Nubia and the Nile-Nubians – a comprehensive introduction
In 1900, the Sudan Pionier Mission (SPM) was founded by H G Guinness and K Kumm. Aswan was chosen to be the starting location and a sending center for missionaries. The SPM was part of Guinness’ vision to reach the unreached area of the so-called Sudan Belt through the Nile route. The Nile valley, from Aswan up to the Dongola region, was mainly inhabited by various sub-groups of the Nile-Nubians. It was only natural and logical that the SPM developed a concern for the Nubians from its very beginning. Despite many attempts to establish mission stations further south in the Nile valley, the SPM was not allowed to advance beyond the Egyptian territory mainly due to the colonial policy of the British government. Thus, the SPM developed a profound concern for the Nile-Nubians, especially for the Kunuuzi Nubians, within the territorial boundaries of Egypt. Therefore, in this chapter we will present a comprehensive introduction into the historical, geographical, ethnic, linguistic and religious aspects of the Nubian community in Egypt and the Sudan
Nubia – a geographical description
The geographic region that we call Nubia is located in the northeastern corner of Africa. At present, the term Nubia does not describe a modern day geo-political entity, but refers to the part of the Nile valley that is even today, to a large extent, occupied by the Nubian people who share a common cultural and historical heritage. Therefore, it seems to be appropriate to use the term Nubia for the region of the Nile valley in which the two Nile-Nubian languages are still spoken, i e between Aswan in Upper Egypt and ad-Debba in the northern Sudan (Werner 2013:28-29; Richter 2002:14-15). In the Middle Ages, Nubia stretched geographically along the river Nile from the First Cataract south of Aswan in Egypt to the junction of the Blue and White Niles at Khartoum in the Sudan, beyond the Sixth Cataract.7 Whereas the northern border was fairly well defined by the First Cataract region8, the southern border was not precisely defined, but the region of influence went beyond the Sixth Cataract. Due to the desert the western border is not clearly marked, but Nubian influence extended into Kordofan and Darfur at times. East of the Nile the Nubian Desert changes into the mountainous area of the Red Sea (Richter 2002:15). In length, it covered several hundred kilometers of the Nile valley, encompassing the southern end of Egypt and the northern region of the modern Sudan. Nubia was divided according to the direction of the flow of the Nile into Lower Nubia and Upper Nubia
Lower Nubia is considered to be the stretch of Nubia from the First to the Second Cataracts – or in modern terms roughly from Aswan to near Wadi Halfa. Ancient references considered it to be Wawat, and Greco-Roman sources referred to part of the region as Dodekaschoenos (Richter 2002:14). This frontier region was the main point of contact and often of conflict between Egypt and Nubia. That is why it became a site of major military fortification and colonial administrations through the long history of relations between Egypt and Nubia. Lower Nubia drew its importance from the fact that it provided access to the gold mines of Wadi al Allaqi and to the carvan routes in the Western Desert. Further, it served as a barrier against the Blemmyes or later nomads of the Red Sea Hills. When the kingdom of Egypt was weak or internally divided, Kushites, such as those from Kerma, Napata or Meroe occupied the region and beyond (Lobban 2004:241).
Cataracts are simply the general name for rocky formations or rapids in the Nile that were formed when the river had to overcome the outcrops of granite that underlie the region. They are counted from the north to the south according to the sequence of their discoveries through explorers. The six cataracts define the geography of Nubia and have often naturally marked in history important political, military or economic points. The First Cataract at Aswan indicated the ancient and modern border between Egypt and Nubia. The Second Cataract was the border between Egypt and Nubia during the Old and Middle Kingdom period marked by huge constructions of military fortifications. Today the Second Cataract is covered by Lake Nubia/Nasser near the modern border between Egypt and the Sudan. The region between the Second and the Third cataracts is known as “Belly of the Stones” (Batn al-Hajar), causing difficulties for river navigation. The Third Cataract constituted the natural border between Egypt and Yam (Kerma) during the Middle Kingdom period. The Fourth Cataract is situated close to ancient Napata and had less political importance than the other cataracts. This cataract and the region between the Fourth and Fifth Cataracts were bypassed by crossing the Bayuda plain. Downstream of the Fifth Cataract the ancient city of Meroe was located. The Sixth Cataract lies north of the confluence of the White and Blue Niles at modern Khartoum (Lobban 2004:98-99).
