African ethnic group of the week: the Nubians of Sudan and Egypt
The Nubians are an ethnic group originally from northern Sudan, and southern Egypt. he main Nubian groups from north to south are the Halfaweyen, Sikut, Mahas, and Dongola. They speak the Nubian languages.
Although Sudan had remained the main homeland of Nubians through their long history, many of their descendants is today’s Egypt. But still the majority of Nubians of today are Sudanese. With only a population of slightly above 300,000 they are a minority in both countries.
Nubian Egyptians have had a strong interest in the archeological discoveries of recent decades that have brought a richer knowledge of ancient Nubia. Nubians were often subjected to discrimination in Egypt before this research became widely known. Nubians now take pride in their cultural history. Some express an affinity with Sudanese culture, as many have relatives in Sudan. This common identity has been celebrated in poetry, novels, music and storytelling.
Nubians in modern Sudan include the Danaqla around Dongola Reach, the Mahas from the Third Cataract to Wadi Halfa, and the Sikurta around Aswan. These Nubians write using their own script. They also practice scarification: Mahas men and women have three scars on each cheek, while the Danaqla wear these scars on their temples. Younger generations appear to be abandoning this custom
Nubia’s ancient cultural development was influenced by its geography. It is sometimes divided into Upper Nubia and Lower Nubia. Upper Nubia was where the ancient Kingdom of Napata (the Kush) was located. Lower Nubia has been called “the corridor to Africa”, where there was contact and cultural exchange between Nubians, Egyptians, Greeks, Assyrians, Romans, and Arabs. Lower Nubia was also where the Kingdom of Meroe flourished The languages spoken by modern Nubians are based on ancient Sudanic dialects. From north to south, they are: Kenuz, Fadicha (Matoki), Sukkot, Mahas, Danagla
The economy of Nubia was based mainly on agriculture. The cultivation of date palms was very intensive. There were in Nubia about 4,000,000 palm trees of different species. The export of dates was the most important income before the construction of the First Aswan Dam. The building of the Dam as we know caused a lot of changes and allowed the cultivation only for four months in the year in most of the areas. Cereals were grown during the summer and for consumption during the winter. Vegetables were cultivated instead, in a small amount
At the end of 1912 after the construction of the first Aswan Dam, the Nubians asked the Government to develop projects aimed to improve the agriculture and to save it from the inundation. Therefore from 1913 to 1924 the authorities carried out several surveys throughout the Nubian area to find a solution. At the beginning of 1931 several projects were developed, consisting of irrigation projects or the construction of walls to protect the land from inundation.”
"Among the crafts which characterized the Modern Nubian culture, the most important is jewelry. Necklaces, earrings, anklets, nose rings, pendants, rings, made mainly of gold and silver, sometimes inlaid with semi precious stones, had several shapes according to the material and also to the person to whom they were destined.
The wedding party was an important occasion to wear these jewels. They played an important role in the Nubian marriage tradition. The donation of the colt to the bride was a moment of big feast known as the fadgab. Jewelry was a way for most women of keeping capital and of showing their status.
The marriage among the Nubians is one of the important moments during which the deepest personal emotions and traditions of the people are expressed (songs, dances, music, dresses, jewelry, drawings). It was often arranged also to combine for example, shares in land, palm tress, cows, etc. To this event many people and family members coming from distant villages were invited.
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