Nubians, who originally live along the shore of the Nile River, from Aswan in southern Egypt extending to the south of Khartoum, Sudan, had a unique heritage, spoke two languages and had distinct social practices, a unique and private culture.
In spite of a troublesome past, war times and slavery occurrences, Nubians have preserved one of the richest traditions and cultures. Such maintenance of their heritage and conservation of identity could be attributed as well to Nubian women, a permanent and durable force in society passing on tradition to the young.
When Nubians sacrificed their memories, culture and land for Egypt to build the high dam in the 1950 and 60s, they migrated, and eventually, became dispersed all over Sudan and Egypt with some ending up in different parts of the world.
Their sacrifice to save the whole country from the flooding dangers is sincerely recognized and appreciated by all Egyptians who cherish the Nubian heritage and culture.
What Nubian houses look like now
Ever since the completion of the High Dam in 1964, Nubians are struggling to return to the shores of Lake Nasser. With short-lived success, some managed to make a resurrection of Wade Half and re-locate in Sudanese towns.
Mourad S. Amer, PhD, Architect & CEO of IEREK for Research Enrichment and Knowledge Exchange, tried to conserve the Nubian identity, which has been abandoned throughout the people’s emigration. In a paper titled “Rebuilding Cultural Identity.. Nubian Rehabilitation along the Shore of Lake Nasser”, he tried to re- link the Nubians to a life they loved.
The paper, therefore, encompasses recommendations to producing new designs to the Nubian house conforming to their identity, cultural heritage and modern-day civilization as a way of rehabilitation.
Dr. Amer explained that a village in old Nubia consists of Nugu, a village that is located in parallel to the Nile’s shore. There existed three kinds of Nubians in old Nubia: the Kenuzi from the north, the Arab and the Mahas from the South of the Kenuzi villages. All villages contain in their center (1) a main mosque, (2) a social center, (3) a post office and (4) a few shops.
The Nubian houses took a linear form and were ordered in rows that faced the Nile. The linearity always occurred due to the natural contours and geographical aspects involved. Facing the Nile River generated the interaction and intermixing between Nubian dwellings and nature, which generated a unique and natural fabric for villages in old Nubia. In larger communities, other communal amenities were included such as a village guesthouse, a fountain, or a mosque, as in the Arab district, which had a public water tap and adjoining toilet facilities.
The mosque has been subject to the main adaptation. Its original courtyard was covered with a vault to increase space and at the same time two new courtyards were added. The first form of the entrance to the mosque, alongside another at the back, is very large and has at one end a guestroom, a loggia and the washing area. Before and
after modification, the mosque remained a complete entity and retained its sacred atmosphere. The whole village resembled a living organism, constantly growing and changing.
All houses in Nubia, and their main entrances, were located as to face the Nile River without obligations to geographic directions. Doorways were heavily decorated and demonstrated Nubian heritage. They were the main feature of adornment, which would be carried out starting with the entrance and continued to the rest of the house.
Nubian families believed that their highly decorated and colorful doorway was an example of reverence towards the Nile.
Additionally, there was a side or rear entrance to the house, often used by women for daily chores. This type of additional entrance was used in linear extended houses depending on a need for direct access from the courtyard to the whole of the house.
With regard to the arrangement of the house, the open courtyard is the main focus of the house in which it could be accessed easily from the entrance as well as rooms adjacent. In the kenuzi and Mahas districts, houses were structured along the lines of the extended family and were generally built in semi-detached terraces. Similarly, single residences existed, especially in the Arab and Mahas districts, where the houses were built with a square or rectangular shaped courtyard surrounded by a perimeter wall. Extra space in the courtyard was used to later allow for house expansions. The extended family simply expanded within the complex, adding rooms and storage as the family needed to grow.
The arrangement of a Nubian house was especially apparent in the courtyard. The courtyard was the central part of the house and despite its proximity to the main entrance, it remained private, sheltered and detached for members of the family as well as visitors. It was equipped with ‘Mastabat’, raised seats of stone or brick, along the walls, which made it flexible for most activities such as cooking, washing, sitting and even for sleeping during the hot Summer nights. Nubians houses were sometimes divided into two-storey structures connected via staircases located by a corner of the courtyard, which would be found in north Nubia.
In some village specially Kenuzi and Mahas, houses had another courtyard, the rear courtyard was separated from the main entrance, it served the farmer who owned animals, it was directly connected with rear entrance which was easily for women to move through the house and from out to into the house.
The living room and Khayma: Living rooms were either open to the courtyards while some rooms had high wallto- wall openings above the door. There existed flat roofed spaces, facing living rooms such as tents, known as a “khayma”, that were covered with palm branches and stems. More like a loggia, it was a coveredsitting area along the open courtyard, which had higher end walls, and consequently a higher roofline, raised by brick columns that are as high as one meter. This resulted in an improved air circulation and maintenance of the space to cool during summers.
Guest room and The Mandara: Nubians were friendly people and displayed their affability by caring for the guest rooms as they considered it to be an important part of the house. The guest rooms usually had separate entrances to allow the guests some freedom in movement as well as maintain the privacy of the inner family quarters.
