The Egyptian and Sudanese Nubians – an unreached people in the Nile Valley
It is almost impossible to visit the bigger cities in Sudan or Egypt without coming in contact with Nubians. The tall dark skinned people are ethnically distinct from the Arabs of the countries they are living in.
Geographically, the Nubian region can be called the corridor to Africa, linking sub-Saharan Africa and Egypt. As a narrow ribbon of the fertile Nile-Valley it stretches between the first cataract at Aswan and the fourth cataract near al-Debba.
The Nubians are an ethnic minority which occupies the Nile Valley between the first and fourth cataract. That is why they are also called Nile Nubians. In their ethnicity they are different from the many people groups of the Nuba Mountains in western Sudan.
In terms of their religious preference and convictions the Nubians are faithful adherents of Sunni Islam of the Melkite theological school. Yet, many Nubians still participate in folk Islamic and Animistic practices and a considerable number of men are adherents of Sufi orders.
In Egypt and the Sudan, the language of the Nubians is colloquially called: Rutana. Its Arabic meaning is “to speak unintelligibly”. This derogative term is sometimes even used by the Nubians themselves.
Many Nubians have left their homeland due to internal and external reasons. Agricultural resources in Old Nubia have always been limited. Therefore, the development of a complementary system of economic organization, consisting of consuming households in the villages and producing units in the cities, which has enabled the society to survive as a whole despite these limitations, was a sensible step.
There is no doubt, that a resurgence of ethnic identity among the various Nubian subgroups in connection with the resettlement policies of the 1960s is taking place. The traumatic event of the resettlement can be considered the main cause for the renaissance among the Nubians.
It is an interesting fact that the Nubians were Christians for almost 1000 years in the Middle Ages. The Nubians of today happily admit their Christian past. The Nubian kingdoms (Nobadia in the north with its capital Faras; Makuria with its capital Old Dongola and Alodia with its capital Soba) officially converted to Christianity about AD 540.
What were the reasons for the downfall of Christianity in Nubia?
1. The motives which led to the Christianization of Nubia (in the 6th cent.) are much debatable. The Roman emperor Justinian had obviously political reasons, his wife Theodora had more religious ambitions (monophysitic theology).
Christian outreach in the 20th cent. Started with the vision of Grattan Guinness and Karl Kumm. It was their ambition to reach the unreached peoples of the whole Sudan Belt. Therefore they founded the Sudan Pioneer Mission in Aswan in 1900 and employed among others a Nubian convert.