Nubia and Nubians
Nubia is blessed with rich natural resources: gold, copper and
semiprecious stones:carnelian, jasper, amethyst, all of great
economic importance in ancient economy.Owing to its unique
location, Nubia was the passage through which exotic African
goods reached Egypt:ebony, ivory, incense, ostrich feathers and
ostrich egg-shells, adding to Nubiaís share in world trade.
Because of its long cultural history, the folk heritage of Nubia
is rich, varied and wonderfully original. It has distinctive
features since it is the product of three mingled groups that
make up the Nubian people; the Kenuz who speak Matuki; the
Fadija who speak their own language and the Arabs of Aliqat, who
moved to Nubia from Sinai in the 18th Century.
Nubian folk heritage covers: buildings, furniture, arts, crafts,
jewelry and costumes. There is the music, the singing, dancing,
and literature of all kinds as well as customs and social norms.
Buildings in Nubian villages are made of stone, clay and sand;
the roofs are commonly built of jareed and grain stalks. The
roofs of the well-to-do are arched domes of clay bricks. The
floors are covered with clean sand and household utensils for
everyday use hang from the ceiling. The walls of houses,
especially the facade are decorated with ornaments and paintings
of flags, flowers, birds and animals. Crockery is often used for
wall decorations; a plate usually occupied the centre of the
design on the facade.
A Nubian house is usually composed of the entrance hall, an
open court, domed bedrooms, the store, the kitchen and the
toilet. Nubian jewelry is rich and various according to form,
function and materials. There are necklaces, pendants, bracelets
and rings. Jewelry is usually made of gold or silver and
occasionally inlaid with semi-precious stones. Nubian and
Sudanese jewelers living in Cairo, especially in Abdin Quarter
specialize in this craft. Some of them live in Nubian towns and
Nubian crafts are relatively few and rather primitive. The most
common are pottery and baskets and mats made of palm fronts.
Those crafts are practised basically by women who are trained
from early childhood. In addition, there is some hand weaving of
cotton and wool, but it is a minor craft.
Nubians use amulets, charms and talisman for good luck and
protection from the evil eye. Some are painted on walls in the
form of scorpions, eyes or triangles. Some are made of braided
beads, shells or hair which hang on posts of beds or hang
thickly from ceilings. Baskets made of palm branches and
decorated with white shells, hanging from the ceiling, may have
the same function.
As for the Nubian folk dancing, it is performed in groups by
women and men of all ages. A number of folk dances are performed
in seasons of sowing and harvest, in prayer for prosperity and
Men in Nubia usually wear a black robe (jelbaba) over their
underwear. Women are wrapped in a shawl which hangs down to
their feet. Two ends are tied in a knot on the left shoulder,
covering the left arm while the right arm remains bare. Children
wear blue or multi coloured jelbabas. Women wear their hair in
long braids hanging down their backs. They are fond of ornaments
and jewelry, rings, ear rings, anklets, nose rings, bracelets
and necklaces made of beads.
Marriage in Nubia is the responsibility
of the parents but
uncles share this responsibility. Because kinship in Nubia is
both patriarchal and matriarchal, marriage between cousins is
favoured and even obligatory at times. Marrying his cousin (on
the fatherís side) is a moral obligation for a young man. The
brideís dower in that case is much lower than what an outsider
would have to pay. The exact amount varies from one tribe to
another. Presents and money gifts are given to both families to
help with the expenses which are very high, for weddings are
celebrated in large ceremonies to which all the village is
invited and some times people from other villages. The Nile
plays a key role in Nubian culture, the couple have to go down
to the river on their wedding night and wash in its water, to
ensure prosperity, good health and numerous progeny. When a male
child is born, the birth is celebrated on the seventh day with
the slaughter of a sheep or more, a recital of the Qurían and
the boy is given a name. When the child is a female, they only
invite friends and go to the Nile bank where the baby is named.
To many experts, the Nubian art reflects the areaís rich
culture; many of its symbols and motifs are significant
expressions of folk traditions and superstitions. They can be
seen in tattoos and wall paintings that decorate the facades and
entrance halls of many houses. These symbols recur in the
designs of bead work and all kinds of baskets, plates, mats,
Decorative motifs often carry a moral or magic significance. A
sword stands for courage and heroic achievement. Stars and a
crescent are Islamic symbols of good omen, also the black cat,
crows and owls carry bad omens. Roses and flowers in general
stand for friendship and love, the apple for feminine
attraction, the tortoise for idleness, the chameleon for change
and a pitcher and prayer rug for purity and chastity.
Leading a galaxy of key world figures, President Hosni Mubarak,
on Monday, November 23, opened the Nubian Museum in the southern
town of Aswan. The museum is deemed a long-cherished dream which
has just come true. The facility, with its multifaceted
exhibits, is designed to recall the feats made by the Ancient
Egyptian against impregnable rocks and sweeping cataracts to set
up a mighty civilization whose culture has survived through the
centuries. To experts, the museum is a celebration of the
impressive concerted efforts of the world in response to the
international appeal launched by UNESCO in 1960, for saving the
antiquities of Nubia, in danger of being submerged at the time
of the building of the High Dam.
Studies on the project started in the early eighties, by
committees formed of members of the Supreme Council of
Antiquities, UNESCO experts and Egyptian architect Muhammad
Al-Hakim. The basic premise was full integration with the
surrounding environment, architectural composition in keeping
with the nature of the historical and archaeological area, and
generally blending with features of the site.
The climate of Aswan was taken into consideration, light-and
heat-proof materials were used for windows, walls and facades.
The total area of the museum site is 50,000 square metres, 7000
m2 of which are occupied by the museum buildings. The remainder
covers the outside precincts and the open air exhibitions,
exhibitions indoor halls, stores and restoration, research unit,
administration building and public services and facilities.
The exhibits of the Nubia Museum highlight various periods of
the history of Nubia. The Prehistory Cave presents manís first
creative attempts at depicting his environment in rock carvings
of cursive lines, testifying to his dexterity in using his
tools. Various animals of the period are portrayed in those
carvings, notably elephants and giraffes. Those wall carvings of
animals, men, and natural objects are some of the earliest
specimens of free artistic composition directly on a stone
medium. They are reminiscent of a similar series of early manís
creative work in caves in the north of Spain and the famous
prehistory caves of France.
Visitors to the museum will be introduced to great kings
King Ramses II who developed new military tactics in his famous
wars, and King Taharka, who was born in Nubia, and ruled the
whole of Egypt. The museum exhibits also illustrate the
character of Nubia in the Graeco-Roman, Coptic and Islamic
periods, and its strong assimilation of Islamic culture. The
exhibition of folk heritage emphasizes the retaining by Nubia of
its identity and distinctive culture under all circumstances.
The out-door display features the immortal journey of the Nile
across rocks and cataracts, to bring eternal life to Egypt.