Roofs: The Nubians of the Mahas and Arab districts used split palm trunks to construct their roofs and wood beams made of acacias. Palm reed thatch and woven palm fronds covered the beams. In the Kenuzi district, however, roofs were constructed as centenary vaults and domes.
The Nubians supported for the windows were placed in the walls during construction, and the doors and windows were shaped reaching of the walls. In order to provide privacy and reduce the area exposed to the heat and glare of the sun, the windows were built as narrow slits located just below the roof.
Especially in the Kenuzi and Arab districts, houses were generally whitewashed. The exterior of the houses were plastered with a mixture of mud, clay and rock salt from the adjoining rises.
The shapes of kenuzi houses were special. The women and children of the family plastered and decorated the interiors and the exteriors of their homes with bright, bold and colorful designs using paints made of calicoes, ferrous and bauxite compounds available in the area. The designs often symbolized the arts of Nubians they draw many objects such as plants, trees, cars, and airplanes or sometimes described the Nubians people when the hajj returning from the holy city of Makkah.
Ventilation: The courtyard allows fresh air and sunlight to circulate through and move into was the internal part of the dwelling via internal openings such as doorways and sometimes medium sized windows covered with wood shuttering. This acted as a ventilating device and a ”private piece of sky” for the benefit of the family. Glass was very rarely used since they have to be brought from Aswan.
Believed to be the first human race to roam the earth, Nubians are known to have passed down their customs and traditions to ancient Egyptians. They are people known for their artistic nature, sheer honesty and simplicity.
Known to the Greek as Ethiopians and their land ‘the land of punts’, they find comfort in living by the bank of the Nile. As for family, a Nubian prefers to marry from the family such as a cousin and celebrate with a ceremony that could last for up to 40 days allowing a proper practice of rituals. For instance, one of the understood rituals include the purchase of garments and several gifts by the groom for the bride, her mother and sisters.
These presents are boarded on a camel and adorned with decorations such as colorful silk fabrics and jewelry. During the wedding ceremony the groom is well-dressed, holding a sword and a whip.
Known for their peacefulness, Nubians have displayed evidence of their brilliance and serene existence that has added to the tribe. As a result, indicated was a fact that they were not pretenders or slaves.
Moreover, jewelry was a Nubian women’s favorite form of decoration as they normally covered their bodies by accessorizing. Women often wear necklaces around the neck topped by two lines of jewelry bearing the divine name of Allah.
For Dr. Amer, the idea to rehabilitate the Nubian area stems from a notion of relocating lost Nubian villages and moving flooded sites along the shore of Lake Nasser and parallel to the old site using the same old names. The location of the Nubian village must be near the Nile shore that will identify with hypostasis of the Nubian people and provide them with the chance to reclaim their wealth.
The village of new Kalabsha in the west Bank ofNile awaits in-depth studies, plans and design proposals. Accordingly, other villages will undergo rehabilitation alongside proposals for new Kalabsha.
This area provides a high potential for foreshore agriculture. However, environmental, ecological and economical aspects must be considered within this development. There is also a high potential for upland agriculture. The main criteria for potential areas are the soil quality, the distance to the lake and the altitude. Other important resource in
all Nubian areas that is cultural tourism, Kalabsha city will be as a model for all Nubia; this will be a good resource to fund development of Nubia.
Regarding the previous study about Nubian architecture, the new vision for Nubian residences should incorporatea shared and main concept that highlights the Nubian culture and heritage. Additionally, and alongside the rapidand over-development in the life of the Nubian, the house should combine the generic concept of house designing and the new needs for current and civilized generations.
- All of the houses and its entrances should face the shore of the Nile to enhance the relation between the people the Nile.
- The houses must be divided according to Nubian ethics and traditions while considering climatic treatments.
- The streets should be narrow and winding to increase shadows along streets and to increase the specialty.
- The site topography should be maintained according to use and distribution as to formalize the urban fabric of the village. The village should contain a variation of resources of sustenance such as commercial, industrial, agricultural, fishery, managerial or educational.
- Alongside the contents of Nubian houses, the supplementation of new content will be fulfilled in a way as to meet needs of civilized Nubians. Added elements include: one more toilet, bath room or guest room. Other additions may encompass separate entrances for guests or replacing other bedrooms with guest rooms.
- The courtyard should be developed and may be divided into two parts; one for family and another that is semi-closed to contain the mandara. The division of the courtyard may increase the shadows and increase the specialty.
- Modern needs such as television or internet access and modern fashion of decoration or furniture will be considered without neglecting culture or identity.
- The local materials for walls and roofs should be used in new villages.
- The same style of building or finishing should be adopted, with minor developments yet identical characteristics, in service of construction techniques. For example, the vault may now be built easily as opposed to earlier times. With acknowledgment to modern techniques and experienced workers, the vault may be built in two directions to create a better flow of air
- In summary, the needs of the Nubian people should be considered in this process of rehabilitation to help them in rebuilding and maintaining their identity and heritage.
In conclusion, Dr. Amer wrote that the artery of the Nile and the connections between clusters, the mother village and the main roads will define the city’s future growth. The growth will continue as to reach the main border through the growth of clusters and their attachment to the mother village.