Nuba is a generic name for the group of amalgamated peoples who inhabit the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan state, in Sudan. Although the term is used to describe them as if they composed a single group, the Nuba are multiple distinct peoples and speak different languages. Estimates of the Nuba population vary widely; the Sudanese government estimated that they numbered 3.7 million. The Nuba people are one of the African people with the most blackest phenotype and originators of wrestling game in the world.

                                              Nuba woman  and her child from Nuba mountain, South Sudan

The main Nuba Tribes are:
Moro, Ottoro, Heiban, Leira, Koalib, Shawai, Tira, Miri, Acheron, Fungor, Kau, Nyaro, Lukha, Masakin, Kuku Lumun, Tacho, Turuna, Lafofa, Kadugli, Talodi, Tegali, Tulushi, Keiga, Kanga, Katcha, Dilling,Nymang, Tima, Katla, Korongo, Tumtum,Temin, Um Danab, Lugori, Sabori, Tillo, Shatt, Affiti, Kaderu, Julud, Wali, Karko, Hugeirat, Dalokah, Daju,Ghulfan, Turug,Tingal, Kajaja,Dair,Chioro, Rashad, Tagoi, Tumali,Tumma, and Moreb.
Nuba tribe man

 Some of the tribes mentioned above are big and compromise within themselves several smaller subgroups. Keiga, Tira,Ghulfan, Korongo are the best examples for such complexity.

                                 Nuba warriors holding spear.oskarlewis
Geography and Population
The geography of the region is central to its history. The Nuba hills themselves rise sharply from the plains, sometimes in long ranges, sometimes as isolated massifs or single crags. They rise some 500-1000 metres from the surrounding plains. The mountains are rocky, with cultivable hillslopes and valleys. Though they dominate the landscape, the area covered by the hills themselves is less than a third of the total area of the Nuba Mountains; the remainder of the land is extensive clay plains, some forested, some farmed. It is some of the most fertile land in Sudan—a fact that is both a blessing and a curse to the Nuba. While drought-induced famine is almost unknown in the Nuba Mountains, the fertile soils have also attracted the attention of

 The total number of Nuba is not known. The 1955/6 census was the only systematic attempt to enumerate Sudan's different ethnic groups, and found 572,935 Nuba, 61% of the population of South Kordofan. But by that stage there was already large-scale labour migration, so at least another five per cent must be added to the figure. On the basis of subsequent censuses and population growth statistics, it can be estimated that by the time the war intensified in 1989, the Nuba population was more than 1.3 million, plus migrants.
Since then, the number in the Nuba Mountains has probably decreased, due to deaths, fewer births, and mass outmigration to Khartoum. There has also been massive population movement within the Nuba Mountains, with hundreds of thousands forcibly displaced to government towns and "peace camps", and a large number living as internal refugees in the areas secured by the SPLA. Currently, the best estimate for the population under the administration of the SPLA is about 200,000 people; those under government control number about one million

                                            Nuba people
The Nuba Mountains area is a “beautiful mosaic” of languages and dialects, which vary considerably according to the different ethnic groups, tribes and zones. Most of the Nuba peoples speak one of the many languages in the geographic Kordofanian languages group of the Nuba Mountains. This language group is in the major Niger–Congo languages family. Several Nuba languages are in the Nilo-Saharan languages family.

The Nuba peoples possess extraordinarily rich and varied cultures and traditions. Sometimes it is said that they live on "ninety-nine hills". A measure of the variety of Nuba cultures can be obtained by looking at the linguistic variety, as summarised by an early anthropologist of the Nuba, Siegfried Nadel:
It has been said that there are as many Nuba languages as there are
hills. This is but a slight exaggeration. Students of the Nuba
languages have reduced this bewildering complexity to certain
comprehensive categories.."
Nuba warrior

More recently, the noted linguist of the Nuba, Roland Stevenson, classified more than fifty Nuba languages and dialect clusters into ten separate groups. In 1963 Joseph Greenberg added them to the Niger–Congo family, creating his Niger–Kordofanian proposal. The Kordofanian languages have not been shown to be more distantly related than other branches of Niger–Congo, however, nor have they been shown to constitute a valid group. Today the Kadu family is excluded, and the others usually included in Niger–Congo proper.

Roger Blench notes that the Talodi and Heiban families have the noun-class systems characteristic of the Atlantic–Congo core of Niger–Congo, but that the two Katla languages have no trace of ever having had such a system, whereas the Kadu languages and some of the Rashad languages appear to have acquired noun classes as part of a Sprachbund rather than having inherited them. He concludes that Talodi and Heiban are core Niger–Congo whereas Katla and Rashad form a peripheral branch along the lines of Mande.
 There is thus more linguistic diversity within the Nuba Mountains than the entire rest of Sudan, and indeed as much diversity as the whole of Africa south of the Equator. To give one illustration: the Katla language is linguistically closer to Shona and Ndebele than it is to the Nyima language, whose speakers live on the next range of hills. (Nyima belongs to the Nilo-Saharan language group, along with Dinka, Acholi and others, whereas Katla, like the majority of Nuba languages, is in the Niger-Kordofanian group, which includes Bantu languages.)

Over one hundred languages are spoken in the area and are considered Nuba languages, although many of the Nuba also speak Sudanese Arabic, the official language of Sudan.
Below is  Roland Stevenson`s classification of Nuba languages;
A- Languages:
                 Heiban, Laro, Tira, Talodi, El Liri, Miri, Kadugli, Katcha, Korongo, Nymang, Affitti, Temin, Keiga Jirru, Katla, Tima, Daju, koalib.

B- Dialects and dialect clusters:
                 Moro, Shawai, Fungur, Kau, Nyaro, Werni, Lukah, Masakin, Acheron, Kuku Lumun, Tacho, Lafofa, Tegali, Rashad, Tingal, Kajaja, Tagoi, Yumale, Moreb, Tulushi, Keiga,Kanga, Tumma, Tumtum, Kamdang, Turug, Abu sinun, Chiruro, Liguri, Sabori, Tillow, Daloka, Shatt, Dair, Kadaro,Gulfan, El Hugeirat,Dilling, Karko, wali.

The Heiban languages, also called Koalib or Koalib–Moro, and the Talodi languages, also called Talodi–Masakin, are closely related.

Lafofa (Tegem) was for a time classified with Talodi, but appears to be a separate branch of Niger–Congo.

The number of Rashad languages, also called Tegali–Tagoi, varies among descriptions, from two (Williamson & Blench 2000), three (Ethnologue), to eight (Blench ms). Tagoi has a noun-class system like the Atlantic–Congo languages—apparently borrowed,—while Tegali does not.

Katla languages
The two Katla languages have no trace of ever having had a Niger–Congo-type noun-class system.

Kadu languages
Since Schadeberg 1981c, the "Tumtum" or Kadu branch is now widely seen as Nilo-Saharan. However, the evidence is slight, and a conservative classification would treat it as an independent family.

The Nuba Hills or South Kordufan is a part of the greater Kordufan region and shares its specific history as a region, together with the Sudanese history as whole. Due to the insignificance of the area for the historians in writing its history relied mostly on the ancient manuscripts and documents of the ancient neighbouring kingdoms of Sinnar and Darfur, together with the oral traditions of the natives of Kordufan(2-Kordufan and the region to the west of the Nile, London 1912, p. 75), on the other hand, the specific history Nuba people is linked necessarily to that of the ancient Nubian Christian Kingdoms of  North Sudan.

The most probable hypothesis held on by most researches, is that which considers Nuba “ancestors” to be the “original inhabitants”  or the remnants of indigenous populations that once lived of Kurdufan region from the earliest epochs of history, backed by the fact that the name “Kordufan” itself is believed to be of Nubian derivative related to the two terms of “Kuldo”, which means “man” and “fan” which means country.
The Nuba as a people have had their identity defined by outsiders. They are themselves a cluster of more than fifty different ethnic groups, thrown together by a common experience of oppression and discrimination by outsiders, notably the ruling elite of Sudan.

 The Nuba share South Kordofan with Sudanese Arabs, cattle herders such as the Misiriya Zurug and Hawazma (collectively known as "Baggara"—which means simply "cattle people"), and some camel herders such as the Hamar and Shanabla. Some Nuba groups historically developed close relations with the Baggara while others were isolated from them, but the relationship was always one of underlying suspicion. The advent of the Baggara was one main factor in driving the Nuba to the mountains. A second category of Arabs includes slave raiders Nakhasa who later became Jellaba traders from Khartoum and the Northern Nile valley, and Arab soldiers and administrators. This was during Turko-Egyptian period, which was the worst ever, for the policy of Mohammed Ali was that of obtaining slaves for their armies, money and domestic services, hundreds or thousands of Nuba were carried out as slaves by the raiders from the authorities or by other groups of (Nakhasa)  Heavy taxes were normally paid in form of slaves.

This situation continued until the period of the “Mahedia”, when slave raids were intensified in order to strengthen the Mahdia forces, this situation reached its peak in 1896 when the “Khalifa” ordered his commanders or the “Amirs” to mobilize all the tribes under their administration to marsh with the army to Omdurman and so entire villages on their way were both emptied and destroyed.
These urban Arabs (Jellaba) represent the power of the Sudanese state, and the basic reason for their presence in the Nuba Mountains was—and is—to bring the area and its peoples under the writ of central government.

SUDAN. Kordofan. The Nubas. A Korongo Nuba girl. Cicatrice designs on her chest are made by cutting the flesh and rubbing in wood ash. The gourd carried on her head contains local beer. George Rodger

 The central theme of Nuba history is the tension between political incorporation into the state of Sudan and the maintenance of local identity. There is an irony here. Local, tribal identities are strong. But, until recently, many Nuba villagers had no conception of the wider community of the Nuba as a whole. They had little reason to travel to other Nuba areas; if they left their villages, it was to travel to towns, or outside the region altogether. Only in towns would a sense of Nuba identity as such emerge, when the Nuba saw how they were treated by the urban elites. It is this common experience of discrimination and repression that has created a unified Nuba identity.

It is extremely important to know the origin of the title Nuba itself, which will reveal some important elements of their history as whole. The Greek title “ Nuba” was first used the Greek writer “Aristothrenes” (born in 276 Bc.), to describe the native inhabitants of the Nile banks from “Merawi” downwards; the same Greek Term (Nuba) later took the Latin form ( (Nobatae) and (Nubai), to describe the native inhabitants of the zones west of the Nile, which were believed to be originally form Kurdufan or Darfur. The term (Nuba) itself was used by the Ancient Egyptians to refer to the “dark-skinned of coarse hair”, inhabitants, found just next to them in south of Egypt, which were utilized as slaves for the extraction of gold or “Nub” in the ancient Egyptian language, that was abundant in their areas.
Nuba woman with tribal body marks. Circa 1896

According to Arabic language, the term “Nuba” is the plural form of the word “Naib”, which means “bees” that fly and return “ Nub” to their abode or hive, the title “Nob”  is used to refer to them because of their dark colour, which is similar to that of the “Sudanese” (Lisaan el Arab). We can generally say that the terms “Nuba” and “Nubiin” were used by the Arabs to refer to the dark inhabitants or “the Sudanese”, the same term “Nuba” was generalized later to refer to all dark inhabitants whatsoever, who were considered as “slaves” who could be raided and enslaved, in order to be sold thereafter and this argument will be treated later.

                                                         Nuba people

The names given to the Nuba tribes are often themselves the work of Arab outsiders—and reflect racist attitudes. The indigenous name for one tribe, Legalege, was replaced with the Arabic Kawalib—literally, "dogs." The name Ghulfan means "uncircumcised." Mesakin translates as "poor," "harmless" or "miserable" and it groups together two unrelated tribes, the Mesakin Tuwal ("Tall Mesakin") and Mesakin Qisar ("Short Mesakin"). Some place names are also offensive or degrading. Among intellectuals in the SPLA, there is now an attempt to return to traditional Nuba names for places and tribes.
Nuba girl showing triba body marks

he colour of skin in the Nuba varies in degree from darker to fairer depending on the different ethnic group. The same goes for the height, for we can find some groups of taller giants such as the Korongo and Masakin Twal, while others like Tira are stouter, but the majority are in between these two extremes. Generally, the Nuba possesses a well-built body, which is due to some genetic elements peculiar to them, together with the type of food they take.
 Another factor is that they are hard-working people, due to the demands of life in an environment like theirs, where everyone has to work hard to build his house, earn his living through cultivation and other activities such as making beds, cutting grass and trees. They are moreover characterized by their bravery, courage, patience, kindness and hospitality, which together with their strong physical structure makes them fit for all types of hard work; this obviously, had been the main reason which exposed them to slavery and abuse by others.

 In order to understand Nuba way of life and culture, it is extremely important to know the structure of their society. Every Nuba tribe compromises several sub- groups or clans, which might either be Matrilineal (following the line of the mother), or Patrilineal(following the line of the father) and the main laws governing each, regarding obligations, rights and taboos. The first right for every individual is that of knowing his belonging to a certain clan and tribe. This belonging to the clan and the tribe entails that the individual has to pass through all the rites from the moment of his birth, up to that of his/her death, as a part of the clan and the tribe, together with the observation of the specific taboos according to the tribe and clan, where communion with the member of the family, clan and tribe is shown during such events.
Birth constitutes an important moment in the life of the individual, that marks a great moment of joy for the family and the clan as whole; it is usually celebrated in some tribes by having both the heads of the mother and the newborn shaved, as a sign of expiation and purification together with the slaughtering of an animal as a sacrifice, which they will share together as a family banquet. As the child grows and reaches a certain age and together with his/her age group have to undergo certain rites of acceptance into the appropriate age group, hence becoming a full member of it and taking the full responsibility in what regards rights, obligations and taboos. The rites of acceptance into the age group as an adult, is an important moment in his life, for it is usually a moment in which one has to prove his worthiness for such a social rank. This becomes evident usually by the courage shown, in enduring its painful and hard moments of cicatrisation with firmness and enthusiasm. They usually undergo a kind of cicatrisation on some parts of their bodies, mainly the chest, the upper arm, and the sides of the head for males, while for ladies it extends to their bellies and backs, according to the customs of the their specific clan. Individuals who carry out this process are usually experts in it. It is interesting to recognize to tribe and the clan to which the individual belongs, just by merely seeing them. In some other tribes the front low incisors are removed, while ears and noses are pierced for wearing earrings and nose rings and young people usually wear strings of coloured beads round the neck and the waist for ladies as ornaments. Women of some tribes pierce the middle part of under their lower lips and fix a piece of wood in it as an ornament. Most individuals smear their bodies with oil specially ladies, wile others may use ashes instead or some special colours.
There are specific taboos for every clan, which are to be observed by their members, such as some animals, which they cannot kill, eat, nor even touch such as squirrels for some clans, because of the special relation they believe to have with such animals. Some types of food also such as (milk and meat) can never be eaten by members of some tribes, together with members of other clans, or the wife’s mother who can never eat in front of the husband of her daughter, out of shame. Breaking the taboos is believed to cause Leprosy, paralysis or blindness for the one who commits it and may extend even to his family, hence certain rituals of expiation or purification should be carried out by the “ Kujur”, who represent the priestly figure acts as a mediator between them and the spirits of their ancestors.      
Nuba tribes have special tribal names for boys and girls which show their order by birth in the family, such as ( KuKu, Tia, Kori, Kafi, Kalo, Ngalo, Komi and Kunda) for males and( Totu, Kiki, Kama, Koshe, Kani) for females, which varies from a tribe to another, but the they should restart form the beginning again when reaching a certain number and so it is easy to recognize the order of birth of the individual by knowing his tribal name. Other rites for marriage, inheritance, burial and widowhood follow the specific laws and taboos of the clan to which the individual belongs. Marriage in almost all Nuba clans, usually takes place between individuals who belong to different clans, because within the same clan they are considered as brothers and sisters, on the other hand, the same goes for close relatives who are considered as members of one’s own family.

Nuba people express their joy by dancing and singing, for they are by nature a merry joyous group.  There are different types of dances, which vary according to the tribes and the most famous of their dances are the “Kambala” in which men wear cattle horns on the heads and “Bokhsa” in which pipes of gourds are blown. Ladies and women usually sing, while others dance. There are many types of musical instruments used such as “Rabbaba”, drums and a variety of other percussion instruments.
Contests and sports are important in Nuba society in which the young have to prove their strength. The most famous types of contests are wrestling, stick fighting and fights with wrings that have sharpened edges. These contests are usually carried out between members of different clans of the same tribe or between different tribes.

The war in the Nuba Mountains raises the most profound question about the identity and destiny of the Sudanese nation. Whereas the war in the South is increasingly concerned with the issue of whether the South should be part of a single state, or separate, the war in the Nuba Mountains raises the question of the basic premise on which the state exists in the North itself.

                                                                         Nuba woman

 The current government in Khartoum has an ambitious project for remoulding Sudan as a homogenous, Arabised, extremist Islamic state. According to all democratic principles, the Nuba should be entitled to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, religion and choosing their own political representation. But, for the Nuba to obtain recognition as a legitimate, indigenous group of peoples with their own identities and religions (including tolerant Islam) would be a challenge to the very foundations of the present government's
Nuba man holding his child, Nuba Mountain

The Nuba Mountains lie in the geographical centre of Sudan, covering an area of about 30,000 square miles in South Kordofan. This area lies north of the internal North-South frontier. Although the SPLA has recently spoken of the possibility of the Nuba Mountains joining the South as a separate state, this is not countenanced by any Northern political parties, and is a highly controversial proposal among the Nuba themselves. The Nuba have become integrated into the Sudanese state—socially, economically and politically. That integration has been on very adverse terms, which is the reason for the war.

 The Nuba as a people have had their identity defined by outsiders. They are themselves a cluster of more than fifty different ethnic groups, thrown together by a common experience of oppression and discrimination by outsiders, notably the ruling elite of Sudan. The Nuba share South Kordofan with Sudanese Arabs, cattle
herders such as the Misiriya Zurug and Hawazma (collectively known as "Baggara"—which means simply "cattle people"), and some camel herders such as the Hamar and Shanabla. Some Nuba groups historically developed close relations with the Baggara while others were isolated from them, but the relationship was always one of underlying suspicion. The advent of the Baggara was one main factor in driving the Nuba to the mountains. A second category of Arabs includes Jellaba traders from Khartoum and the Northern Nile
valley, and Arab soldiers and administrators. These urban Arabs represent the power of the Sudanese state, and the basic reason for their presence in the Nuba Mountains was—and is—to bring the area and its peoples under the writ of central government.
Nuba man

 The central theme of Nuba history is the tension between political incorporation into the state of Sudan and the maintenance of local identity. There is an irony here. Local, tribal identities are strong. But, until recently, many Nuba villagers had no conception of the wider community of the Nuba as a whole. They had little reason to travel to other Nuba areas; if they left their villages, it was to travel to towns, or outside the region altogether. Only in towns would a sense of Nuba identity as such emerge, when the Nuba saw how they were treated by the urban elites. It is this common experience of discrimination and repression that has created a unified Nuba identity.

 The very word "Nuba" itself is not indigenous in any Nuba language. Essentially, "Nuba" was used by Egyptians and Northern Sudanese from the Nile to refer to black people to their south, whom they considered enslaveable. The names given to the Nuba tribes are often themselves the work of Arab outsiders—and reflect racist attitudes. The indigenous name for one tribe, Legalege, was replaced with the Arabic Kawalib—literally, "dogs." The name Ghulfanmeans "uncircumcised." Mesakin translates as "poor," "harmless" or "miserable" and it groups together two unrelated tribes, the Mesakin Tuwal ("Tall Mesakin") and Mesakin Qisar ("Short Mesakin"). Some place names are also offensive or degrading. Among intellectuals in the SPLA, there is now an attempt to return to traditional Nuba names for places and tribes.

Geography and Population
The geography of the region is central to its history. The Nuba hills themselves rise sharply from the plains, sometimes in long ranges, sometimes as isolated massifs or single crags. They rise some 500-1000 metres from the surrounding plains. The mountains are rocky, with cultivable hillslopes and valleys. Though they dominate the landscape, the area covered by the hills themselves is less than a third of the total area of the Nuba Mountains; the remainder of the land is extensive clay plains, some forested, some farmed. It is some of the most fertile land in Sudan—a fact that is both a blessing and a curse to the Nuba. While drought-induced famine is almost unknown in the Nuba Mountains, the fertile soils have also attracted the attention of
 The total number of Nuba is not known. The 1955/6 census was the only systematic attempt to enumerate Sudan's different ethnic groups, and found 572,935 Nuba, 61% of the population of South Kordofan. But by that stage there was already large-scale labour migration, so at least another five per cent must be added to the figure. On the basis of subsequent censuses and population growth statistics, it can be estimated that by the time the war intensified in 1989, the Nuba population was more than 1.3 million, plus migrants.
Since then, the number in the Nuba Mountains has probably decreased, due to deaths, fewer births, and mass outmigration to Khartoum. There has also been massive population movement within the Nuba Mountains, with hundreds of thousands forcibly displaced to government towns and "peace camps", and a large number living as internal refugees in the areas secured by the SPLA. Currently, the best estimate for the population under the administration of the SPLA is about 200,000 people; those under government control number about one million.
Most of the people in the Nuba Mountains belong to the myriad Nuba tribes. But the presence of other groups indigenous to the area must not be overlooked. Perhaps one quarter of the inhabitants of the
the region are Arabs, mainly pastoralists, traders and civil servants. There are also non-Arab groups, principally the Daju (an offshoot of a Darfur tribe, living south of Lagowa) and Fellata communities
spread throughout the area. The Fellata are descendants of West African immigrants to Sudan, and are farmers, herders and traders.

                                         Nuba people

A "Bewildering Complexity" of Cultures
The Nuba peoples possess extraordinarily rich and varied cultures and traditions. Sometimes it is said that they live on "ninety-nine hills". A measure of the variety of Nuba cultures can be obtained by looking at the linguistic variety, as summarised by an early anthropologist of the Nuba, Siegfried Nadel:
It has been said that there are as many Nuba languages as there are
hills. This is but a slight exaggeration. Students of the Nuba
languages have reduced this bewildering complexity to certain
comprehensive categories..."

 More recently, the noted linguist of the Nuba, Roland Stevenson, classified more than fifty Nuba languages and dialect clusters into ten separate groups.
 There is thus more linguistic diversity within the Nuba Mountains than the entire rest of Sudan, and indeed as much diversity as the whole of Africa south of the Equator. To give one illustration: the Katla language is linguistically closer to Shona and Ndebele than it is to the Nyima language, whose speakers live on the next range of hills. (Nyima belongs to the Nilo-Saharan language group, along with Dinka, Acholi and others, whereas Katla, like the majority of Nuba languages, is in the Niger-Kordofanian group, which includes Bantu languages.)
Cultural diversity is equally marked. The common elements in traditional Nuba culture essentially reflect the way in which dissimilar groups have adjusted to living in similar conditions. One of these common elements is the farming system. The Nuba are largely farmers, cultivating fields in the hills, at the foot of the hills, and in the plains. The hill farms (sometimes called "near farms") can be elaborately terraced, or gardens divided into small plots by lines of stones, and sometimes they are irrigated. Farms in the clay plains (sometimes called "far farms") are generally larger and more productive. The main crops are sorghum, beans and sesame, grown during a single rainy season that lasts from May-June until September. The harvest is gathered during November-January. All smallholder cultivation is by hand.
 Dependence on the rain has contributed to many rituals around rainfall in many Nuba tribes, with ceremonies to encourage the rain.
Nuba Kau tribe woman

 The need for social and political relations between different Nuba tribes has also contributed to the emergence of similar political and judicial institutions in many groups. Tribes may share the institutions of "ambassadors" and judicial methods for resolving disputes. Over the last century, with an administration in common, and the use of Arabic as a lingua franca, much more of a common culture has developed.

 In all other respects, one Nuba tribe can differ hugely from another in its music or dance, or its forms of social organization, or the corpus of beliefs in its traditional religion. Some tribes, mainly in the south-eastern jebels, are well-known for their body art, specialising in body painting and elaborate scarification. Some are
famous for wrestling, or other sports such as stick fighting or bracelet fighting (the latter have long been discouraged because of the serious physical injuries that often occur). The photographer George Rodgers, the film-maker Leni Riefenstahl, and the ethnographer James Faris have made these aspects of Nuba culture well-known to western audiences. (It is precisely these same qualities that attracted the embarrassment and displeasure of the Sudanese authorities.)

Universal among the Nuba is a love of music and dancing, though the styles are again extremely varied. The musicologist Gerd Baumann describes the role of music and dancing among the Miri:
"Music and dance are not the preserve of specialists or even
professionals, but a normal part of every individual's life
experience.... In a village of upwards of 450 people, such as Miri
Bara, there is no person, whether hard of hearing, crippled, or
insane, that does not engage in music or dance on a number of
occasions each month, and there is not a day when music or dance
are not performed in one compound or another, in a field that is
being cultivated, or in the village square. Far from being an
occasional diversion, music and dance form an intrinsic part of
social life."
 The Nuba have adapted and incorporated other musical styles. The Northern Sudanese love-song genre daluka has been widely adopted (and sometimes adapted) by Nuba singers, who have developed their own expertise in performance. Nuba tribes have also adopted some of the dances of their Arab neighbours, notably the Baggara, which are performed for entertainment and variety.

A Brief History
Recorded history refers to only a handful of Nuba groups, but it is possible to reconstruct the general historical processes that moulded the Nuba peoples. Most probably, the Nuba represent the remnants of
indigenous populations that once lived far more widely across Sudan.
Over the centuries, powerful states raided the black populations of Sudan for slaves. From the treaty of Baqt in AD 652 for six hundred years, Christian Nubia (along the Nile) had to pay a tribute of 360 slaves, which came from Fazughli and the Nuba Mountains. Later, powerful states developed in the Funj (on the Nile) and Dar Fur (to the west), which continued to raid for slaves in Kordofan. The groups that were attacked and raided retreated to places of refuge, where they would be hard to find and could defend themselves.
In the sixteenth century, Arab pastoralists began to penetrate South Kordofan from both east and west. They moved with their livestock on the plains, also taking slaves, both on their own behalf and for sale to commercial interests in Khartoum and further north.
Nuba people

 A recent Nuba arrival is the Shatt, a group whose history is almost certainly characteristic of many other Nuba tribes. The Shatt migrated from the west, probably in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. They were driven from South Darfur by the attacks of the Dar Fur slavers and the encroachment of the Rizeigat
Arab cattle-herders, and moved to a cluster of hills south of what is now Kadugli. Like others before them, they became Nuba, while retaining their own language and many of their customs.
 Most Nuba groups were small, numbering (at the turn of the century) anything from a few hundred to twenty thousand in each tribe. Almost all tribes had no chiefs or chiefly institutions, but governed themselves on the basis of custom and consent. Only one or two Nuba states existed. The Kingdom of Tegali, in the far northeastern part of the Nuba Mountains, was the most prominent Nuba state for over three centuries. From its foundation in 1530 to its demise at the time of the Mahdi in the 1880s, Tegali was a Moslem state, itself involved as an intermediary in the slave trade—a compromise between the demands of the powers to the north and east, and the requirements of its Nuba inhabitants.

 As with much of Northern Sudan, the Mahdist period (1883-98) was a time of massive upheaval and turmoil. The Nuba suffered doubly. In the early stages of his campaign, the Mahdi himself resided for a while in the northern mountains, and fought campaigns there, resisting the attacks of the Turko-Egyptian armies. Later, some Nuba tribes refused to submit to the Mahdist state and provide the tribute that was demanded. The Mahdi's successor, the Khalifa Abdullahi (a Baggara Arab from Darfur) sent several military expeditions against different Nuba tribes. Though resistance was not crushed, there was widespread bloodshed and destruction in the Nuba Mountains.

