Nubians - Orientation

Identification. The Nubians are a non-Arab Muslim population who lived in the geographical region known as Nubia in southern Egypt and northern Sudan. One hundred and twenty thousand Nubians were relocated beginning in 1964 because their villages were inundated by the Aswan High Dam Lake. Some argue that the name "Nubians" derives from a word in the Nubian language meaning "slaves," but others say that the ancient Egyptian word nab meant "gold" and that the Ancient Egyptians used that term to refer to the Nubian Valley because of the gold mines that were nearby. Another source mentions that the word nebed appeared in an inscription of Thotmes I (1450 B . C .) to designate people with curly hair who were invaded by the Pharoe.

Location. The Nubians lived until 1964 in a boundaryless geographical region known as Nubia, the southern edge of which lay along latitude 19° N, in village clusters along the banks of the Nile. The river, south of Aswan, is broken by five stony passages known as "cataracts." Nubia stretched from Aswan in Upper Egypt in the north, at the Nile's First Cataract, to the Republic of Sudan in the south, for some 300 kilometers, midway between the Third and Fourth cataracts. After 1964, and before the Aswan High Dam Lake inundated a large portion of their land, the Egyptian Nubians were relocated to reclaimed land in Komombo in the governorate of Aswan, 50 kilometers north of the city of Aswan. The Sudanese Nubians were resettled at Khashm al-Girba in what was eventually known as the New Haifa Project, 800 kilometers away from their original homeland.

Demography. The Nubian community, both in Sudan and Egypt, barely reproduced itself prior to resettlement. At a time when the larger society was experiencing an annual population increase ranging from 2.5 to 3.0 percent, Nubia was experiencing a population decline. Ever decreasing land availability owing to the construction of the Aswan Dam earlier in the twentieth century led to the emigration of males to cities. An imbalance existed in the sex ratio, especially in the middle-range age. Such an imbalance further led to natural decrease in the population. Among the Egyptian Nubians this population pattern was maintained after relocation. Among the Sudanese Nubians, population has increased since relocation. Many emigrants came back after relocation to settle, because the land acreage they were granted by the government was generous. Today the Sudanese Nubians have almost doubled their population in certain villages and have even tripled their population in New Wadi Haifa.

Linguistic Affiliation. According to Rouchdy (1991, 4) the Nubian languages, excluding Arabic, are classified as Eastern Sudanic languages, a branch of the Nilo-Saharan Group. The Nubians generally can be divided into four groups, each inhabiting a separate part of the Nubian Valley and speaking a different language. The groups, according to Fahim (1983, 10-11), are the Kenuz, the Arabs, the Nubians (Fadija), and the Halfans. The Kenuz, who prior to resettlement occupied the territory from Aswan south along the Nile for a distance of 150 kilometers, spoke a dialect called Metouki. Today the Kenuz still live in the northernmost region in relation to the rest of the Nubians, northeast of Komombo. The Arabs, who lived before resettlement in the next 40 kilometers south of the Kenuz, spoke Arabic. Today this group lives east of Komombo in Aswan. The Nubians (who are often referred to as "Fadija," a derogatory term the northern groups use to connote alien status) who live in the southern extremity of Egypt and north of Sudan speak Mahas. Today the Nubians live southeast of Komombo in Aswan. The Sudanese Nubians, Halfans, who originally resided in Wadi Haifa south of the Egyptian border, have their own dialect known as "Sukkot."

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