Social Life of old Nubia

In the past, Nubian life revolves around the Nile River. The Nile provides water for drinking, cooking, and washing as well as for irrigation. The yearly flood makes agriculture possible. In the midst of the desert, the flood not only brings abundant water but also renews the soil along its banks by depositing a rich load of silt from upstream. In appreciation for the benefits of the Nile, the entire village gathers by the river during ceremonies such as weddings, circumcisions, and harvest festivals.  

 Social Life of old Nubia
The Nubians traditionally are farmers who work land with the help of their families. Everyone has a job to do, especially in times of planting or harvest. In the fields flooded by the Nile, the villagers plant quick-growing crops like beans, corn, sorghum, and vegetables. Young people work with the elders, with the youth digging holes for the elder to drop seeds in. This is how knowledge of traditional farming is passed from the older to the younger generations. Animals like cows, donkeys, and camels work along with the people in preparing the land, plowing, and harvesting the crops. They also carry people and their crops between the village and the field. Nubians have practiced this style of agriculture for thousands of years.
Just above the level of flooding, there are groves of date palms. Dates are a cash crop as well as a staple of the diet in the village. The palm trees provide wood for house rafters and palm fronds for covering roofs. Palm fronds are also woven into baskets and used to make cooking fires. In the past these groves were irrigated by kolay, a traditional wooden water wheel powered by harnessed cattle, or by a shadoof, a wooden water scoop operated by one person. At present, diesel pumps lift water from the Nile to these groves and the fields. Even farther from the Nile, people have established new fields, irrigated by underground water lifted by diesel pumps. Crops are now being grown in an area that earlier generations considered a barren desert.A simple wooden sailboat is used to ferry people, animals, and goods across the Nile to villages on the other side
 Village life is maintained through cooperation and socialization. The survival of the village and the people in it depends on their sharing and helping each other. Everyone is related in some way, so the whole village is like a big family. Neighbors often share their meals and look after each other. If children are away from their homes when the sun sets, they can spend the night in their friend's house. If children behave badly outside of their homes, any adult will discipline them and tell their parents about the misbehavior. Family life is strong, and most people have large families. Old people usually live with their children and grandchildren. When they can, old people help by doing light tasks and by supervising and advising younger people. They watch the children while the parents work, and they teach the children about the past and their heritage. 
Marriages are arranged by the parents of the bride and groom. Because choosing a wife or a husband is an important matter that will affect the whole family, it is too serious for younger people to decide alone. Cousins often marry; that is why most people in the village are related in some way. A wedding celebration lasts over a week, with older women supervising the activities. Everyone joins in preparing food and decorating the bride and groom's houses. They decorate the hands and feet of the bride and groom with henna and put oils and perfumes on their skin. They also prepare special necklaces and bracelets from silk threads and gold. The day after the marriage contract is signed, the whole village walks to the bride's house with the groom, singing, dancing and clapping. The couple goes to the marriage room, which was specially decorated and prepared for them. The next day, everyone walks to the Nile with the bride and groom, who wash their hands and feet in the river, while the cheering crowd tries to splash them by throwing rocks in the river. This tradition is a very important ancient symbol. Afterwards, everyone celebrates by singing and dancing to the beat of drums till morning
Many different kinds of events bring the village together regularly. Everyone works together at the time of planting and harvest. They all join in preparing the celebrations and in celebrating when there is a wedding, a birth, a circumcision, or a religious holiday. When someone has an accident or is ill, everyone tries to help. The whole village mourns when anyone dies. 
All day, from sunrise to sunset, the doors of the houses are always open. People start the day by visiting each other and drinking coffee and talking together. Throughout the day, people go back and forth, visiting, helping each other do their work, drinking tea, or sharing food. No one is ever alone. Even persons who are very old or very sick always have relatives or friends sitting with them. Because of this, the village is a very clean, safe, and pleasant place. 
 The first thing that a visitor to a Nubian village notices is the graceful and lovely style of the housing. Every house in the village is surrounded by high walls that enclose a large courtyard. A visitor enters through a tall, majestic gateway which is usually decorated with colorful designs and symbols. The spacious courtyard has an earth floor where children play and adults sit on colorful mats woven from palm leaves. They sit there to relax, socialize, and drink coffee. During the hot summer nights, the entire family sleeps under the stars in the fresh air of the courtyard. 
The houses have thick walls made of mud . These walls keep the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The flat roofs are made of thatch, layers of palm leaves tied together. Between the walls and the ceiling, there is a space all around, which lets the breeze into the house. Birds also enter the house through this gap. People like to have birds flying and nesting in their homes. A typical house includes a big kitchen with plenty of room for a lot of women to cook and visit together. The house also has a living room for guests, bedrooms, and a large storage room. 