 The Nuba resisted the British vigorously. Between 1900 and 1945 there were over thirty uprisings and rebellions in the Nuba Mountains, including a major revolt in Nyimang in 1908, a revolt involving the Miri and their neighbours (including some Misiriya Arabs) in 1915, a widespread revolt in the western jebels in 1926, and prolonged resistance in Jebel Tullishi during the Second World War.
 A legacy of the Mahdist period, the Nuba were estimated to possess some twenty thousand rifles in 1930, and in the 1926 rebellion the Julud and Tima forces fielded one thousand soldiers with four hundred rifles. As well as having the advantage of familiar and rugged terrain, an older generation of Nuba soldiers had received professional training as slave soldiers in the armies of the Turko-Egyptian regime and the Mahdist forces.
Nuba woman from Sudan

The British never resolved the dilemma of whether the Nuba as a whole should be "preserved" and isolated from Arab influence, or assimilated (on unequal terms) with the North. A policy of isolation was enforced, for a while.
 The Closed Districts Ordinance of 1922 imposed a state of isolation on the Nuba, at the same time as creating a Nuba Mountains district separate from Kordofan. Arab traders, preachers and others needed special permits to enter the district. The principle enunciated by the most enlightened British administrators was that this was a temporary measure, which would enable the Nuba to "discover" themselves and decide on what terms they should be integrated into the rest of Sudan. In a much-quoted memorandum in 1931, the then Governor of Kordofan, J. A. Gillan asked:
"Can we evolve a structure or series of structures, to fit all these
different cultures and stages of civilisation? Can we at the same
time preserve all that is best in the Nuba side by side with an Arab

                                            Nuba woman and her baby

To protect the Nuba "while they learn to stand on their feet" (in Gillan's patronising language) would have required a programme of social and economic development. In reality, this was restricted to
encouraging small-scale cotton cultivation, and a handful of mission schools. Lack of economic opportunities meant that many Nuba men began to migrate to the Northern towns and the Gezira scheme to look for work, as agricultural labourers, casual workers, servants and soldiers—the Closed Districts Ordnance did not prevent migration out, and colonial labour policies actually encouraged it.
 This had the ironic effect of promoting Arabic and Islam among the Nuba far more effectively than if the Mountains had been open to Northern Sudanese. But in the North, Nuba migrants always had an inferior

 In 1937, the Nuba Mountains District was abolished and the area was absorbed back into Kordofan. Ten years later, a long-running debate about what language of instruction should be used in Nuba schools was resolved in favour of Arabic. By default, the Nuba were integrated into the Northern social and political system. But, because of lack of education, economic development and political access, the Nuba were no better prepared for playing an active role in Sudanese politics in 1947 than in 1922.
 Since then, the "mainstream" culture of Northern Sudan has been actively promoted in the Nuba Mountains. Partly this has been done by government fiat. In the early 1970s, the government tried to enforce wearing clothes, by forbidding traders to sell goods to anyone who was not "properly" clothed and banning naked and seminaked people from entering towns. There were also campaigns against pigs. Among the Nuba Moslems, pressure to conform more closely to Northern culture was especially strong. The agents of this
pressure were more likely to be Nuba Moslems who had lived in towns, rather than traders or preachers from the Nile Valley. The same process, sometimes called "Sudanisation", has been described among non-Arab Moslem peoples in neighbouring Darfur:
"Over a period of five years, the author has witnessed the virtual
disappearance of tribal dancing and a growing polarisation within
communities. This polarisation is concerned with opinions as to the
proper way to live as a Muslim. The different ethnic groups in the
area have lost a great deal of their original cultural identity over
recent decades. This change represents the conversion from what is
considered an increasingly irrelevant, narrow ethnic ethos and
worldview to a new, prestigious and powerful ideology and praxis.
While splitting some local communities, 'Sudanisation' simultaneously
 strengthens certain class and national identifications."

Many aspects of Northern Sudanese culture have now become so deeply entrenched in Nuba society that they can never be reversed. The prime case of this is clothing: two generations ago, public nudity or semi-nudity was the norm for many Nuba. Clothing was adopted through social pressures, but today all Nuba have accepted that being fully clothed is an absolute requirement of modernity, and almost all people feel ashamed to appear in public without "proper" clothing. This was well-expressed by an elderly Achiron lady, Kaka Zubri:
"In the past when I was younger we had a lot of beads and no
clothes. We didn't feel ashamed when we came down the mountain.
But then clothes came and people said, 'You have to wear clothes to
be a civilised woman.' When the Arabs were here, we had clothes,
salt, sugar, everything. But when the SPLA came and liberated the
area, the Arabs left with all the things they had brought. The clothes
stopped. But now we feel ashamed to go back to traditional dress."

The current dire shortage of clothes in SPLA-controlled parts of the Nuba Mountains has become a major hindrance on people's participation in social events. Some women were reluctant to meet
with African Rights' representatives because they did not consider themselves to have adequate clothes. One forty-year-old woman, Amal, said, "We have many problems. My children are completely naked. We cannot go to occasions like the dances that are celebrating SPLA day because we have no clothes, so we just stay at home."
For a while, and for some Nuba peoples, it appeared that "Sudanisation" could be achieved without losing what was valuable in traditional cultures. During the hopeful decade of the 1970s, this was the case for the Miri, as argued by the anthropologist Gerd Baumann: "To the first observer of these processes, it may often
appear that Miri villagers are determined to cast off their heritage as Nuba and to see themselves as primarily Sudanese. Yet Miri villagers do not recognise such a conflict of identities."
Nuba woman

 This was optimistic. Baumann also noted that, "What is common to virtually all Nuba groups, is a history of enmity and strife with precisely those populations to whom 'integration' is now expected to tie them." The reality was that national integration could only be achieved on highly unequal terms—another subjugation, this time losing local integrity in the process. The realities of exploitation, expropriation and discrimination became so harsh that many Nuba ultimately resorted to arms.
 Integration into the Sudanese state came through four main means: (1) political administration, especially the imposition of chieftancy; (2) education; (3) labour migration and (4) Islam.

The Nuba presented many problems to the British administration, which responded with force, guile and patience. Certain groups (Tira el Akhdar, Tullishi) were compelled to move down from the mountains to settle in the plains, where they could be policed more easily. Punitive expeditions were mounted, including the first use of aerial bombardment (Tima and Julud were bombed on 4 February 1926). Most significant, however, was the British decision to institute "indirect rule", which began to be implemented in the 1920s. The theory was that the colonial authorities would rule through a "native administration" of chiefs, who would combine local legitimacy with responsiveness to the demands of "modern" government.

Nuba Chiefs
However, with just a handful of exceptions, there were no chiefs in the Nuba Mountains. One exception was the Dilling tribe, who had been ruled by a Sultan for as long as oral history could recall. Another was Tegali, where the ruler had historically traced his ancestry to an Arab stranger. But, the big men (sometimes calling
themselves "chief" or "sultan") who existed in other places were at best temporary, opportunistic war leaders—often the very people who led resistance against the British.
 Communal cohesion among Nuba groups was traditionally not provided by chiefs, but by a variety of means, including traditional priests ("kujurs") and age sets (organisations of age-mates). Many Nuba groups were "stateless societies", ruling by custom, consent and consultation. But the British needed chiefs, and so they set about both creating the institutions of chieftanship, and appointing the chiefs (or vetting the candidates for popular election). This imposition of chieftanship is a fact of fundamental importance, and its impact is felt today.
 Sometimes, the chieftanship was created simply from scratch, for example among the Nyima or Tullishi. In Otoro and Kawalib, an indigenous chieftanship was beginning to emerge in the early twentieth century, but the government chiefs bore little resemblance to those who had emerged. Nadel observed the process: "To study [Otoro chieftanship] is to watch it emerge from a chiefless society. Heiban still represents this chiefless state, save for the superstructure of modern Government chieftanship." In Korongo Angolo and Mesakin, there were offices of "ambassadors" who negotiated between different tribes, but held little or no power within them, and the titles for chiefs and sometimes the individuals themselves were grafted onto government chieftanship. In Moro and Tira, the institution of "big men" or (in Nadel's words) "pseudo-chiefs" served as a model.
Nuba woman playing music. circa1890

 The Nuba peoples had been subjugated, often violently. The people they preferred for chiefs were not the real loci of authority—the rain-makers, traditional priests and others—but people who had been migrants, soldiers or civil servants, who knew the ways of the government. Often, the spheres of traditional authority and government liaison were kept deliberately separate, so that one man was prevented from holding the two different kinds of position. Nadel describes the process of selection:
"In electing their modern chiefs or sub-chiefs, the people look for
qualifications of a new kind: knowledge of Arabic, acquaintance
with the ways of the Hakuma [government], an energetic
temperament, and suitable age for undertaking the new tasks of
office, like tax-collection, recruiting labour for road work, &c."
 The government provided a salary, status, authority in a court and control over a few local policemen, and perks such as education for the chief's sons. In return they demanded absolute loyalty and obedience. A chief could be summarily dismissed for failing to collect the taxes or subdue the people, and many were. The Nuba chief was not a representative of his people (though some of them evolved to be close to that over the decades), but a civil servant. Old habits die hard: today, a chief's first, almost instinctive loyalty, is to his superiors. After the experience of some of the early rebellions, which were led by chiefs appointed or approved by the government, the British were also keen to restrict the powers of the chiefs.
 The British introduced a three tier system of chieftancy. The lowest level were sheikhs, one for each village (or ward of a large village). Several sheikhs were put under one omda (a word and institution imported from Egypt). The highest level was the mek (a version of the Arabic melik, "king").

 In the later colonial period, the administration was relatively benign, and the institution of chieftancy became more widely accepted. Some sheikhs, omdas and meks even became popular with their people, and were respected by both villagers and government. This situation persisted unevenly after independence in 1956, notably in Sudan's "development decade" of the 1970s, that false dawn of economic progress and social integration. But, even when the institution of chieftancy was at its most popular, it was kept at a distance from the true loyalties of the people. In the 1970s, among the Miri, the separation of traditional priestly offices and chieftancy was strictly enforced.
Nuba girl from nuba mountains, South Sudan

 The "native administration" system was abolished in 1971 and replaced with a system of "people's councils." This was less of a disruption than it might have appeared, because of the real status of chiefs as government servants. In reality, moreover, the chiefs continued to exercise their influence, often by taking senior positions in the people's councils. As the new system of local government ground to a halt, due in part to lack of finance, the provincial authorities de facto reinstated the chiefs and used them for their familiar purposes. After the 1989 coup, chiefs were formally reinstated, and the current government is following a policy that in
many respects closely resembles their British predecessors.

                    Nuba people. Circa 1998.

Nuba-Arab Relations
One of the deepest tragedies of the Nuba Mountains is that the Baggara Arabs who have implemented so much of the government's policies against the Nuba, are themselves an impoverished and marginalised group in Sudan. The Baggara are mostly poor, and despite close links to powerful political forces such as the Umma Party of Sadiq el Mahdi, there has been little economic development or provision of social services in the Baggara areas. However, for historical reasons, the Baggara Arabs have been unwilling to make common political cause with their Nuba neighbours.

 In the western jebels, in Lagowa area, colonial and independent governments faced the most acute manifestation of the widespread problem of how Nuba-Baggara Arab relations should be managed. In this area, the geographical separation between the Arabs, the seven Nuba tribes and the Daju was simply an impossibility, and the population was split in such a way that no group formed a natural majority. But the British insisted on creating a tribally-based administration nonetheless. They experimented with a system of
political federation, and also toyed with separating the district from the remainder of the Nuba Mountains and allowing it to become "Arabised." But the colonial authorities failed to resolve on any one strategy. This left the best-organised group, the Misiriya Zurug, in the dominant position. The Nazir16 of the Misiriya Zurug had authority over the Nuba tribes and the Daju, who were represented only by wakils (deputies). It was only in the 1980s, after prolonged complaints by the Nuba tribes and the Daju, that the Kordofan Regional Government agreed to appoint senior chiefs from the Nuba and Daju.

 Another point of contention was the question of who owned the town of Lagowa itself. Historically it is a Kamda area, but when it became a district headquarters, it came to be dominated by the Misiriya Zurug.
 By default rather than design, British policies ended up favouring the Arabs, by giving them better education, more economic opportunities, and better representation in the centres of power. This relentlessly fed through into systematic discrimination in favour of the Arabs in post-independence local government. Hassan Osman
Kuku is a teacher from the western jebels. He described some of the components of institutional discrimination in favour of the Arabs in the area:
"Before the war, the relation with the Arabs was generally one of
brotherhood. But there were some disagreements, for example over
bringing cattle onto farms, and discrimination and segregation.
 A second problem was education. If the Tima took their
children to school, they were not encouraged to go ahead.... [see
below for more discussion of this issue].
 A third problem concerned the co-operative shop and the
distribution of essential commodities. The distribution was not done
properly. Even though the Tima area had a larger population than
the Misiriya area, the treatment was not equal. We were given two
bags of sugar for distribution per month, so that one family would
get only one quarter of a pound. The other Misiriya places, even
though they were less in number, would get a bigger quantity."
It was in response to this unequal treatment that the Nuba began to agitate for stronger representation in the administration. They did meet with some success, in the early 1980s:
" Another big problem was farming schemes. Sometimes the
government created agricultural schemes for the people. They
would call the people together and demarcate the area. But we
would find that when the allocation of schemes is made, all the
leaseholders are Arabs. In Subakha in the 1970s, Fadallah Hamad,
who is a big Misiriya politician, controlled the distribution of land
in the scheme. At least Subakha was on virgin land. The same thing
happened with Um Dorota in the 1980s, and that scheme took land
away from the Tima farmers. There was no compensation, and the
farmers who had lost [land] were forced to find new land. The
farmers protested and even took the case to court, but the judge
refused to accept the case.
 One dispute was at Khor al Far, especially at Rimti. The
Misiriya went to the government to try to get gardens in that place.
They even went as far as Khartoum, and the scheme was given a
name: the Rimti scheme. The Khartoum government people
discussed the matter and said, 'Okay, if the people of the area
agree.' Then the government people came and found that only
Misiriya were planning it, and stopped the scheme."

 At a village level, relations between Nuba farmers and Baggara herders were usually cordial. When there was no political dispute, and no reason such as drought for violent competition for water or grazing, the two groups were very amicable. As the Nuba colonised the plains from the 1920s onwards, they began to become cattle owners, and by the 1950s and '60s, many Nuba were large cattle herders in their own right. Meanwhile, many Baggara also started farms. Relations varied from village to village: in some places they were very good. Ahmed Sayed Nur, a nurse from Delami, said:
"In the past, we were living with our Arab neighbours, the Ayatigha
and Awlad Ghabbush. The relationship was good, though there was
no intermarriage. There was trade. We grazed our cattle together.
Sometimes a Nuba would entrust his cattle to an Arab to take them
to pastures for the dry season, and sometimes an Arab would settle
with us for farming. We would have just minor clashes over

At the time there was considerable interest among scholars in the "Baggarisation" of the Nuba and the "sedenterisation" of the nomads: it was expected that the two groups would become gradually integrated.
 In the 1980s, friendly relations broke down. In the western jebels, the local balance of power shifted decisively in favour of the Misiriya. This was due to the policy of the Transitional Military Council, that took power in April 1985 during the Popular Uprising against President Nimeiri, to arm the two sections of the Misiriya—Humr and Zurug—as a militia to fight the SPLA.

Bias in Dispute Resolution
One major type of dispute occurs in the Nuba Mountains with predictable regularity: pastoralists bringing their animals onto farms before harvesting is complete. The colonial records are filled with such cases. Until the early 1980s, such disputes were generally settled equitably. But then the balance tilted decisively in favour of the Arabs, and Nuba litigants lost any confidence that they would obtain a fair hearing in courts. Many Nuba police officers, magistrates and administrative officers were transferred out of the Nuba Mountains in the 1980s. Nuba communities discovered that the government would almost always support the Arab cause in the case of an inter-tribal dispute.
 A characteristic incident is reported by one farmer from Korongo Abdalla:
"Before the war we had problems over farmland. The nomadic
Arabs brought their cattle onto our farms. In our area they were
Misiriya Zurug Jubrat and Salamat. The army armed the Baggara,
who then caused trouble. Whenever we wrote a petition they would
say, ‘These are nomadic routes.’ These problems began in 1983-84.
 There was one incident in June 1984. Some Baggara took our
cows, and when we pursued them to the police post at Juheilat, the
police came out, armed, and sent us back. The Arabs then wrote a
petition accusing us of taking their cows. Our own chief, Omda
Anja Tutu, was bribed to give witness against us. So, in February
[1985], the police arrested and tied up four of our boys⎯they tied
them up in trees and lit fires under them to torture them with heat
and smoke. We have two of the names: Saraf Tiya and Hassan Ab
Shok. Then a Nuba soldier with the government army cocked his
rifle and threatened to shoot unless the men were released. They
were. But the Arabs kept pursuing the affair, until the SPLA arrived
and they dropped it."

There were innumerable such cases. One obstacle that the Nuba side consistently faced was the perfidy of their own chiefs: as government servants, accustomed to handsome payment for their work, they were frequently ready to accept bribes to support the Arab side in a dispute. A farmer from Kufa village in the Miri jebels described some of the problems they faced:
"Our Arab neighbours used to be Misiriya Zurug, Humr, and Awlad
Muman. At one time we had peaceful settlement of disputes. I
recall one case in 1978 when the Awlad Muman killed one Miri
man, Zeidan Ibrahim Kafi. Diya [bloodmoney] was negotiated but
they refused to pay. Then the government made a conference and
the matter was settled. They paid.

 From about 1980 we had more problems resolving our cases.
There was one community health worker, Abdel Gadir Tiya, who
was seriously wounded in 1981, speared by an Arab. Despite our
attempts, the case was never settled. The Arabs were paying the
Miri negotiators to stop the case going ahead.
 Another case was in 1985. The Arabs came to the village of el
Akhwal, they attacked it and occupied it. They didn’t kill anyone.
The people just ran away. One man, Taj el Sir⎯he later died in the
SPLA⎯complained to the mek, Mohamed el Zaki, who took the
case to Kadugli. Ten days passed before anyone responsible came
to visit the place. We saw no sign of any police for ten days. The
case was settled by the police and the mek, but we weren’t happy.
The accused were let go free because there was no-one to witness
against them. Mek Mohamed el Zaki was responsible for this."
 Frustration with the betrayal by their chiefs was an important reason why many Nuba youths and farmers turned to the SPLA.  A particularly important dispute occurred in early 1987, in the Shatt area south of Kadugli. It started with a minor incident, but rapidly developed into a national political issue, that reveals many components of the unfolding crisis. An issue of particular sensitivity that was raised was the value, in terms of diya, of a Nuba life vis-à-vis an Arab life.
 Kuku Idris al Izerig Kafi is now an SPLA officer. In 1987, he was one of the educated members of the Shatt Damam community who was asked to represent the Shatt side in negotiations. He recounted the background to the incident:
"Our neighbours at Shatt Damam are Misiriya Zurug and Fellata
Hausa (mostly merchants), as well as the Kadugli people. Before
the war, we would see the Misiriya after the rains, when they would
come from the north and make their farigs [nomadic camps] outside
our villages. They would share our water and come to seek boys to
work with them as cowherds. Our contact was limited.
 On 2 February 1987 a serious problem started. The Misiriya
came as usual the previous November and December, and found
that our people had gathered the harvest, which remains in the
farms in heaps until March. But on that day some of them released
their cows onto the stored sorghum in the farms. Two farmers were
present, guarding their crops. They came to chase the cattle away.
The Arab was armed and shot at them. One was injured and his
brother who came after him was killed."

 There are several different versions of what happened next. Some witnesses claim that the Misiriya attacked the following day, with three lorry-loads of gunmen, and killed between four and six Shatt farmers, for the loss of one or two lives among the Arabs. However, Kuku Idris is even-handed in his allocation of responsibility for the fighting that followed:
People ran and told their relatives. The Arabs at that moment were
encamped between Shatt Damam and Shatt Safiya. We made a faza
[war cry]. Both groups of Shatt people mobilised and attacked the
Arab camps. Two Arabs were killed that night. The Shatt people
took 435 Arab cows, and the Arabs ran with their children. The
cattle were too many to eat, but the people slaughtered them all,
 For five days there was fighting. At that time I had just come
from Khartoum. I met with the police commander, Abdel Gadir
Darjol (a Ghulfan [Nuba]) and the military commander, Major al
Sir Khalifa, and I tried to see about stopping the fighting. We went
to Shatt Safiya, and found the fighting continuing. We were
accompanied by the riot police, and we succeeded in stopping the
fighting and forming a reconciliation committee. The committee
had fifteen members: five Misiriya, five Nuba and five from the
 The committee agreed that before any final settlement is
reached, during an interim period, any aggressive Nuba or Arab
will be punished with a fine of LS [Sudanese pounds] 5 thousand
million [a huge and symbolic sum]. This was signed by all groups
on 25 February.
 The day after the ceasefire, the Misiriya Arabs mobilised and
attacked Genaya. They came with their lorries. They looted crops,
both sorghum and sesame, and burned. They didn't raid any cattle,
but they loaded their lorries with looted crops. They killed one man
and wounded four."
Hamad Tutu Dabah is a farmer from Shatt Safiya who was nearby when the incident occurred. He told African Rights:
"The Arabs returned to Genaya and shot randomly. But there was
no-one there⎯all the people had run to Jebel Kuwa the day before.
The Arabs looked for cows to steal but they found none. So they
burned 77 houses.
 The administrators of the area went to Kadugli to report to the
government there. The Government sent a delegation and evaluated
the amount of losses, and we formed a committee. We demanded
diya for the people killed on our side, who were eight..........
                                                Nuba people.

Favoured Tribes
The British policy of divide and rule had another important component: dividing the Nuba tribes against each other. One tribe, the Nyima, who live at the northern extremity of the Nuba Mountains west of Dilling, came to play a prominent role in this strategy. They still do.
 In the colonial days, the Nyima were the Nuba tribe most exposed to the influence of the new government. At first, the Nyima chiefs and kujurs resisted the British, with a major uprising in 1908. After this, the British imposed chiefs on the Nyima, most of whom were former soldiers or civil servants. They recognised the value of education for their children, and when Anglican missionaries chose a Nyima village, Salara, to be the site of one of its first mission stations and schools in the Nuba Mountains, they eagerly embraced education. Since then, the Nyima have provided a disproportionately high number of educated Nuba. They are both Moslems and Christians: many migrated for work in Dilling or the cities of the North, and became Moslem, and many others were educated in Salara mission school.
 The colonial government played a game of divide and rule within the Nuba Mountains. It encouraged the Nyima to play a role as the elite, and then co-opted them as a "Nuba" leadership that could represent, and control, the other Nuba tribes. Educational and employment opportunities were never extended to other Nuba areas to a comparable extent. The tendency of the Nyima elite to cooperate with the government remains strong to this day.

           SUDAN. Kordofan. A young grl of the Duk Faiwil tribe. 1949.George Rodger

Another legacy of British rule was education. Throughout the colonial period, educational policy was marked by ambiguity. Mission stations were opened in Heiban, Abri, Tabanya, Kauda, Salara and Katcha, and Nuba children were given an opportunity of an education in all these places. Several of the Nuba languages were written down (in Roman script) for the first time. There were also government schools, in Kadugli, Talodi and Dilling, but for a long while Nuba children were excluded. This was because the education was in Arabic, and at the time colonial policy was to isolate the Nuba from Arab influence. The colonial authorities wrung their hands over whether the Nuba should have a separate educational policy (as in the South), or whether it should be integrated into the Northern, Arabic system.

 In 1947, the decision was made to use Arabic as the medium of instruction in the Nuba Mountains. From the outset, the Nuba were at a disadvantage—they had fewer teachers and fewer schools. They were merely inserted into a national educational system as a minority without the linguistic skills or political weight to obtain fair treatment. They have suffered accordingly.
 From their earliest days at school, Nuba boys and girls were—and are—made to feel that their futures lie as servants and labourers, not as professionals or leaders. Teachers passed on such attitudes with striking success and consistency. Even the Nuba teachers have often transmitted these attitudes to their pupils, consciously or unconsciously. Frustration at discrimination in education was a major factor why many youths joined the SPLA..............

The single biggest issue of contention in the Nuba Mountains on the outbreak of war was land ownership. The issue of land reform remains one of the biggest unspoken questions in Sudan, protected by a conspiracy of silence that can be attributed to the fact that all the leading Northern families, whatever their political colour, are major landowners, and the failure of the SPLA to develop a policy on land reform.
 Since the "pacification" of the Nuba Mountains by the British, Nuba farmers were encouraged (and sometimes forced) to leave their mountains and live and farm in the plains. Smallholdings spread out from the slopes of the hills, so that large areas of the plains were cultivated. According to customary law, unoccupied land is available to whoever cuts the trees and bushes and plants his crops. Though not formally registered, these farms were not a primitive or reckless "slash and burn" form of agriculture. Farmers often developed
systems of rotational cropping, alternating sorghum with groundnuts or sesame, and long fallow periods to enable the soil to regain its fertility.

"From 1973, mechanised farms started in the Miri area. They were Miri villager reported:  The growth of mechanised farming shattered the viability of Nuba smallholder farming. It also destroyed amicable relations with the Arab pastoralists. This took a while to become evident. The encouragement of semi-mechanised cotton production (reaching a total of 63 small schemes in the 1970s) brought extra income to wealthier smallholders, at the cost of hardly any loss of land. But government high-handedness, and manipulation of the system by Arab traders and government officials were clear from the start. One
all for cultivating cotton: Lima, Mashisha, Kanga, Abu Sunun,
Kufa, Kadi and Keiga. We were told in advance that the
Government had plans for schemes, and we had to go and clear the
land in advance. First we were told that we would cultivate, and
that we could grow any crops we liked. Later, when the schemes
were surveyed, they told us we would have to plant cotton. Their
plan involved rotating the cultivation⎯some land was left fallow.
So we tried to plant sorghum on the fallow land. This led to
problems with the government. At the end, we were forced to
accept cotton, and look for land to plant sorghum elsewhere.
 These schemes were all on new land. No-one lost land to them.
But the new owners included people from outside, including Fellata
and Arabs from Kadugli. We were not happy with this. Some lands
were reserved for the Arabs before the schemes were started. For
example, Mubarak Zaroug [first foreign minister of Sudan, 1956].
He was granted the area from Gallab village to Keiga, and used
tractors to grow cotton. This was in fact the first scheme in our
area. After Mubarak died in the 1960s, the area was re-surveyed
and was supposed to be granted to the local people, but most of it
was taken by the Jellaba.29
The collapse of cotton prices in the 1970s meant that many of the
schemes were not profitable, and they began to close in the late

 It was the introduction of large-scale mechanised sorghum farms that brought disaster. The Mechanised Farming Corporation was established in 1968. Its first and largest scheme in the Nuba Mountains was at Habila, between Dilling and Delami. In the 1970s it established nine more schemes. Equally importantly, the MFC demarcated areas and gave 25-year leases on schemes of one thousand or 1500 feddans30 to private merchant farmers...........

One of the commonest experiences of Nuba men is working as a migrant labourer in Khartoum, the Northern towns, or on the big agricultural schemes of central and eastern Sudan. By the 1970s, as many as half of the adult men of some Nuba tribes were migrant labourers. It was in these towns that much Nuba political consciousness was moulded. Nuba migrants experienced discrimination at first hand. In the North, "Nuba" does not refer to the rich variety of proud cultures to be found in the Nuba Mountains, but to the second-class citizens who sweep the streets and clean the latrines.
 The formative role of labour migration is made clear in the following account, provided by an SPLA soldier, explaining his reasons for taking up arms. Tom Suleiman Umbele is 33. He is from Eri, in Otoro, and joined the SPLA at the age of 25—older than most of his comrades. He first left the Nuba Mountains in the 1970s:
"I was a student in primary school in Kauda. I was in third form
when I left to Khartoum to stay with my uncle. That was during the
school holidays. I was hoping to get a better education in
Khartoum. I found that my uncle had no resources to put me
through school, but I decided it was better to continue in Khartoum.
Even I had no money for transport back to Kauda.
 I immediately worked as a casual labourer in Wad Medani.
While we were working, we had many disputes with our
employers, mostly because of the deductions from our pay for daily
allowances. It was a textile company, and we felt it ought to have
regulations, rather than being run in that way. So I went to Gedaref
and worked as an agricultural labourer. In Gedaref, I cut sesame.
But the same situation came up again. At the end of the contract,
when we had finished, again they gave us less money than we had
agreed. When we complained, they said, 'You do not have the right
to complain as you are rebels.' Being in the bush, those merchants
had the means to eliminate us without trace.45 So we submitted. We
moved to the Kenana sugar factory to cut sugar cane. But the same
situation continued in the sugar plantations. Also they told us, 'We
have to reduce your pay from what we agreed because we have to
give a portion to the Sudan army to fight against the rebels, because
you black people have rebelled. This will be your contribution to
the army.'
 This made me and the others decide that the best thing to do is
to go and join the SPLA and get freedom, so at least our children
can have a brighter future than us. A group of four of us, all Nuba,
left Kenana in June 1987. We moved from Chukur in August 1987,
and met up with a group of 480 at Achiron. We were students,
farmers, workers, teachers. Our commander was Telefon Kuku
[Abu Jelha]. From there we went for training at Bilfam in Ethiopia.
We returned here in 1989."...........

Nuba politicians were active as members of various different political parties during the 1950s but the first Nuba political party was organised in 1963, under the name General Union of the Nuba Mountains (GUN). Father Philip Abbas Ghabboush was one of the founding members, and has continued to play an influential role in both Nuba and national politics ever since. In the 1965 general elections which followed the October 1964 popular uprising against the military government, GUN won eight seats in South Kordofan. Fr. Philip was the leader of the party. He was active in the parliament, and tried to build a coalition with MPs from other marginal areas of Sudan including Darfur and the Beja Hills.
 But the promise of democracy was betrayed. During the 1965-9 parliamentary period, there was no resolution to the war in the South and no political enfranchisement of the marginal areas of the North. Politics remained dominated by a cartel of Northern families. There was discontent among Nuba army officers, some of whom spoke with Southerners about the possibilities of joint military action.
 In Sudan, plans for military take-over instigated by Nuba and Southerners are invariably referred to as "racist coup plots". Fr. Philip himself was involved in a coup plot, scheduled for 28 May 1969. This was forestalled by Colonel Jaafar Nimeiri by a matter of days, and Fr. Philip and other leading Nuba politicians either went into exile or became politically inactive. There was another attempted coup, centred among Nuba and Southerners in the garrison in Juba, in 1976, which was betrayed to the government just hours before it was planned to go ahead.

