Nubians - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Agriculture was and still is the basis of the Nubian economy. The scarcity of cultivable land was an outstanding feature of old Nubia. As a result, men migrated to cities to find work, and women were left to do the agricultural work. The Nubians in Egypt had two cultivation seasons, winter crops, shitwi, and summer crops, sifi. The Nubians in Wadi Haifa had, in addition, the flood cultivation, dameira. The Nubians depended on the rise and fall of the Nile water to irrigate winter crops. In summer cultivation, the Nubians used the shadof (water wheel) or buckets. Winter-crop season started in mid-October and ended in April. Some of the winter subsistence crops included millet, wheat, and barley. Peas and lentils were cash crops sold by the Sudanese Nubians at the Haifa market. Summer crops were the least important to the Nubian economy. Most crops were used for household consumption, and they included a variety of beans, okra, and some greens. The summer-crop cycle started in July and ended in September. The flood cultivations started in September and ended in December or January. Some of the dameira crops included lupines and tomatoes. In old Nubia, palm dates were an important subsistence crop. Transplanting palm shoots was governed by the Coptic calendar. There were two seasons for this activity. The first started around March and the second started around July. Dates were harvested from late August to late October, depending on the owner's desire for the texture of the date. The harvest of dates was a celebrated occasion in Nubia. In reality, dates and palm trees, writes Dafalla, "have affected many sides of the inhabitants' lives, and its traces could be observed everywhere. Its uses were varied and considerable and nothing was ever wasted" (1975). Today the Egyptian Nubians use their land to cultivate sugarcane as a cash crop sold at a government-regulated price. They use chemical fertilizers and modern modes of irrigation (perennial vs. basin). Other crops such as fruits and vegetables are rare, cultivated only by the well-to-do landowners. The Sudanese Nubians also use their land to cultivate a cash crop, namely cotton. They have had to cope with the requirements of cultivating vast lands, a practice that they were not used to in old Nubia. Dates are no longer part of the subsistence economy, either among Egyptian or Sudanese Nubians, owing to the environment of the resettlements. Women and men engage in different crafts. Women used to make utilitarian items—plates, mats, clothes, and so forth. Today Nubian women no longer engage in craftwork because household needs are readily available to them in the market. Nubian men leave blacksmithing, clay making, carpentry, weaving, and hair shaving to non-Nubians. They prefer to engage in crafts that are related directly to agriculture (e.g., making water wheels). After resettlement, many Nubian men worked as grocery-store owners and cab drivers.

Trade. The location of old Nubia made it difficult to navigate the Nile. After relocation, both the more accessible roads and integration into the cash economy contributed to an increase in trade activities in Egyptian and Sudanese Nubia.

Division of Labor. Prior to relocation, the scarcity of cultivable land forced Nubian men to emigrate to Cairo in search for jobs. Nubian women farmed the land, cared for animals and poultry, and performed domestic tasks. Since relocation, men have been cultivating the land because it is at quite a distance from the home. In cases where there is no able-bodied male to tend the land, a relative or hired helper from one of the surrounding Saidi villages does the work. Among the Sudanese Nubians, generous tenancies enabled many of the labor migrants to come back home after relocation and tend their land all year long. Labor in the home is still a woman's domain, but Nubian women also work outside the home as schoolteachers, government-center workers, and seamstresses.

Land Tenure. Prior to relocation four types of land tenure existed, each reflecting land use. These types were individual tenure, land inundated by the first Aswan dam, land on which the home was built, and clan land. Individual tenure included land used for cultivating winter crops and land on which irrigation projects were built; it was acquired by purchase. Land inundated by the building of the initial dam was inherited patrilineally by men only and had symbolic value. The home land was inside the hamlet and was usually located near the home. This type of land was not very common in Nubia and was inherited patrilineally by men only. Clan land was dispersed around the village and was passed on to leaders of the clan. Only men inherited this type of land, although prior to 1927 there were records of women inheriting. In New Nubia, as part of the relocation plan, Nubian families were allocated land individually in relation to size of family.

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