Daniel Williams of Bloomberg news tells us about the Nubian people and their efforts to preserve their own kind.
Singing songs and chatting in an ancient language, hundreds of cheerful Nubian travelers gathered at Alexandria’s railway station for a long pilgrimage to a lost homeland.
Exiles in their own country, they journeyed 18 hours to celebrate a Muslim holiday in southern Egypt’s Nile valley, a region their ancestors once dominated from a loose confederation of villages along the river banks.
In 1964, their shoreline was inundated when the Aswan High Dam created Lake Nasser, the world’s largest reservoir. Now the Egyptian government has floated plans to develop and populate land surrounding the lake -- without reserving space for Nubians. Activists in the ethnic minority say no fair: They want terrain set aside for new villages so their brethren can live again on the Nile, returning from a northern Egypt diaspora and arid settlements established 44 years ago for displaced families.
“The settlements are false Nubia,” said Haggag Oddoul, an author who has become an outspoken advocate for resettlement. “To restore our character and community, we need to be rerooted. We need to return.”
Nubians ruled Egypt in pharaonic times, their armies having ousted Libyan invaders. They speak their own, non-Arabic language and sing their songs to drum beats. The river was their economic lifeblood and fountain of memory, identity and lore. Central to old beliefs, it held the spirits of angels and holy men.
Nubians, now numbering about 3 million of Egypt’s 73 million people, have been leaving their stretch of the Nile valley for more than a century -- some because of poverty, some because of efforts to tame the river’s annual floods.
The first dam near Aswan was built in 1902; subsequent ones obliterated settlements further and further south until all of Egyptian Nubia was under water.
Khabairi Gamal, 70, unfurled a hand-drawn map of old Nubia for holiday visitors earlier this month in Aniba, one of the transplanted villages. Young Nubians are forgetting their past, he said, turning to Islam Fathi, 23, and asking where he was from originally.
“Well,” Fathi stammered with a smile.
“Go home and ask about your grandfather. Ask about it!” stormed Gamal, the village leader. “And do you know Nubian?”
“A few --”
“Learn it,” Gamal ordered. “You see, we have to move back. Otherwise, there will be no Nubia and no Nubians.”