 Fr Philip and other former GUN politicians returned to Sudan with the policy of "national reconciliation" in 1978. Fr Philip became a member of the National Assembly. He was arrested in 1983 for allegedly a "racial coup", along with some Southern and Nuba military officers including Yunis Abu Sudur.50 They were amnestied in 1984.
 For two decades, Yousif Kuwa Mekki has had a profound influence on the politics of the Nuba Mountains. In 1977, he was among a group of Nuba at the University of Khartoum who took the lead in rejecting what they saw as the bankrupt politics of the older generation of Nuba politicians, and instead founded a Nuba political movement upon the new generation. They felt that the GUN and its leaders had failed them, while the Sudan Socialist Union (the sole legal party at the time) was dominated by Baggara and Jellaba. A basic principle of the movement was a return to the cultural roots of the Nuba. Clandestine from the outset, the organization was given the name "Komolo", a word that in the Miri and Kadugli languages means "youth".
 Yousif Kuwa was the first president of Komolo. Other important members included Telefon Kuku Abu Jelha, Daniel Kodi, and Abdel Aziz al Hilu all of whom later joined the SPLA. In the elections to the National Assembly, Daniel Kodi won a seat. Komolo made approaches to Southern political organisations, but was rebuffed. In 1980, Yousif Kuwa returned to Kadugli as a schoolteacher. He took the opportunity to begin organising Komolo in the town.
Nuba Fula woman

 In 1981, President Nimeiri embarked upon a policy of regionalisation, which involved creating a Regional Government for Kordofan in el Obeid. Elections to the Regional Assembly were held, and despite his lack of resources to finance a campaign, Yousif Kuwa won a seat.
 Regionalisation should have been an opportunity for marginal groups such as the Nuba. In fact, it became another obstacle to their political advancement. The Kordofan Regional Government was dominated from the outset by powerful Arab interests—a coalition of North Kordofan interests with South Kordofan Baggara and Jellaba—who were ruthless in distributing largesse to their local supporters. Perhaps most importantly, the Regional Ministry of Agriculture distributed land leases on its own behalf, putting more
distance between the leaseholders and the regulations theoretically enforced by the MFC—and increasing the leeway for abuse. Bias in the allocation of rationed commodities such as sugar and wheat became more marked.
 The Nuba members in the Regional Parliament also felt that the entire electoral process was also against them. From a total 55 seats in the Regional Assembly, only four were won by the Nuba. They
argued that this represented a deliberate bias in the allocation of seats—North Kordofan had more than South Kordofan. This in fact can be explained by the higher population of North Kordofan. The scarcity of Nuba members of the assembly was more closely related to their problems in organising a political front within a single-party system and the lack of finance for campaigning costs. Another complaint from the Nuba members was the appointment to positions in the Regional Government, by the Governor, Fatih Bushara.
Members from North Kordofan took most of the senior positions, and the highest given to a Nuba member was deputy. Yousif Kuwa was appointed Deputy Speaker in the assembly, and repeatedly clashed
with the Governor on this and other issues.

                                                       Nuba women of Fula extraction

 Komolo and its leaders also had a problem of rivalry with the former GUN politicians such Fr. Philip Ghabboush. The question arose of whether it should be a regional or a racial movement. Fr. Philip preferred to form a regional movement, with a significant Baggara representation. Komolo, on the other hand, was fiercely Nuba in its identity. Splits in the Nuba movement were becoming more evident by 1984. Yousif Kuwa opted to join the SPLA.
 After the 1985 Popular Uprising, Fr Philip formed the Sudan National Party (SNP). It was a feverish and hopeful time, with the Transitional Military Council of General Abdel Rahman Suwar el Dahab and Prime Minister Gizouli Dafallah promising democracy. But the commitment to pluralistic democracy did not run deep. In October 1985, Prime Minister Gizouli claimed to have uncovered a  "racial coup" led by Philip Abbas Ghabboush and some Southerners to overthrow the government. Fr Philip was arrested along with many Nuba soldiers and civilians. Three months later the civilian detainees were released without charge, but the soldiers remained in prison for up to four years after conviction in a court martial that was a mockery of justice—no witnesses nor documentary evidence were produced.
 The SNP quickly emerged as the principal Nuba party. The high status of Fr Philip Ghabboush ensured that it would garner most of the Nuba votes. It organised not only in the Nuba Mountains, but also among Nuba communities in Khartoum, Gedaref and Port Sudan. Even before the elections, scheduled for April 1986, the Nuba began to show their electoral muscle. In Port Sudan, the Nuba formed part of an electoral coalition against the National Islamic Front, which was strongly represented by the Beni Amer. In a violent riot in
February 1986, the Nuba played the leading role in expelling the Beni Amer from a ward of Port Sudan. A number of lives were lost on the Beni Amer side.
Nuba woman

 A second Nuba party was also formed, that used the name General Union of the Nuba Mountains (GUN). Led by Professor el Amin Hamoda, it represented younger Nuba intellectuals. Although it failed to make headway amongst ordinary voters, it exercised influence through the trade union movement. While GUN shared with Komolo the agenda of forging a specifically Nuba identity, the SNP had aspirations to be a national party. But this did not prevent co-operation. In July 1985, both SNP and GUN were instrumental in creating a coalition known as Rural Solidarity, that embraced political organisations from all the marginalised areas of Sudan, including the South, Darfur, Southern Blue Nile and the Beja Hills. Meanwhile, Komolo continued its underground activities in Khartoum and Kadugli.
 Strong Nuba representation in Khartoum and active campaigning by the Rural Solidarity coalition made two seats in the capital virtually safe for the SNP: Umbadda South and Haj Yousif. But internal politics within the SNP undermined the chances for success. Fr Philip was chairman of the SNP when the decision was taken of how to distribute the constituencies. The party had decided that Mohamed Hamad Kuwa should contest the Nuba-dominated Umbadda South while Fr Philip's deputy, Hassan al Mahi, who is a Misiriya, should contest a safe seat in Kordofan. But Fr Philip decided unilaterally to nominate Hassan al Mahi for Umbadda South, at a stroke making it a marginal seat. Mohamed Hamad Kuwa was transferred to Mayo, a seat dominated by the NIF. Neither won.
 In April 1986, Fr Philip won his seat in Haj Yousif: the first time that any non-Arab had won a constituency in Greater Khartoum. It came as a shock to the political elites.
 In parliament, the SNP joined with Southern parties to form the Union of Sudan African Parties (USAP). Fr Philip was the Chairman, Eliaba James Surur was his deputy (and acting chairman when Fr Philip was abroad for medical treatment in 1988-9). The main activities of USAP were campaigning for the repeal of the 1983 "September" Islamic laws, pushing for a peaceful settlement to the war and calling for a constitutional conference to determine a more equitable distribution of wealth and power in Sudan.
 However, Nuba parliamentary politics continued to be divisive, concerned with personal ambition and power games as much as representation of the people's interests. Many Nuba became increasingly frustrated, not only with the direction of Sudan's democracy under Prime Minister Sadiq el Mahdi, but also the manner in which the Nuba political leadership, especially the SNP, seemed unable to challenge this effectively. This scepticism about parliamentary politics was intensified when, in 1988, one of the SNP MPs, Haroun Kafi, was arrested and detained in defiance of his parliamentary immunity, as part of a deepening crackdown against the Nuba leadership.


                           Nuba People
The Nuba are a group of peoples who share a common geography in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan Province, known as Jibal al-Nuba or Nuba Mountains. The origins of most Nuba peoples are obscure, but there is no doubt that they are Africans. They arrived to the area from various directions and in the course of thousands of years. Today there are over fifty Nuba tribes, who speak as many different languages. Their combined number is estimated at 2.5 million people.

                               Nuba ancient wrestling

Until the Egyptian occupation of Sudan during the nineteenth century, most Nuba tribes lived relatively isolated. Contiguous events that shaped their history are the short but extremely violent rule of the Mahdi and his successor, and colonial rule by the British. Sudan took its independence in 1956 and since the 1960s the Nuba have been at odds with their successive National Governments. From 1987 to 2001 the Nuba Mountains were a battle zone in one of the civil wars that continue to devastate the country.

Traditionally the Nuba are farmers, but they are now employed in all segments of society. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, labour migrants have formed large Nuba communities in the large cities of North Sudan, like El Obeid, Khartoum and Port Sudan. In the 1980s and 1990s, the migrants were joined by hundreds of thousands of people who fled from violence. Since fighting in the Nuba Mountains was officially ended in January 2002, many refugees are returning home.

The following brief history aims at providing a broad perspective on the history of the Nuba. I have drawn from many different sources, and consulted scientists considered to be expert in their field for the more remote history. For the most recent history I have relied largely on interviews with Nuba who were closely involved in the developemts leading to the war in the Nuba Mountains and eventually the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2004.

I. The name Nuba
For centuries, the geographical area where the Nuba tribes live has been known as Dar Nuba: the land of the Nuba. The Tegali Kingdom (a truly Nuba kingdom indeed) was known on its own accord, as were several individual hills, but to the Arab people living around the area, the people of the Mountains were all Nuba. The Europeans, relying on the Arabs for information, used the same name.

Until very recently the Nuba people themselves would rather use their tribal name and many didn’t really consider themselves to be Nuba. In the words of Yousif Kuwa Mekki:
"It is one of the funniest things: when you were in the Nuba Mountains, you just knew your own tribe. We for example were Miri. So if we were asked: "Who are the Nuba?" we would try to say: "The other tribes - but not us." Only when we came out of the Nuba Mountains, to the north or south or west, we learned that we are all Nuba."
Linguist and anthropologist A.C. Stevenson noticed that:
"Some of the more educated are also shy of applying the term to themselves, they tend to reserve it for those they think of as rustic hill-dwellers: for them ‘Nuba’ is the reverse of a status symbol.
An old theory supposes a relationship between the word ‘Nuba’ and the Archaic Egyption nbw [nebu], meaning ‘gold’. In ancient times the land south of Egypt produced a lot of gold and so the people were gold diggers; or the ‘land of gold’ would be called Nubia (which it wasn’t) and its people Nuba… Brief: lot’s of charming nonsense. And then there is A.J. Arkell’s expalantion:
"The name of the Nuba apparently comes, like so many other tribal names in the Sudan (Berti, Berta, Burgu, etc-) from a word in their own language which means 'slaves'.
Surely there is a connection: the Nuba were harassed by slave raiders for many centuries and to the Arabs ‘Nuba’ became nearly synonymous with ‘slave’. But since Arkell doesn’t mention in which of the many Nuba languages their name means ‘slave’, there is little we can say about his theory, except quoting anthropologist S.F. Nadel:
"I will not attempt to trace the origin of this name or to speculate on its original meaning. Suffice to say that in none of the groups which I have studied is the term Nuba indigenous […]"

II. Kingdoms on the Nile
1. Nubia
There are Nuba and there are Nubians and this is cause for great confusion. The Nuba are the different peoples living in the Nuba Mountains in Southern Kordofan. The Nubians today are a people who live along the Nile at the border between Egypt and Sudan. Many of them were relocated when the Nasser Dam was built. The Nubians are considered to be descendants of the great Nubian Kingdoms of Kush; Meroe; Nobatia; Makuria (Dongola) or Alodia (Alwa).

                                            Nuba people

The word ‘Nubia’ is used to describe the land along the Nile south of Egypt; divided into a ‘lower Nubia’ for the area between the first and the second cataract, and an ‘upper Nubia’ for the land beyond the second cataract. Historically however there never was any kingdom or tribe or civilisation by the name Nubia. The use of ‘Nubia’ for the region seems to originate with European atlas makers of the early renaissance who drew maps based on the work of the astrologist and geographer Claudius Ptolemaeus (90-168 AD).6

The earliest Egyptian kings (pre-dynastic and those of the first dynasties) referred to the people to their south as Ta Seti or ‘people of the bow’, for their skill as archers. The Ta Seti were well organised, and their civilisation was not unlike that of the first Egyptians. They disappeared however.

By the Sixth Dynasty (ca. 2323-2150 BC), Egyptian references to Wawat, Irtjet, and Setju seem to identify different small kingdoms in Lower Nubia. They also mention Yam, a kingdom in upper Nubia. There was trade between Yam and Egypt.
SUDAN. Kordofan. The most graceful dancing in the whole of Nuba jebel area is found in the Kau-Nyaro district. Here the girls dance with rawhide whips held in their hands. George Rodger

While the Middle Kingdom replaced the Old Kingdom in Egypt (ca. 2134-2040 BC), political changes also took place in Upper Nubia. ‘Yam’ disappeared from Egyptian texts and was replaced by Kush, which the Egyptians described as ‘vile’ or ‘contemptible’. Kush became a major power in the south and it took over Lower Nubia around 1700 BC.

Chances turned again and the Egyptians of the New Kingdom (c.1532-1070 BC) crushed the Kush kingdom and its capital Kerma. By the end of the reign of Thutmose I in 1520 BC, all of Upper Nubia had been annexed. The Egyptians built a new administrative and religious centre at Napata; the Nubian elite adopted the worship of Egyptian gods and the hieroglyphic writing system. This way a lot of the ancient Egyptian culture was kept alive for many centuries while the power of Egypt slowly declined.

                                               Nuba people

By 800 BC Egypt had fragmented into rival states, but in 747 BC the Kushite king Piankhy (Piyi) marched north from his capital at Napata and reunified Egypt. Kushite kings ruled both Nubia and Egypt until the invasion of an Assyrian army in 667 BC. The Nubian king fled back to Napata and was defeated decisively in 664 BC.

In 656 BC Psamtik I, founder of the 26th Saite Dynasty, reunited Egypt. In 591 BC his successor Psamtik II invaded Kush and sacked and burned Napata. The kings of Kush moved their capital to Meroë, where they continued to build temples to Nubian and Egyptian gods. The kings were buried in pyramid tombs. Meroë developed a new script and began to write in the Meroitic language, which has yet to be fully deciphered.
SUDAN. Kordofan. A gathering of the Nuba tribe in the Korongo Jebels (mountians). Girl dancers from the village of Kao. 1949. George Rodger

Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 BC. His empire was short lived and Egypt once again became a kingdom, under the Ptolemy Dynasty (306-30 BC). The Ptolemies were of Greek descent and in official records the people to the south are now referred to as Aethiopians: Greek for ‘burned faces’. This name, given to them by the first great historian Herodotus, was kept by the Romans, who took control over Egypt in 30 BC.

During the reign of the Ptolemies, Meroe prospered. The initial relationship with the Romans wasn’t that good. According to geographer Strabo (63 BC-24 AD), in 24 BC:

[the Aethiopians] attacked the Thebaïs and the garrison of the three cohorts at [Aswan], and by an unexpected onset took [Aswan] and Elephantine and Philae, and enslaved the inhabitants, and also pulled down the statues of Caesar.7
In 23 BC the Roman governor of Egypt, Petronius,

first compelled them to flee to Pselchis, an Ethiopian city, and sent ambassadors demanding the return of what they had taken, and the reasons why they had begun the war.
The Aethiopians didn’t respond, so in 22 BC Petronius attacked them at Pselchis. Defeating the Aethiopians there, he advanced to Premnis. He took the city and continued to the capital of the Aethiopians at Napata, which he sacked. After some more hostilities, the Aethiopians and the Romans came to a peace agreement, and trade between them flourished for several centuries.
Before turning to the Nuba, I want to stress once more that wherever Nubia is mentioned, we must remember that there are no historic sources from antiquity that use this name. For the word Nuba, it’s a different story.

2. The Nuba enter history
Erastothenes (276 to 194 BC) is the first known author to mention a tribe called Nubae. We don’t have the original text, but Strabo was speaking on Erastothenes’ authority when he said:

[…] the parts on the left side of the course of the Nile, in Libya, are inhabited by Nubae, a large tribe, who, beginning at Meroë, extend as far as the bends of the river, and are not subject to the Aethiopians but are divided into several separate kingdoms.8
Erasthotenes is working his way downstream along the Nile, so he means that the Nubae lived between Meroe and Dongola.. It’s important that he makes a clear distinction between the Aethiopians and the Nubae.

I’ve already mentioned Claudius Ptolemaeus’ Geographica, that in c.150 AD places the Nubae south of Egypt. Contrary to what many people assume, he puts them east of the Nile. Ptolemaeus says the Nubae live to the far west of the Avalitae. Point is: Ptolemaeus is in this paragraph generally talking about the people east of the Nile, and he places the Avalitae to the African coast of the bay of Eden. Actually, Ptolemaeus mentions several tribes living between the Nubae and the river Nile.

Anyway: the Kings of Meroe no longer cared much for Lower Nubia., and neither did the Romans: Procopius of Caesarea (500-565 AD), relates how the Emperor Diocletian (245–312 AD) decided to withdraw Roman troops from Lower Nubia. Two nations to the south worried him though: the Blemmyae (Beja) to the southeast and the Nobatae to the southwest at a place called Premnis:

[…] so he persuaded these barbarians [the Nobatae] to move from their own habitations, and to settle along the River Nile […]. For in this way he thought that they would no longer harass the country about Pselchis at least, and that they would possess themselves of the land given them, as being their own, and would probably beat off the Blemmyae and the other barbarians.
And since this pleased the Nobatae, they made the migration immediately, just as Diocletian directed them, and took possession of all the Roman cities and the land on both sides of the River beyond the city of Elephantine.
Clearly the Nobatae are no subjects of Meroe. At this time, around 300 AD, Meroe’s power declined rapidly, weakened by the advance of people from both East and West.
Nuba man,Kordofan,Sudan

In the east Axum was coming up. This Kingdom in what is today Ethiopia, reached the hight of its power under its first Christian ruler Ezana (330–356 AD). In an inscription found in Meroe, he announces:

I took the field against the Noba when the people of Noba revolted and did violence to the Mangurto; Hasa and Barya, and the Black Noba waged war on the Red Noba. I fought on the Takkaze [Atbara] at the ford of Kemalke. They fled, and I pursued the fugitives twenty-three days slaying them and capturing others and taking plunder; I burnt their towns, and seized their corn and their bronze and the dried meat and the images in their temples and destroyed the stocks of corn and cotton; and the enemy plunged into the river Seda [Blue Nile].
I arrived at the Kasu [Kush], slaying them and taking others prisoner at the junction of the rivers Seda and Takkaze. I dispatched troops up the Seda against their towns of Alwa and Daro; they slew and took prisoners and threw them into the water and they returned safe and sound. And I sent the troops down the Seda against the towns of straw of the Noba and Negues; the towns of masonry of the Kasu which the Noba had taken were Tabito, Fertoti; and they arrived at the territory of the Red Noba, and my people returned safe and sound after they had taken prisoners and slain others and had seized their plunder.10
Despite advances made by archaeologists and linguists in unravelling the complex situation around Meroe, it is still impossible to say what really happened. Apparently the Black Noba were the ones revolting; they attacked the neighbouring people, including the Red Noba and they took over some Kasu towns. But towns still held by the Kasu, were sacked just the same, and the Red Noba territory wasn’t spared by the Axumite armies either.
Nuba woman,West Nuba, Sudan

In the next few centuries three Christian Kingdoms emerged from the ruins of the Kushite Kingdom. The first one is Nobatia in Lower Nubia; there’s little doubt that Nobatia was established by the Nobatae mentioned by Procopius. The second one is Makuria, between the third cataract and somewhere between the fifth and the sixth; also known after its capital as Dongola, it could well have evolved from the part of the Kushite Kingdom that was taken over by the Black Noba. The third is Alodia to the South of Makuria; also known as Alwa, it could have been the remainder of the Kushite Kingdom. The rulers of these kingdoms were converted to Christianity by missionaries from different sects.

Nobatia was annexed by Makuria somewhere in the seventh century AD, probably just before the Muslim invasion of Egypt that commenced in 639 AD. The Muslims pushed southwards, but were halted by the army of the Makuria King, with whom they signed a treaty known as the Baqt, to which both parties seem to have kept for quite a long time. It wasn’t until the fourteenth century that Makuria collapsed, soon followed by Alodia, that was overtaken from the south by the newly emerging Funj empire.

The current state of understanding regarding the origin of the Nubians has been summarised by D. A. Welsby. After going through all the available information of historic sources and archeology, he concludes that:

In the sources we have a plethora of names which may refer to a single people, among them Nubae, Nobades, Nobates, Annoubades, Noba, Nouba and Red Noba. The significance of these names is unclear, they may be different names used loosely by our sources, Greek, Roman, Aksumite, Byzantine and Arab, for the same people, refer to sub-groups, or refer to different peoples altogether. Certainly archaeologically we cannot recognise different cultural assemblages to match each name, but we do not have a single culture covering the whole of the area occupied by these peoples. It is these people or peoples who coalesced into the three Nubian kingdoms first attested in the sixth century.

It is assumed that the Nubians gradually infiltrated the Kushite state, with or without the acquiescence of the Kushite rulers, and that, with the weakening of Kushite central authority, they were able to take over the reins of power and eclipse the Kushite ruling class. Another manifestation of this rise to prominence is the sudden appearance on the one hand of their traditional hand-made ceramics in the southern part of the middle Nile Valley, and the demise of the finer Kushite pottery as well as the apparent demise of the Kushite state and religious institutions, Kushite art, architecture, and literacy in the Meroitic language.

A graffito in Greek, carved on the wall of the former Temple of Isis at Philae some time after 537, reads ‘I, Theodosios, a Nubian’ (Nouba) and provides evidence for the name used by the Nubians to describe their ethnicity.
Korongo Nuba Women, Kordofan, Southern Sudan

 3. The Nuba on the Nile and the Nuba in the Mountains.
Of course it’s tempting to draw a line from the Nile south-eastward. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to provide the Nuba with an ancestry that goes well beyond the arrival of the Arab conquerors? Al right: the Nuba came to the Nile Kingdoms after the time of the Pharaohs, so we forget about Kush and the rule over Egypt… but three ancient Kingdoms that lasted from roughly 400 to 1600 BC wouldn’t be bad, would it?

Well, to begin with: for the majority of the Nuba tribes there is nothing to suggest a relationship with the Nuba on the Nile. No archaeological finds, no linguistic relationships. The only Nuba tribes that can be linked to the Nuba on the Nile, are those speaking one of the Nubian languages. In order to understand more about the relationship between the two groups, we need to look into linguistics classifications.

The basic idea behind linguistic classification is that people speaking the same language can drift apart, after which the language develops differently in the two groups. After so many hundreds of years this leads to the creation of two different languages. Linguists look at lexicological, grammatical and structural aspects of different languages to group them according to affiliation. With the help of standard word lists they can determine the level of proximity between two affiliated languages.

Researchers of the nineteenth century already acknowledged the linguistic affiliation between the Nuba on the Nile, several Nuba tribes in the Mountains and some scattered communities in Darfur.12 They all speak Nubian languages, classified with the Eastern Sudanic branch of the Nilo-Saharan language family. For a long time, the burning question was: did the Nuba in the Mountains come from the Nile, or did the Nuba on the Nile come from the west?

Despite the Arab conquest of Egypt and the ensuing Islamisation, the people along the Nile in Lower Nubia retained their original language, known as Nubian, or Nobiin for linguists. Closely related to Nobiin is Dongolawi, spoken up the river around Dongola in present day Sudan. Nobiin and Dongolawi probably drifted apart about 1100 years ago – give or take a century or two. Their languages, and specially Nobiin, are considered to be remnants of Old-Nubian, spoken in the Chrsitian Kingdoms of Nobatia, Dongola and Alwa.

Both Nobiin and Dongolawi are related to the so-called Hill Nubian languages of the Nuba Mountains and Darfur. The tribes that speak Hill-Nubian include those of Dilling, Kadaru and Ghulfan; Wali, Karko, Habila, Debri and some tribes more to the West like Tabag and Abu Jinuk.13 Looking at their geographical dispersion, you can imagine them coming from the northeast, some entering the Nuba Mountains from the side of Kadaru, some moving on westward around the Nyimang hills.

                                                              Mahdi mahdist revolt

This combines well with events at the Nile in the 13th century AD. After centuries of stability, Bedouin tribes driven south by the Mameluks14 , started raiding Makuria. To the east the Beja were harassing Egypt and the Mameluks decided that if Makuria couldn’t keep the Beja in check, it was time to take matters in their own hands. The region was completely destabilised and we can imagine the people from Makuria fleeing south, until they found refuge in the Nuba Mountains. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Well… to make a long story longer: linguistic evidence rules against it. Apart from Nobiin, Dongolawi and Hill-Nubian, there are two other Nubian language group: Birgid and Meidob, found further to the west scattered over Darfur (Meidob being extinct by now). Combining linguistic data from the different Nubian languages, J.H. Greenberg concluded that ‘to assume any split between Hill Nubian and Nile Nubian more recent than 2,500 years B.P. [before present] would be incorrect.’

Of course we can’t give up a beautiful ancestry that easily: C. Herzog noticed that some Hill-Nubian languages have Christian words for days of the week, and other loan words too: the Nuba in Kordofan came from the Nile after all! But R. Thelwall wasn’t impressed:
We are very confident that Nobiin (and later Dongolawi) came to the Nile from a centre of dispersion in Darfur-Kordofan which they occupied and controlled for perhaps 4000 years. We know that there were Nubian speakers on the Nile at least as early as the 500s CE and probably much earlier. The fact that the Hill Nubian languages have words for the days of the week dating back to Christian Nubian indicates that these languages were in contact at least during the Christian Nubian period which probably covers 500 CE - 1400 CE. This does not necessarily mean that the Hill Nubians did more than expand from central Kordofan into the NubaMountains during the period of Nubian political dominance from Aswan to Kosti (at least). But given the location of the Hill Nubian speakers (Dair, Dilling, Karko etc) along the NE edge of the Mountains it appears that they were "incomers" settling among the existing Nyima and Temein groups who were there before them.
Traditional Nuba people

It might be a disappointing conclusion for some Nuba, but by now no scholar would still argue that the Nuba in the Mountains are descendants of the Nubian Kingdoms. But let’s not linger with the Nubians any longer: there’s more to explore!

III. The origins of the Nuba

1. ‘We have always lived here.’
But if the Nuba didn’t come from the Nile, then were did they come from? Shall I just say that we have no idea where the Nuba people came from? It would not be far from the facts. S. F. Nadel puts it this way:
We know little about the ancient history of the Nuba tribes. […] It often seems as if historical traditions had been cut short by the overpowering experience of the Mahdist regime (1881- 1898), which must have severed all links with a more distant […] past. In some tribes the tradition of past movements or previous places of settlement are summarized in one sentence: ‘we have always lived here.’ Other tribes have more definite and more illuminating traditions, which may even be supported by objective evidence. […] They shed no light on the question of the original home of the Nuba peoples, nor do they supply information as to when and how this area became the habitat of its large and varied population.18

There are simply neither written sources nor archaeological finds that can shed more light on what wanderings brought all the different Nuba tribes to their present place. Below we will see that for the groups that arrived most recently (within the past millennium or two) we have at least an idea of where they migrated from. But beyond that: nothing.

2. The classification of Nuba languages
Maybe systematic archaeological research could shed more light on the origins of the Nuba people, but right now we will have to concentrate on linguistic findings. Linguistics is a complex field, not very sexy to be honest, but in many cases, it’s all we have. So we will first look at the classification of the different Nuba languages, and then move on to the question of who came to the Mountains at what time.

                                                  Nuba warriors

The Nuba Languages can be classified into members of two or perhaps three language families: Nilo-Saharan and Kordofanian.
A. The Kordofanian languages consist of four groups located in the southern and eastern areas of the Nuba Mountains: Heiban, Talodi, Rashad and Katla. Kordofanian languages are considered a branch of the Niger-Congo family, which encompasses all Bantu languages, and in general most of the languages spoken in Sub-Saharan Africa. The only thing is: Kordofanian doesn’t resemble any of the other Niger-Congo languages closely. It constitutes a group of its own and geographically also, Kordofanian is isolated. In other words: we don’t have a clue as to how these Kordofanian speaking Nuba ended up in the Nuba Mountain.
B. The Kadugli Group is located in the south east central fringe area near Kadugli. It was earlier classified as part of Kordofanian but is currently considered part of Nilo-Saharan. This is another large phylum: Dinka and Nuer are Nilo-Saharan languages, and so are many languages of Chad and Congo, as well as several languages spoken in Nigeria.
C. The rest of the Nuba languages are classified as part of a major sub-group of Nilo-Saharan called Eastern Sudanic. They consist of Hill Nubian, Daju, Timein and Nyimang. The tribes speaking Eastern Sudanic languages can be found in the north western areas of the Mountains.

                                     Nuba warriors painting themselves with white clay

3. Linguistic settlement
As we’ve just seen in the case of the Nubian speakers, shifts in related languages can tell us something about how long ago the speakers of those languages went their own way. Unfortunately this is not very exact, as Robin Thellwall explained to me:
[the] reconstructions are based minimally on linguistic distance and extrapolated onto a fairly speculative time frame (glotto-chronology).  Such a time framework is only a provisional and relative model to be tested against other evidence (archaeology, oral traditions, blood types, climate history, agricultural and animal husbandry terminology etc). This has not happened for the NubaMountains.

