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Where Arab Meets African

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By Karen E. LangePhotographs by Meredith Davenport



Outcasts in their own land, Sudan's Nuba hold on.




Read this compelling excerpt, or print the whole story.

Bearing loads home the only way they can, Nuba women walk through the hills where their people have often fled to escape the civil war, abandoning the surrounding plains. In 1985 the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), based in the south, infiltrated the Nuba Mountains, the Nuba homeland in central Sudan. Long discriminated against by the north's Arabized, Islamic majority, many Nubas—members of a minority that clings to indigenous traditions—joined the rebels. In response the government declared all Nuba the enemy; militias surrounded the mountains, occupied the towns, and terrorized the plains, burning villages and farms, and raping, killing, and abducting civilians. Seeking refuge in the hills, the Nuba could not grow enough to eat. Meanwhile Khartoum banned humanitarian aid flights, hoping to starve Nubas out. Tens of thousands died; hundreds of thousands were forced into government "peace camps." More than a million survive, 350,000 in rebel areas.

* * * * * *
Drunk on sorghum beer, Nubas at a peacemaking festival form a boisterous conga line, their bodies decorated with bits of fur, beads, mud—whatever they can find. "There were suddenly a hundred people dancing in a frenzy," says photographer Meredith Davenport. "The mayhem reached its zenith with men and women running toward a hill to wrestle. Three or four groups rolled around in a cloud of dust, laughing—women were taking men down to the ground!" Later, during a more sober ceremony, the clan kujurs, or medicine men, symbolically buried the preceding year's problems in hopes of a better future.

In 2001 a government offensive almost wiped out the Nuba. Last year a U.S.-brokered cease-fire ended fighting in the Nuba Mountains, brought UN relief flights, and led to negotiations for peace for all of Sudan. But the status of the Nuba has yet to be settled. Will they, like the south, have a chance at autonomy and a vote on their future? Having held out since 1985, the Nuba now face new challenges: How to manage outside aid without losing their self-reliance and achieve peace with the right to be themselves.

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Hear poignant passages of laughter, friendship, and hope from photographer Meredith Davenport's diary, a chronicle of her time among the Nuba.


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Immerse yourself in the song and celebration of Nuba life.



More to Explore

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
Nuba wrestling, practiced for over 3,000 years, is one of the oldest forms of this ancient sport. The earliest known portrayal of Nubian wrestlers is found on a wall painting from the tomb of Tyanen, an Egyptian officer who died in 1410 B.C. While it is known that Egyptians recruited Nubian archers into their army, maybe this picture implies that Nubian wrestlers were also highly valued by the Egyptians. "Nubian" is a common term the Egyptians used to describe all brown- and black-skinned people living to the south. After studying the various wall paintings depicting Nubian wrestlers and comparing them to the myriad tribes in what is now modern-day Sudan, archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians have determined that the Nubas of southern Kordofan are most likely the descendants of the ancient Nubian wrestlers.

Ancient Greek wrestling and Nuba wrestling are similar in style—the wrestlers are nude and score by takedowns (not pinning). These wrestlers can use their entire body, but modern Greco-Roman-style wrestling allows the competitors to use only their upper bodies for takedowns. Nuba wrestling, however, most likely predates Greek wrestling by several hundred years and has remained essentially unchanged for millennia.

Wrestling is more than just a sport to the Nubas—it is a seminal part of their culture with both social and religious purposes. Boys prepare for manhood through wrestling competitions. Successful wrestlers achieve a higher status that follows them through life. Wrestling also has connections with fertility rites, ancestral worship, and animistic beliefs. It is so intertwined with all aspects of Nuba culture, it is feared that if the Nuba were to lose wrestling, it might cause them to lose other customs.

—Marisa Larson

Did You Know?


Related Links
Nuba Survival
www.nubasurvival.com
Explore a comprehensive site on Nuba culture through photographs, Web links, and lists of books, films, and organizations dealing with the Nuba and their situation in Sudan.

The Nuba Mountains Home Page
go.to/NubaMountains
This site is an extensive online source of information about the war in the Nuba Mountains.

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Bibliography
Rahhal, Suleiman Musa. The Right to Be Nuba: The Story of a Sudanese People's Struggle for Survival. The Red Sea Press, 2001.

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NGS Resources
"Ethnolinguistic Map of the Peoples of Africa," Map Supplement, National Geographic (December 1971)

Luz, Oskar. "Proud Primitives, the Nuba People," National Geographic (November 1966), 672-99.

Strachan, Robin. "With the Nuba Hillmen of Kordofan," National Geographic (February 1951), 249-78.

Cooper, Merian C. "Two Fighting Tribes of the Sudan," National Geographic (October 1929), 464-86.


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