The courtyard also contains an outdoor living room for summer, and an outdoor kitchen for baking bread and cooking over a fire of palm fronds. Next to the summer living room, in a shady spot, stand the clay pots containing drinking water, usually from the Nile. Against the wall, there are large clay pots that are used for storing grain and dates. In a corner, there is a dome-shaped birdhouse, in which pigeons build their nests. People keep pigeons for pets and for food. Nearby are a chicken coop and a pen for milk-goats. In one corner of the courtyard, away from everything else, is a small outhouse. 
The most important room in every house is not used every day. It is the diwan, which is used for weddings and important guests. This room is separate from the main house and has its own courtyard and outhouse. 
The houses are well suited to the climate and to the way that people live. They are colorful and comfortable, and people keep them neat and very clean. Walking through these Nubian villages is like walking through an art gallery. The paint used to decorate these houses is all locally produced from limestone, which is abundant in the area. Painting is done by young unmarried girls. 
 Most of the food that people eat in the village comes from their farms. They grow wheat and sorghum for their bread, as well as vegetables, beans, dates, and fruits. Almost every family raises chickens, ducks, and pigeons as well as goats, sheep, and cattle for meat. In addition, chickens provide eggs, while goats and cows provide milk for drinking and for making butter and yogurt. Some items, such as sugar, tea, coffee, spices, cooking oil, and rice are bought from small shops in the village or nearby marketplaces. 
Mealtime is a gathering time in the village. The doors are always open, and relatives, neighbors, and guests are always welcome. People love to share their cooking, so before every mealtime you see children in the streets carrying food from their mothers to other families, especially to old or sick neighbors. They also carry food out to the farms, where people in the fields stop their work and gather to eat. Often you even see strangers, travelers, jumping off their donkeys to join these farmers in their meals. 
Girls and young women bake thin flat bread (kisrah) fresh for every meal, while older women cook the other foods. The oldest women sit in a comfortable spot and supervise the cooking. The meals consist of bread made from whole wheat and sorghum, okra or other vegetables, rice, and meat. All of the food is cooked on a fire of palm fronds and sorghum or wheat stalks. The women arrange the food on trays, which are carried out from the kitchen by the teenage boys. The boys enjoy this task because it gives them an opportunity to observe the girl who might be their future wife. 
Usually, men eat together and women eat together. Before the meal, the younger children carry bowls of water around and help the adults wash their hands. The group sits on the floor and shares a common plate or tray of food, using the right hand to eat. After the meal, the children bring water again for the adults to wash their hands. 
The people in Nubia are Muslims. Their religion is called Islam and their holy book is the Quran. They believe that there is only one God, Allah, and that Muhammad was the last messenger from God. Religion is the core of people's social life in the village. It is everywhere. It is life itself. 
Five times a day, someone climbs to the top of the mosque to call people to pray. On Friday at noon, the villagers go to the mosque to pray together. After they pray, people visit their relatives and friends and eat together. Each year, during the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. They do not eat or drink anything during the daytime for the whole month. During Ramadan, the days are very quiet. At sunset, people gather outside their houses to eat and share their food with neighbors and passers-by. At the end of Ramadan, there is a special four-day holiday, called Eid al-Fitr. Everyone dresses up in new clothes, visits relatives, exchanges gifts, and shares in special holiday meals. They also go to the graveyard to visit the graves of their relatives and ancestors. 
Once in a lifetime, every Muslim is supposed to make the Hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca--the Holy Place of the Muslims. For an old person, it is a dream come true to make this trip. The whole village gathers to say farewell to people who leave on the pilgrimage. At pilgrimage time, there is a four-day holiday, called Eid al-Adha. Every family butchers a sheep and shares the meat with poor people. When people return from the pilgrimage, often with gifts for their relatives and friends, everyone in the village gathers to welcome them back. The villagers paint "Congratulations" and "Welcome Back" signs on the gateways of the houses, and greet the returned pilgrims with songs of welcome.
While the parents are working, children are cared for by their sisters and brothers, their grandparents, or other relatives. A child's education often begins in the traditional Quranic school, which is attached to the mosque. There, children learn to read, write, and recite the Quran, the Holy Book of the Muslims. When they are seven or eight years old, they go to the public school in the village. Children who live nearby walk to and from school every day.  
 The school week begins on Saturday and ends on Thursday. Friday is the only day off. The children study religion, math, science, reading, and social studies. Students respect the teachers very much. When the teacher enters the classroom, the pupils stand politely with their hands behind their backs to show their respect. They also stand when they ask or answer questions. 
The village has only an elementary school, with grades one through six. For middle school and high school, the children go to boarding school in the nearby town. They can come back to the village and to their families only on Fridays and during holidays. Parents take the education of their children seriously, and they are proud when their children do well in school. 
Children learn many things outside of school. They learn from watching older people as they work. They also learn from helping their parents work in the fields or in the house. All the adults in the village participate in teaching young people how to behave and how to cooperate in the life and work of the community. That is what people mean when they say, " It takes a village to raise a child."


Main Page