However, for ‘The Linguistic Settlement of the Nuba in the Mountains’ Thelwall and Schadeberg20 analysed all the available data from the Nuba languages, and they came up with the following hypothesis regarding the relative chronology of the linguistic settlement of the Mountains:
1. Kordofanian language speakers came earlier than all the others
2. Nyimang; Temein and Kadugli language groups followed them
3. Daju speakers of Shatt and Liguri were next
4. Hill Nubian speakers – probably somewhere between 500 and 1400 AD
5. Daju speakers around Lagawa, who settled there relatively recently.
Nuba girl

4. Kordofanian
Heiban, Katla, Rashad and Talodi are the current names for the different groups of Kordofanian languages that cover the eastern half of the Nuba Mountains and a large part of the centre. Within the language group, differentiation has progressed much further than in the other Nuba language groups. According to R. Thelwall ‘the family has a time depth of a minimum of 6000 years.’21 This means that you would have to go back at least 6000 years in time to find all Kordofanian speakers speaking the same language. Kordofanian is classified with the Niger-Congo languages, and the nearest Niger-Congo speaking people would be found over the border of Sudan in southern Chad, in Central African Republic and in the Congo. The relationship between Kordofanian and the rest of Niger-Congo is not clear. The current subdivision of Kordofanian is as follows:

I. Heiban is spoken in a large area that has a geographical centre in the town of Heiban. It can be subdivided in an eastern section, with Kau and Werni in the south-east; a central section with Koalib, Laro, Heiban, Otoro, Shwai and Logol, and a western section with Moro and Tira.

For these tribes, memory doesn’t reach back far enough to retain any information about the origins of the people. We might learn that the Nuba of Kau, who became world-famous through the photographs of Leni Riefenstahl, have been living in their present location for at least 200 years. According to J. C. Faris:
Oral traditions document that they were in place before the first Arab Movements into the area (c. 1800, see Cunnison, 1966: 3), and remains of surface habitation, genealogies, and linguistic separation from other of the Koalib-Moro language family all indicate an even greater time span.
But what does this mean? It could be 500 years; 2000 years… we don’t know.

The Tira have an idea of where they came from, but their place of origin is still within the Nuba Mountains, and the time frame is also rather limited:
According to their traditions, the Tira people […] came originally from a place called Rila, said to have been situated between Sheibun and Kadugli […]. They left for unknown reasons to settle on Tomboro hill, in the Moro massif. This tradition is corroborated by the Moro, who still remember that Tomboro […] was inhabited by Tira […] at the time when the Moro first settled in that region. Driven from Tombore by the Arabs, the Tira migrated east, a few groups to Tira Lomon, the rest to Tira el Akhdar. This final migration too place only three generations ago […]. When the fathers and grandfathers of the present generation arrived in Tira they found there already three Tira clans living, speaking the language of the immigrants and possessing an identical culture.

In connection with Tira, it might be nice to include a story told by S. C. Dunn. Having researched gold washing practices in the Nuba Mountains, he writes that gold could be found mainly in Tira Mandi, with some small deposits in Dungur and Atoro. He also went to Sheibun, which was universally believed to be a place where gold was found…
[At Jebel Shwai] Sheikh Naser, his son and several elders […] described to me roughly the position of the pits at Sheibun […]. An old Nuba who knew and had worked at Sheibun was provided as a guide; and I departed for Sheibun. During six hours of climbing around the group of little hills […] I had been led to a little hole on the hill side where some fine white clay had been extracted, to an old rain water pond, to the sites of the old villages and to some mounds of mountain debris. I then said that in my opinion there was not and never had been either gold or gold-washing at Sheibun; and the policemen with me said that was exactly what the Shawabna had told them privately the day before yesterday. [No one told me, because they] thought I would be angry.
Sheibun did turn out to be the main market where the gold from Tira Mandi was sold though.
Nuba girl

The Moro also have only a limited awareness of their history:
The ancient home of the Moro people was on Lebu hill, in the western massif [of the Moro area]. Growing too numerous, the tribe [split: one] group remained in Lebu; the second moved to the northern edge of the massif […]; the third migrated to [Umm Dorein]. At that time the eastern massif was still uninhabited. Three or four generations ago the Moro began to settle there […]. This migration […] was prompted by the pressure of population and the search for new lanf, better protected from the Arab raiders.

The Koalib have a tradition that says that:
the northern Koalib lived originally in Kortala, side by side with [a tribe called] Nyemu. Arab (?) pressure drove the Nyemu to Jebel Dair, and some of the Koalib to their present habitat.
In his 2003 Land Study, Simon Harragin writes:
There is historical evidence that the Koalib were once resident on the plains much further west than their current position (Sagar, 1922: 138). Together with the Nyimang, the Koalib occupied the area around Dilling before Ghulfan and Kadaru drove a wedge between them. […] However, the historical claim mainly relies on oral history.

II. Katla, which holds both Katla and Tima, is spoken in the hills southwest of Dilling. I didn’t even find any sources related to their origin.

III. Rashad can be divided into three languages: Tegali, spoken in the Tegali hills, the Rashad hills and the town of Rashad; Tagoi, spoken in Tagoi, Moreb and Tumale, and Tingal, also in the Tegali Hills.

The Nuba of the Tegali kingdom are basically the only ones to have a documented history that goes back beyond the 19th century. It doesn’t provide any clues however, to their origins. The founding stories of the kingdom speak of a ‘wise stranger’ coming to Tegali and starting a dynasty – a common theme in Sudanese traditions29 . I will gladly get back to the kingdom in the next chapter.

IV. Talodi is a group of languages mainly found in the southern part of the Mountains. It can be devided into Lafofa on the central Eliri range and some adjacent hills, and a large Talodi proper group that can be broken down into four groups: Talodi is spoken in Talodi town and on Jebel Talodi; Eliri on the southern Eliri range; Masakin, with Dagik and Ngile as two separate languages, is spoken in the Masakin hills; in Buram, Reikha and Daloka, and finally Tocho, branched into Acherun, Limun and Tocho.

The first Nuba people to hit the coffee tables in an impressive book by Leni Riefenstahl, were the Masakin Qisar, as she calls them. Reifenstahl stayed with the Masakin on several occasions, for weeks or months, but she doesn’t seem to have inquired after their origin. To her, they were ‘Menschen wie von einem anderen Stern’: people that might just as well have come from another star. And of course, in a sense, that is true. We don’t know where the Masakin came from, just as we don’t know where the other Nuba from the Talodi group originated.

5. Nyimang, Temein and Kadugli
These three language groups are unique, like the Kordofanian languages, in the fact that     they are only spoken in the Nuba Mountains. Judging from the large internal linguistic diversity within each group, the Nyimang, Temein and Kadugli speaking tribes might well have been in the Mountains for more than 2000 years.30 They seem to have come to the Nuba Mountains in tough times, with a lot of people on the move, losing touch with one another. In the words of Thellwal and Schadeberg:
All three groups have a reasonably compact distribution within the NubaMountains: Kadugli along the southwestern edge, Temein to the West, and Nyimang to the north. This suggests outside origins and immigration from these respective directions. Assuming that equal internal diversity corresponds to some roughly consistent time depth we may argue that at this particular time in history conditions prevailed in the NubaMountains which resulted in population scattering and reduced inter-group communication. As it is more likely that such conditions originated outside the refuge area we may further speculate that migration to the NubaMountains and diversification occurred in close historical union.31

There is not an awful much to tell about the origins of each individual group, but let’s have a look at them anyway:

I. Nyimang is spoken by the people living on the seven hills of Nyimang: Salara, Tendiya, Kurmeti, Nitil, Fassu, Kelara and Kakara. It is also spoken by the people in the Mandal Hills and at Sobei, and by the more distantly related Afitti in Jebel Dair. The Nyimang call themselves Ama – ‘People’ – or ama mede kolat: people of the seven hills. Little is known about their origin, but S. F. Nadel reports that:
the tribe [migrated] from a country ‘in the west’, ‘beyond Tima and Abu Ginuk’, whose name is given as Kugya.32
With R. C. Stevenson this becomes Kwuja or Kwija, which could be Kubja in the El Odaiya area. According to Stevenson the Nyimang:
say that they settled first in the eastern hillsof the Nyimang range – Nitil, Kurmiti and Fassu – which they found unoccupied, and only later pushed westwards to Tendia and Salara. [At Salara] they claim to have found the Kunit (one of the Hill Nubian groups) there and to have driven them north after a severe struggle.
The way the Hill Nubian tribes surround the Nyimang makes this scenario rather improbable. Stevenson remarks that it’s more likely that the Nyimang occupied a larger territory – stretching at least as far as Dilling, until the Hill Nubians arrived.

II. Temein is spoken in the Temein hills (north of Julud); the related Keiga  and Teisei are found in Keiga Jirru (west of Debri) and Teisei um-Danab (north-east of Kadugli) respectively. There is nothing to tell about the origin of the Temein, except that:
the people of Keiga Jirru claim to have migrated from Temein in the ‘distant past’, and this is supported by Temein tradition which relates that the people of both Keiga Jirru and Teisei-Umm-Danab migrated during a time of famine.

III. Kadugli as a collective name is not really covering the large range of related languages that are grouped together here. Usually Kadugli is mentioned together with Katcha and Miri; they are so closely related that they could be considered dialects rather then separate languages. There are a number of Nuba languages put together with Kadugli-Miri-Katcha as ‘unclassified’ Nilo-Saharan languages: Tulishi, Kanga, Keiga, Korongo and Tumtum. They are clearly related to each other and to Kadugli-miri-Katcha, but the exact affiliation hasn’t been determined. R. C. Stevenson calls them the Kadugli-Krongo group:
 [‘the area covered by the group is very widespread; running along the south-west, its limits are Tullishi in the west and Kurondi in the south-east.] The most important hill ranges are Miri, Kadugli and Krongo, after two of which the group has been named.’ 35 In recent publications the group is referred to as the Kadu languages; I will use this term for convenience. The languages from north-west to south-east:

Tulishi is spoken around Jebel Tulishi, Lagawa, Kamdang and Dar El Kabira.
Keiga at Jebel Demik (north of Miri): Ambong, Lubung and Tumuro
Miri in Miri Bara, Miri Guwa, Luba etc.; all lie west of Kadugli.
Kadugli is spoken in Kadugli and the in villages surrounding the town.
Katcha is spoken in villages of Katcha, Tuna, Kafina, Dabakaya (Donga), Belanya, and Farouq, a short distance south of Kadugli and southeast of the Miri Hills.
Kanga in Abu Sinun, Chiroro-Kursi, Kanga, Kufa-Lima, Krongo Abdalla
Korongo towards the south in Tabanya, Toroji, Dar and Angolo; in Damaguto, Dimadragu and Dimodongo, and in Fama, Teis and Kua.
Tumtum on Jebel Eliri: Karondi, Talassa and Tumtum

There is not much to tell about the origins of the people speaking one of the Kadu languages: no one knows where they came from. The linguistic and cultural affiliation among the different tribes is clear though. G. Baumann, who spent 18 months among the Miri people, doing research, says:
The Miri form part of a larger cultural and linguistic unit known as the Kadugli-Krongo group. […] My own travels in the Kadugli-Krongo region produced a recurring impression of a common cultural heritage that encompassed not only linguistic affinity, but institutions, customs, verbal concepts, and sensitivities shared across boundaries. It is true that each of the Kadugli-Krongo communities has gone its own, different way in the processes of change over recent decades. [But] recent diversification has not as yet been able to obscure or supersede the shared cultural heritage of the neighbouring groups.
Nuba wrestler

Relationships between the communities are usually recognised by the people themselves, and some myths of origin exist, but only for movements within the Nuba Mountains. S. F. Nadel recorded for example that the people of Korongo:
claim close cultural and linguistic affinity with [...] Tumtum on Jebel Talodi, Dere on Jebel Illiri, and three small hill groups in the west: Tesh, Fama and Shatt Safiya. [...] I have checked its truth in Talodi, Tesh and Fama. But the people of Shatt, as I discovered, have a different language and culture and are altogether of a different ethnic stock. The Korongo attribute this community of culture to the common origin of the today widely scattered groups. According to Korongo tradition, Jebel Tabuli, a large, now uninhabited, hill massif east of Korongo, was the ancient home of these different groups.
Africa | A Nuba from Kau with his painted face mask.  Sudan.  Featured in the 1976 publication: People of Kau. | © Leni Riefenstahl.
Nuba from Kau

Another example can be given for the people of Tulishi:
The Tullishi people assert, with the rigidity of a dogma, that they have ‘always’ lived in their hills, unaffected by immigrations. […] The Tullishi people are fully aware of [the] affinity with Kamdang and Truj, but have no traditions of origin or past migrations which might attempt to explain this tribal kinship. They have such traditions with regard to the people of Miri (as also of Jebel Damik and Keiga), with whom they claim a common, or closely similar, language, and common clans. [They lived closely together once, but they split up after a dispute.] The Miri people, we may add, share the tradition of the ancient kinship of the two tribes.38
This is confirmed by G. Baumann, who writes:
The mythical link with Tulishi is quite universally recalled […]. Formerly, the Tulishi people lived here on top of a hill called Igyol. [They did something wrong] so they migrated to present home.

And that’s it as far as these the Nyimang, the Temein and the Kadugli language speaking Nuba are concerned.

6. Hill Nubian
As discussed at length above, the Hill Nubian speaking tribes came to the Mountains from the North, probably before 1400 AD. The different languages are classified as follows:

Ghulfan and Kadaru are grouped together. Ghulfan is spoken in Ghulfan Kurgul and Ghulfan Morung; Kadaru in the hill communites of Kadaru, Kururu, Kafir, Kurtala, Dabatna and Kuldaji.
Dilling is spoken in the town and the surrounding villages
Dair, in the western and southern parts of Jebel Dair
Karko in the Karko Hills and Dulman; maybe also Abu Jinik and Tabaq.
Wali in the Wali Hills

Thelwall and Schadeberg can’t say more as to why or when exactly the Hill Nubians migrated south:
Whether this occurred due to pressure from Arab nomads as Arkell40 proposes, or whether an earlier date should be assumed is not clear. The relative closeness of the Hi1l Nubian dialects to each other does not suggest the presence of isolated Nubian communities in these hills for several millennia.
It was probably a gradual process. R. C. Stevenson writes:
Nubian speech was brought to the northern NubaMountains by tribal movements accelerated by the Arab influx during the past few centuries. In Rüppell’s time (mid 1820s) it was still spoken on the plains south of El Obeid.

The most detailed account of how some of the Hill Nubians came to the Nuba Mountains is given by S. F. Nadel:
The Warke, or Dilling people, have preserved very clear traditions of their origin and past history. Originally, these traditions state, the tribe was living at Abdel Baka in the Ghadayat, under the ‘Sultans’ of that Kingdom, The Ghadayat are said to have been of Fung origin, and ethnically related to the Warke. Later Arab attacks forced the latter to emigrate. They moved first to Boti (now known as Sungikai) , then to Shirma, or Jebel Tukuma (ten miles east of Dilling), and finally to Dilling. The Ghadayat, in their old home, are said to have become ‘like Arabs’, while the Warke ‘became Nuba’. The ancient link, however, survived in the political sphere; the Dilling people remained tributary to the Sultans of Abdel Baka and still recognize, symbolically, their suzerainty […] The genealogy of Dilling chiefs mentions ten who already resided in Dilling. Their relationship is not remembered, but we may assume that their reign embraces a period of no less, and probably more, than 100 years.
The Dilling know of their close cultural and linguistic links with Kaduru and Ghulfan [...]. The most widely accepted tradition is this: that the people of Kaduru have lived together with the Warke in the Ghadayat, but later separated; that the Ghulfan groups are of Fung origin, but unknown home; and that a small, isolated group, akin to Dilling in language and culture, and living today on Jebel Tabak in Western Kordofan, had shared with the Warke their old home on Jebel Takuna, but afterwards migrated to its present habitat.43

7. The Daju speaking tribes
The Daju speaking tribes came to the Nuba Mountains from the west, from a Daju Kingdom that we know conveniently little about. The Kingdom was based, as early perhaps as 1200 AD, in Jebel Marrah, a rain-fed mountain range in an otherwise arid country. The Daju controlled the area between southern Jebel Marra and the western edges of the Nuba Mountains. They were displaced by the Tunjur at the end of the fourteenth century, and left no records besides a list of kings that ends with King Kasi Furogé. The Daju were scattered by the Tunjur and we find them back in some isolated pockets across a wide area of Chad and Sudan, in the regions of Kordofan, Darfur, and Wadai.

Linguistically things don’t seem to be too complicated: following R.C. Stevenson we differentiate between Eastern and Western Daju.
The Eastern Daju speakers all live in the Nuba Mountains. They are the Shatt in the Shatt Hills south-west of Kadugli (Shatt Damam, Shatt Safaia and Shat Tebeldia), and Liguri and Soburi in the hills north-east of the city.
The Western Daju are more scattered. In Chad we find the Mongo in Dar Daju and the Sila in Dar Sila. In Sudan the Nyala around Nyala in Darfur; the Beigo (extinct) in southern Darfur; and the Njalgulgule in southern Sudan on the Sopo River. Also belonging to the Western Daju are the Daju living near Lagawa. and that brings us back to the Nuba Mountains.

Looking at the linguistic data, Robin Thelwall is convinced that the Eastern Daju languages separated from the others long ago, perhaps as much as 2000 years. The Shatt and Liguri have been in the Mountains much longer than the Lagawa, and because of the considerable linguistic distance between the Shatt and the Liguri, it is likely that their migration into the Nuba Mountains predates not only the Lagawa, but also the Nubian arrival in this area. .
Nuba people

So linguistically it seems clear. Historically it’s a bit hazy though. There is no doubt that 250 years ago there were two people, Daju and Shatt, living in the area of Muglad west of the Nuba Mountains. K. D. D. Henderson, one of the first British district commissioners of Western Kordofan District, says the Daju and Shatt arrived there from Darfur around 1710.46 According to Ian Cunnison they were driven away by the Messyria:
When [the Messeria Homr] reached where they are now, they found two pagan tribes: the Shatt and Daju in Muglad [Deinga]. Homr therefore drove the two tribes out of the area. Shatt escaped further south where they met the Ngok Dinka and were further driven west [...]. The Daju escaped [east] and settled among the Nuba.47

Henderson says the Messeria Baggara came to Muglad around the decade of 1765-1775,48 so we have a pretty exact indication of when the Daju came to Lagawa. But what about the Shatt? They went south until they met the Ngok Dinka and were driven west?
Please, don’t let the name confuse you: these are not the Shatt in the Nuba Hills. The Ethnologue: Languages of the World explains:
'Caning' is their own name for themselves. 'Shatt' is applied by Arabic speakers to inhabitants of the Kordofan Hills. It means 'dispersed', 'scattered', and is applied to various groups. Distinct from Shatt (Thuri) in the Lwo group, or the Shatt dialect of Mundu.49
The last two groups are living in South Sudan, so that makes sense. It doesn’t explain however why Watkiss Lloyd, the first Governor of Kordofan, would report:
The natives of [Shat el Safia, and Shat el Damman] say they formerly occupied the whole of Dar Homr, and this is confirmed by the Homr Arabs, who say there is still a small settlement of the same tribe at a place they call Shat, a few miles over our border.50
We must asume that he just listened to the wrong natives. And what to make of the reconstruction of the Daju and Shatt migration that R.C. Stevenson distilled from K.D.D. Henderson’s data? In his account, the Daju and the Shatt were migrating east together, reaching Muglad around 1710 and moving sort of leisurely towards the area west of Lagawa in the following decennia. From there some of them continued to Liguri and Soburi while others (the Shatt) settled south of Kadugli. Stevenson was a distinguished linguist; but somehow he didn’t realise that the differences between the Daju and the Shatt were too big for them to have come to the Nuba Mountains together.
And this, for now, brings me to the end of the investigation into the origins of the Nuba. The results can’t be called glorious, can they? (But the struggle is heroic.) In the next chapter we will focus on more substantial stories of the period before the Mahdiya.

IV. Invasions of Kordofan
1. Sennar
In a battle at Dongola in 652, the Makurian forces halted the Arab invasion of Nubia. The Baqt, a treaty concluded between the Arabs and the Makurians, allowed trade to flourish between Nubia and the Arab world for nearly seven hundred years. Caravan routes traversed the country from south to north and from west to east. The commerce attracted Arab merchants who settled among the indigenous people along the Nile. Arabs also found a place in the Red Sea Hills, where gold was found. Gradually, over a period of nearly a thousand years, the influence of the Arabic settlers grew. Intermarriage with indigenous elites and wealth from trade, rather than force, brought the Arabs to positions of esteem.

The slow process of Arabization and Islamization was hastened by the rise of the Funj Kingdom of Sennar.1 The Funj were Africans, who arrived in the area of ancient Alodia in 1504. Within decades, Sennar ruled over a large part of Northern Sudan. Its monarchy embraced Islam in 1523, inviting Muslim scholars and missionaries to spread the faith. Arab culture and social organisation became more and more dominant. Sennar thrived on trade along the caravan routes, on slaves and on the gold found in the realm of the kingdom. The influence of Sennar stretched at least into Southern Kordofan, and during the sixteenth and seventeenth century migration from the river towards the west brought the Arab influence into this province of Sennar. The first tribes that migrated during this period claim to be Arabs, but the genealogies they give are usually as creative as they are unlikely.2

For an uncertain period of time, but probably beginning in the latter half of the sixteenth century a part of Korodofan called the Ghudiyat was a province to Sennar. The ruling elite of the Ghudiyat was of Funj origin and resided at Abdel Baka. According to MacMichael, their rule was only predominant during a short period: from 1755 to 1768. But they remained where they were after the demise of Sennar.3 You may remember that the Warke, or people of Dilling, originated from there. At the time Nadel recorded the historic relations between the Warke and the Ghudiyat (around 1939), each new chief of Dilling still recognized the suzerainty of the Sultan of the Ghudiyat. At least ten generations of Dilling chiefs had travelled to Abdel Baka to receive the symbols of their authority from the Sultan.4 It is quite remarkable that this relationship survived into the twentieth century: Kordofan was taken from Sennar by the Darfurians; it was invaded by Arab nomads; Sennar itself was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire and the Mahdi and the Khalifa ravaged Kordofan before it finally became part of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. In ‘A Premise for Precolonial Nuba History’ J. Spaulding speculates that the same relationship existed between the Sultan and other tribes related to the Warke: the Kaduru, the Ghulfan and the Tabak.5 Nadel doesn’t mention it, but it would not be too far fetched to assume that more Nuba tribes, through the Ghudiyat, once were tributary to Sennar.

2. Keira
For at least seven hundred years Jebel Marra in Southern Darfur was the centre of a Kingdom or Sultanate that was first dominated by the Daju (900-1400?), then by the Tunjur (1400?-1650) and eventually by the Fur (1650–1916). Politically the Kingdoms of Darfur were more influenced by developments to their west and north than by the situation at the Nile.6 Point of gravity for these developments is the Kanem-Bornu Empire centred around Lake Chad. Kanem-Borno was influential because for centuries it controlled the main route for trans-Sahara trade. The empire was first ruled by the Zaghawa, or Duguwa, until about 1075 AD the Sayfuwa took over. Succession was not a matter of conquest, but rather of one elite supplanting the other. As Islam followed the same trail as the caravans across the desert, the elites of Kanem-Borno were relatively early to convert to Islam. This played a major role in the power shift from Zhagawa to Sayfuwa.7

Now back to Darfur: the Daju are the first recorded people to have established a state around Jebel Marra. They are believed to have been related to the Zhagawa by some; they could also have been one of the Ouaddai tribes according to others.8 Whatever happened exactly: the power of the Daju Kingdom declined at a time when the Sayfuwa moved their capital from the east of Lake Chad to the west of it, possibly because of the rise of the Bilala Sultanate, in the late fourteenth century. The Daju were replaced by a people called the Tunjur. Their origin is even more obscure than that of the Daju. Some say the Tunjur came from the West, through Borno and Ouaddai.9 The Tunjur were Muslims or were converted to Islam during their reign in Darfur that lasted until about 1650 AD.

The Fur were a people living in the Tunjur realm and they probably didn’t have to fight very hard to gain control of the institutions. The Tunjur intermarried with the Fur and eventually the Fur became dominant. Their reign was known as the Keira Sultanate, founded by Suleiman Solongdungo around 1650.10 The Keira Sultanate lasted until 1916, when it was annexed to the Sudan by the British-Egyptian administration. The population in the Sultanate was made up of a large variety of ethnic groups that lived together without too many conflicts. The Keira rulers first settled the relationship with the Ouaddai to their west before turning their attention eastward. For several centuries they controlled at least part of Kordofan. Wes African Muslims performing the Hadj (pilgrimage to Mekka) started to trek through Keira towards the Nile. They crossed the river at Dongola and from there moved on to the Red Sea, to cross to Mekka by boat. This steady movement to and from Mekka, together with the trade (mainly in slaves) made Keira prosperous, and the Sultans were keen to protect the caravan routes. They also invited Arab merchants from both the western Islamic regions and the Nile region to settle in their territory. From time to time Keira and Sennar would be in conflict over Kordofan until 1784/5. Keira conquered the region and remained in control until the Egyptian Viceroy Muhammad Ali Pasha sent his forces south in 1821, in search of slaves for his army.

3. Tagali
Both Sennar and Keira considered Kordofan as a province. Sennar was more influential in the south while Keira’s power was felt in northern Kordofan, and they contested each other for control over central Kordofan. Nothing indicates however that either state was able to exercise much authority. Apart from an occasional raid for slaves or a campaign to press home their demands for tribute, they left the people alone for most of the time. It is generally assumed that the indigenous population of Northern and Central Kordofan largely consisted of Nuba people, who either blended with the steadily arriving Arab settlers or withdrew to the sanctuary of the Nuba Mountains in the South.

There was one genuinely Nuba centre of power in Kordofan: the Kingdom of Tagali. It lies in the Tagali Hills, in the north eastern part of the Nuba Mountains. The first account about Tagali was given by J. Bruce. He spent some time in Sennar in 1772 and says there were several villages surrounding Sennar that were inhabited by slaves from the Nuba Mountains, taken mainly from Dair and Tagali. The Nuba formed Sennar’s infantry. The Funj Chronicles, written in the nineteenth century, shed more light on the nature of the Tagali Kingdom and its relationship to Sennar. Around 1650 Sultan Baadi II of Sennar attacked the Mek of Tagali because his people had robbed the pilgrim caravans to and from Mecca. Tagali yielded to Sennar and paid an annual tribute in slaves.

The Tagali Kingdom grew more influential and from this time stems the expression that there are 99 Nuba hills: the Meks of Tagali were said to rule over 99 hills; this was giving them too much credit. But at the height of its power, in the first decades of the eighteenth century, Tagali had a great deal to say in surrounding hills like Rashad and Gadir, and it ruled over several Arab speaking tribes in the plains towards the east. Tagali also had control over the gold trade (that was centered in Sheibun) and it received tribute from some more distant tribes. While the reign of Sennar waned and was eventually ended by the invasion of the Turkish armies, the Meks of Tagali managed to maintain their authority into the time of the Condominium.
Nuba traditional body painting

4. Baggara
The next group of people to influence affairs in Kordofan were the Baggara. The Baggara tribes are cattle nomads who consider themselves Arabs and claim to be descendent from the Juhayna. I found it really difficult to get a clear idea of the origins of these Juhayna, their wanderings into the Sudan and the way they settled in Kordofan. The difficulties are explained by Yusuf Fadl Hassan:
the Juhayna includes the Arabs of that name and other groups who tended to attach themselves to the Juhayna and became related to them by tracing their relations back to a mythical or semi-mythical common ancestry. The term Juhayna lost its true meaning and came to mean virtually Arab; it included practically all the nomads. 
For the sake of clarity I will describe some of the lines that were later pulled together by the common practice of the Arab inhabitants of Kordofan to trace their ancestry to Abdallah al-Juhani.
                                     Traditional Nuba people
A. Juhayna
The actual Juhayna came from the Arabian Peninsula to Egypt with the first wave of Arab conquests. From there they ventured into eastern Sudan, some settling among the Beja, others slowly moving west. Some Juhayna groups possibly came to eastern Sudan across the Red Sea. All this occurred over a longer period of time, from the ninth to the thirteenth century AD. 
By and large the Beja country had served as a highway through which many Arab tribesmen passed either from Egypt. or directly across the Red Sea on their way to the Nile.
                                                        Nuba farmers
B. Judham
West of the Nile a second route of migration took an increasing number of Arabs towards Darfur and North Kordofan. They followed the river up to Dongola, from where they turned south-westward on the Darb’ al-Arba’in [Forty Day’s Road] across the desert to Dar Fur. Among these, the Judham Arabs were predominant. As the plains of Darfur were slowly occupied by the first waves of immigrants, groups arriving later tracked on towards the west, entering the realms of the Kanem-Bornu Empire.16 In a letter to the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt, dated 1391, the king of Bornu complains about the brutality of the Arabs, who pillage the country and sell off its people as slaves. He asks the Sultan to use his influence to end the atrocities.17 Whether this letter had the desired result the story doesn’t tell.

