The history of the darker-skinned Nubians in Egypt and their struggle to find a voice today

Nduta Waweru Jul 16, 2018 at 03:31am

July 16, 2018 at 03:31 am | Culture

Nduta Waweru

Nduta Waweru | Contributor

July 16, 2018 at 03:31 am | Culture

Nubian women at the Nubian Gharb Suheil village, near Aswan. Credit: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

The Nubian community is indigenous to Sudan and Egypt, with most of them having lived along the shores of River Nile for decades.

However, the Nubians living in Egypt were just recognised as recently as 2014 when the government conducted a referendum on a draft constitution that for the first time included mention of Nubians.

However, this recognition seems to come on paper, not in practice.

The Nubians have been taking to the streets of Egypt to demand their recognition and a return to their ancestral land.

About 50 years ago, the Nubians were moved away from their land to make space for the construction of the Aswan High Dam.  At least 55,000 people were moved as Lake Nasser flooded their homes.  When they were relocated to towns such as Alexandria, Cairo and Aswan, they thought things would be easier, but they were meet with small and cramped houses that had neither water nor electricity.

Photo: Egypt Tours Plus

The land that remained after their relocation was up for sale by the government to investors for a major agricultural project.

Ancient Nubia is known as one of the world’s ancient civilisations. They were known for their prowess with arrows and bows that the ancient Egyptians called the land  “Ta-Seti,” meaning the “land of the bow.”  Over history, the land underwent different rulers including women and was even occupied by Egypt about 3500 years ago.

One of the most powerful kingdoms was the Kingdom of Kush, which was known for its writing system, an extensive bureaucracy and major urban centres.

Photo: Museum Africa

As far back as 2007, the community has been holding various forms of protests to the project and demand rights to go back to their ancestral lands- now a very thin strip off the Nile.

Most of the protesters have never been to Nubia, but have heard stories from their parents and grandparents.  The stories are often filled with tales of sprawling villages, brightly coloured homes and fertile lands.   The younger Nubian generation believes that their parents and grandparents just accept what the government gives them because of the trauma of their displacement.

It is with this background that most of them are now taking activism to the streets, according to Siham Othman who spoke to AP News.

These protests have not been without consequence. At least 50 protestors were arrested recently and arraigned in court for protesting, a crime that would see them jailed for up to five years.

This is one of the tactics used by the government of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to silence the protestors.  The government has increasingly shown zero tolerance to dissent.

Photo: Committee for Justice

In 2017, el-Sissi spoke of fulfilling the demands of the Nubians but did not talk about their return.  In the same year, the government had detained at least 24 Nubians who were marching peacefully in the town of Aswan.

A number of rights organisations have come up to campaign for the preservation of the ancient Nubian lands. The Nubia Project is calling for the preservation of the culture and the archaeological sites as well as the recognition and use of Nubian language in Egypt and Sudan.

It remains to be seen how Egypt will handle these demands, which it already claims is a jab at the country’s stability.

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