Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

Nubians, separately identified according to regional languages, live in villages scattered along the banks of the Nile in southern Egypt and northern Sudan. Their traditional economy depended on sorghum, wheat, and date palms; cash crops such as sugarcane and cotton have grown in importance. The raising of the Aswan Dam in 1933 submerged much of "Old Nubia" in Egypt, and most Nubians relocated to new villages north of the dam where they became increasingly dependent on income from an established pattern of labor migration to Cairo and other big cities in which they had built a reputation as hard-working and ethical. Increased rural-urban interaction led to additional religious syncretism, and to modifications in taboos in rites such as circumcision and marriage. Another round of resettlement in 1963 with the construction of the Aswan High Dam galvanized a sense of common ethnic identity and raised their political profile nationally.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Africa --Northern Africa




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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication, and title where necessary.

The most comprehensive source is Herzog (1957), in German. It provides considerable historical background in discussing the development of Nubian ethnic identity, and cultural and linguistic relations among the four major subgroups. Contemporary issues include socioeconomic change, male labor migration and the impact of relocation after the raising of the Aswan Dam in Egypt.

A majority of the remaining documents are products of “The Ethnological Survey of Egyptian Nubia” carried out by the Social Research Center of the American University of Cairo in the 1960s, focused on documenting changes in Nubian culture and society due to imposed resettlement after the raising of the Aswan Dam in 1933 and the contemporary construction of the Aswan High Dam. Shalashil (1971), and Kennedy and Fahim (1977) compare socioeconomic conditions of households in pre- and post-relocation periods for the two events, respectively. Callender (1966) shows the resilience of Kenuz lineage organization in response to profound economic and ideological changes. Other studies focus on changes that have occurred in specific domains, including: life-crisis rituals (Callender and El Guindi 1971); circumcision practices (El Guindi 2006; Kennedy 1978 “Circumcision…”); wedding rituals (al-Katsha 1978); burial customs (Kennedy 1978 “Nubian death…”); spiritual beliefs regarding health and fortune (Kennedy 1967 “Mushahara”; Kennedy 1967 “Nubian zar…”); and resistance to puritanical Islam (Kennedy and Fahim 1978). [Images and references for al-Katsha (1978), Kennedy (1978 “Circumcision…”), Kennedy (1978 “Nubian death…”), and Kennedy and Fahim (1978) can be found in Kennedy (1978 “Photographs”) and Kennedy (1978 “Bibliography”).] Geiser (1986) examines the extent to which Nubian labor migrants living in Cairo maintained and collectively shared the ideas, prescribed roles, attitudes and sentiments that characterized traditional Nubian society. Fernea (1991) discusses change and continuity in Nubian culture and language in light of increased labor migration to Egyptian cities; a topic reconsidered by Fernea and Rouchdy (1991) from the perspective of some twenty years later.

Omer (1985) focuses on the gradual disintegration of extended households and localized kinship groups that had been the basic economic and landholding units of traditional Danagla society in Sudan.

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this collection, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Teferi Adem

Dhikr – Quran recitation and prayer rituals – use "PRAYERS AND SACRIFICES (782)"; or use "PRAYERS AND SACRIFICES (782)" and "CONGREGATIONS (794)"

Dogri – Nile spirits

Mashta – wedding night attendant

Milk – seasonally-flooded freehold farmland – use "WATER SUPPLY (312)" and "REAL PROPERTY (423)"

Miyri – farmland leased from the government, most requiring irrigation – use "REAL PROPERTY (423)" and "RENTING AND LEASING (427)"

Mushahara – see mushahra

Mushahra – danger or harm caused by violation of prohibitions or taboos – use "THEORY OF DISEASE (753)" and "AVOIDANCE AND TABOO (784)"

Sagiya – ox-driven water wheel – use "WATER SUPPLY (312)" and "ANIMAL TRANSPORT (492)"

Sakkia – see sagiya

Shayl – advance credit given to peasant and tenant farmers – use "CREDIT (452)"

Zikr – see dhikr

Indexing Notes by

Teferi Adem

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