The Nubian Gate- is it seclusion or repose of heritage?

By: Mohammed Osman

KHARTOUM (Sudanow)—The Nubian houses, which stretch all along the banks of the River Nile in the Northern State, are spacious in area with an internal design that is in harmony with the environment. The doors of the houses, both on the eastern and western banks, are open towards the river, either seeking good omen or sort of worshipping it since ancient times when the Nubian Kush’s kings used to choose the prettiest girl, beautify her with the most expensive jewels and donate (fling) her to the Nile in sacrifice hopefully in return for its blessing.

There are various factors involved in the design of the Nubian house such as the climate, environment, economy, community and security. Most of the traditional Nubian houses each consists of numerous rooms built on the four walls of the house as high as four meters to take the shape of a fortress.

At the entrance, there is the big robust Nubian gate which, in most cases is made of vertical parallel planks of acacia tree solid wood linked together with similar planks and big nails. A bigger pole is fixed on the right side of the gate and on the doorstep and threshold to serve as an axis for the forward and backward movement of the gate. Because it is heavy, the movement of the gate is slow and sometimes emits a sharp rattling sound.

This gate is similar, at least in hardness and firmness, to the big gates of the commercial stores, except that the former are made of iron or steel while the latter are made of wood. This wooden gate has a lock also made of wood named “dabbah” consisting of three wooden lumps; a long one known as safe, a second lump which is movable that goes through the safe and is known as the “sharu”, and the third piece, also wooden, is the key which is known as the “kasher” that takes the shape of a right or obtuse angle or ‘L’ shape. The horizontal piece is longer than the vertical one because on its higher surface there are iron pieces of the size of medium nails the number of which depends on shape of the safe.

The iron pieces fixed on the key lift the pieces dangling from the dabbah to open the lock and allow them down when the key is pulled out to unlock it. The robust wooden lock is made by skilful carpenters who decorate it by engraving shapes and drawings on it.

The wooden lock is proportionate to the size of the gate and the house which was previously resembled to a fortress.

This kind of gate has now disappeared except in some houses and by some people who are concerned with the Nubian heritage and may be found in some houses in the capital Khartoum. The entrance of the Nubian Club, in the vicinity of Khartoum airport, is decorated with the Nubian Gate which has become a heritage that must be preserved and kept in the national or regional museums to keep the coming generations aware of their heritage and history.

After installation of the gate, Nubian artists-- highly skilful in painting, sculpture and coloring who inherited the skill from their predecessors-- embellish the walls around the gate from outside with drawings and geometrical shapes of a religious nature based on the rich Nubian culture and the three Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths. The decorations often include undulating lines symbolizing the Nile, other curved ones resembling the date palm leaves and circular lines representing the Sun. In many entrances of houses, especially in Wadi Halfa, the circles are replaced with rows of white China-made tea sauces showing that the Nubians are much concerned with beautification of the entrances of their houses and depicting the ancient Nubian cultures and heavenly religions as shown by the symbols of the Nile, or strong animals like crocodiles and lions, predacious birds, the crescent, the cross and the Sun.

Upon entering the traditional Nubian house- most if not all the houses on the western bank of the Nile open eastwards- you will find on your left hand a room called “Dihles Oadah”, that is, the guest room, which is used as a bed-room in extremely cold winter. To your left, there is a big hall called “Dihles” and coming out of them, you will find yourself in a big open space on the right of it there is the kitchen and annexed room for keeping the essential commodities and items and valuable belongings. On the west of this you will find a room known as “Dawani Hasel” with an open space separating it from “Dawani” room. Usually, the Dawani is set for bride-groom and his guests and the Dawani Sahel for the bride and her guests. The two rooms are exclusive for the couple at noon and at night. To the east of Dawani there is a verandah that opens north containing a number of clean jars with inviting cold water. A room is often annexed to verandah used as a store. As for the livestock pen, some people specify for it a place within the map of the house while others separate it a wide open space behind the house with shades and small building that suit the animals, poultry and pigeons. The floors of the rooms are covered with wet clay and after it dries, it is covered with red sand to be easy for cleaning. The open spaces are also covered with red sand but with no clay and can be sprayed with water to fix it and to make the surrounding air fine.

It is worth mentioning that the writer has seen in Kisra town in east Cameroun neighbouring Chad houses similar to ancient Nubian houses with high walls and heavy wooden doors, something which requires of Sudanese or African architects in general looking for such similarities to find things in common for brining the African peoples closer as culture is the most effective way for rapprochement.

Sudanow is the longest serving English speaking magazine in the Sudan. It is chartarized by its high quality professional journalism, focusing on political, social, economic, cultural and sport developments in the Sudan. Sudanow provides in depth analysis of these developments by academia, highly ...


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