31 August 2011

Nuba In Peril

The country of Sudan recently broke into two nations, a predominantly Muslim and Arabic language speaking north and a predominantly animist/Christian population with more cultural similarity to sub-Saharan Africa in the newly formed nation of South Sudan.

This didn't leave rump Sudan in the North without ongoing ethnic conflicts. Ethnic affilates with the main Northern population have carried out genocidal campaigns in the part of Western Sudan called Darfur against a population that is substantial (probably on the order of 40% of the population), but a minority, in the region, which makes the simple expedient of granting the region autonomy a less helpful solution.

There is also a pocket of ethnically South Sudan-like peoples in the South Kordofan province which include the Nuba Mountains whose adjective, Nubian, has historically been applied to black South Sudanese people generally.

From the point of view of lingustics, prehistory and anthropology, the Nuba Mountains are among the places in the world, bar none. The Nuba Mountains are home to multiple waves of small populations of relict peoples who have retreated there and retained their languages and to some extent their cultures and traditions as well when invading populations have routed them or forced them to submit culturally in the lowlands of the region.

The oldest layer of the palmpiset that is the Nuba Mountains are the Kordofan language speaking peoples. The Kordofan languages are the Northernmost, Easternmost and quite possibly the most archaic form of the Niger-Congo languages that are dominant in West Africa, on of which, Bantu, spread across Africa in the Bantu expansion, replacing indigenous languages across sub-Saharan Africa in the process.

Understanding the many languages spoken in the Nuba Mountains is critical to understanding the historical roots of the Niger-Congo languages and their likely past geographical expanse, and the historical roots of subsequent Chadic, Nilo-Saharan and Afro-Asiatic languages that have all intersected in the region. The cultural preservation of their language also makes the oral histories, traditions, legends and religious practices of these peoples likely to be closer to their ancient forms that those peoples immersed in more recent intrusive languages and cultures like Arabic speaking Islamic peoples whose cultural ties are traceable to 7th century Arabia rather than the Sahel, Chad Basin and Upper Nile basin.

Those vital human traditions are in grave peril because the military of rump Sudan, in an indiscriminate effort to punish the people of Southern Kordofan for their South Sudanese political sentiments and support of its rebellion are currently dropping more or less random bombs from planes into populated areas with no military targets, killing people going to market, in their homes, filling water from wells and so on. Many of the dead are women and children. Planes roar overhead many times a day and bombs drop out of the sky for no apparent particular reason for particular bombings.

Appeals have been made to the United Nations, but a world weary with global financial meltdown, mass starvation in Somolia, detentes reached over South Sudanese independence and reductions in violence in Darfur, the Arab Spring including ongoing military struggles in Syria and Libya, and more, are having trouble hearing the cries from Nuba for action as well.


Anonymous said...

Just one correction: the Nubians are associated with the South of Egypt (the current de facto head of state in Egypt is a Nubian) and the far north of Sudan. Meroƫ, which was the capital of the ancient Nubian Kingdom of Kush is north of Khartoum.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Thanks for the insight.