KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - The sensational exodus of the Nubian people shortly before their land was to be submerged by the rising water of the High Dam (Upper Egypt) is a story without an end.
In their new home in Khashm al Girba in the eastern part of Sudan, these people share a lot of unhappy memories and a nostalgia for what they consider a “paradise lost”.
Upon an agreement between Sudan and Egypt, the Nubians were to leave their home towns and villages to escape an imminent flooding by the Lake Nasser waters, accumulating behind the big walls of the High Dam. About 350 kilometers of fertile farmland in Sudan and Egypt were doomed as the evacuation started in 1964.Over forty villages came in under the water when the evacuation ended in 1970. Accordingly, thousands and thousands of families on both sides of the border were relocated to new places they had no knowledge of before in Sudan and Egypt. The Egyptian Nubians were taken to a barren enclave along the River Nile up into Egypt and their Sudanese brethren were taken to the Khashm al-Girba region in the East of Sudan.
The historic river port city of Wadi Halfa, like the tens of Nubian villages, was then lost under the water, save the mosques’ minarets and date palm trees that continued to stick out above the water level for some years and then decayed and collapsed. In compensation the Sudanese Nubians had their own Halfa in their new area, with the name New Halfa. Similarly, the Nubian villages kept their original names in the Khashm al-Girba district, with a small addition: each village carried a number beside its old name.
With UNESCO help, hectic search was carried out for the monuments of the old Nubian kingdoms. Valuable artifacts found in the region were transferred to the National Museum in Khartoum. Still the question looms whether the artifacts found were all that could have been found or whether more artifacts were buried under the water. Also some observers fear that much of Nubia’s mineral wealth, including gold deposits Nubia was famous for, might have been buried in the Lake Nasser waters.
But the humanitarian factor in the exodus of Nubians to their new homes is indeed the most impressive.
“The immigration day was the day every Nubian was uprooted from the land of his fathers and forefathers, the land that saw their birth and that saw them grow up as men and women,” is an expression uttered by any of these Nubians one would speak to.
The Nubians agree that the most difficult moment in their lives was when they were about to board the train South to their new home area.
When it was time to leave, most men and women were keen to leave the train for some time, return to their village or town and enter their homes , just to have a last look at their houses before they left.
And when they had that precious look, the Nubian head - families were keen to dislodge the wooden keys of their outer doors and take them as souvenirs and also to remember the life they had left behind, the life they will never live again.
Then the locals would head to the grave yards to pray for their dead loved ones. On their way back to the standing train, they would shed thick and dear tears, the weaker ones crying loudly and wailing as they looked back towards their deserted homes. When the train geared up, tears poured down the cheeks of the travelers and those who came to say goodbye. The latter, though also destined to take the same journey very soon, would shout out for those departing: ”Afiallujo hidrujo! Afialuju hidrujo! (Have a peaceful journey, to the care of the Almighty).”
Veteran journalist Abdallah al-Haj al-Hassan had had this emotional experience as an intermediate schoolboy of thirteen.
As boarding schoolboys, Abdallah and his school mates were not allowed to go get a last look at their homes for fear they might miss some lessons. They were ordered to stay at the boarding house until the day of their departure. By a special arrangement with the railway authorities, the trains would stop near the school, pick pupils listed for departure and drive Southwards.
But some stubborn school boys would not obey such an order. They secretly arranged to sneak out of the boarding house and head towards their deserted homes. Abdallah was hesitant to do so for sometime. But when his mates came back and told him about what they did and saw, he was encouraged and decided to take the step:
As I passed through the deserted villages, I noticed a congregation of dogs which were left behind by the locals as they departed. Among the herd I saw a dog heading towards me in a strange way while the rest of the herd was barking from a distance. Fearful of what might happen, I thought of climbing a nearby tree. But after a close look at the creature heading towards me, I discerned that it was the dog Asad(lion) that belonged to our uncle Mohammad Ahmad that used to accompany me and my cousin wherever we went in the daily routine of the village: To do some errands for the family, like going to the flour mill, to the shop and anywhere else where there was need.
Asad in no time reached me, licking my feet right and left and caressing my body in obvious welcome. I was tearful at what I saw and started to reciprocate the warm welcome, passing my hand on its back and sides. What an unhappy creature this Asad was. It was left behind at a place well deserted by its people who left their pet without anybody to look after it!
But my joy by the company of Asad was not complete. The herd of dogs assembled to attack him because he was a stranger to their village. In order to help my friend, I collected some stones and joined the fight. After a number of skirmishes, the dogs retreated and Asad and I continued our walk to my home village, Ambi.
As we reached Ambi we started to enter the empty houses one after the other, beginning with my own home. My temper was high at the moment, especially when I noticed that our house‘s outer door was wide open. We got in and inside, to my surprise, I found my friend and neighbor Anwar Mohammad Khalil who was younger than me. I asked him what had kept him behind after the people had left. He said his father had decided that they should leave with the following batch of evacuees.
As we toured the rest of the houses, I was moved by the sight of scattered belongings of the now gone dwellers: clothes, children toys, shoes, kitchenware and other things the locals had no time to collect as they left.
I was very keen to get a last look at everything. Anwar asked me to stay the night with them but I couldn’t. Still, I had an inclination to have a last look at my own home. We went there and spent some time before the moment of the last departure. I bid Anwar farewell and headed South. All the time Asad was with me. I thought he would return to his home, but he didn’t. The friendly beast refused to leave me despite my incessant requests for him to do so, both in words and in signs. I wanted him to be with me but feared that the dogs I saw on my way to my village would seek a quarrel with Asad. I was both afraid for myself and for Asad.
I decided to use some violence with Asad to let him return to his home. Asad used to move away and come back after sometime and after he saw that I was keen not to keep his company, he chose to return home. I watched him for sometime until he vanished in the horizon. Asad’s image and his begging to me to keep his company is still carved in my mind.
I started heading back to my boarding house, my mind full of intersecting images and emotions until I returned safely.
This Nubian nostalgia for the place is also associated with a village mountain people used to admire when they were still living in their old home and continued to crave for it after they had left.
Abdallah said his fellow villagers still cherish “indescribable yearning for Jebel al-Sahaba (Sahaba Mount) that lies on the eastern bank of the Nile facing our village Embi across the river. The mountain was so bulky that its shadow had used to cross the river and cover our entire village at sunrise. We cannot verify why it is called the Sahaba Mountain. Some stories say some followers of the Prophet Mohammad(Sahaba) had lived beside it at the dawn of Islam, while other reports say it was named after a man called ‘Sahabi’ who happened to live in the area.”
“Neither me nor any of Argeen District dwellers can forget this mountain with its massive height and splendor. Villagers of all ages used to flock to it on happy occasions and on holidays. To reach the mountain visitors used to take wooden boats across the Nile, sightseeing the tiny islands that dot the water surface, with all sorts of nice birds flying around. The visitors used to enjoy passing their hands on the water surface, the most daring ones doing so by their bare feet, despite the continuous warnings from the boatmen. At the mountain top the visitors enjoyed to cry out loudly and then listen to their voices they echoed back. Climbing to the mountain top was not an easy job, even for strong adults" he said.
Another striking feature of the mountain is a well dug in the strong granite; how this could have been done, nobody can tell. It was not a deep well. It was a dry hole, an indication that it might have been use to hide something: money, valuable belongings, contraband or weapons, nobody knows.
The mountain that now stands up alone may be asking: Where are my people and neighbors who used to visit me and climb up to my top.
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