The northern border of Nubia was essentially in the region near Aswan at the Philae Island or the settlement of Shellaal or al-Qasr. At times, only temporarily due to military conquests, the northern border was as far as 150 kilometers north of the First Cataract region (Werner 2013:28)
There is no complete agreement regarding the domain of Upper Nubia. Yet it is safe to say that it begins at the Second Cataract and includes the Belly of the Stones region to the Third Cataract. Thus, Upper Nubia is located upstream or south of Lower Nubia. Some scholars regard the Nile reach from the Third to the Fourth Cataracts as a genuine part of Upper Nubia (Lobban 2004:398-399). W Y Adams pays attention to the fact that “there is no general agreement as to the boundaries of Nubia either in modern or in ancient times” (1977:21). P L Shinnie uses Nubia ,“to mean not only the part which is linguistically Nubian today but to include the Nile valley to the junction of the Blue and White Niles at Khartoum and for some 250 kilometers further up the Blue Nile to include both banks of the river as far as Sennar, the southern limit of Nubian civilization as far as is now known” (1996:1)
Names used for the region
Throughout history the Nile valley extending from the First to the Sixth Cataracts has been called by different names. Some of the terms only designate limited parts of the region, others have a broader meaning.
The term Nubia
The name Nubia was given to the Middle Nile region by outsiders and can be traced back to Eratosthenes (275-194 BC) in the third century BC (Arkell 1961:177; Scholz 1994:682). Yet the meaning of the term Nubia is still debated. Some argue that the term refers to a Nubian word meaning slave (Arkell 1961:177). Others see the origin of this name in the ancient Egyptian word nbw (nub) for gold which would fit the fact that Nubia had a rich supply of gold in ancient times (Lacovara 2012:6). Nevertheless, it is not the designation Old Egyptians used for the region.
The term Ta-sety
The Ancient Egyptians called the area by the descriptive term ta-sety (Land of the Bow) in order to indicate the skills of their southern neighbors in using bow and arrows for hunting and fighting (:6). The term may have been broad enough to include Upper and Lower Nubia (Lobban 2004:398-399).
The term Kush
A second term that was used in Ancient Egyptian time was kush. Often the term was accompanied by the attributes vile or wretched to express scorn for their southern rival 41 (Lacovara 2012:8). It is possible that the inhabitants of the Nile valley called themselves by this term (Shinnie 1996:3). The term kush can be applied to different geographical areas. Some call the region between the Third and the Fourth Cataracts kush while others apply this term to all of Nubia, including Lower and Upper Nubia (Lobban 2004:235-237,398).
Kush in the Bible
The African nation of Cush and its geographical location are referred to a number of times in various books throughout the Old Testament.9 The textual evidence includes fifty-seven references to Cush and its derivatives (Oswalt 1981:435). The Old Testament conception and description of Cush “corresponds to some extent to the views of ancient travelers from other countries” (Holter 1997:333).
Linguistically, the term kush derives from the Old Egyptian hieroglyphic ksh and is a reference to the southern neighbor of Egypt.
Geographically, the term is used to describe a huge land south of Egypt (Ezek 29:10) sharing boundaries at the First Cataract south of Syene (Aswan). Cush indicates the region at the very south of the map of the known world to the Old Testament writers (Is 11:11; Zeph 2:12; 3:10). It also marked the last satrapy at the southern border of the huge Persian Empire stretching from India to Cush (Esth 1:1; 8:9) in the time of Xerxes. It seems that the Biblical references to Cush verify the statement that Cush is a reference to the region of modern day Nubia and the Sudan. The Greek term aithiops “those with burned faces” is not a reference to the country that we call today Ethiopia, but to the fact that the Cushites were black skinned as expressed in the Arabic term bilaad as-Sudaan “the land of the black” as well. A radical suggestion was put forward by David T Adamo. He argues that Cush is a reference to Africa in the Bible. By doing so he wants to prove the African presence in the Bible. (Adamo 1992:51-64).10
Politically, Cush had obtained a certain political and military importance which is reflected in the Old Testament description. There are some references in the Old Testament prophets in which Cush is used in parallel construction as a synonym for Egypt (Is 20:3-5; Ezek 30:4; Nah 3:9). This may indicate Cushite dominance over Egypt. The so-called “Black Pharaohs” of the twenty-fifth dynasty ruled Egypt between 750 and 663 BC. Tirhaqa was one of the most influential and notable pharaohs of this period. Yet he tried unsuccessfully to stop Sennacherib’s expansion to the west (2 Kgs 19:9; Is 37:9). Due to its military strength Cushn became an attractive coalition partner to the kingdom of Judah (2 Kgs 19:9; 2 Sam 18:21-32). In another situation, Judah was warned by the prophet Isaiah against trusting in Cush instead of Yahweh (Is 20). The Cushite army of Zerah referred to in 2 Chronicles 14:9 is still enigmatic as there is no extra Biblical evidence that supports a large Cushite army operating that far north in the time of Asa the king of Israel around 900 BC (Oswalt 1981:435; Crocker 1986:32-36).
