by Riad Tawfik
With the construction of the Aswan Dam, later known as the High Dam, came the largest immigration of Nubians from their homeland by the Nile. Those who lived in old Nubia remember it with painful nostalgia and carry unhappy memories of the day they had to desert their homes, leaving them behind to sink beneath the rising waters. Years later, Nubians still hold fast to the dream of returning to the banks of the Nile; for them, life there was as good as it gets and the grief is still visible in their dark eyes.
Nubian Traditions & Culture
Nubia is a region that stretches from the south of Aswan in Egypt to Dongola in central Sudan. While all Nubians trace their lineage back to Ham, the son of Noah, or to one of his descendants, there are two distinct groups of Nubians based on language differences: Kenzi (Matoki) and Fadija (Mahas).
With a civilization that dates back to about 8000 BC, Nubian culture and traditions are very closely linked to the Nile. In Ancient Nubia, people would gather by the river, which inspired much of the art and dance dedicated to important ceremonies such as births, weddings, circumcisions, harvest festivals and even death. One of the most famous dances performed at weddings was Alarajid – derived from the word Arajid, meaning ‘dance’ – which involves young people clapping together to make a rhythm.
Nubians are known for their extreme generosity, cheerfulness, modesty, and youthful spirit, and they often express themselves through singing, dancing, and drum beating. Though some of these traditions have disappeared over time, they manage to keep their heritage alive by bequeathing folkloric tales of gold, gods and glory to each new generation.
Traditional clothes in Nubia are made of cotton and are adorned in distinct embroidery. Houses are built out of stone, clay and sand, and the arched roofs are usually covered with reed and grain stalks. Nubians have their own way of baking bread as well, with some connoisseurs claiming that their bread is some of the best in the world.
The Years of Flooding and Change
The initial construction of the Aswan Dam in 1912, which submerged most Nubian lands, houses and archaeological sites, is what first drove Nubians away from life around the Nile to the desert in the area of Kom Ombo, also known as New Nubia. In 1963, when the construction of the High Dam started, even more Nubian villages were threatened, causing the largest migration of Nubians from the area; the dam created one of the largest reservoirs of water – Lake Nasser. Some 98,000 Egyptian Nubians were forced to flee 39 villages and relocate to villages in Qena, Kom Ombo and Aswan.
Colorful Nubian Villages
Nubians treat their surroundings with utmost respect, and cruising down the Nile, the colorful walls of the villages along the banks tell countless stories about the people. Brightly painted gates adorn many of the simple mud-brick homes; with geo
metric shapes and hieroglyphic-like pictures, the painted flowers and patterns beautifully complement the subdued colors of the desert.
A typical Nubian house is spacious, with several large rooms to accommodate extended family and guests. In the center of each home is an open courtyard where large trees offer pleasant shade to its inhabitants. The women don’t cover their faces and readily speak to foreigners. When visiting these areas, it is not unusual to be invited inside one of the houses for a cup of tea. Hospitality is very important to Nubians, and if you ever have the chance to experience it, you are unlikely to forget it.
Gharb Soheil Village
Gharb Soheil is a village located south of Aswan, and is considered one of the few places left in Egypt whose nature, wildlife and simple beauty remains almost untouched. This tiny village was once worshiped by one of the earliest Egyptian deities, Khnum, the god of the source of the Nile.
Gharb Soheil is a village of some 2,000 inhabitants and a visit there will acquaint you with their unique culture, language, traditions, music, art crafts, embroideries, and food. Due to its rich cultural appeal and unrivaled scenery, Gharb Soheil is a sought out tourist destination where travelers can explore the many hidden charms of Nubian society.
Since there are no bridges between the banks in Aswan, feluccas and motorboats are the only way to get from one side to the other; tourists can go on various Nile excursions, from motorboat races between Aswan and Gharb Soheil, to sailing on a felucca and enjoying the breathtaking sunsets and remarkable scenery.
Other activities include sand boarding, desert hiking, and taking sand or mud baths. A souk with local crafts is available for shopping and tourists can get a traditional henna tattoo done as well. Visitors can also indulge in Nubian cuisine, coffee, music and dance, but most importantly, they can take the chance to visit different Nubian homes and learn more about their daily life.