmad, was a Hadendoa, and the tribe contributed some of the fiercest of the Dervish warriors in the wars of 1883–98. So determined were they in their opposition to the Anglo-Egyptian forces that the name Hadendoa grew to be nearly synonymous with rebel. This, however, was the result of Egyptian misgovernment rather than religious enthusiasm, as the Hadendoa of the time were true Beja, and Muslims only in name.

Their elaborate hairdressing gained them the name of "Fuzzy-wuzzies" among the British troops (this was likely the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling's poem, Fuzzy-Wuzzy.) They earned an unenviable reputation during the wars by their hideous mutilations of the dead on the battlefields. After the reconquest of the Egyptian Sudan (1896–98) the Hadendoa accepted the new order without demur.


The language of the Hadendoa is a dialect of Bedawi, which is a member of the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Arabic is also spoken among the Hadendoa.


Sunni Islam is the religion of the majority of living Hadendoa. However, Coptic and Sufi Hadendoa are far from uncommon especially in Upper Egypt and Egypt's Western Desert.



A Poem By Rudyard Kipling

Background to the poem


Britain’s involvement in the Sudan was a consequence of its support for the Khedive of Egypt following British action in crushing the revolt of Arabi Pasha in 1882 (see “The Jacket”). Despite Egypt still being nominally part of the Ottoman Empire, the Khedive’s rule was dependent on direct British support, given to ensure the security of the Suez Canal and the elimination of the Sudanese slave trade.



So 'ere's to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, at your 'ome in the Soudan;
You're a pore benighted 'eathen but a first-class fightin' man;
An' 'ere's to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, with your 'ayrick 'ead of 'air—
You big black boundin' beggar—for you broke a British square!

A Poem By Rudyard Kipling 

However, the British government under Prime Minister Gladstone sought to stay out of affairs in Egyptian-governed Sudan, where the administration was facing an uprising under the Mahdi, Muhammad Ahmad, who declared a Jihad, or holy war, against the ‘Turks’, represented by the Egyptian government troops. The Mahdist forces from the Beja and the Baggara tribal groups had considerable success against Egyptian troops in 1882 and 1883 until, in early 1884, the British Government was forced to send two British brigades, with cavalry and artillery, to the support of the Egyptian army. In addition, General Charles George Gordon was seconded to the Egyptian forces. Sent by the Khedive to Khartoum, he ended up with the Egyptian garrison besieged by the Mahdists, then decided that he was unable to extricate his garrison and called for reinforcements ...


Fuzzy-Wuzzy (Soudan Expeditionary Force)
Rudyard Kipling


We've fought with many men acrost the seas,
An' some of 'em was brave an' some was not:
The Paythan an' the Zulu an' Burmese;
But the Fuzzy was the finest o' the lot.
We never got a ha'porth's change of 'im:
'E squatted in the scrub an' 'ocked our 'orses,





'E cut our sentries up at Suakim,
An' 'e played the cat an' banjo with our forces.
So 'ere's to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, at your 'ome in the Soudan;
You're a pore benighted 'eathen but a first-class fightin' man;
We gives you your certificate, an' if you want it signed
We'll come an' 'ave a romp with you whenever you're inclined.



We took our chanst among the Khyber 'ills,
The Boers knocked us silly at a mile,
The Burman give us Irriwaddy chills,
An' a Zulu impi dished us up in style:
But all we ever got from such as they
Was pop to what the Fuzzy made us swaller;



We 'eld our bloomin' own, the papers say,
But man for man the Fuzzy knocked us 'oller.
Then 'ere's to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, an' the missis and the kid;
Our orders was to break you, an' of course we went an' did.
We sloshed you with Martinis, an' it wasn't 'ardly fair;
But for all the odds agin' you, Fuzzy-Wuz, you broke the square.



'E 'asn't got no papers of 'is own,
'E 'asn't got no medals nor rewards,
So we must certify the skill 'e's shown
In usin' of 'is long two-'anded swords:





When 'e's 'oppin' in an' out among the bush
With 'is coffin-'eaded shield an' shovel-spear,
An 'appy day with Fuzzy on the rush
Will last an 'ealthy Tommy for a year.





So 'ere's to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, an' your friends which are no more,
If we 'adn't lost some messmates we would 'elp you to deplore;
But give an' take's the gospel, an' we'll call the bargain fair,
For if you 'ave lost more than us, you crumpled up the square!



'E rushes at the smoke when we let drive,
An', before we know, 'e's 'ackin' at our 'ead;
'E's all 'ot sand an' ginger when alive,



An' 'e's generally shammin' when 'e's dead.
'E's a daisy, 'e's a ducky, 'e's a lamb!
'E's a injia-rubber idiot on the spree,



'E's the on'y thing that doesn't give a damn
For a Regiment o' British Infantree!
So 'ere's to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, at your 'ome in the Soudan;
You're a pore benighted 'eathen but a first-class fightin' man;
An' 'ere's to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, with your 'ayrick 'ead of 'air --
You big black boundin' beggar -- for you broke a British square!


Figurines et Collections - Guerre - Sudan



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