Among the Arabs settling in the plains of Darfur and Northern Kordofan we find the Kababish and the Fazara. The Kababish seem to be Arabs of mainly Judham origin who were later joined by other Arab tribes coming from the Nile. The Fazara are a northern Arab tribe that migrated to Egypt in the fourteenth century and from there continued into Sudan. Both Kababish and Fazara were later said to have descended from the Juhayna, but this is not very likely.18

C. Baggara
Finally we get to the tribes that call themselves the Baggara. Around 1500 AD the plains of northern Darfur and northern Kordofan were occupied, and so were the regions to the west, in Ouaddai and Bornu. The Arab tribes in northern Darfur and Kordofan kept herds of camels and sheep. 
Subsequent arrivals, who could not find room in this region, had to hurry southwards – that is, into southern Kordofan and Dar Fur. The new belt, although rich in pasture, was not climatically suitable for either camels or sheep. Gradually, the Arabs, like the natives, adopted cattle breeding and thus became known collectively as the Baqqara (from baqara or cow).
Nuba girl,kordofan, south sudan

The origins of the Baggara are a bit obscure. They themselves claim to be of Juhayna descent, and their oral histories state that they came to Kordofan from Tunis and Fezzan (in Libya). MacMichael already commented that there was a lot of air in the Baggara genealogies. He believed the Baggara came from the north through the Nubian Kingdoms and had little to do with the Juhayna Arabs that came from the east.20 Jean-Claude Zeltner dismissed any large-scale Arab migration from North Africa into the region of Lake Chad prior to an 1842 movement of Arabs from Fezzan to Kanem (east of Lake Chad).21 Today the Baggara will acknowledge the improbability of the route through Chad, but they will maintain that they are Juhayna. Point remains that the Juhayna came only from the east, not from the north along the Nile. According to Hasan, they are probably distant offspring of Judham Arabs and some other Arab tribes that came to the Sudan together with them.
SUDAN. Kordofan. A gathering of the Nuba tribe in the Korongo Jebels (mountians). Girl dancers from the village of Kao. 1949.George Rodger

The most important Baggara tribes in Kordofan are the Hawazma, the Misseriya Humr and the Misseriya Zuruq. They started to occupy land to the west and the north of the Nuba Mountains from the sixteenth century onwards. The Nuba of central Kordofan, who had already been pushed back by the incursions from Sennar and Keira, gradually withdrew further south. For centuries they were living relatively peaceful though, at least according to Sagar:
Vast tracts of land surrounding all the jebels [mountains] were cultivated, so that when eventually the Baggara Arabs, searching for pasture and water for their rapidly increasing herds, arrived in Kordofan from the west some 120 years ago [around 1800], they naturally turned southwards into this prosperous country and divided it amongst themselves. Meeting with no opposition in the plains, they drove the Nuba into their hills and occupied all the best watering places… Stories told by present-day Baggara, passed from father to son, tell of a country “yellow with grain”, and names given by the inhabitants to hills and khirs [seasonal currents] suggest that places which are now mere wastes were then inhabitat and cultivated. An instance in point is Jebel Simasim, some 10 miles north of Jebel Ghulfan, where the Arabs found vast piles of simsim [sesame] stored, showing that then the Nuba of Ghulfan could cultivate unmolested at such a distance from their own homes.
Nuba musician

This was to change very soon. Again according to Sagar: 
Slave raiding began at once, and the Nuba were cooped up in the hills. The usual procedure was that each sub-tribe of Baggara protected, as far as possible, the hills in its own zone, in return for supplies of grain and slaves, and raided, as far as they could, hills belonging to other sub-tribes. Cultivation in the plains consequently ceased, for fear of the sudden onset of the dreaded horsemen… To grow their grain the Nuba set to work and terraced the hills, and do kept themselves from starvation. But crops grown in such barreb soil were poor and often failed, so that in bad times they were compelled to sell their own slaves, and often their own children to the Arabs for grain.

And that was only the beginning.

V. The Turkiyya

1. Muhammad Ali Pasha
For the next phase in the history of Sudan that directly affected the Nuba we turn to the north, to Egypt, and beyond, to Turkey.25 From the beginning of the fourteenth century AD, a new power emerged in Turkey that replaced the remnants of the Byzantine Empire. Constantinople fell in 1453 and the Ottoman Empire started to expand into the regions once held by the Romans. Central Europe [only just] withstood Ottoman conquest, but Southeast Europe, the Middle East, Egypt and the North African coast were conquered and incorporated into the Ottoman Empire.

In Egypt the Ottoman Empire replaced the Mamluk Sultanate in 1517 AD. The Mamluks remained influential though. We will not bother ourselves with the ups and downs of the Ottomans, until the year 1798, when Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Egypt. The Ottoman Empire was clearly in decline, and the Mamluks successfully challenged the authority of the Pashas [the Ottoman Sultan appointed a new Governor, or Pasha, every two years]. This led to chaotic scenes that need not worry us, but that did give Napoleon a pretext to invade the country ‘in order to restore the authority of the Ottomans’. The Sultan was not amused. He sought and obtained the help of the British to regain control over Egypt and the French occupation didn’t last three full years. After some more years of struggle Muhammad Ali Pasha became the ruler of Egypt, in name of the Ottoman Sultan, but really, in name only.

Muhammad Ali Pasha ruled Egypt as if it were his personal property and he managed to restore order in the country. After killing the leaders of the Mamluks he set out to expand his influence. He conquered Libya and then, in 1820, sent his son Ismael south to invade Sudan. Muhammad Ali Pasha had four reasons to seek control over Sudan: to vanquish the remnants of the Mamluks who had settled at Dongola; to take control of the caravan trade to the Red Sea; to get to the gold mines, and to capture slaves to fill the ranks of his standing army. The invasion was successful: Ismael defeated the Mamluks, and he ended the rule of Sennar in 1821. In the same year Muhammad Ali’s son-in-law Muhammad Bey, the Defterdar, conquered Kordofan from Keira. The last resistance in the centre of Sudan was crushed in 1822.

The consequences for the population of Kordofan were terrible. Perhaps the best thing is to let MacMichael do the talking:
Previously, it is true, Kordofan had seen wars and tumults, but taxation had been light and the rulers just according to the standard of the day. Now all was altered: a foreign race seized the country and administered it exclusively for their own benefit, and in defiance of every law of humanity and justice.
Relying on accounts by Palme and Petherick,26 he continued:
The Defterdar was a monster of inhuman cruelty and gruesome stories are told of the outrages perpetrated by him and his successors. Money and the gratification of lusts were their only objects. Not only did they crush the native under a heel of iron, but they incidentally swindled their own government at the natives’ expense at every turn.27

2. Slave raids
As we have seen in the previous chapters, slavery and slave trade was nothing unusual in the Sudan. From the Baqt between the Muslims and the Nubians, to the wealth of Keira, to the army of Sennar: slaves were always in demand. And the Nuba were always considered to make good slaves. Even the Tegali Kings, who were Nuba, raided neighbouring tribes for slaves. Slaves were the most important ‘export product’ of Sudan, followed at a distance by gum, gold and ostrich feathers. Keira was the main supplier, sending raids to the Central African hinterland. Sennar also contributed to the slave caravans, sending mainly Nuba northwards and to the Red Sea. Exact numbers are not available, but it seems that before the Turkiyya, about 4000 slaves annually found their way to Egypt from or through Sudan.  
Nuba girl

After the conquest of Sudan by the Egyptians, the slave trade became a different matter. Muhammad Ali wanted to create an army of Sudanese that would enable him to dispense with his own mutinous Albanian and Turkish troops, and defy the Ottoman Sultan. To the French Consul he declared that he wanted to create a Nizam Jadid [New Model Army], and that he would deploy those unfit for military service in his many agricultural and industrial projects. Muhammad Ali perpetually urged his commanders to collect and send as many Sudanese slaves as they could to the training camps at Aswan:
You are aware that the end of all our efforts and this expense is to procure negroes. Please show zeal in carrying out our wishes in this capital matter.

By 1823, 30.000 slaves, mainly from Al Jazirah and from Kordofan, had been sent to Aswan. Only 3.000 survived the sudden change of environment. Despite this obvious failure, Muhammad Ali continued to demand slave soldiers to man the garrisons in Sudan and to form new regiments for his own army. The number of slaves sent to Egypt more than doubled to an estimated 10-12.000 annually. On top of that several thousands of men were kept in Sudan to fill the file and rank of the army there. And these figures do not even include the number of slaves that were traded to the Arab peninsula across the Red Sea, nor the many slaves that were kept in Sudan as concubines, domestic servants or labourers. It is hard to imagine this constant flow of human merchandise taken from the heartlands of Africa, mainly over land, through swamps and deserts and endless savannas.

In Kordofan, Rustum Bey carried out orders from the Governor-General of Sudan, Ali Kurshid Pasha, to raid the Nuba. Rustum took 1.400 people captive in 1830, and another 1.500 in 1832.32 These are just some random figures really. There is no clear indication of how many people were dragged off in captivity. Apart from the military campaigns to capture slave soldiers, the Baggara also raided the Nuba villages, to pay the taxes imposed by the Turkiyya. The accounts of European travellers provide ample details about slave raids and slave trade in Kordofan during the Turkiyya. Pallme is often sited:
The Viceroy of Egypt institutes annually, once or twice in the course of the year, an actual hunt in the mountains of Nuba, and in the bordering countries, and seizes upon a certain number of the negroes by stratagem of force… The burden of this sanguinary fate falls most heavily upon the miserable inhabitants of the Nuba mountains. In the year 1825, four years, therefore, after the conquest, the number of slaves which had been led away into captivity was estimated at forty thousand; and in the year 1839 the total number amounted at least to two hundred thousand, without reckoning the thousands stolen by the Bakkara and bought by the Jelabi.33

It would probably be a mistake to attribute the figures given by Pallme to the Nuba alone. Ali Kurshid Pasha personally led campaigns against the Dinka, the Shilluk, the Ingassana and other African peoples34 , and I think the slaves taken from these and similar campaigns are part of the two hundred thousand Pallme mentions. But the main thing is of course that the captured people suffered terribly. Arthur Holroyd provides an eyewitness account:  
The troops stationed in Kordofan were marched annually after the kharif [first rain] to Jebel Nuba, for the purpose of capturing slaves from these mountains. These expeditions were called ghaziyeh and when I arrived at El Obeid the troops had just returned with the produce of such an expedition. The handsome women were sold for the harems of the Turks and Arabs; the able-bodied men were placed in the ranks; the decrepit of both sexes, the pregnant females, and young children, were allotted to the soldiers in lieu of money to the amount to a moiety of their arrears. I once witnessed this distribution; and a more heart rending scene cannot be imagined: for though these blacks had been seized two or three months, and had been deprived of their liberty, they felt severely the final separation of their friends and families.
In the 1840’s and 1850’s, the slave raids were focused on the Bahr al Jabal and the Bahr al Gazhal. European traders looking for ivory broke the state monopoly and started to sail up the White Nile to hunt for elephants and trade with the inhabitants of the South. Soon the elephants ran out and the only profitable trade left was slavery. Arab slave traders started to participate as well. The most notorious was without doubt Al-Zubayr Rahma Mansur. He carved out his personal empire in the Bahr al Gazhal, entirely based on the slave trade. Setting up a network of trading forts known as zeribas, his control reached well into today’s Central African Republic and southern Chad. This eventually brought him in conflict with Egypt.

3. Khedive Ismail
Muhammad Ali Pasha, who only in words had tried to end slavery, died in 1848. His immediate successors were not very interesting but in 1863 his grandson Ismail came to power. He carried the title of Khedive of Egypt. Khedive Ismail considered the modernisation of Egypt as his personal project. It would be fair to say he succeeded, but at too high a price. He overstretched the Egyptian population and he amassed such huge national debts that the French and the British intervened and eventually got rid of him in 1879.36

A. suppression of the slave trade in Sudan
Paradoxically, the same conquest of the Sudan that led to an intensification of slave raiding also opened up the country to western travellers. Their accounts raised awareness in Europe that the trans-Atlantic slave trade was not unique. Especially the British Abolitionists started to demand an end to slavery in Egypt and the Sudan. Initially their protests did not sort much effect. The demand from Egypt did decrease in the 1840’s and 1850’s, but mainly for economic reasons. There was, however, another sharp increase in trade in the 1860’s, after the introduction of cotton cultivation to Egypt. It was only from the 1870’s onwards, that attempts to abolish slavery markedly diminished the demand from Egypt.37

Khedive Ismail was quite serious about ending the slave trade in Sudan. He started to block trade routes along the Nile and across the Red Sea, and sent an army down to Bahr al Ghazal to end the activities of Al-Zubayr. However, Al-Zubayr defeated the Khedive’s troops and he established a new trade route over land, from the areas south of Darfur, through South Kordofan to El Obeid. Eventually Ismail figured that the best way to pacify the Bahr al Gazhal was to make Al-Zubayr governor of the area, which he did in 1873. Al-Zubayr then turned his attention to Darfur that was still a centre of slave trade. Al-Zubayr took El Fasher, the capital of the Keira Sultanate. He had envisioned himself as Governor of Darfur but when he came to Cairo in 1875, Khedive Ismael kept him in captivity instead.38

Another initiative of the Khedive to end the slave trade was to send an English explorer, Sir Samuel Baker to the region known as Equatoria. Actually the Khedive was more interested in bringing the south of the country under his influence, but officially the campaign was aimed at tackling the slave trade at the source. Baker spent three years in Equatoria and only managed to create a lot of animosity against the Egyptian authority. He plundered the country to feed his troops, used excessive violence and ended up trading with the very slave merchants he was supposed to oust from the region. Determined to see the project through, the Khedive then sent Charles G. Gordon to pacify Equatoria, in 1874. Gordon succeeded within three years39 , after which he was appointed Governor–General of the Sudan. In this capacity he continued to fight the slave traders, until he resigned in 1879, exhausted from the many years of incessant work.

B. Events in South Kordofan 
For the Nuba some things had already changed under Ismail’s predecessors. Official large scale slave raids had ended by the time the Khedive came to power, but raids by Baggara, private slave traders and even by neighbouring tribes remained a cause for insecurity. The Egyptian administration left most of the Nuba tribes alone and those who were expected to pay taxes were no longer pressed to such extremes as before.40 The Kingdom of Tagali, although somewhat restricted in its power by the Egyptian Governor, flourished for several decades and withstood Egyptian attempts to subdue it.
As mentioned before, since the conquest of the Sudan several European travellers made it to Kordofan. In 1837 Muhammad Ali Pasha sent an expedition into the Nuba Mountains – he was looking for gold – and to that adventure we owe the account of geologist Joseph Russegger, who came as far as the Tira Mountains. During the rule of Khedive Ismail, travellers start to mention Jebel Dair and Dilling as places they visited. Most remarkable is the enterprise of the Catholic missionaries led by Comboni. In 1875, they established a mission post in Dilling, which they had to abandon when the Egyptian authorities started a campaign to subdue Jebel Dilling. The missionaries returned to Dilling in 1877, and stayed there until the outbreak of the Mahdist Revolt. One of the missionaries, G. Martini, wrote:
although these people are not Muslims, they have a great inclination towards the precepts and customs of the Muslims as they see these practised by the Baqqara living on their borders… The Nubas have learnt from the Muslims to swear by the Koran, to weep for the dead, to call Muhammad the Prophet of God, and some other things.41

From the few sources available emerges an impression of stabilisation. After several decades of plunder and intens raiding in the Nuba Mountains, the Egyptian authorities seem to have been content with a nominal control, leaving the Nuba alone except when a group would become too bold in one way or another (like Tagali or Dilling). The relationship between the Baggara and Nuba remained tense, but apparantly, towards the 1870's the Nuba had been able to arm themselves with guns. And we must be aware that the Nuba were not a harmless, defenseless lot: they would raid eachother and they would raid the Baggara just as well. The influence of Islam was becoming evident in the northern hills, but the Catholic missionaries were able to establish themselves in Dilling, which also says something about the growing stability.

C. Involvement of the British in Sudan 
Khedive Ismail spent too much money. All the wealth of Egypt and Sudan couldn’t cover his expenses. He sold his large share in the Suez Canal to the British, but the revenues did not even begin to cover his debts. Egypt was bankrupt. The British and the French, trying to save their interests, put the Khedive under legal restraint in 1876. When he ceased to cooperate, the British played ball with the Sultan in Constantinople, who dismissed Ismail in 1879, and appointed his son instead. In the following years the situation in Egypt deteriorated, a revolt threatened to ruin all European investments in the country, as well as the trade through the Suez Canal. The British decided to invade Egypt, supposedly to restore order. They remained until 1956.42

VI. The Mahdiyya (1881-1899)

1. Governor-General Gordon
Charles Gordon fought the slave trade for two years, from 1877 to 1879, but he was unable to end it permanently. The resistance of the slave traders and the influential families engaged in it was too strong. It would have taken a large army to suppress the unrest, and there simply wasn’t any money: Egypt was bankrupt, the budget for Sudan was extremely limited and England was not going to pay for any large scale operation in Sudan. Pressured by the British Government, Gordon abandoned his initial policy of caution. He appointed foreigners as governors, replaced Egyptian administrators by Europeans, and turned to violence to suppress the trade. This led to a number of revolts in Kordofan, in Bahr al Gahazal and in Darfur. Using increasingly more force, Governor-General Gordon managed to keep the country under control. When Khedive Ismail was replaced by his son, Gordon resigned. He was exhausted.
                                                        Nuba wrestlers

His successor, Governor-General Muhammad Ra’uf, was not half as able as Gordon. I will quote a large paragraph from Mowafi, because it sums up matters handsomely:
The policy of oppression… had alienated the Sudanese people who believed that slavery was permitted by their religion. The fact that the campaign against slavery was conducted by Christians made the people think that the government was acting against their religion. Moreover, the attempts to suppress the slave trade struck at an important source of wealth and had shaken the basis of the domestic and agrarian economy which was based on slave labour. [Many slaves had obtained their freedom, but their] masters had not been compensated for the loss of their slaves. In spite the people’s economic losses, the taxes remained unchanged… The Government, under Ra’uf showed no mercy in the collection of taxes, and force was used to collect them. On the other hand, he permitted the slave trade to revive… The appearance of the “Mahdi” Muhammad Ahmad provided the leadership necessary to unite all the discontented forces of the country to achieve the termination of the Egyptian rule in the Sudan.

2. Muhammad Ahmad ibn as Sayyid Abd Allah, or the Mahdi 
Muhammad Ahmed was a young religious teacher who resided on an island in the White Nile near Kosti, called Aba Island. He preached a simple and spiritual life to a modest number of followers. In 1881, he proclaimed to be the Mahdi: the Expected One who would deliver the Muslims from tyranny. The belief that such a redeemer will come is part of the Islamic traditions called hadiths. They are a collection of sayings of the Prophet Mohamed, considered by Muslims as guidelines for the proper conduct of life almost of the same importance as the text of the Qur’an. According to several hadiths, the Prophet announced the coming of a religious leader at a moment when the world was in great turmoil. This leader would be ‘from his tribe’; he would be ‘of his name’ and he would lead the people to a life of peace, and free the world from injustice, corruption and oppression. Through the centuries, many men have proclaimed to be this expected Mahdi, in one revolt or another.

Muhammad Ahmad is said to have been a devout man, who travelled a lot in Sudan. His journeys took him to Kordofan and Darfur, where he sensed people’s readiness to welcome anyone who would end their misery. Muhammad Ahmad’s fame grew, and so did the number of his adherents. He was joined, in 1880, by a man from Darfur, called Abdullahi Muhammad. Abdullahi was a Baggara from the Ta’aisha tribe, and eventually he was to succeed Muhammad Ahmed in 1885. Some say he was an important figure from the start. MacMichael was not the only one to write along these lines:
This man was a most valuable asherent, for he was thoroughly acquainted with the restless Bakkara tribes, and had great influence with them. It was at his suggestion that Muhammad Ahmad again made a tour through Kordofan, - this time with the definite design of fomenting the discontent that was rife.44

During this second tour of Kordofan, Muhammad Ahmad secured the support of many influential sheikhs of the Baggara tribes. He also tried to win over Adam Dabbalu, the King of Tegali. The King remained cautious and only promised to stay neutral in case Muhammad Ahmad would revolt. Muhammad Ahmad then returned to Aba Island.  He openly declared himself as the Mahdi in June 1881 by sending dispatches to various notables, tribal chiefs and adherents to join him in his divinely ordained mission. Some say the Egyptian authorities only became alarmed when the Mahdi called on people to stop paying their taxes. In a proclamation issued some time between November 1881 and November 1882, the Mahdi wrote: 
Verily these Turks thought that theirs was the kingdom and the command of [God's] apostles and of His prophets and of him who commanded them to imitate them. They judged by other than God's revelation and altered the Shari'a of Our Lord Mohammed, the Apostle of God, and insulted the Faith of God and placed poll-tax [al-jizya] on your necks together with the rest of the Muslims.... Verily the Turks used to drag away your men and imprison them in fetters and take captive your women and your children and slay unrighteously the soul under God's protection.45

The Egyptian authorities tried to suppress the revolt by sending troops to Aba Island, but the Mahdi’s followers defeated them. Knowing he could not stay were he was, the Mahdi turned to Kordofan with his followers, called the Ansar [helpers]. According to Stevenson:
It is said that, having reached Tegali again, the Mahdi wished to stay there for a while, but was persuaded to continue southwards.46
He eventually established himself at Jebel Gadir, where he was welcomed by the Mek. According to Edward Lino, this was not just out of mere coincidence. 
Abba Island at that time, 1881, was part of the Kingdom of the Reth of the Shilluk... The Reth's seat was in Fashoda and continues to be up to date… The father of the Mahdi… had a married relationship with the Umda of Abba. On behalf of the Mahdi, when the fight started, he sent an emissary to the Reth:  "This is the son of our daughter… he would like to save our people from the slavery and oppression being carried out by the Turks." Instead of going there directly, he contacted the Nuba because there is an institutionalized relationship between the Eastern Nuba and the Reth of the Shilluk.47 Apparently several items essential to the coronation ritual of the Reth [King] of the Shilluk had to be brought from the Nuba Mountains. Among them was a glittering stone.48 Whatever the truth in it, the story is too good to be left out, and I haven’t found any other allusion as to why the Mahdi would go to Jebel Gadir. There is a good explanation why he wanted to establish himself on a mountain though: 
at every junction of the operation the Mahdi simulated the activites of the Prophet Muhammad. Indeed, the conscious enacting of the traditions of the Prophet aimed at reinforcing the popular legitimacy of the nascent charismatic. Thus, the Mahdi’s hijra [withdrawal] from Aba to Kordofan corresponds to Muhammad’s hijra to Madina when threatened by authorities in Makka. Similarly the early followers of the Mahdi were labelles Ansar, as were the ‘companions’ or ‘helpers’ of Muhammad. Finally, as the Mahdi reached MountQadir in the Nuba Muntains, he renamed it Masa in conformity with the Prophet’s tradition.
Nuba woman and her baby

A personal assistant to the Mahdi remembered:
While we were at Gadir, the Mahdi’s followers increased ands we were fed by the Nuba’s. Khalifa Abdullahi was with him, but he was a man of no great importance.
Much of what happened in the years that followed has been described by Joseph Ohrwalder, one of the missionaries in Dilling. The Ansar attacked Dilling repeatedly and eventually subdued it. Ohrwalder was taken prisoner and was kept in captivity for ten years. The Mahdi defeated several convoys sent against him, and went on to capture El Obeid in 1883. Adam Dabbalu, the King of Tagali, was taken prisoner as well, in 1884, He died in captivity. While the Mahdi concentrated on the conquest of Khartoum, his adjutant Hamdan Abu Anga continued to strengthen the Mahdi’s authority in Kordofan. Ohrwalder says that:
Almost all the inhahitants of Jebel Nuba sent messengers to say that they were the Mahdi’s subjects.
This is probably an exaggeration, but I suppose the tribes in the northern hills did recognise the Mahdi’s authority. Only Jebel Dair withstood the Ansar.

3. Abdullahi Ibn Muhammad, or the Khalifa
The Mahdi was moving against Khartoum and the British Government was not inclined to stop him. After all, Sudan was Egypt’s problem, not theirs. It only asked Charles Gordon to assure a safe withdrawal of the British and Egyptian troops from the country. Gordon has left an account of his first and final meeting with the Cabinet on 18 January 1884:
At noon he, Wolseley, came to me and took me to the Minister, and came back and said: "Her Majesty’s Government wants you to understand this. Government are determined to evacuate the Sudan, for they will not guarantee future government. You will go and do it?" I said "Yes". He said "Go in." I went in and saw them. They said: "Did Wolseley tell you our ideas?" I said "Yes, he said 'You will not guarantee future government of the Sudan', and you wish me to go and evacuate it." They said "Yes" and it was over ...53
Unfortunately for Gordon, by the time he arrived the way north was cut of and he was trapped in Khartoum. The Mahdi sent him a few handsome letters, demanding that he would surrender and convert to Islam, so his life could be spared.54 Gordon refused and on January 26, 1885, his head was brought to the Mahdi’s tent. Six months after the fall of Khartoum the Mahdi died of typhus. He was followed by Abdullahi ibn Muhammad, who became the Khalifa, or successor. The Khalifa ruled over northern Sudan, from the Beja country to Darfur. It would go well beyond the scope of this story to get into details of his turbulent reign, but we will have a look at what happened in the Nuba Mountains.

For the siege of Omdorman and Khartoum, the Mahdi had ordered all able men from the Baggara tribes in Kordofan to join him in battle. Most of them did so, reluctantly, under threat of severe penalties. Abu Anga put down a revolt of Baggara tribes that no longer wanted to contribute to the war, and he raided the Nuba hills for slaves that could serve in the Mahdi army. After the Mahdi’s death, affairs under the Khalifa only worsened for the Nuba. The Tagali royal family was massacred when the sons of Adam Badallu refused to sent soldiers to the Khalifa. Jebel Dair continued its resistance, but Gulfan was taken after a group of Nuba deserters had found refuge there. Abu Anga ‘finally left the Nuba hills in April 1887 with an immense booty of slaves.’ His successors continued to plunder and raid.

Raids from Baggara against the Nuba became rare, because most of the Baggara men were off. Actually now some of the Nuba started raiding Dervish posts. In contrast Jebel Dair concluded a treaty with the Dervish Governor that opened trade on El Obeid. Meanwhile the Khalifa had to face the British (more about their motivation to become involved in the following chapter). He ordered still more of the Baggara to come to Omdorman and a giant army assembled in Kordofan and devastated the country. Several hills were nearly depopulated, like Gulfan, Debria and Kadaru. Many men and women from the Miri hills were taken to Omdorman. The Khalifa’s army was defeated at the Atbarra and he fled with the remaining Dervishes to the vicinity of the Nuba Mountains. He was eventually killed, on November 24, 1899, by Colonel Wingate.
Nuba girl

The Nuba who had been abducted by the Dervishes to Omdorman gradually returned home. They brought back Islam, after having been exposed to it in the north for years. They also came with their fire arms. The spread of fire arms throughout the Nuba Mountains was furthered by the need of the Baggara to replenish their herds. Preferring their spears and swords anyway, they traded most of their guns for cows. This development made the job of pacifying the Nuba tribes a lot more difficult for the British who took up the administration of Kordofan.56

VII. The Condominium (1899-1956)

1. Reconquest of Sudan 
In 1884 the British Government had decided not to interfere in Sudan. It asked Gorodon to organise the evacuation of British and Egyptians from Khartoum and prepared to safeguard the border between Egypt and Sudan. Only eight years later Herbert Kitchener started preparations to reconquer Sudan. What had changed?

To begin with, there were the ambitions of the Mahdi and his successor. In a letter to ‘the families of Fez’ the Mahdi wrote: 
Know that shortly insh’allah, I shall come with the party of God to Egypt, for the affair of the Sudan is finished.57 
The Khalifa tried to invade Egypt in 1889. His troops were beaten badly by the Egyptian army that had been reorganised by the British. Left undisturbed, surely the Mahdist movement would eventually try again. But this was not the most important reason why the British Government decided to go back to Sudan.

The British occupation of Egypt triggered the scramble for Africa. The British, the French, the Portuguese, the Italians and the Germans: they all wanted a piece of the African continent. At the Berlin Conference of 1884-5, the colonial powers agreed to a set of rules by which the division of Africa was to be pursued. France and Great Britain were equally ambitious: France wanted to create a string of colonies that would stretch from Africa’s west coast to its east coast. Great Britain aimed at a similar sphere of influence, starting at the Cape and ending in Egypt. The idea was to link these vast territories by rail and water way, ensuring access to valuable resources from the interior, and an expansion of possible markets across the continent. Clearly, with such ambitions, occupation of the Sudan was only logical. The final reason was that the British Government strove for control over the sources of the River Nile and its course. The Nile waters have always been vital to the economy of Egypt of course, but the British were thinking already of building a large irrigation dam at Aswan. 
The actual invasion of Sudan started in March 1896. It took two-and-a-half year before Omdorman was taken (September 1898), and another year to defeat the remnants of the Khalifa’s army (November 1899). Meanwhile the British had to worry about more than just the Khalifa’s troops. The French Government had sent a force from Brazzaville to Sudan, to establish a post on the White Nile and claim the area of Fashoda as a protectorate of France. They arrived there in July 1898. In September, the British Government sent Kitchener up the Nile with a powerful flotilla of gunboats. The stand-off between France and Great Britain was a logical consequence of their respective ambitions in Africa, that crossed right there in the Fashoda region. Diplomacy prevailed over military confrontation, well… actually, it would be better to say that the French were not strong enough to hold on to Fashoda, and didn’t want to risk an all-out war with Great Britain. So by the end of the year the French troops withdrew, leaving all the Sudan to Great Britain.