Economically, Cush was perceived as a wealthy nation. It was obviously well-known due to its trade (Job 28:19; Isa 43:3; 45:14; Dan 11:43).
Anthropologically, the people of Cush are depicted as “tall and smooth-skinned” (Is 18:2). The prophet Jeremiah uses a proverb by asking the rhetorical question, “Can the Cushite change his skin or the leopard its spots?” (Jer 13:23).
Theologically, the Cushites are included in God’s universal plan of salvation. They will one day come and worship the God of Israel (Ps 68:31) and they will be included into the family of Yahweh (Amos 9:7).
There are also some references to Cushite individuals such as Cush, the son of Noah, who is regarded as the father of the Cushite nation (Gen 10:6-8), Moses’ wife (Num 12:1) and Ebed-Melek (Jer 38:7-13; 39:15-18) who rescued the prophet Jeremiah and was commended for his trust in Yahweh (Jer 39:18).11
The only New Testament reference to a Cushite individual is found in Acts 8:26-40. The narrative highlights the conversion of the Cushite eunuch from the Meroitic royal court by the evangelist Philip. For a long time, the Meroitic court official and treasurer of Kandake was identified as an Ethiopian coming from the kingdom of Aksum which was later called Aithiopia by some church fathers. It then became known in the Western world as Abyssinia until the end of World War II (Yamauchi 2004:163).12 The Arabic designation for the region was al-habasha. The reference to Kandake decisively identifies Aithiopia as the kingdom of Meroe (:164). The Greek title Kandake, based on the Meroitic variants kdke, ktke and kdwe, referred either to the king’s sister (Török 1997:63) or to his mother (Werner, Anderson & Wheeler 2000:24). The title Kandake was not used in the Aksumite kingdom. If the treasurer was from Ethiopia proper, he most likely would not have returned by way of the Gaza road from Jerusalem to Egypt, but would have preferred the route back to Ethiopia via the Arabian peninsula and then crossed the Red Sea to Aksum (:24).13
The term Ethiopia
The classical historians often called the region south of Egypt by the Greek word aithiopia, describing it as the land of the burnt faces. The term does not refer to the modern state of Ethiopia. The scribes who translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek (LXX) translated the term kush into the Greek aithiopia. Thus, shifting territorial applications of this term have added to the complications of defining the confines of Nubia (Lobban 2004:161-162).
The term Yam or Irem
The exact location of Yam, which was an independent trading kingdom, is still debated. It may apply only to segments of Upper Nubia. Lobban suggests that it could be the Egyptian or Kushite name for the ancient Nubian entity that became known as the Kerma Kingdom and was located in center of Upper Nubia (:398,406).
The term Wawat
It seems that the ancient Egyptians referred to a sometimes independent polity that was located in Lower Nubia by the name of wawat. In the Egyptian Middle Kingdom, it served as a buffer zone between Egypt and its Upper Nubian rivals from Kerma. The administrative center of wawat was usually in Aniba (:404)
The early occupation of the Nile valley
Although the region south of Aswan was called, among other names, Nubia, even by Greek historians it is incorrect to call its inhabitants ethnically Nubians from early history onwards (Poeschke 1996:21). W Y Adams suggests therefore to use the term Nubian in a cultural sense for peoples that settled in the Nile valley and are different from the Egyptians but strongly influenced by them. He leaves the racial, ethnic, and linguistic character of these peoples undefined (1984:44). It seems more correct to suggest that the nucleus of the contemporary Nubians moved from the western Sudan into the Nile valley and mixed with the population that had settled there from long before. The issue of when Nubian speakers first occupied the Nile valley is still very much debated (Shinnie 1993:V). Suggestions range from the time of Egyptian occupation of Nubia around 1500 BC (Bechhaus-Gerst 1994 and 1998) to the early centuries AD (Werner 2013:32-34). R Poeschke points out that,“the geographical region “Nubia” can be defined and distinguished from neighbouring regions in terms of culture (particularly language) and political history. Its population, however, has been composed of a mixture of settled people and immigrating groups – characterized by cultural, social and economic similarities, but without a collective identity” (1996:21).
