Nubians are one of the largest ethnic minorities in modern-day Egypt and Sudan. Their historical homeland of Nubia stretches from Aswan to Khartoum, stretching along the river Nile and the huge deserts on both of its banks.


The cultural centre of modern-day Nubia is the city of Aswan. Houses are distinctive because of their brightly-painted walls and wide, low domes; they are both practical and beautiful, since their design keeps their interiors cool in the Saharan heat, whilst their walls have become a canvas on which modern Nubian artists often express themselves.

Although the most famous pyramids are found near Giza in Egypt, the Nubians also built hundreds of pyramids for their kings in Northern Sudan. Three thousand years ago, the Nubians were so powerful that they conquered Egypt and ruled the country for two hundred years. Under the Napatan Empire, two thirds of the Nile was united under a series of Nubian rulers, reigning over one of the greatest empires of antiquity.


The musical tradition of Nubia is very unique. It reflects a mixture of influences from Ethiopia, Arabia and even ancient Greece and Rome. All of these people have passed through Nubia, and they have left their mark through the medium of music. A good example is Hamza El-Din, a Nubian musician famous for his masterful playing of the Oud (an instrument brought to Africa by the Arabs). But perhaps the most famous modern musician from Nubia is Mohamed Mounir, who has also acted in a wide range of films across the Middle East. Mounir is well-known, not just in Arabic-speaking countries, but around the world for his mix of traditional African, jazz and reggae styles. He continues to be perceived as a cultural icon for the Nubian people.


 However, the future of this large ethical minority is under threat. During the construction of the Aswan Dam by the Egyptian government in the 1950s, hundreds of thousands of Nubians were forced out of their homes. The dam caused the plains South of Aswan to flood, and dozens of towns disappeared underwater.

Abdullah Hany, a Nubian from Aswan, explained that in many ways his people are sandwiched between those of Egypt and Sudan, whose borders were the product of modern colonialism (the British-Egyptian Condominium).

In an interview, Abdullah told me that the Nubians have many accents, a combination of the Sudanese and Southern Egyptian dialects. You can consider Aswan as part of Sudan, he says – their traditions are very similar.

Therefore, Nubia appears to be squeezed between two major African countries, but despite the problems that this situation brings, its rich culture continues to thrive and will hopefully not cease to flourish anytime soon.


Henry Worsley


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