In the dim light of the ancient Temple of Isis, Rodney Ryland
decides now is the time. The African-American tourist turns to his
girlfriend and asks her to marry him.
"If there was any place I should do it, it was in this place,
because of Isis Temple, built by us and for us," he says.
Mr. Ryland is fulfilling a lifelong dream to visit the land of
his ancestors. In particular, he's come to Egypt to see the
Pharaonic-style monuments built by Nubians - a people who have lived
for centuries along the Nile Valley in southern Egypt and northern
Sudan, and who for a time ruled ancient Egypt.
Ryland joins a growing group of Americans interested in learning
about this brilliant African culture, which is similar to the
Pharaohs' in many respects. This interest has resulted in an
increasing number of museums sponsoring Nubian exhibits, and in
"Nubia" popping up in organization titles, store names, and
In October, PBS aired a special on Africa, "Wonders of the
African World," which included a segment on Nubia.
But while the American public discovers this intriguing culture
of yesterday, the Nubians of today are fighting a desperate battle
to preserve traditions - such as their music, a mix of Arabic sounds
with African undertones, and the design of their mud-brick homes
along the Nile, each featuring a courtyard in the middle. More than
that, Nubians, who number about 3 million, are fighting for their
"Our people have become an endangered species," says Suad Ibrahim
Ahmed, a leading Nubian activist in Khartoum, Sudan. "The world's
animals are being protected. Why aren't people protecting us?"
For decades, flooding has forced Nubians to leave their homes
along a fertile 1,000-mile stretch of the river from Aswan south to
Sudan, tearing apart their social fabric and forcing them to
integrate into the larger and more influential societies of Egypt
and Sudan. Now, Nubians say, the Sudanese government is threatening
to build yet another dam that would flood the largest remaining
Nubian population center - along with invaluable Nubian
Sudanese Nubians still vividly remember moving to make way for
the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s. They were relocated to concrete
blocks of government tract housing miles into the desert. Egyptian
Nubians, meanwhile, moved into bland government housing more than
one mile from the Nile.
"The houses were a shock," says Magda Ali, a Nubian from Sudan,
who was 13 at the time. "There was nothing green. The windows were
made of aluminum, and the floors were covered with cement, instead
of lovely yellow sand."
Mindful of the past, Nubians are conducting demonstrations and
international letter-writing campaigns to oppose the new dam.
They're also supporting an Egyptian government agricultural project
that will relocate Nubians back to the Nile, south of Aswan. …