Nubia is an ancient civilization, with a rich history, and is based along the Nile River, located in what is today northern Sudan and southern Egypt. Both Nubia and Egypt were the centre of Africa’s main cultures. During ancient times there were many battles between Egypt and Nubia, with each ruling over each other and unified on many occasions. The ancient Nubian (Kushite) civilization, is one of, if not the oldest in the world and was called Ethiopia by the ancient Greeks.
The regions of Nubia, Sudan and Egypt are considered by some to be the cradle of civilization. Often referred to as the “lost civilization”, when thinking of visiting Egypt, Nubia may not be a place that comes to the minds of many.
I have long been interested in Egyptology and Africa as a whole. Being a child of the African diaspora, and growing up in a less diversified Oxford in the 1980s, I had many questions and not enough answers. Though I had researched on Nubia and having knowledge of “The lost Pharaohs of the Nile”, I still felt there was a disconnect. I understood it, but I don’t think I quite felt it.
The face of Egypt, after many conquests, now mainly Arab, some may be surprised when they come to Nubia to see the “forgotten” face of Egypt/Nubia.
I decided to dig a little deeper and go and stay in one of the Nubian villages located in Upper Egypt.
There are 60 Nubian villages in southern Egypt. Many Nubians were forced to relocate when the Aswan high dam was built in the 1960s, due to flooding. At this time, much of Nubia’s history, especially smaller monuments/artefacts went under water. Larger monuments like Abu Simbel were salvaged and relocated. Many Nubians are still seeking compensation.
The Nubian Museum in Aswan helps piece together the history and different dynasties of Nubia, but even this recognition had to be fought for, as the government initially wanted it to be called the “Aswan Museum”, but after resistance, it remains the Nubian Museum, though much of the land, culture and architectures has gone.
I stayed in the village of Gharb Soheil, on the west bank of the Nile, just outside of Aswan. As I approached village, it did feel like I was going back in time. It was a bit like the land that time forgot. The dusty roads, a shepherd herding sheep/goats, tuk-tuks, camels, but what really stood out was the very brightly coloured houses.
I stayed at the Ekadolli guesthouse (Nubian for “I like you”), where the guesthouse owner, Khaled, made me feel like part of the family immediately upon entering. Greeting me with a very warm smile, glistening eyes and a firm handshake. Khaled educated me on Nubian living, traditions and culture. He has a very kind, warm and dedicated team that really help make Ekadolli feel like home. The staff speak minimal if any English, and one staff member is deaf, but communication still seems to flow pretty effortlessly, and everyone is very warm.
Khaled informs me that a long time ago, before the high dam, the main source of income was fishing. Today, there is a lot more focus on education, and there are three schools in the village.
(Nubian lady selling crafts)
I took a walk out in the village, up to the bazaar, where local villagers trade handmade Nubian crafts. The Nubian Village was, for the most part, still inhabited by Nubian indigenous people, but there are stores on the market which are now rented out to non-Nubians, which takes some of the authenticity away.
The road through the Bazaar is very narrow and lively, as I walked along gazing and daydreaming, taking in all the sights, I almost got knocked over by a camel.
On my way back from the market, a guy pulls up on his ride.
Man: Hey Nubian
Me: Hi *smile”
Man: You are very beautiful, how old are you – 26? I’m 27.
Me: *thinking* yeah, sure you are!
Man: Do you want to ride on my camel?!
Me: *shock* *thinking* Do I look like the kind of lady that rides on anyone’s camel? I’m old enough to be your mother *laughs*
I often gaze at people, looking at the sea of faces that I don’t usually get to see in such abundance in modern day Egypt, but in the village and Aswan in general most of the faces are like mine. With many calling out, “hey Nubian, hey sister, hey cousin, we’re the same colour”.
(Nubian men who invited me in for tea)
Nubian houses are big because the first daughter lives there, with her husband, after marriage until the next daughter gets married, then the first one moves out. If there is only one daughter, they stay there.
Khaled studied at Cairo University and had verbal altercations with lecturers because of the exclusion of Nubian pharaohs. The lecturer agreed with Khaled, but said that is what they have to teach. Khaled said, “look at their features, they are mine”. Indeed they are, the Nubian civilisation is not lost, but rather forgotten.
(Statue of Ramses II in Nubian Museum)
Going to Nubia really helped me piece things together to get a solid overstanding of the importance of Nubia’s place in history as a whole. I could watch countless videos and read many articles, but to be there on a land so rich with history, and to see faces so familiar, made me really believe it. Sometimes envisioning what it would be like to be there in ancient times. I would highly recommend people to research and experience this side of Egypt.
After research, all I knew was that I wanted to stay in Nubia. I picked this particular village after reading reviews of how helpful Khaled is on TripAdvisor and Booking.com. I knew I wanted to stay in the village, rather than just visit to go to the market, as I wanted a truer experience. I booked through Booking.com and we liaised with each other on WhatsApp prior to my arrival. Khaled organised my trip to Abu Simbel, which is also in Nubia, close to the Sudan border, and another trip I highly recommend. This is a Nubian monument.
I spent two days in the Nubian Village, it is slightly further out from the city of Aswan, but Khaled provided a taxi or drove me himself when I needed.
I would like to return to Nubia and stay in another village, I didn’t realise there were so many prior to my arrival. I plan to stay on Elephantine Island, which is steeped with history. Khaled also has a guesthouse there.
(Me on the steps of a Nubian house)
I would say the best time to visit would Nubia and Egypt generally would be in the cooler months of March/April/November/December, if you plan to enter pyramids, tombs and temples.
Egypt is relatively cheap, and the village was very reasonable, with a stay at the guesthouse for two nights costing just USD$77, including breakfast. The service you receive here is second to none!