Nubian Nationalism & the Sudanese Identity

Nubians often hold a dual national identity, residing in Nuba mountains and between the borders of Sudan, and Egypt, the Nubian national identity transcends modern borders. It has been this way for thousands of years, and for those living in Sudan (Upper Noba or Upper Nubia), and southern Egypt (lower Nubia) witnessed the name change to Belad Al-Sudan, a name given by Arabs to mean “Land of the Blacks”. 

The indigenous living memory, engraved in tongues of our parents who held on to their Nubian language in the face of Arabization still continues to be spoken by millions of Nubians across Sudan and Egypt. Sudan’s identity searched for its self in the Arab world, but if it searched for its identity in the African world it would see the traditions of Kushite-Nubia, of today’s Sudan, can be seen across the greater Africa, because we are an African people. Kushite-Nubia connected the Black African people of the White and Blue Nile, and the Great Lakes. These riverine people traveled from south to north following the Nile river’s natural flow spilling into the Mediterranean sea.

Nubian mother & child in Aswan, Egypt

Belad-Al Sudan has not been kind to African diversity, for it blanketed Arab-Islamic identity, the idea of the Umma “Muslim Arab Nation”, in which everyone is the same, creating a culture of intolerance, subjugation, and marginalization of Black African identities. Much confusion lies in the identity of Sudanese, are Sudanese Arab, Black African, or both. Rather than confronting the identity crisis, there are those who say “we are both,” unwilling or afraid to challenge this cognitive dissonance. If Sudan is an Arab nation, why did the Arabs name it “Land of the Blacks?” A more obvious question would be, is Sudan in Africa or the Arabian Peninsula? If we are Arab in north Sudan, then why is the Nubian language banned from the curriculum in Sudan and Egypt? Why is it not an official language when it is indigenous to both countries?

Prior to the forced Nubian Exodus when the Aswan High Dam forced over 160,000 Nubians between Egypt and Sudan to migrate, it would only take a Nubian from Sudan to travel with the flow of the Nile to Egypt in no more than three days, this natural and ancient route was interrupted, when the Aswan High Dam was built, construction began on January 9, 1960, and it was officially opened on July 21, 1970.

Pyramids at Meroe, Sudan has 221 more pyramids and monuments than Egypt

My father was a small child, around 5 or 6 years old when he was forced to migrate during this Nubian exodus, and was forced to learn Arabic by the whip, and yet my grandparents still made sure he did not forget the Nobiin language. Nubian children who uttered one Nubian word, until they mastered classical Arabic as he tells it, is what we now know as Arabization. I quickly learned from friends in the Nuba mountains, and across Sudan of the similar stories of today’s elders who were forced as children to abandon their mother tongues. As a young teenager, around 16 years of age, my father like other Nubian locals worked with archeologists as helpers, and he worked with the late William Adams and his wife Nette Adams in Kulubnarti (Kulub), where my family is from; Kulubnarti, was a suburb of Wadi Halfa. My family was forced to move to the new Halfa in more desert like conditions. Kulub was located only forty miles south of Semna by the man-made lake, a result of the flooding of the Aswan High Dam (Lake Nubia as it is known in Sudan); this body of water is known as Lake Nasser in Egypt.

My aunt, and two uncles (fathers family) in the front as children, and other village Children and family at Kulubnarti.

Kulub, at the time, was a Christian town closer to the Dal cataract. Many homes were built of brick and stone. The ancient tradition of brick making is still practiced among Nubians today. Pottery excavated by William and Nette Adams between 1969-79 shows that Kulubnarti was likely built around 11th and 19th CE. The pottery found in Kulub is the same style of pottery found between the 6th-15th Dynasties (2300-1500 BCE), showing cultural continuity from Kerma (Kush) culture even during the Christian period. We can see Nubian cultural continuity, not only in language, bridal traditions, smoke baths, facial tattooing, food, basket weaving, perfumes, but also within the spirit of protecting and preserving the ancestral memory of the land, for the modern time cannot erase the memory of the past when it remains alive in the present.

Historical Footage of Aswan High Dam Began 1960, and completed 07/21/1970 (footage from 4:43 shows part of the Nubian Exodus)

Article by:  Mayada Kandaka Mannan-Brake