2. Condominium
On January 19, 1899 Britain and Egypt signed a condominium agreement under which the Sudan was to be administered jointly. In general the British ruled while the Egyptians executed their policy and paid for the administration - or, as the London Times of April 18, 1900 put it:
Two men have jointly bought a horse, A contributing one third, B two thirds of the price. A rides the horse, B grooms it and pays its upkeep. That is approximately the situation in Sudan.58

The first 25 years of the Condominium, most of the troops in Sudan would be Egyptian. After the Independence of Egypt in 1922, the British ordered all the Egyptians out of Sudan and administered the country alone, even though the official terms of the Condominium Agreement were not changed. To replace the Egyptian troops, the Sudan Defence Force was formed of Sudanese soldiers and mainly British officers. By 1951, Egypt demanded that Britain would withdraw from Sudan. The British Government only agreed to do so in 1953, when Egypt recognised the Sudan’s right to self-determination. January 1, 1956, the British had left Sudan: the country was independent.59

Throughout the Condominium, the British Administration grappled with the future of Sudan. Especially the problem of where the southern provinces should belong was hard to solve. Culturally they would probably fit better with the British protectorates of East Africa (roughly present day Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania), but at the same time South Sudan was quite interwoven with the North. There were no roads, railways or lines of communication between the South and the East African protectorates. All trade was with the North, mainly through Arab merchants. The South lacked skilled people to fill the administration, and it lacked the capacity to develop larger economic projects. Many Southerners were living in the North as labour migrants. Apart from the economical ties, it would be impossible to separate African Sudanese from Arab Sudanese in several areas, like Bahr al Ghazal.

During the first twenty years, the British had no official policy towards the South. Pacification; organisation of the administration and the establishment of clear national borders had their priority. From 1922 onwards though, they were actively striving to develop the South separately from the North. The spread of Islam seemed to be their main worry, because it went hand in hand with nationalist tendencies. The White Flag League, formed in the early 1920’s, revolted against the British presence in Sudan in 1924. The leader of the League, Ali 'Abd al-Latif, was a former army officer whose parents had been slaves. Either his father was a Nuba and his mother a Dinka, or it was the other way around. This is by no means reason to claim him as a fore-fighter of the Nuba cause though. Abd al-Latif was a nationalist, and the White Flag League was striving for integration of Sudan with Egypt. Abd al-Latif believed the two countries were linked by the Nile, by Islam and by the Arab culture.

In an attempt to halt the influence of nationalism, the administration in the South started to favour local authorities. Arab administrators were sent back to the North. Arab traders were banned from the South and at the same time labour migration from the South to the North was stopped. Christian missionaries were invited to set up schools throughout the South, teaching in English rather than in Arabic. In the end, this policy utterly failed: the development of the South remained far behind with the North. The rising nationalist movement in North Sudan demanded that the unity of Sudan would be respected. At the same time emerging nationalist movements in the East African protectorates were not at all enthusiastic to add the worries of another vast, underdeveloped region to their own problems. This brought about a dramatic turn in British policy: from 1946 onwards, the South was to be prepared for its future in a united Sudan.60 Do I need to add that the British policy contributed to the outbreak of the north-south conflict?

3. Administration of the Nuba Mountains 
The same policy as in the South was applied in the Nuba Mountains. Once they had established their authority, the British started to look for ways to keep the Nuba and the Arabs apart. This was not done with a joint administration with the South in mind, but out of the idea that the Nuba had to be protected from an unsuccessful assimilation into the Arab culture surrounding them.
 Personal sentiments played a large part in this approach. British officials were afraid that without preventive measures the Nuba would turn into some debased sort of half-cast Arabs. Or, as Stevenson wrote: 
The ‘best’ type of Nuba, in the eyes of many British officials, were those uncontaminated by Arab influence or admixture, and the mixed populations of, say, Eliri and Talodi, and the semi-arabicizid people of Kadaru or the Daju hills near Lagowa, were considered miserable and decadent. 
He probably referred to Vicar-Miles:
I should like to lay stress on the undesirability of an Arab–Nuba blend… The result is always an undisciplined, drunken, half-caste Arab who has no background and no tradition to keep him up to the mark.
And Stevenson, in 1984 (!) agreed: 
That there is some truth in this when with half-acculturation tribes appear to lose many of the good points of their older culture and take on what is worst in the new, it would be hard to deny in many instances.

Eventually it became quite obvious that the policy of separation was totally impractical, even more so in the Nuba Mountains than in the South. There was no clean-cut border between Arabs and Nuba, and economically the Nuba were even more tied to the North than the Southerners were. As in the South, the British turned their policy around. We will look at the changes in policy in more detail. Meanwhile we have to keep in mind that, no matter what the British tried, the cost of occupation always outweighed the revenues in Kordofan. A few British officials with limited financial means and a small north Sudanese staff had to keep things quiet in a vast province. With this outlook it is easier to understand that, despite the obvious good intentions of many of the administrators in the field, little was done for the social and economic development of the region.

From 1898 to 1912, the Nuba Mountains were a sub-province of Kordofan; from 1913 to 1928 they were called Nuba Mountains Province, with its capital in Talodi. It consisted of three districts: the Western, Eastern and Southern Jebels. Each district was ruled directly by a British District Commissioner [D.C.] and an Assistant D.C., supported by an Egyptian Mamur and Submamur. 64
The District Commissioner [...] is most simply described as a Jack of all trades. He hears civil and criminal cases, supervises police and prisons, arranges for the assessment and collection of taxes, patches up fends, makes simple roads, bridges and houses, assists in the compilation of maps, encourages economic development, enforces quarantine, and frequently acts both as medical and matrimonial advisor to his constituents.

To exercise some authority over the different tribes – to make them pay their taxes and to keep them from raiding their Nuba or Baggara neighbours – the D.C.s looked for a person in the community that could be make accountable. They considered the kujurs to be the most influential individuals. Kujurs come in different sorts and sizes: some are merely herbalists and traditional healers, others are considered to be very powerful men or women of priest-like stature who are in touch with the spirit realm. From the latter category, the British would choose one individual – preferably the rain priest - to make him Mek [head] of a hill or range of hills. The Mek would be vested with some tokens of authority, and was henceforth supposed to make ‘his’ people do as they were told. This was not very effective, in the first place because the kujurs’ authority was limited, and would more often than not rely on their skills in organising raids on neighbouring communities.

4. Pacification
In their attempts to pacify Kordofan the British first concentrated on the Arab tribes who had supported the Mahdi. Seeing this, the Nuba initially paid their petty taxes which they considered protection money from the Arab tribes. Once these tribes were disarmed, the Nuba no longer saw any reason to pay and they started to resist British rule. The British could not really understand this: they had delivered the Nuba from the harassment of the Dervishes and the Baggara, and in return the Nuba rebelled against the very authority that had brought them peace? There was only one word for it: ingratitude. Now if these Nuba Meks would not listen…
A wild and ignorant population such as that of southern Kordofan can only be impressed
with a sense of their comparative insignificance by a display of power and they should be
afforded a tangible sign of the power of the Government to enforce its administration when necessary … For this reason I consider an increase in the garrison of Southern Kordofan necessary, and patrols in sufficient force to overawe the native mind.67

The British launched a large number of punitive expeditions from 1903 onwards, against various tribes and for various reasons. Francis Balfour, who was second inspector in the Nuba Mountains in 1916, described the usual patrol as follows:
From time to time a hill went ‘asi’ (to rhyme with ‘classy’ and having no connection with posteriors), a word which meant locally something nearer to subordinate than rebellious. The people retired to their hill tops, preferably after gathering the harvest, which could always be stored in the many caves, if there was serious trouble. Tribute, satisfaction to some raided neighbour, the surrender of some malefactor or of stolen property – in short whatever the demand for the moment might be – was refused and authority was defied. The next move in the game was the dispatch of a small mixed force, which profited by some realistic field training, with enough bullets flying about to teach the men to keep their heads down, but casualties on either side were usually few. In due course terms were asked for and granted, a bar to the General Service Medal was authorised for Patrol No.- - and, generally speaking, a good time had been had by all. 
Nuba girls

Justin Willis points out that many of those patrols were not so harmless, and that they were quite frequent: 
I have so far identified twenty-seven patrols in the Nuba Mountains which involved more than one company of soldiers: Tegali, 1903; Daier, 1904; Kitra, 1904; Shat-el-Safia, 905; Nyima, 1908 and 1917; Burham, 1908; Katla, 1909, 1910, and 1925; Tagoi, 1910; Tira Lumman, 1910; Kimla, 1911; KrongoBakheit, 1911; Heiban, 1911; Tira el Akhdar, 1912, 1913, 1915, and 1922; Tendilla, 1913; Mandal, 1914; Miri, 1915; Koalib/Lira, 1919; Tuleishi, 1926, 1945; Julud, 1926; Lafofa, 1929.

The patrols made numerous victims among the Nuba. Many men were taken captive and forced into military service, cattle might be taken and villages were burned. The largest patrol was Patrol No. 32 against the Nyimang Hills. The Mek of Nyimang refused to surrender some young men wanted for raiding. The thing spiralled out of control when a kujur, known as Sultan Agabna, fuelled defiance of the British authority. The British treated the patrol as a military operation involving more than 3,000 soldiers, with artillery and maxim guns. The rebelling hills were surrounded and the population was either driven out by force or starved into submission. About 500 Nuba were killed. Let me quote a few lines from the official report:
At midnight on the 6th [January, 1918], a very determined attempt to escape was made by practically the entire population of Sagan and Kushi. Coming down from the hills in large numbers, the Nubas approached the zareba [usually a fence made of thorny bushes, but here a strongly reinforced defence line] near the North West corner of Sagan, but being turned more to the West by the fire of the 4th Battalion, they fell on the line of No 1 Camel Corps. By weight of numbers, about a dozen forced their way over the zareba, most of whom were accounted for by the Arabs who rushed on to Jebel Komorro on hearing the firing. The remainder were driven back on to the hills with very heavy losses from rifle and Maxim fire. Fifty five dead and ten wounded were found lying on, or in front of, the zareba, but a large number also, with animal-like vitality, dragged themselves away to die on the hills, or later to fall into our hands in a wounded condition.
Nuba girl

Patrols went on until 1930, and then there was one more, in 1945, against Tulishi. The reports, the photos of burning huts and the letters from British participants of the patrols give quite a different impression than the occasional dry remark by Nadel, for example: During the early years of British rule certain bellicose and recalcitrant tribes were forced, in the interest of public security, to leave their hill fortresses and move to settlements down in the valleys. 
And what to make of Stevenson’s understanding of the patrols? He wrote:
On many occasions troops had to be concentrated for patrols against recalcitrant hills which refused to ‘come in’. It would be tedious to list all these actions and skirmishes here. Some of the outstanding earlier ones were mounted against Shatt Safaya, Dair, Tagoi, Tira, Nyimang, and Katla, and several hills were attacked more than once... These patrols, for various reasons, were to go on intermittently for many years until they gradually diminished, and fell off entirely in the 1930s.72
Nothing about the violence, nothing about the burning of Nuba villages, nothing about the many casualties. That would just be… tedious? Anyway: it happened that way and from our viewpoint, nearly a century later, we might wonder what difference there was between the British pacification and the attempts of the Government of Sudan, in more recent times, to put down yet another rebellion in the Nuba Mountains?

5. Closed District
Arab officials administrated most Southern districts; Arab culture and Islam were spreading rapidly with trade and labour migration, and the British felt compelled to halt this development. It certainly wasn’t just to protect the Nuba that the British tried to apply the Closed District Order of 1922, to the Nuba Mountains. Egyptian nationalism had been a hidden motivation for the British to limit or possibly eradicate Arab influence in the South and in the Nuba Mountains. The revolt of the White Flag League in 1924, had shown that the many Southerners and Nuba who had served in the army might be infected with the fever of nationalism. They should not be permitted to be in contact with Sudanese Arabs. As a result travel from the Nuba Mountains to and from other districts was no longer free; labour migration was limited; Arab merchants were banned and trade was left to (Christian) Greeks and Syrians.

Labour migration was probably the biggest concern of the British. Ironically it had been encouraged at first by the Administration:
"The Sennar Dam was being built and constructors were unable to get enough Sudanese workmen for the job. [...] The Eliri Arabs, of Hawazma, Rowaga and Kowhala slave origin, were the first to go and seek work. The Nuba followed. It would have made the D.C. of today shudder to see his predecessor persuading Nuba and Arabs alike by honeyed words and promises of high wages to go to the river for work! Labour had to be found. The Sudan had to be developed. The Jebels had a suitable population for the work."74 
Few men were left to work the fields in the Mountains. When labourers returned to marry, they paid money for bridal prices that before had been rendered in services to the father of the bride. Bridal prices rose, inciting more men to go and look for work. Another way to earn money was to join the military, which many Nuba did.

6. Cotton
The administration of the Sudan cost money, certainly in areas like the Nuba Mountains where tax revenues were negligible. To address this issue the British introduced cotton to the region as a cash crop. The cotton trade would not only increase tax revenues, it would solve a lot of problems: the employment was going to keep young Nuba men from migrating to the cities in the north; bore holes would not only serve to irrigate the plants but also to provide the people with fresh water; roads for transportation would disclose the isolated areas, which in turn would make it easier to register and administer the entire Nuba population.
Nuba farmer

The introduction was successful and from 1927 onwards ginneries were constructed in Talodi, Kadugli, Lagowa, Dilling and other places. Unforeseen by the British was the role of Arab entrepreneurs (or Jellaba as they were called): soon 80 % of the cotton was grown on Arab owned plantations. The Nuba often combined work on their far farms with day labour on the plantations. They started to sell some of their thurra and sesame as well; living standards were on the rise. As a result the Nuba cultures were strained only further from the influence of money and the close interaction with Arab Sudanese.

7. Devolution
As a counterbalance to Nationalism and unionist tendencies, the British wanted to strengthen local, tribal authority. They introduced indirect rule to North Sudan through the Powers of Nomad Shaykhs Ordinance of 1922. To strengthen the position of nomad Sheikhs, they were given judicial authority. It was applied to the Baggara in the Nuba Mountains by 1926, together with the Village Courts Ordinance. It could not be applied to the Nuba: most tribes were too fragmented and authority was not clearly established.

The Nuba remained under traditional rule until the introduction of the Power of Sheikhs Ordinance of 1927. Jurisdiction came under 'native administration' that would direct the 'native police' and collect taxes. The British installed three levels of courts, from local to regional scale. The presidents of the courts would be Sheikhs or Meks. They could handle cases according to the competence of their court or send them on to a higher court. They were allowed to fine those found guilty, or to imprison them. Had a Mek previously been a kujur, now he might be a former officer or someone who at least could read and write.

The implementation of the Ordinance demanded administrative reforms. The British were cautiously working towards a confederacy of Nuba tribes. Administrative units could now be comprised of several tribes, sometimes both Nuba and Arab would fall under one district. This was the case in the Tegali Kingdom for example, that had survived all turmoil and officially became the Mekship of Tegali.

By 1929 the administrative boundaries were again redrawn: the Nuba Mountains province was amalgamated with Kordofan. Economically and socially the two provinces were too much interwoven to administer them separately. Kordofan was the name of the combined province, of which the Nuba Mountains constituted four districts: Western Jebels, Eastern Jebels, Southern Kordofan, Southern Jebels. The policy to keep Nuba and Arab separated was not abandoned: actually the British sometimes went out of their way to see that Arab influence on the Nuba would be limited to the minimum.

8. Nuba Policy
Although patrols lessened in frequency towards the end of the 1920s, it became more and more evident that direct rule did not work. The D.C.'s were overburdened. The Meks couldn’t comply with British expectations without losing their authority among the young men in the community. As I have described above, the British Administration was trying to figure out what kind of future they might offer the Nuba. J. A. Gillan, Governor of Kordofan from 1928 to 1932, put it this way:
Can we evolve a structure or a series of structures, to fit all these different cultures and stages of civilisation? Can we at the same time preserve all that is best in the Nuba side by side with an Arab civilisation?
Are their traditions and culture worth maintaining while they learn to stand on their feet; or shall we stand aside and let them slip into a non-descript… arabicisation before they know their own minds?
Time was running short though. In 1930 the D.C. in Dilling complained that there was no policy whatsoever to guide the integration of the Nuba into the surrounding economy
The urgency of the matter lies in the economic progress of the Arab; the contacts are bound to increase; for economic reasons the races must mix and if a policy for Nuba is to be stated, it must be formulated now.80

In his 1931 memorandum, Gillan gave an analysis of the problem. He also offered a series of practical measures. His successor as Governor, Douglas Newbold (Governor from 1932-1936), tried to address the different issues raised in the memorandum, but he was also realistic about the problems:
The Nuba policy as set forth in Mr Gillan’s printed memorandum and approved by the Central Government is a positive civilizing policy, based on what is best on local tradition and culture. It does not aim at keeping the Nuba in a glass cage, not in making the NubaMountains into a human game reserve, but envisages the evolution of Nuba civilization through Nuba leaders and Nuba communalities.
In the late 20's and early 30's Sir Angus Gillan, Governor of Kordofan, attempted to turn the tide. He wrote to the office in Khartoum: 
"I would therefor ask:
1. That as far as possible Government Departments would recruit labour from other than Nuba sources
2. That Northern Governors would endeavour to round up and repatriate out-of-work Nubas." (Gillan, 1931)
In 'The Dilemma of British Rule in the Nuba Mountains' (1985) Osman A. Ibrahim describes the response to this request: 
"In many cases the Nuba who left the hills looking for a job in other provinces would be repatriated against their wish, to the extend of issuing them with railway warrants up to al-Ubayyid. There was no official fund for repatriation at first and returning Nuba were put to work in Dalamy and their travel expenditure was deducted from their wages."
9. Education
The Nuba policy was impractical and contrary to the interest of the Nuba. The best example is the matter of education in the ‘authentic’ areas. For nearly twenty years the Sudan United Mission (SUM), a Protestant missionary society from New Zealand and Australia, was allowed to operate elementary schools in Heiban, Abri, Kauda, Moro, and Tabanya without making any progress. The Church Mission Society (CMS) that started working in the western areas in 1933, hardly performed any better. The societies had insufficient means and the British constantly changed their policy. What to think of the experiment to teach the Nuba children Arabic written in Roman script? Meanwhile the British allowed an Arabic curriculum at well functioning elementary schools in ‘arabised’ areas.82

Douglas Newbold, Governor of Kordofan from 1932 to 1936, was more realistic than his predecessor:
The Nuba policy… does not aim at keeping the Nuba in a glass cage, not in making the NubaMountains into a human game reserve, but envisages the evolution of Nuba civilisation through Nuba leaders and Nuba communalities.83
Newbold recognised the need for proper education. Government elementary schools for Nuba were opened in Abri, Kauda, Salara and Katcha. Arabic became the language of instruction. By 1940, Nuba children were no longer restricted in their school choice. SUM was now only giving sub-grade education in so-called bush schools. CSM continued its elementary education and opened an intermediate school in Katcha.84

Reversal of British policy
Toward the end of WW II the British acknowledged the economical and geographical impossibilities to disjoint the South from the Sudan as a whole: 
"The policy of the Sudan Government regarding the Southern Sudan is to act upon the facts that the peoples of Southern Sudan are distinctively African and Negroid but that geography and economics combine (...) to render them inextricably bound for future development to the Middle Eastern and Arabicised Northern Sudan: and therefore to ensure that they should, by educational and economic development, be equipped to stand up for themselves in the future as socially and economically the equals of their partners in the Sudan of the future."85

Unfortunately for the Nuba, there was hardly any basis for the development of local leadership. As Nadel put it: 
"In the NubaMountains we are faced with problems of creation rather than of development. The indigenous political institutions, still largely in an embryonic stage, hardly possess the prerequisite elements for us to utilize or build upon. More specifically, few Nuba tribes offer an ancient system of chieftainship or some form of leadership which could be entrusted with the new political tasks."86 
Nonetheless the British insured in the following years that all tribes were ruled by local chiefs, often forcing the population to accept their new leaders against traditional notions of authority. Arabic became the language used in schools, efforts were made to revive cotton cultivation (which had suffered from labour migration and army service), to construct water reservoirs and roads. And very little more could be done to prepare the Nuba for the independence of Sudan. According to Stevenson the Nuba were slowly integrating into the society:
By the end of the Codominium period the Nuba were finding more employment in government services as teachers, clerks, medical assistants and dressers, in shops and offices and, outside the hills, in factories, sanitary squads and on the railways. (...) for many years now they had been eager and valued recruits for the army and police. Health had improved (...); each of the main towns now had its governmental hospital, there were dispensaries under medical assistants in many smaller centres, and leper settlements were started in 1936. (...) In spite of the flooding in upon them of the outside world with more organization and direction and outward changes in clothing, food and work, the cheerful and vigorous Nuba had retained their independence of outlook and much of their directness and simplicity.

VII. Independence (1956)
The uneven development of South and North Sudan disturbed the build-up towards independence. The political process was dominated by Northern parties, who occupied nearly all Government posts. Promises were made and broken. In August 1955, a mutiny in Torit by the Equatoria Corps [a military unit composed of Southerners] resulted in the deaths of 261 Northern Sudanese and 75 Southerners.

Failing democracy
Sudan declared its independence on January 1, 1956. The Southern demand for a federal state was brushed aside and the first National Government set out to unify the country by means of education. It took over the missionary schools in the South and in the Nuba Mountains, and started building new schools. Democracy proved unsuccessful: Northern political parties were too engaged in power games to address the problems of the country. Southern parties were too weak. In 1958 the army stepped in: Lieutenant General Ibrahim Abboud became president of Sudan (1958-1964). His policy for union: arabisation of the country and suppression of political opposition. When the missionaries turned against his Government in 1962, they were expelled from the South and the Nuba Mountains. The conflict between the Government and Southern opposition turned into civil war.

Anya Nya
Most Southern politicians went into exile. They formed the Sudan African National Union (SANU), headed by J.H. Oduhu. In South Sudan, remnants of the Equatoria Corps joined with other former soldiers and policemen into a violent rebel movement called Anya Nya [snake venom]. It strove for separation from the North. Abboud sent nearly the entire Sudanese Army to the South but it was unable to suppress the rebellion. Eventually a general uprising in the North forced Abboud to step down.2

Events in Kordofan
The civil war in the South had little impact on life in the Nuba Mountains, except for the Nuba men who re-enlisted in the army to fight the Anya Nya, and a small number who joined the Anya Nya.3. More important was the continuous process of arabisation. The Government stimulated the adoption of Arab names and the use of Arab language. Many Nuba adopted Arabic customs because they perceived their own cultures as backward. At the same time Christian missionary work was continued by Nuba clergy. Father Butrus Tia Shukai for example preached in Koalib; Heiban and Moro.4 Among both Muslims and Christians tribal identity remained strong.

Presumably towards the end of the Abboud regime Stevenson wrote:
Added to the Nuba diversity are the newer differences in educational level and in religion. Some have been attracted to Islam, others to Christianity [but many] are content at the moment to follow traditional ways. The Nuba peoples are today perhaps more Nuba-conscious, i.e. more conscious of themselves as a regional entity, desirous of having their proper share of education and employment and economic progress, and more consciously aware of their need to have a voice in the nation’s affairs by electing members to Parliament who will make sure that their interests get a fair hearing.5

General Union of the Nuba Mountains (GUN)
In 1964, the October Popular Uprising restored democracy in the Sudan. In the same year, a number of Nuba intellectuals organised themselves in the General Union of the Nuba Mountains. GUN participated in the parliamentary elections of 1965. One of the party members was Yousif Kuwa, who campaigned with Atroun Attia, ‘a prominent Nuba politicians those days’.6 Headed by Philip Abbas Ghaboush GUN entered Parliament with eight seats won in Southern Kordofan. Expectations were high but the new government did very little for the country. The problems in the South were not solved. The peripheral areas of the North, like the Nuba Mountains, the Ingassana Hills, Darfur and the Beja country, were left without resources. Disappointed leaders from these areas had already worked together in various political alliances. Now they started to consider the possibility of a military take-over

VIII. Nuba during Nimeiri’s regime (1969-1985)

In 1969 the army again took power. Colonel Jafaar Mohamed an-Nimeiri became President of the Sudan. All political parties were banned. After initial attempts to resolve the problems in the South through force, Nimeiri reverted to negotiations. In 1972 the Addis Ababa Agreement was signed, preserving the unity of the country by giving the South autonomy in all but national matters like defence, foreign affairs, currency and finance. Since the Nuba were living in the north, they hardly profited from the agreement.

Pressure on traditional cultures
Initially President Nimeiri was not very interested in changing the cultures of the Nuba. As a socialist he was not interested in creating a state religion and he allowed children from Christian families to be taught the catechism in school. Development and progress were his priority and in this light we should see the Government’s pressure on the Nuba to abandon their traditional way of living. For a while merchants were forbidden to sell anything to a person who was not dressed, for example. In a later stage of Nimeir’s rule islamisation once again became the answer to the country’s diversities. Nuba students received grants to study Islam and returned to their communities to proselytise. Islam did not run too deeply in most Nuba communities though. The belief in charms, spells, possession and rituals remained. Even strongly arabised communities like the Miri for example, would keep their tribal identity and continue to observe many of their traditional practices.7

Labour migration
In the 1970's, economic development of the area changed the Nuba communities dramatically. To establish a family; to have some luxury, to buy commodities and clothes: there were many reasons why the Nuba wanted money. And there were many job opportunities: in the army and the police service; in shops, clinics and schools; or on the large agricultural schemes that were being established. Many uneducated men went to the cities of the North. They could experience discrimination, but the people I interviewed agree that during Nimeiri’s regime it was not so bad. However, an uneducated Nuba would usually find only jobs of low esteem.

Labour migration had a profound impact on economic and social life in the Nuba Mountains. Women worked the far farms alone. Large herds became a rare sight because there were no young men to guard the cattle. Many rituals would no longer be held at the appropriate time or place. Village life became less and less attractive for the girls8, who started dreaming of escape with a man who had made it in the city.9

Traditionally, each Nuba tribe would consider the wider area around the hills it inhabited to belong to the community. Whomsoever cleared a patch of land for cultivation, owned it. The land remained family property. This became more problematic in 1968, when the government began to encourage mechanised farming. Under the Mechanised Farming Corporation Act, 60% of land was to be allocated to local people and no-one was to have more than one farm. In practice, this was ignored.  For the Nuba, financing the lease on a plot was more difficult than to the Arabs, and some outside landowners ended up with more than 20 farms. Many of the Jellaba had no farming experience. Soil depletion led to diminishing yields. Soon land was brought under cultivation outside the official schemes

Matters worsened for the Nuba in 1970. Under the Unregistered Land Act, all land not registered prior to 1970, fell to the State. The government assumed broad powers of eviction in order to clear land for schemes. There was no recognition of the rights of the Nuba who, although not having legal title, had been using land for generations.  The regulations were complicated and unfavourable to the Nuba.10

The agricultural schemes attracted many Arab Sudanese, both Jellaba and Baggara, who started to settle near the mountains. By 1974, Leni Riefenstahl remarked that the exposure to the Arab culture and the money economy had changed 'her' Nuba (the Masakin Qisar) beyond recognition.11 Possibly she was too focussed on the changed attitude towards nudity, because Islam and Christianity still did not run deeply in most Nuba communities. Traditional beliefs and customs remained a vital part of Nuba life. Even strongly arabised communities like, for example, the Miri, would keep their tribal identity and continue to observe many of their traditional practices. 12

Nuba politicians
While a spirit of optimism captured the Sudan after the signing of the Addis Ababa Agreement in 1972, the parties that were supposed to defend the interest of the Nuba achieved very little in terms of improving living standards in Southern Kordofan. Shortly after the 1965 elections, the GUN had already split into two factions. One was headed by Philip Abbas Ghaboush, who was stressing Nuba identity and cooperation with other Africans. The other was headed by Mahmud Hasib, who wanted to cooperate with the Baggara and Jellaba in Southern Kordofan.13 In 1969, Philip Abbas Ghaboush was forced to leave the country. He was sentenced to death in absentia for his involvement in an attempted coup that had been staged to take place just days before Nimeiri seized power.14 The faction of Mahmud Hasib allied itself to Nimairi’s regime. In 1977, serving as Governor of Kordofan, Hasib publicly demanded more regional autonomy, he was shouted down by Nimeiri. Many Nuba were disillusioned with their leaders.15 In the same year, Philip Abbas participated in another coup attempt, this time in Juba, with, among others, Mohamed Haroun Kafi and Yunis Dumi Kallo. 16

In 1972, Nuba students at Tilo Secondary School in Kadugli formed Rabita al-Abna Jibal al-Nuba [the Nuba League], a secret political society, in reaction to attempts of the Ittijaha al-Islami, [Islamic Direction, linked to Hassan al-Turabi], to take over the various student bodies at Tilo. The League’s first president was Kamil Kuwa Mekki, a younger brother to Yousif Kuwa. Among the members were Abdel Aziz al-Hilu and Daniel Kodi. Many members of the Nuba League went to Khartoum University in 1976, where they met other politically engaged Nuba students. Together they formed the Komolo [Youth] movement, in 1977. Yousif Kuwa Mekki became the leader of this secret body, which emphasised its Nuba identity.

Operating clandestinely, Komolo would have a strong influence on the future of the Nuba. Abdel Aziz al-Hilu, Daniel Kodi, Ismael Khamis Jelab, and Neroun Philip are some of the well known members. In 1980 Yousif Kuwa took a job at Tilo Higher Secondary School, and started recruiting among Nuba students and teachers. In 1981, Komolo formed the basis for Youif Kuwa's successful election to the Regional Government of Kordofan. He became Deputy Speaker in the assembly. The Arab dominated Assembly, however, did not address any of the issues important to the Nuba, like education or economic progress in the Nuba Mountains. In the same year, Daniel Kodi was elected to the National Assembly. But the only political party allowed was Nimeiri’s Sudan Socialist Union, and the democratic process was a farce.

