Nubia: Welcome to "God's Land'

New African, January 2005 | Go to article overview
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Nubia: Welcome to "God's Land'


Did you know there are twice as many pyramids in Sudan as there are in Egypt? When recalling humanity's eminent civilisations throughout history, one often thinks of Ancient Egypt, China, the Incas, Mayans, Greeks or the Romans. Never Nubia (Sudan) which, at its peak, presided over a mighty empire that covered great tracts of land through the Nile Valley, and which rivalled the power, influence and wealth of Ancient Egypt. Here, on the back of an ongoing exhibition in London mounted by the British Museum on Sudan, Past and Present, Stuart Price reveals the fascinating history and rise of Africa's Black Pharaohs over 6,000 years ago.

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When one thinks of Sudan, the images of the current suffering and chaos in the Darfur region supersede all others. But the country has a much more interesting and fascinating history than contemporary media reports would suggest. In the area which today straddles the regions of southern Egypt and northern Sudan, there once existed a most powerful and wealthy kingdom, ruled by compelling and authoritative kings.

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The empire of Nubia stretched along the length of the mighty River Nile from the confluence of the Blue and White Niles at where modern-day Khartoum stands, to as far as the Aswan Dam in Egypt. It was, according to Western historians, "the first known civilisation of Black Africa", but this can only be true if you consider Ancient Egypt as NOT a black African civilisation, which it indeed was, before the Arab conquest of 641 AD.

Attesting to the existence and greatness of Nubia in his book, Art, Politics and Cultural Identification in Sudan published in 2004, Prof Mohamed Abusabib (a Sudanese himself) writes: "According to archaeological records, a distinct culture located in the area north of Khartoum is regarded as the oldest in sub-Saharan Africa. This culture dates back 6,000 years and developed in two prehistoric stages, which are termed the Khartoum Neolithic and the Shaheinab.

"The Nubian civilisation, which existed until the year 350AD, subsequently developed on the banks of the Nile in today's northern Sudan and passed through three historical periods, Kerma (around 3,000 BC), Napata or Kush (9th century BC), and Meroi (7th century BC). Three independent kingdoms were then established following the decline of the Meroi Kingdom, namely, Maris or Nobatia in the far north, Makuria further south, and Alwa or Alodia around the confluence of the two Niles. Byzantine missionaries succeeded in converting these three kingdoms to Christianity in the years 543, 570, and 580 respectively.

"After their conquest of Egypt in 641 AD, the Arab Muslims faced the task of warding off attacks by the Christian Nubians. Following an indecisive victory over the Nubians, the Arab Muslims concluded a treaty known as the Baqt in 652 that formalised matters of mutual advantage, such as security and trade. The Nubian and successive Muslim governments in Egypt maintained an uneasy truce for seven centuries, during which bands of Arabs infiltrated into the southern areas of the Nubian kingdoms as merchants, miners, pilgrims or nomads. Political developments and power struggles within the Nubian political establishment in Makuria eventually led the Egyptians to impose a Muslim puppet upon the kingdom.

Today, the area over which the Nubian civilisation sat has become an environment whose climate is as inhospitable as it is harsh. But it was once a land of exceptional natural wealth blessed with gold, emeralds, copper and ebony--all highly valued by both the Nubians and their neighbours. At their peak, the Nubians invaded and conquered Egypt, ruling over it for more than 100 years and exerting their deep religious beliefs and resolute regard for tradition. Nubia's prominence outlasted that of Ancient Rome, Greece and Egypt combined, and at its height, was the centre of the ancient world.

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