Archaeological findings indicate that settlements in the Nile valley existed as early as the pre-dynastic period (Adams 1984:16). Parallel to the emergence of various Egyptian Pharaonic dynasties, a number of mainly petty kingdoms came into existence, all of which had close economic and political relations with their powerful northern neighbor. In the period of the Pharaonic Old, Middle and New Kingdoms, the region of Lower and later Upper Nubia were temporarily under Egyptian rule. Conversely from 751 to 635 BC, a dynasty originating from Nubia, known as the twenty-fifth, so-called Ethiopian dynasty, ruled Egypt
1.1 The background of this study
1.2 The need for and significance of the study
1.3 Present state of research
1.4 Rationale of the study and research questions
1.8 Logical sequence and overview of chapters
2. Nubia and the Nile-Nubians – a comprehensive introduction
2.1 Nubia – a geographical description
2.2 Names used for the region
2.3 The early occupation of the Nile valley
2.4 The coming of Christianity to the Nile valley
2.5 The coming of Islam to Nubia
2.6 The Nile-Nubians and their ethnicity
2.7 The Nile-Nubians and their language
2.8 The impact of the Aswan dams on the Nubian population
2.9 The religious life of the Nile-Nubians
3. Historical, religious and missionary developments in Egypt and the Sudan in the nineteenth and twentieth century .
3.1 The history of Egypt
3.2 Christianity in Egypt
3.3 The mission history of Egypt
3.4 The history of the Sudan
3.5 Christianity in the Sudan
3.6 History of missionary work in the Sudan
4. The development of the Sudan Pionier Mission towards a mission to the Nile-Nubians
4.1 The pre-founding phase – the vision of Guinness and Kumm
4.2 Founding years, an indigenous beginning and crisis years – phase one (1900-1904)
4.3 New beginning, consolidation and development – phase two (1904-1914)
4.4 The years of World I and beyond – phase three (1914-1924)
4.5 New beginning, consolidation and development of the work – phase four (1924-1939)
4.6 Years during World War II and beyond – phase five (1939-1947)
4.7 New era after World War II – phase six (1948-present)
5. The life story of Samu’iil Ali Hiseen prior to his work with the SPM (1863-1900)
5.1 Source material on SAH’s life
5.2 SAH’s life story prior to work with the SPM
6. The life story of Samu’iil Ali Hiseen during his ministry with the SPM (1900-1927)
6.1 Beginning and crisis years of the SPM (1900-1904)
6.2 New beginning, development and consolidation (1904-1914)
6.3 Ministry reduced – World War I and beyond (1914-1924)
6.4 SAH’s family life
6.5 Restart of the SPM work (1924-1927)
6.6 A Kunuuzi version of SAH’s life story
7. The multifaceted ministry of Samu’iil Ali Hiseen with the SPM (1900-1927)
7.1 The formative impact of the years prior to 1900
7.2 The different facets of SAH’s ministry
8. The literary contribution of Samu’iil Ali Hiseen
8.1 Lingual preparation prior to working with the SPM
8.2 Linguistic contribution prior to working with the SPM
8.3 Translation of biblical texts into Nile-Nubian
8.4 Personal letters in Kunuuzi
8.5 Ethnographic texts
8.6 Kunuuzi Nubian songs
8.7 Cohesive texts
8.8 Literacy material
8.9 Christian material
8.10 Biographical text
9. Missionary methods of the SPM and stakeholders of the Nubia vision
9.1 Missionary approach to Muslims
9.2 Missionary methods used by the SPM
9.3 Stakeholders of the Nubia vision
9.4 The life and work of Samuel Jakob Enderlin (1878-1940)
9.5 The life and work of Gertrud von Massenbach (1883-1975)
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