Anya Nya II
In the late 1970s, Philip Abbas Ghaboush founded a new Nuba party: the Sudan National party (SNP). The SNP participated in several alliances of southern parties and parties representing northern peoples like the Fur and the Beja. Behind the scenes Philip Abbas was in contact with re-emerging rebel movements in the South, generally called Anya Nya II. He recruited Nuba for the armed struggle and sent them to Ethiopian, where the rebels received military training from the Ethiopian Government. (Ethiopia supported the Southerners against the Government of Sudan because the Government of Sudan supported Eritrean secessionists against Ethiopia.) Daniel Kodi helped Komolo members move to the rebels’ bases in Ethiopia. The recruited Nuba brought the Anya Nya to the Nuba Mountains in 1982, where they trained more men. Violence was limited to a raid on a police post in 1983.

During the first decades of independence, Nuba-Baggara relationships improved considerably in most parts of the Mountains. Baggara might take the Nuba herds north, and when they returned to Southern Kordofan, the Nuba boys might look after the Baggara herds. A growing number of Baggara settled permanently in Southern Kordofan to take up farming. Politically, the Baggara were strongly tied to the Umma Party that had evolved around the descendents of the Mahdi. Some had been cooperating with the General Union of the Nuba Mountains at the 1965 elections, but the Nuba tended to focus more on their African identity than on their regional identity.

The introduction of mechanised farming in 1968, affected the Baggara who grazed their herds in the Nuba Mountains. They found themselves shut off from access to pastures and wells. In spite of official regulations trek routes were blocked by large farms. The inevitable happened: the Baggara started to graze their cattle on Nuba land, destroying crops or harvests and occupying wells. During the 1970s, severe drought in Northern Kordofan forced the Baggara to come southwards sooner and to stay longer. This again increased tensions between the Nuba and the Baggara over land and water use.17 After 1975, the economy of Sudan started to falter. Inflation rose, and the Government rationed fuel and consumer goods. Distribution took place according to a district system that largely followed ethnic boundaries. As a result, competition for resources increased polarisation between Nuba and Arabs.18

Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA)
By 1983, Sudan’s economy was in a deplorable state. People went on strike throughout the country, protesting against poor economic and social conditions. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of refugees entered the Sudan from Ethiopia and Eritrea. Nimeiri’s plans for an administrative re-division of the South were met with an armed uprising in the South. The mutiny of three southern battalions of the Sudanese Army in Bor and Ayod was instigated by southern officers in the National army who had been planning a rebellion for years. Lieutenant Colonel John Garang de Mabior was part of the conspiracy. He joined the rebelling battalions and led them to Ethiopia, where they came together with Anya Nya II.19

Supported by Ethiopian President Mengistu, Garang united the rebelling battalions with part of the Anya Nya into the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). Garang became the Commander-in-Chief. In June, the political wing of the SPLA, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) issued its Manifesto, calling for a secular, united New Sudan where all people would be treated equally. In September 1983, in a desperate bid to stay in power, Nimeiri imposed Shari’a [Islamic law]. In response many more southerners joined the SPLA.

Nuba and the SPLA
We now get to a very turbulent part of Nuba history, in which part of the Nuba engaged themselves in the war against the Government. Philip Abbas Ghaboush was probably the first link between the Nuba and the Southerners. He had remained in close contact with the Southern rebellion ever since the time of the first Anya Nya. Behind the scenes he recruited Nuba men and sent them to the Anya Nya II bases in Ethiopia.

Daniel Kodi was another link with the Southerners. As member of the National Assembly after the 1981 elections, he soon established contacts with southern movements. Although Kodi was a member of Komolo he did not act as a Komolo representative in these contacts. Just like Philip Abbas, Kodi started sending people to the Anya Nya II. He also established contacts with the movement that would later become the SPLA. When the Bor mutiny took place, he was already aware of the conspiracy, probably through Lam Akol and Edward Lino. Lam Akol was active as a lecturer in Khartoum before he officially got into politics. At the same time he was an SPLM contact from the start – even before the founding of the Movement. Edward Lino was part of the same secret Khartoum cell recruiting intellectuals for the SPLM/A, with Peter Nyot. This cell became the nucleus for the SPLM office once John Garang had left for Ethiopia.20 In 1981, Kamil Kuwa was working in Libya, where he joined a small group of Southern Sudanese. Together they set up an office in Tripoli that was instrumental in channelling Muammar al-Gaddafi’s military support to the SPLA.

John Garang sent the 1983 SPLM Manifesto to Daniel Kodi, who seems to have inititated the discussion whether Komolo should collectively join the SPLM or not. Edward Lino went to Kadugli to see Yousif Kuwa, and they came to Khartoum together. In the house of Philip Abbas Ghabush Yousif Kuwa met with Lam Akol; Daniel Kodi and Abdel Aziz Adam al-Hilu. They discussed the Manifesto and decided that Yousif should go to Ethiopia to discuss the matter further with John Garang. Lam Akol drove him to the airport.

Yousif Kuwa met with John Garang and joined the Movement in 1984. He announced his decision on the SPLM radio, broadcasting form Ethiopia, and called upon all the Nuba to join the fight for freedom. Soon Telephone Kuku, Yunis Abd Sadr, Yousif Karra and Ouwad Al Karim followed him to Ethiopia. Not all Nuba were happy with Yousif Kuwa’s action. Some Komolo members felt that he had gone against the agreement that he would report back to them. They also seem to have felt confronted with a fait accompli: Yousif Kuwa’s announcement made any Nuba a suspect of having joined the rebellion. 21 Kuwa's first assignment was to head the SPLA Office in Yemen. The office had a similar function as the office in Tripoli. Since the Nuba were living in northern Sudan, John Garang quickly put Yousif Kuwa forward as evidence that the SPLA was not merely a Dinka or Southern movement. He started to address the Southern Sudanese to convince them that the SPLA was fighting for all the Sudanese. They listened to him. The former teacher soon became an alternate member of the SPLA's high command.

Coup Attempts
Komolo members were involved in several coup attempts. In 1983, there was one involving Ismael Khamis, Mudir Batallah Kapitulek, and Yunis Abd Sadr. And in 1984, Philip Abbas and Daniel Kodi participated in another attempt. In both instances, the plot was discovered. The conspirators were only imprisoned for brief periods of time. After his exposure, Daniel Kodi went to Ethiopia and was appointed to the SPLM Office in Addis Ababa.

IX. War in the Nuba Mountains (1985 - 2002)

In 1985, Nimeiri was overthrown by Lieutenant General Suar al-Dahab. He announced a return to democracy after a transitional period of one year. Following parliamentary elections in 1986, Sadiq al-Mahdi formed a number of coalition governments that were unable to solve the problems of the country.

In Khartoum
During the transitional period, Philip Abbas staged another coup, with Ismael Khamis, Mudir Batallah, and Yunis Abd Sadr. It failed. After a brief imprisonment, Khamis, Batallah and Abd Sadr left to join the SPLA. Philip Abbas participatde in the elections with his Sudan National Party, which gained eight seats, including the constituency of Al-Hadj Yusif in Omdurman. The SNP worked together with the Southern opposition in the Union of Sudan African Parties. The Nuba politicians of different parties could not agree on a united Nuba policy. H.A. Kadouf  remembers:
Each had its own hidden political agenda… I knew off hand that all of these parties were fused with members from clandestine Nuba societies such as: Komolo and Nahnu Kadugli. Some of the Nuba youth were strangely enough with the Arab socialists etc… It was proved later that some of these young Nuba intellectuals… were driven more by their own political ideologies than by any common Nuba political interest.22

The Misseriya Baggara in Kordofan had been buying arms since 1983, and were raiding Dinka communities with impunity in Kordofan and Abyei. But by 1985, SPLA task forces were active in the Bahr al-Ghazal. One of those forces followed a group of Misseriya raiders to al-Gardud on the Southern outskirts of the Nuba Mountains and killed 60 of the Baggara. Around that time, Defence Minister General Fadlallah Burma Nassir, himself a Misseriya Zuruq, started to arm the Baggara, turning them into militias known as Murahaliin. Soon the Murahaliin used their guns to intimidate the Nuba population. Robbery and violent attacks became common practice in the Western Mountains. So when a small SPLA task force entered the Mountains in 1986, to recruit among the young men, many were eager to join.

Rather than trying to end the violence in Southern Kordofan, Sadiq al-Mahdi’s Government armed and organised the Hawazma also. The army started to take part in the fighting. As early as January 1986, it attacked people and villages suspected of SPLA sympathies. The first direct clashes with the SPLA took place in June 1987, when the Volcano Battalion, headed by Yousif Kuwa, entered the Nuba Mountains. The incursion led to more violence by Murahaliin and Government army.

New Kush
Abdel Aziz al-Hilu and Yousif Kuwa assembled large groups of recruits and sent them to the SPLA training centres in Ethiopia. The first groups walked for three months to get there. During 1988, the Government army targeted villages known to have sent recruits to the SPLA. (De Waal and Ajawin) The recruits returned in 1989, as the New Kush Brigade. Entering from the south the SPLA turned toward Kadugli, the main town in Southern Kordofan. The SPLA established itself in a large part of the Nuba Mountains and stayed. The Government launched campaigns against villages where the SPLA had been reported to be.

The soldiers of the New Kush Brigade were ‘no angels’ either. Some of them rampaged against the Nuba population. The worst offenders were court-marshalled and executed. (Kuwa) SPLA soldiers would usually kill any captured Government soldier. (De Waal and Ajawin) Arab civilians were targeted too. In Moro several Jellaba were killed, some of whom were married to Moro women. (Mohamed Salih) Mechanised farms were attacked, Jellaba were ambushed and killed. The SPLA attacked Hawazma villages, forcing the civilian population to seek the safety of the towns.23

Violence, isolation, poverty
On June 30, 1989, Colonel Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir took power in Khartoum. He agreed to a cease fire with the South and allowed the United Nations to bring aid to the civilian population in the areas under SPLM administration (Operation Lifeline Sudan).The Nuba Mountains, however, were excluded from the arrangement. Instead, al-Bashir legalised the Murahaliin and brought them under Government authority as the Popular Defence Forces (PDF). The fighting escalated into all-out war. The Government army and the PDF continued to burn villages; destroy crops and kill people. They deliberately targeted the educated Nuba. Members of Komolo were persecuted. Relatives of known SPLA leaders disappeared.

Schools were closed. Medical care was no longer available. The farms in the plains were abandoned. Drought and violence combined to cause severe famine from 1990-1993. Thousands of people died of hunger. The Nuba in the SPLA controlled area were largely cut off from the outside world. People would still find ways to travel to Khartoum,24 but trade came to a halt and extreme poverty was the result. Civilians were taken from their villages to so-called Peace Camps, were many were kept against their will. Others went to the camps voluntarily in the hope of getting some food, clothes, medical treatment, or education for their children. People who returned from the Government area would often be treated with suspicion by the SPLA.

Government controlled areas
The civilian population under Government control also suffered. Many people were displaced, either to the larger towns in South Kordofan, like Kadugli and Dilling, or to El Obeid, Omdurman and Khartoum. Grain production was low, and the draught during the early 1990s, touched everyone. In general, however, the Nuba in the Government area were better off than those in the SPLA area. Health care and education, though very poor, were at least available. Government garrison towns and Peace Camps received food relief from the UN, which was not allowed to the SPLA area. The people had some basic commodities. Insecurity was less in the Government areas. SPLA soldiers sometimes raided for cattle in nearby 'enemy' villages, but after 1993, for lack of ammunition, the SPLA launched only one large attack, in 1998.25  In contrast the Government army mounted large scale campaigns against the SPLA every dry season.

In between the parties
From the beginning of the war in the Nuba Mountains, Baggara traders smuggled people and commodities from the Government area into the SPLM area. Government officers were bribed. In 1993, the Misseriya realised that they were victims of the war like the Nuba. They signed the Buram agreement with the Nuba. In exchange for grain and cattle, Baggara traders brought salt, clothes, and medicine. This continued until the end of 1993, when government troops took Buram. The 1995 Regifi Agreement closely followed the previous accord. In 1996, the Nuba concluded the Kain Agreement with the Rawawga who even brought ammunition to the SPLA.26

Nuba against Nuba
A growing sense of common Nuba identity has not yet replaced tribal allegiances. The Nuba peoples had different experiences throughout the centuries. Different levels of education, of economic development, of arabisation, etc., give them different outlooks on life. This was reflected in the situation in the Nuba Mountains during the war. Nuba politicians, chiefs, and officials worked with or for the Government all through the war. Were they corrupted opportunists, replacing the Nuba of integrity who had been killed or chased? (De Waal and Ajawin) Did they fear the Government? Were the Nuba who joined the Government army just poor brainwashed sods looking for money, as the SPLA officers used to claim? Or did they have very different ideas about their place in Sudan than the Nuba who joined the SPLA? Judging from the outcome of the Gubernatorial and State elections of May 2011, the population was and has remained devided on the question whom they entrust their future most, with an edge for the SPLM in popular support (and a much wider margin if only the Nuba people were taken into consideration) but not in the numbers of representatives (see below).

Yousif Kuwa
Shortly after the SPLA had occupied, or liberated, large areas in the Nuba Mountain, Yousif Kuwa began to develop a civil administration, from village level upwards to the whole region under his command. However, in 1991, two members of the SPLA High Command, Riek Machar Teny Dhurgon and Lam Akol Ajawin, tried to oust John Garang from the SPLA leadership. The coup failed, Machar and Akol broke away from the SPLA and continued as the Nasir Faction. Suddenly the SPLA troops in the Nuba Mountains became isolated from the South. Supplies no longer reached the Mountains, and Yousif Kuwa faced a mutiny among his officers.

Considering the near hopelessness of the situation he decided to consult the Nuba people. In 1992, he called together representatives of all segments of the population and asked them whether they wanted to surrender, or continue to fight. The Advisory Council voted in favour of fighting. The Council became a permanent institution that discussed many social and political developments, passing recommendations to a legislative council that turned them into guidelines for the civil administration.

The SPLA held on to large parts of the Mountains. Although the violence never stopped the parties fought each other to a standstill. This changed after 1998, when Yousif Kuwa was diagnosed with cancer. Treatment kept him away for long periods of time, leaving command to deputies who were not quite up to the task of securing the area. They did not have Kuwa's political skills and personal charisma. Meanwhile logistical support from the SPLA in the South remained bad. Large areas were lost to the Government army, and the number of internally displaced persons grew dramatically.27

Relief and international pressure
Kuwa and several other prominent Nuba were frequently travelling abroad to raise awareness about the war in the Nuba Mountains. They met with parliamentarians, human rights activists, aid organisations, journalists, etc. Dr. Suleiman Musa Rahhal, co-founder of Nuba Mountains Solidarity Abroad, tried relentlessly to stir western governments into acting against eradication of the Nuba. Neroun Philip, head of Nuba Relief, Rehabilitation and Development Society (later NRRDO), managed to convince several large NGO's that the humanitarian crisis in the Mountains was urgent enough to ignore the flight ban and assist the people in the SPLA controlled areas.

In 1999, a UN assessment team investigated the needs of the Nuba people on both sides of the demarcation line. Despite growing pressure on the Sudanese Government, relief was not allowed to be flown in until November 2001. Earlier that year, the US had committed itself to what it hoped would be a final effort to restore peace to Sudan. Special envoy John Danforth called a Nuba Mountains cease fire crucial for his plan to build confidence between the Government and the SPLM. Yousif Kuwa did not live to see this development: he died on March 31, 2001.

X. Peace

Nuba Mountains Cease Fire Agreement
In January 2002, the Government of Sudan and the SPLA/Nuba agreed on a cease fire under international monitoring that went into effect on January 21. For the SPLA It had been negotiated by Abdel Aziz al-Hilu, Daniel Kodi, Neroun Philip, and two Southerners. Mutrif Siddiq Ali Nimeiri was heading the Government team. Hostilities were suspended; restrictions on relief flights were lifted. People of both sides were allowed to travel freely throughout the whole area. NGO's started to clear landmines, to strike water holes, to provide medical assistance, etc. Many agricultural, economic and social development projects were initiated to restore the enormous damage the people suffered from the war. The progress was not as fast as people had expected, but compared to the period of war, life in the Nuba Mountains became considerably better.

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)
The number of Nuba refugees outside Kordofan might be estimated as high as one million by the end of 2001. 300,000 IDPs returned to Southern Kordofan between 2002 and 2004.28 However, many people remained cautious: they prefered to wait and see how the situation in Southern Kordofan would develop. Others returned to Khartoum when they failed to find basic services in the Nuba Mountains, like clean water, education, and health care. In 2008, the IDPs became an important issue for the SPLM during the national census. Then Deputy Governor Daniel Kodi called for a boycot of the census arguing that it would not be representative when a large part of the IDPs had not yet returned to South Kordofan. It became clear that without the return of more IDPs, the Nuba might even be outnumbered in the State after the 2004 Comprehensive Peace Agreement amagamated Misseriya-dominated West Kordofan to South Kordofan.

Comprehensive Peace Agreement
The cease fire in the Nuba Mountains was renewed several times while the Government and the SPLM were being pushed hard by the mediating countries and organisations to reach an accord. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was finally signed on December 31, 2004. It entailed protocols for power and wealth sharing, a time path to Presidential and General elections and provided for a referendum on independence in Southern Sudan. Both parties did pledge to work towards making unity attractive.

The future of the Nuba Mountains was one of the last issues to be resolved. The Protocol on the Resolution of Conflict in Southern Kordofan/Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile States was not half as detailed as the Nuba (or the people of Blue Nile for that matter) had hoped it would be. Although it gave the Nuba a certain share in National wealth and National representation, it did not include a referendum on where the Nuba wanted to belong in case the South would secede: to the North or to the South (or to an independent state). Important issues, like land ownership, measure of autonomy, or freedom of religion, were left to be resolved in later procedures.

No right of self-determination
The demand for self-determination had been voiced by all Nuba opposing the Government, no matter how deep the political or personal differences. Inside or outside the SPLM/A: they all wanted a chance for the Nuba people to decide upon their own future. The fact that the SPLM/A leadership - mandated to negotiate on behalf of the Nuba during the All Nuba Conference in Kauda in 2002 - did not insist on Nuba self-determination in spite of earlier pledges, left the deepest scar the Nuba carried from the war. It gave all the Nuba outside the SPLM/A who opposed the Government a reason to blame the SPLM/A for selling the Nuba short and created huge tensions among people who had identical agendas but different political affiliations. Many feared that the Southerners would not seriously try to keep the country together and that secession of the South would only put the Nuba in the middle of more conflicts.

The disappointing result of the CPA also gave many Nuba within the SPLM/A a sense of being abandoned, not only by the SPLM in general, but by their own leaders. Even Nuba leaders like Abdel Aziz al-Hilu or Daniel Kodi, who were on the CPA negotiating team, made it clear that they were extremely unhappy with the outcome. Yet they signed the agreements - and not only the Nuba people were left with the question why. It is a matter that deserves closer consideration.

To the leading Nuba who joined the SPLA from 1984 onwards, the first priority was to get arms and ammunition. In addition, they reckoned that joining the SPLA would strengthen the Nuba position in their conflict with the Government of Sudan. They did not believe an isolated rebellion in the Nuba Mountains could be sustained for long. Furthermore, they considered the Movement as a means to draw international attention to their cause. At the same time many Nuba in the SPLA had put their hopes on the vision of a United Sudan, the New Sudan John Garang proposed, with equal opportunities for all. The importance of the Nuba soldiers for the fighting force of the SPLA will be acknowledged by most people in the SPLA. And the credibility of the SPLM's aspirations as a national movement depended not to a small degree on the participation of the Nuba. In this light it is difficult to understand why the leading Nuba in the SPLA who were directly involved in policy making accepted that the SPLM/A never made a definite demand for Nuba self-determination. Not in the NDA meeting in Asmara in 1995, not in the IGAD negotiations during the following years, and eventually not in the Naivasha peace talks.

Contrary to the SPLM, the Government of Sudan always made Nuba self-determination a breaking point in any negotiations. It might have been the case that initially, the Nuba leaders were not adamant about self-determination because they believed that eventually, the Government of Sudan would fall, and the SPLM/A could dictate the terms for peace. But as this optimistic scenario was becoming less likely, they must have stressed the importance of their demand with John Garang. Given the eventual outcome of the CPA negotiations, there were very convincing reasons against pushing the demand for self-determination beyond the point of breaking with the SPLM/A. The difficulty to obtain weapons might have been one such reason. A second reason could have been that the consequences for the SPLM/A of a Nuba pull-out would be severe and that this would have immediately back-fired on the Nuba. And finally: joining the Government of Sudan like Riek Machar and others had done, was not an option for Yousif Kuwa and his closest allies - although a number of more or less prominent Nuba leaders did leave the SPLM/A during the war, like Mohammed Haroun Kafi who signed a peace agreement with the Government on behalf of the 'SPLM/A Nuba Mountains Central Committee' in 1999.

At the 2004 CPA negotiations in Naivasha the Nuba issue, together with that of Blue Nile and Abyei, was being pushed towards the final stage of negotiating. It remained one of the last issues to be resolved. Right until the end, the Nuba might still have gotten self-determination, or not. Eventually the Government stuck to its refusal and self-determination for Abyei was traded off against the guarantee that neither Nuba Mountains or Blue Nile could leave the North in case the South would secede. One can speculate that John Garang told the Nuba negotiators that 'this was the best we can do', and promised to do everything in his power as Sudan's Vice-President and as the potential next President to improve the conditions of the agreement of the Nuba and Blue Nile through the process of popular consultation. Then it was up to the Nuba and the people of Blue Nile to blow up the negotiations or sign. They signed, and a few months later, John Garang died in a helicopter crash and almost overnight, the priorities of the SPLM/A were with the South more than with the whole of the country.

Elections and Popular Consultation
The Protocol for Southern Kordofan would only have become final when it had been endorsed by the elected members of the State Assembly. A ‘popular consultation’ would take place after the National and Regional elections, scheduled for 2009. Following this consultation, the representatives in the Southern Kordofan Assembly would have the right to either endorse the agreement as it had been drawn up in Naivasha, or to renegotiate it with the elected Central Government. This rather complex arrangement made the outcome of the elections of particular importance to the contesting parties: the winner of the elections in South Kordofan would get a chance to reform the Protocol - provided that the National Government were inclined to accommodate such reforms. As a consequence, demographics became a major concern in South Kordofan while state politics took on the aspect of a prolonged election campaign with predominantly negative overtones.

In preparation of the elections, a national census was held in April 2008. Deputy Governor Daniel Kodi initially announced a boycott of the census in South Kordofan that he later revoked, only to claim afterwards that the exercise had failed. Reasons for the boycott included insecurity in the State, insufficient efforts to accommodate IDPs, and a lack of census forms in the English language. In response to the SPLM objections a new census was conducted in South Kordofan in June 2010. The results significantly increased the 1,406,404 count recorded by the disputed census to 2,508,268 persons. Accordingly, the Khartoum-based National Elections Commission (NEC), which administers the elections, redrew geographic constituencies in November and December 2010, dividing the state into 32 geographic constituencies that generally favoured the National Congress Party of President al-Beshir by creating relatively small constituencies likely to vote NCP and relatively large constituencies voting SPLM.

Slow implementation of the CPA
During the interim period, the South Kordofan State Assembly existed of appointed members, 45% of whom are of the SPLM, and 55% are of the NCP. They struggled to draw up a State Constitution, and pass the necessary State Legislation to ensure orderly administration. The process of implementing the CPA was constantly delayed for a number of reasons, causing a lot of frustration with both the representatives and the population. Some modest progress was made in the formation of Joint Integrated Units of Government and SPLA forces. Recruitment and training started for a joint police force that would be deployed throughout Southern Kordofan. Administrative integration never materialised, de facto continuing the separated spheres of influence of the Government and the SPLM, including check points on the roads leading from one area to the other. People did move relatively freely, economic activity grew and more and more Nuba people returned to their homes.

Development of the war-ravaged state however, was stalled by political rivalry. According to the CPA, the governorship was to rotate between the SPLM and the NCP and Ismael Khamis Jelab took the first turn for the SPLM. He did not succeed in securing the funds from Khartoum required to start rebuilding the area or restore basic services to the population. Towards the end of his governorship, he was replaced by Daniel Kodi. Governorship rotated to the NCP and Kodi became Vice-Governor. His performance was such that the SPLM Security Council of South Kordofan impeached him. He was replaced by Abdel Aziz Adam al Hilu. In response, the NCP appointed Ahmed Mohamed Haroun - indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity perpetrated in Darfur - as Governor of South Kordofan. Suddenly, all funds for reconstruction were released: roads were being constructed, hospitals built, airlines opened.

Meanwhile, a long-awaited referendum on unity or independence took place in South Sudan in January 2011. The overwhelming majority of the population (99%) voted for secession. The implications for the Nuba in the SPLM were clear: from now on they were 'a problem of the North'.

The election process

Voter registration
In an atmosphere of mutual distrust, voter registration in South Kordofan took place from Jan. 20 to Feb. 12, 2011. The Carter Center, as observing party to the elections, noted "several shortcomings that hurt the inclusiveness and integrity of voter registration and resulted in low turnout. This included the failure of the National Elections Commission's (NEC) to devote sufficient registration teams to conduct a comprehensive voter registration process and create a new registry, and the lack of appropriate voter education to ensure participation of all eligible voters. [...] According to the NEC, some 642,555 people registered, approximately 100,000 fewer voters than during the April 2010 elections." According to the Carter Center, this did not compromise the integrity of the overall process.

Elections and results
Elections were conducted on May 2, 2011. There were three candidates for the Governorship: incumbent Governor Ahmed Mohamed Haroun, incumbent Deputy-Governor Abdel Aziz Adam al-Hilu and SPLA commander Telefon Kuku abu Jalha, the latter being held prisoner by the SPLA in Juba. The Sudanese Group for Democracy and Elections (SuGDE) that witnessed the election process, reported only minor irregularities in their South Kordofan Elections Statement of 12 May, 2011. This was corroborated by the Carter Center that said that "despite a climate of heightened insecurity and instances of procedural irregularities that removed an important safeguard of the process, South Kordofan’s elections were generally peaceful and credible. The voting, counting, and results aggregation processes were conducted in a nonpartisan and transparent manner under intense scrutiny from leading political parties."

The final outcome of the elections showed a shallow lead for Haroun of 6,000 votes over al-Hilu. Telefon Kuku, who had had no chance to campaign in person, only attracted a small number of voters. The popular vote was in favour of the SPLM, however, only 10 out of 32 constituencies went to the SPLM. SPLM claimed fraud during the tally and tabulation procedure but, according to the Carter Center, " these claims were mostly unsubstantiated, they proved impossible to investigate and were thus dismissed by the SHEC [State High Election Commission, NotE]". The Carter Center also called the elections "generally peaceful and credible". The SPLM refused to accept the outcome and declined an invitation by Governor Haroun to negotiate a power-sharing agreement.

A Rift Valley report of August 2011, two months after the renewed outbreak of war, raised questions about the validity of the election process. It does not document proof that the election results were manipulated, it does show that they could have been manipulated.

XI. Return to War (2011- )

Preparations for war
Without any prospect of a peaceful solution, both the Sudan Government and the SPLA prepared for the inevitable confrontation. On May 23, 2011, The Government of Sudan sent an ultimatum to the SPLM/A in Juba that all SPLA soldiers should withdraw south of the 1956 North-South border before June 1, 2011. The SPLA stated that as the Nuba soldiers were not Southern Sudanese, it saw no ground to recall them: they belong to North Sudan. SAF started amassing troops into South Kordofan while Nuba fighters in the SPLA stationed just across the border in South Sudan returned to their home areas.

It is important to note that during the transition period, the Nuba fighters in the SPLA continued to belong to the SPLA proper: their salaries and equipment came from Juba. This is significant because it allowed for several years of military reinforcements in terms of training and materiel that reduced SAF's military advantage to the use of air support - a means that it continues to deploy frequently and indiscriminately.

Outbreak of violence
On June 5, 2011, fighting broke out in Kadugli, the capital of South Kordofan. According to the SPLA, Government troops progressed to disarm SPLA soldiers in the JIU who offered resistance leading to the onset of conflict. According to the Government, conflict started when SPLA soldiers attacked a police station. In the following hours and days, fighting erupted in many places in South Kordofan. Kadugli was worst hit, with SAF and security forces allegedly combing the city door to door in search of known SPLM/A sympathisers. Summary executions have been reported as well as targeted attacks on community leaders.

It soon became clear that the SPLA (hence on known as SPLA-North, or SPLA-N) was well prepared: it took control of large parts of the rural areas and pinned down SAF in Kadugli. However, the Government sent more reinforcements and managed to stay in control of the larger towns and the roads leading from El Obeid to Dilling and Kadugli. Fierce battles were fought over strategic towns like Buram and Talodi but the Government remained in control of these places. Thus far (May 2013) neither party has gained a definitive edge but the military balance is far more even in terms of materiel and logistics than it ever was during the previous war in the Nuba Mountains.

Sudan Revolutionary Front
Little more than a month after the outbreak of violence in South Kordofan, Southern Sudan became an independent Republic. Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Beshir attended the official ceremony in Juba on July 9, 2011. Kind words were spoken but no one believed that the two Sudans would be friendly neighbours any time soon. Too many issues were unresolved, including border demarcation, the status of Abyei, oil transportation fees, and of course the position of the SPLM/A in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Officially Juba severed all ties with their former political and military allies but Khartoum insists until today that the SPLM/A-N continues to receive support from South Sudan. By the looks of it, Sudan and South Sudan have perpetuated their conflict by proxy, with Sudan supporting armed uprisings in South Sudan agains the SPLM/A and South Sudan supporting the SPLM/A-N against the Government of Sudan.

On September 1, 2011, the Blue Nile state too became a theatre of war. Although the elections in Blue Nile had been favourable for the SPLM in so far as that its candidate Malik Agar had been elected Governor tensions had been mounting, as Malik Agar was heading the SPLM-N political party that was already bound up in conflict in South Kordofan. SAF and SPLA-N engaged in fierce fighting over Damazin and on September 2, 2011, Agar was relieved from his function as Governor of Blue Nile.

In November 2011, SPLM-N and JEM, the Justice and Equality Movement from Darfur that has been fighting the Government of Sudan for years and had staged a daring attack on Khartoum in 2008, signed an agreement officially joining their forces under the command of Abdel Aziz al-Hilu. JEM and SPLM-N had already conducted several successful joint or co-ordinated operations in South Kordofan but now they announced the formation of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) that strives for a national agenda of change with the aim of toppling the regime of President al-Beshir. The combined SPLA-N and JEM forces have been on the offensive ever since, capturing some towns, occupying others only briefly, but always appearing one step ahead of the Sudan Armed Forces. The brief occupation of Abu Karshola in May 2013, triggered the Government of Sudan into conducting a nationwide campaign to enlist volunteers into the army and the Popular Defence Forces (PDF).

Displaced population
Hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of South Kordofan, many of whom had only recently returned to their homes, have been leaving the contested areas in a steady flow of refugees both to northern cities like El Obeid and Khartoum and towards South Sudan, where the refugee centre in Yida soon became overcrowded. Indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas from Sudan Air Force's Antonovs caused the population to abandon their homes in the plains and look for cover up the mountains where caves might provide some shelter. As a result from the conflict and the bombing campaign, agricultural activity was severely limited, resulting in insufficient harvests and widespread food insecurity.

No humanitarian access
Much like during the previous war, humanitarian organisations that could alleviate the suffering of the affected communities do not have official access to the SPLA-N areas. Any negotiations over humanitarian access have been subordinated to political and strategic issues by both the Government and the SPLM-N. The Government insist that any assistance to the SPLM-N areas would be overseen by Government officials so that it would not benefit the SPLA-N fighters, while the SPLM-N demands that any humanitarian assistance would only arrive from areas not under Government control, to make sure no Government spies disguised as humanitarians can enter the SPLA-N territory.

No peaceful solution in sight
Between the SRF proclaimed goal of capturing Khartoum to oust President al-Beshir and the Governments promise to crush the rebellion once and for all, there is little chance of a peaceful settlement of the conflict. Whether perceived as local ( the Nuba supporters of SPLM-N claim a larger share in power), national (wealth and power sharing between centre and periphery is unequal) or international (the Nuba are caught up in a Kashmir-like situation between North and South Sudan), the mutual distrust is too deep to be overcome by even the staunchest of international mediation efforts. Add to this the conviction of the SRF that the capture of Khartoum is not only desirable but very well feasible...

  Nuba (
A group of 50 or more autonomous and ethnically diverse tribes, numbering some 3.7 million people, Nuba inhabit the mountainous Kordofan in central Sudan. They speak several dialects of the Cushitic group of the Hamito-Semitic languages. Some traditional religions survive but most Nuba have been converted to Islam or Christianity. These diverse peoples have found a common identity as ‘Nuba’ through their shared mountain homeland and a history of shared oppression.

                                           Nuba man from South Sudan
Historical context
Nuba migrated to the mountains for protection or improved water sources to cultivate beans, cotton, millet and maize, and to raise cattle, goats and sheep. Their traditional rivals, the cattle herding Sudanese Arabs known as Baggara, who live in southern Kordofan, often have been allies of central power in Sudan since the nineteenth century, while Nuba were long peripheral to the main currents of Sudanese politics, neither aligned with the Arab-dominated north nor belonging to the south.

Baggara, and their militia, the murahaliin, were armed by the transitional government in 1985–6, then by the governing Umma Party from 1986–9 and thereafter by the government of the NIF. After the NIF took power, the Popular Defence Act of 1989 gave legal status to the murahaliin militia as part of the paramilitary Popular Defence Forces (PDF) – a regime-created motley assortment of religious zealots, ethnic militias and press-ganged conscripts. The PDF stepped up its raids in the south, now in conjunction with the army. While the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) raided villages for food and conscripted soldiers, violence by the army and murahaliin escalated.

In February 1990 some Baggara leaders negotiated a truce with the SPLA to gain access to traditional grazing lands in SPLA-controlled Dinka areas of the southern region of Bahr el Ghazal. In response, the central government intensified its efforts to inflame Baggara historical competition with the Nuba with the objective of ridding Nuba land of its Nuba inhabitants and replacing them with Baggara Arabs.

The army arrested, tortured and executed Nuba leaders and confiscated their land, evicting entire communities. In January 1992 the Provincial Governor of Kordofan declared a jihad in the Nuba Mountains to rout the ‘remnants’ of the SPLA.

The attempt to destroy the Nuba people and culture, and their forcible conversion to Islam, is not new. Some local authorities prohibited stick fighting, which relates to some Nuba people’s cosmology and agricultural and religious practices. Prohibition of these rituals implies an indirect obstruction to the basic cultural traits and value systems which maintain and foster Nuba ethnic identity.

The imposition of Sharia law has reinforced discrimination. The government has embarked on the ‘comprehensive call’ campaign, which aims at Islamicizing Nuba via the imposition of Islamic teaching, the intimidation of clergy, resettlement and torture. In reaction to policies from Khartoum, in particular far-reaching land confiscation in 1984, Nuba increasingly aligned with the SPLA.

In the NIF era, the situation for Christians in the Nuba Mountains has been particularly difficult. Churches have been destroyed and meetings prohibited even in their ashes. With the creation of Islamic schools, ‘peace camps’ have been part of an Islamicization policy.

In the 1990s, Nuba children from the Kadugli/Tulisci areas were rounded up by the PDF and sent to Libya and the Gulf countries. The Nuba Timu group that lived in the lower lands of the mountain ranges of Tulisci near Lagaw was virtually eliminated, as all males down to the age of 6 or 7 were massacred.

Nuba deportees were forced to work in the large mechanized schemes on agricultural lands which originally belonged to them before their distribution by the government to Jellaba (a northern Muslim mercantile class operating in the south) and Baggara. Indeed, from the 1970s onwards, land dispossession was a defining feature of the conflict in the Nuba Mountains.

Justice Africa ( in 2002 detailed some of the issues:

‘About one quarter of Sudan’s mechanized farmland is in South Kordofan. There are many cases in which Nuba farmers were driven off their ancestral lands. Some were taken to court, when they refused to give up their land and were either lashed or imprisoned ...

In 1984 in the Mugenis scheme extension, near Rashad, eighty Nuba people who refused to hand over their land to a company formed by rich merchants and government ministers, were rounded up and taken to an emergency court in Kadugli.

In 1995 a new agricultural corporation was formed in the Nuba Mountains and Nuba lands were put up for sale, and a loan from the bank was given to the buyers – who came almost entirely from central and northern Sudan.’

Another example of abuse of power is the Habila mechanized project. The lands were taken from the natives and the project ownership was given almost entirely to northern merchants and businessmen while the previous Nuba land owners had to become labourers on their own lands.’

In 2002 the humanitarian situation improved for the Nuba when the United States brokered a ceasefire. An All-Nuba Conference in December 2002 delegated to John Garang and the SPLA the negotiation of Nuba interests in the peace talks that culminated in the CPA in January 2005.

Current issues

The CPA has left the Nuba Mountains in an ambivalent position. Under a power-sharing agreement, the region was carved up 55:45 between the government and SPLM. This in itself attracted criticism from Nuba activists, who pointed out that this left ‘nothing for the Nuba’ (Statement, Nuba Survival Foundation, 2005, Sudan Tribune)

What will happen in the future is unclear. The CPA describes a process of ‘popular consultation’ to find out the views of the Nuba people on their status. But no-one seems to know what this consultation might entail, and what might happen if the Nuba express a desire to join with the south.

What is certain, however, is that the Nuba have not been given the same guarantee of self-determination, as the southerners, or a referendum on whether to stay in the north or south, as has been granted to the people of Abyei.

As many Nuba fought alongside the SPLA during the war, there is an understandable sense of grievance at the outcome of the CPA. Many Nuba feel that they have been used as a bargaining chip between the two parties.

Furthermore, even though half the transitional period has expired, the Nuba people report seeing very little improvement in the development of their area, with a desperate lack of health and education facilities. Land rights remain a critical issue – as Nuba are calling for a fair redistribution of their traditional lands, which were forcibly seized by Khartoum or their tribal allies.

The dynamics behind the Nuba dispossession on their own indigenous land 
At the outset, it is worth noting that, for rural Sudanese, land is not just a material resource-base but is essentially a human world replete with meanings and symbols as an ethnic/tribal identity, social interaction and livelihood. This implies that sustainable access to land resources is a prerequisite for livelihood, security, social peace and development for the regionally based ethnic groups. Thus, the denial of all or part of these land resources is bound to invite some sort of resource-based conflict that may escalate into a national conflict, as manifested in the Sudanese civil war (1983-2005). In fact, the land question was the single biggest issue of contention on the outbreak of the Nuba armed struggle (see Suleiman 1998; Rahal 2001; Manger 2004; Komey 2005).

         Nuba people in diaspora

Due to some major historical and contemporary forces, the indigenous Nuba peoples were forced to resort to the hilly parts of the region, while the fertile lands of the plains had forcefully been occupied by others. These historical and contemporary forces include, among others: 1) the influx of waves of Baggara Arabs into the region and their effective participation in the pre-colonial slave-raids; 2) Turco-Egyptian rule and its successive slavery campaigns against the Nuba; 3) British colonial rule and its closed districts policy; and 4) the postcolonial state associated with a number of separate yet interrelated dynamics - the Jellaba domination over the national power and wealth, including land, nationwide; the outright grabbing of the land by
government for public and private mechanized schemes; and the civil war associated with mass displacement, ethnic cleansing, ethnocide and genocidal atrocities. Each of these four dynamics needs further elaboration as detailed below.

The influx of the Baggara Arabs into the region
The influx of the Baggara Arabs into the Nuba region marked the beginning of the Nuba inaccessibility to their ancestral land. Upon their arrival in the Nuba territory around 1800, the Baggara, with their military superiority, drove the Nuba from plains and took part in slave raiding among the Nuba for the next 100 years following their arrival. And that was followed by division of the plain and fertile lands among different Arab sub-groups 'where the Messiriya Zurg occupied the area to the west of South Kordofan in the Lagawa area; Hawazma in northern, eastern and central parts of the region; while Humr concentrated mainly in the south-western parts of the region' (Cunnison 1966, p. 6).
Gradually, the barter-trade relations began to stimulate a kind of cooperation between the two communities, and each of the Baggara sub-tribes started to protect, as far as possible, the hills of its own zone, in return for supplies of grain and slaves. These sporadic good relations should not obscure the fact that the most prominent feature of Baggara/Nuba relations was the slave raids by the Baggara upon the harassed Nuba communities, followed by forceful and permanent dispossession of the Nuba from their own land by these Baggara Arabs. It is not difficult to trace the participation of the Baggara in pre-colonial slave raiding in the Nuba Mountains back to the Funj Sultanate (1505-1821) invasion of the region, which 'marked the beginning of the Nuba enslavement, principally for soldiers, to be later followed by the Baggara, Jellaba, and foreign slave traders and the Turco-Egyptian rulers in 1821' (Ibrahim 1988, p. 24).

The Turco-Egyptian era: the Nuba people slaved and land confiscated
The process of the Nuba marginalization, humiliation, oppression and dispossession from their claimed plain land in favour of the Baggara Arabs, and later the Jellaba, was reinforced and institutionalized during the Turco-Egyptian rule in the Sudan (1821-85). One of Khedive Mohamed Ali's main objectives in conquering Sudan was to recruit black slaves from the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile and Southern Sudan to reinforce the building of his empire army. Towards that end, the Khedive wrote to his deputy in Kordofan: 'you are aware that the end of our efforts and these expenses is to procure Negroes. Please show zeal in carrying out our wishes in this capital matter' (Ibrahim 1988, p. 24). Given the fact that the Nuba were technologically powerless, inaccessible hills offered great resistance to the Turkish troops. Despite the fact the Nuba were strongly resisting this inhuman practice, slavery raids were effective only after:
The Turco-Egyptian rule, which was unable to subjugate the Nuba, used the Hawazma Arabs by giving them relatively free hand in the Nuba Mountains region in return for taxes payable in Nuba slaves. To secure this relationship, the tribal sheikhs of the Hawazma were formally recognized as Nazirs and their holdings as tribal lands (dars) or homelands (Ibrahim 1988, p. 23).
In a nutshell, the Nuba land was sold out by the Turkish to Arabs, in return for getting Nuba slaves through Baggara involvement. For several decades thereafter, the Turks, Egyptians, Arab traders and middlemen from northern and central Sudan raided these areas for slaves and the region was reserved as slave-field where regular raids were vigorously carried out (Rahal 2001). Through time, slavery became a major trade
activity among many local Arabs and Jellaba, who were able to climb upward on the socio-economic and political development ladder after they had established a strong coalition with the Turco-Egyptian rulers and some local Nuba chiefs (El-Battahani 2003, p. 40). In the process of slave raids carried by joint efforts of both external and internal forces, the powerless Nuba were forced to seek refuge and protection up in the hills, leaving behind their arable plain lands to be occupied by the local slave raiders, the Baggara, before this land was designated as their dar (homeland) by the colonial government without Nuba consent. The rise of the Mahdist movement in the 1880s brought further suffering to the peoples of the mountains when the Mahdist forces subdued the Nuba and more than 10,000 Nuba perished and even more were enslaved (Suleiman 1998)

The colonial era and institutionalization of the Nuba plain land as Arabs' homeland
Following the overthrow of the Khalifa in 1898, the British interpreted the spatial distribution of the Nuba and Baggara groups in the Nuba Mountains as being the norm rather than as an anomaly brought about by violence. It went further in assigning some kind of land ownership or rights to the Baggara and later to the
government, even though the Baggara wanted only passage rights for their animals rather than land rights (Harragin 2003). Moreover, the Nuba resistance to the colonial rule that followed pacification military campaigns reinforced the Nuba movements up into the hills for protection. This forced retreat of the Nuba people to the hills gave more opportunities for the Baggara to encroach further into their previously inhabited
plain lands. In fact, in the early period of the pacification, the local Arabs were commonly used by the British government in punitive expeditions against the rebels, before they revolted and supported Faki Ali al-Mirawi, a Nuba leader, in 1914 (Ibrahim 1988, p. 35).
The introduction of cotton production in the region by the colonial rule in 1925 was another practice that accelerated the land dispossession of the Nuba people. The cotton, which was introduced within the framework of the Nuba policy, was also geared towards Baggara settlement in their newly established dar within Nuba homeland (Kamal 1983). The Nuba were not able to invest in their land reserved by the British government for cotton production. At the same time the Baggara were successful in cotton production, leading them to extend themselves once more into Nuba land for more cotton production. That was in line with the colonial policy for supplying their industries with raw material. Contrary to Nuba empowerment in
preserving their land, as intended by the colonial policy, cotton production, in fact, added new dynamics to land economics and politics in the region, with more powerful actors being involved, and hence presented more threat to the livelihood and survival of the powerless Nuba.

The national era and reinforcement of the colonial legacy in land rights
The colonial legacy pertained to land rights in the Nuba Mountains inherited by the national government on the eve of the country independence was vigorously reinforced by successive national governments through various types of distorted development and discriminative land policies. The Sudanese state has unwittingly
maintained some coercive colonial institutions and brutally deployed them against its indigenous peoples. In the process, the relationship between Sudan's mainstream society and the indigenous peoples has developed in a manner identical to that which existed during the colonial period (Salih 1999).
On the clay plains, large-scale mechanized rain-fed farming was introduced in 1968 as a government development. Under the 1968 Mechanized Farming Act, 60 per cent of the land was to be allocated to local people and no one was to have more than one farm. However, in practice, this was ignored and some outside landowners ended up with more than twenty farms. For example, 50 per cent of the leaseholders in Habila mechanized rain-fed farming project were merchants and only 11 per cent had previously been farmers. By 1993, large-scale mechanized farming covered 2.5 million feddan and in 2003 the figure was in the range of three to four million feddan representing between 9 and 12 per cent of the total area of the South Kordofan (Harragin 2003). The intervention was mainly exploited by the private sector based on the concessions made by the governments to secure food for the urban population and cash crops for export. The 1970 Unregistered Land Act, the 1984 Civil Transaction and its amended versions of 1991 and 1993 were meant to reinforce government power in taking the communal lands for mechanized public and private farming. As a result, the local communities and traditional farmers were pushed to the margins and reproduced as farm labours in these large-scale mechanized farms. The introduction of the mechanized capitalist agricultural schemes in the region marked the economic climax of the Jellaba traders, who assumed full control of all economic spheres in the Nuba Mountains. At the same time, it crystallized the present socio-economic structure and stratification in the region where the Jellaba, the Baggara, and the Nuba
occupy the top, the middle and the bottom of the socio-economic system respectively (Ibrahim 1998). In short, the introduction of the mechanized farming projects on the Nuba Mountains plains had a disastrous effect on the Nuba. 'Their land was seized, and they were evicted and driven from their ancestral land without compensation. It brought suffering to the Nuba people, and caused widespread ecological disaster to the region creating further social dislocation and conflict over diminishing resources' (Rahal 2001, p. 46).

Civil war, displacement and further alienation of the Nuba land
The denial of land rights and access to the indigenous Nuba peoples was intensified further with the emergence of the second cycle of the civil war in the area in 1985. The first began on the eve of independence in 1955 and ended with the Addis Ababa Agreement in 1972. The single most important issue behind the extension of the civil war into the Nuba Mountains is the encroachment of mechanized rain-fed farming into the customary Nuba farming land bringing socioeconomic devastation. The Nuba were squeezed and had to choose between two options: either leave the area to work for the government as soldiers or become workers in a mechanized farming scheme. This phenomenon is becoming massive. What remained for the Nuba was to fight back against these changes by way of forming an ethno-regionally based movement championed by Philip 'Abbas Ghabush who led an unsuccessful plot against the central government in 1984. Thus, when civil war broke out in the south in 1983, the Nuba were generally sympathetic with the proclaimed aims of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) and by 1985 the late Commander Yousif Kuwa Mekki had joined the armed struggle movement (Suleiman 1998).
Throughout the second civil war period in the region, many Nuba were pushed further up to the mountains, leading to overcrowding and over-exploitation of local resources. And, again, they have been denied access to the resources on the plains, not only for reasons of war but also for reasons of continuous land grabbing by the government and its alliances, usually from the central part of the Sudan (Manger 2004). And that has further pushed the Nuba people systematically to the margins of the Sudanese economy, culture and politics. This process was part of a wider government programme aiming at uprooting Nuba people from their territorially based identity. Following the introduction of Islamic Shariya law in 1983 the Khartoum regime
staged a military jihad (holy war) campaign to force their version of Islam and Arabism upon the Nuba, denying them access to land necessary for survival, relocating them to so-called 'peace villages' (Manger 2006).
In order to enforce its ideology, the government has also rewarded the dominant ethnic groups, basically Baggara and Jellaba, which supported its policies and military campaigns in kind, i.e. Nuba land and natural resources. Land alienation, including forcible land evictions and joint military raids by the Sudanese army and the Arab militia became the dominant form of state engagement in the region (Salih 1999, p. 10). Hence, the Nuba share at least one major predicament with indigenous peoples worldwide: state-sponsored policies assist in the systematic appropriation of their lands and natural resources by the colonial and postcolonial institutions. The results are gross and multi-dimensional human rights violations: excessive socioeconomic
marginalization, political persecution, ethnocide and genocide.Sadly, it took some time before the international communities turned their eyes on these immense human tragedies and several human rights activists and institutions started monitoring the systematic government policy of land alienation and genocide
in the region. In 1992, Africa Rights Watch, a London-based human right organization, documented an upsurge in violence against the Nuba peoples by the army and the Murahaliin Arab militia after being legitimized by enacting the Popular Defence Forces (PDFs) Act in October 1989. In its report Eradicating the Nuba Africa Watch (1992) described a litany of killings, destruction of villages and forced removal of the Nuba peoples from their own land. In addition to the burning of villages and disappearance of civilians, large-scale plans of forcible relocation were implemented and tens of thousands of Nuba were scattered in small camps in remote areas in northern Kordofan. The scale of killing and relocation reached the level of genocide. Later, in its publication titled Facing Genocide: The Nuba of Sudan, African Rights (1995) reported the genocide and ethnocide atrocities committed by the central government among the Nuba communities. It details mainly the human rights abuses committed since the beginning of the war in the Nuba Mountains in 1985, but also includes detailed background information on Nuba identity, the history of relations with Arab-speaking tribes and the development of the Mechanized Farming Corporation. Quoting an extensive list of sources, the report describes how successive governments have supported an aggressive policy of expansion of mechanized farms and enacted ever-more-sweeping land legislation in order to allow
confiscation to proceed.
The Nuba elites in Diaspora launched an advocacy campaign to raise the awareness of the international community on the Nuba tragedy. In the 1990s, several forums were formed such as Nuba Solidarity Abroad, Nuba Survival and its publications Nafir and The Nuba Vision in London, and the Nuba Relief, Rehabilitation and Development Organization (NRRDO) in Nairobi, Kenya. They played a role as main advocacy and vocal voices for the voiceless Nuba peoples. A quick look at issues being raised in the
above-mentioned two publications reflects the centrality of the Nuba autochthonous claim over their land as source of their ethno-political identity, socioeconomic livelihood and survival: 'What is Slavery?', 'Agriculture in the Nuba Mountains', 'The Question of the Land', 'Nuba Culture', 'Nuba Land Rights' and 'Nuba Lands on Sale', to mention just a few. These multi-dimensional Nuba human tragedies were, to some extent, brought to an end with the signing of the Nuba Mountains Cease-Fire Agreement (CFA) on 19 January 2002 and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) on 9 January 2005. Hence, the Nuba peoples entered a new era in their political history yet with further dynamic challenges to their livelihood and political
choice as featured below

Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the Nuba land question
The CFA as well as the CPA guaranteed cessation of hostilities and the free
movement of civilians and goods, with the broader objective of gradual achievement
of a just, peaceful and comprehensive settlement to the conflict nation-wide. They
were remarkably successful in putting an end to open warfare. But, paradoxically, in
the Nuba Mountains region, some of their central features - increased stability,
increased freedom of movement, the opening up of the areas hitherto considered no
man's land - re-introduced new sources of conflict that the war had caused to subside
temporarily, all of them tied to the issue of land. These include the return of
pastoralists and their herds, and the return of the Jellaba investors to practise
mechanized farming in areas which were not accessible during the war because they
were effectively controlled by the Nuba-led SPLA/M. The CPA changed this (see
Manger 2006).
Despite the fact that the CPA provides some mechanisms for settling land-related
issues in the post-conflict era, the current difficulties facing the implementation of the
Agreement had raised great fear among the local Nuba peoples as to whether their
customarily owned land is going to be safeguarded by the agreement - or it is going to
experience further grabbing? Against the backdrop of a decade and half of bloodshed
associated with slow steps towards implementing the peace agreement, including
security arrangements and the formation of institutions related to rule of law, it is
likely that the coexisting but competing sedentary Nuba and nomadic Baggara
peoples over land and water resources will inevitably lead to recurrent local conflicts.
Given the political polarization along ethnic lines and in the presence of widely
spread weapons, these local conflicts can easily escalate to regional level or even
beyond. In fact, several cases have already substantiated this gloomy scenario: for
example, the deadly conflicts between the Nuba Ghulfan and Dar Naya'la Arab
nomads around water sources in Debri area during November-December 2005;
between Nuba Daqiq and Messiriya nomads on water sources in Reikha village during
January 2006 and between the unidentified camel riders and Nuba of Werni during
April 2006, to mention just a few. In these conflicts automatic arms like Kalashnikov
and GM3 were used.The potential tensions are allso manifested in local discourses in various tribal/ethnic
conferences. Looking critically into their final communiqu s, it is obvious that the
question of land was the central theme in the first and second All Nuba Conferences
held in December 2001 and April 2005 respectively in Kauda, as well as in the first
Traditional Leaders Conference in Julud, Nuba Mountains, during 17-22 July 2005, to
mention just a few. Counter to this, the Baggara held their first and second
Conferences in Kurchi, Moro, 20-1 May 2005, and in Kadugli, 21-3 June 2006
respectively. Land-related issues were also a central theme of their two conferences.
They emphasize the need for the government to guarantee the rights of all citizens in
the region to secure land for farming, grazing and settlement, among other things.
The CPA dealt with land issues in the Wealth Sharing and South Kordofan/Nuba
Mountains and Blue Nile States Protocols. However, land policy issues were not fully
addressed in the agreement despite the centrality of the land question in the civil war.
The wealth-sharing protocol highlights the traditional nature of the land-tenure
arrangements but it explicitly avoided addressing the core issue, i.e. land ownership.
The main instruments of land-use management during the interim period are Land
Commissions at national and Southern Sudan levels as well as at the State level in the
conflict-affected areas of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. Their functions may
include - at their discretion - arbitration and consultation on land reform and
customary land rights, appraisal of compensations and recording of land-use practices.
In the absence of clear-cut solutions in the CPA to issues related to customarily
owned lands, there are uncertainties concerning the nature of the law upon which
arbitration will be based, recognition of the customary law, enforceability of the
verdicts on lands and alternatives for redress in case a commission refuses to consider
a claim. Despite the fact that the Interim National Government has spent almost two
years in power, the establishment of the stipulated Land Commissions at national
level as well as at the level of the Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile States has not yet
been finalized. Therefore, no progress has been made in incorporating customary land
rights into the legislations at national, state and local levels. This implies that the
government policy of grabbing the customarily owned lands from the local peoples in
Sudan in general and in the Nuba Mountains in particular may continue to be
practised despite the existence of the CPA. On the ground, tensions between the
coexisting but competing sedentary and nomadic peoples will continue to recur
insofar as the existing laws are failing to enforce nomadic land use rights consistently.
In this way, it is doubtful as to whether the CPA's laid-down indicative principles
regarding land issues are sufficient to redress land grievances among the indigenous
peoples of the Sudan.



  1. Hello, my name is Kemi and I work for a non-profit organization called the Global African Diaspora Development Network. We would love to partner with you on some of our future projects. If you would like to know more about us, please visit our website You can email me at for any questions.

  2. "Essentially, "Nuba" was used by Egyptians and Northern Sudanese from the Nile to refer to black people to their south, whom they considered enslaveable"

    Where is the evidence/proof for that? I've never seen an Egyptian papyrus or Sudanese text saying they referred to "Black people" (as if there some separate race) as "slaves" especially using the word Nuba which isn't even an Egyptian or Sudanese word!! Please clarify this point and provide evidence.

  3. Africans were the first to inhabit the earth. Fossil records as well as DNA analysis give scientific evidence to support this fact. Therefore, the first woman to give birth was a Black African woman. It is from us that all humans have come. The other races of humankind all evolved from Black Africans. I liked your blog, Take the time to visit the me and say that the change in design and meniu?

  4. Thank you so much for this effort.

  5. Hnmmmmmmmmm..... Sister Kemi O, so YOU did not see the fictitious allusion that Egyptians would refer to other 'Africans' as 'black enslaveable' and have a name for that and interpret 'Nuba' as such, you however have a NGO that is focused on 'developing Africans in Diaspora' ? Really? those in diaspora who have come out for the second form of slavery in order to fend for their selves, families, extended families and even whole communities? you mean those? You may be one of those who front paper organisations and take '30 pieces of silver' from the western.. and then flounce around town in all manner of SUVs and flaunt 'wealth and upper swagger living' ... MAY... IF, so, please desist, in the long run you are selling us short and disgracing us, if you mis composed the name of your NGO and it indeed is genuine and effectively doing something you have failed to convey here, then set the record straight, a few hastily put together photos will not cut it, you must provide a government sanctioned trace on your previous Monetary dealing and receipts and evidence of the work you have done...
    On the researchers... the amount of time and the need to live in close proximity with these our people in order to get any factual detail of their past as supposedly detailed here is mind boggling... the true origins and full correct history of the nations of the land called 'Africa' is now coming out... @Mamuka Maghradze, you are right about the DNA, but you only just hint the skin of the issue... We now know the truth...

  6. My names are Elizabeth Hanson , a data entry operator. Yes! the composer or designer have really tried, but more and more are still reaming, A tires like Mbobo wears/dressing Ngwogwo Dressing and other once which my ground-mum told us also there are different kinds of Hair style in Anang which are not even been here, except the history is not of Anang as a whole.

  7. Thank you so much for this effort


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