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asina and mohammedShe dressed in brightly coloured Nubian costumes spotting a long dress, a headband, necklaces, beads, armlets and bracelets. Alice Asina was then kept indoors and neither witnessed the marriage ceremony (Nikah) conducted by the Islamic cleric nor the elaborate festivities that accompanied it.

On the following day Asina was officially delivered to her husband Mohammed Ojandu with whom she had already spent some time together and was even expecting to deliver her first child.

She cooked food that was eaten by a select group of ‘privileged’ people while her relatives gave gifts to her bridegroom’s family members as thanks for raising up a good husband.

This was on December, 17, 2017 when Asina’s marriage to Ojandu a former Christian turned Moslem was formalised in a typical Nubian way.

Both Asina and Ojandu maintain that they are not Nubians and not all Nubians may be Moslems.

But on Asina’s marriage day, Duluka, the archetypical Nubian music and dance was the backbone of entertainment.

gurusa on a hot skilletAbdul Juma Labidi, the chairman of the Arua Nubian community explains that because most renowned Nubians were Moslems since the colonial times, the Nubian culture has been heavily integrated into practices by the Moslems in the region, making it hard to separate the two.
Nubians were the first guards of Arthur Evelyn Weatherhead, the pioneer British commissioner of the West Nile. They held key positions during the formation of the first counties and influenced appointments of administrators that it became fashionable to be associated with anything Nubian as that brought with it power and prestige.

Labidi says it was for the same reason that many non-Nubians who converted to Islam craved being referred to as Nubians and most non-Moslems refer to Moslems in West Nile generally as Nubians.

Asina’s Nikah concluded a process that began in a non-Nubian way when Ojandu approached and proposed marriage to her.

Labidi explains that finding a suitable bride and bridegroom in Nubian culture is a collective responsibility of the family members and relatives and both families share the cost of bride price.

He elaborates that when a boy feels he is mature enough and wants to get married, he informs the father who is mandated to call a family meeting to discuss the issue.

In the meeting, the aunts of that boy are tasked to search for good mannered girls to establish their suitability.

The subsequent family meeting discusses their findings, vet potential brides and build consensus. The boy’s father then goes to inform the girl’s father about their desire to have their daughter and son marry off. Sometimes a messenger of good tidings (Ajawuti) is sent to deliver the message.

Upon receiving the proposal, the girl’s father calls a family meeting of their own and also sends out counter search team to establish the suitability of the said boy as a husband to his daughter. At this point the girl is stopped from outings.

She is restricted to household chores such as making mats (Birisi), food covers (Kuta), service tray (Tabaga) among others and if the family reaches a consensus to have her get married, the boy’s family is informed.

The boy’s family is served with a list of items (Daffah and Kafiya) they should provide for feeding during the marriage ceremony and wedding (Nikah) dress for the girl’s father, mother. These items are not considered part of the bride price.

“What is considered obligatory bride price is known as Mahr which is normally inform of money, gold necklace or any other thing the bride’s parents may have asked. The amounts paid are usually not more than sh200,000,” Labidi says.

Nubians and West Nile

The Internal affairs State Minister Mario Obiga Kania says Nubians are an amalgamation of detribalised community who are descendants of soldiers of Emin Pasha, a German-Ottoman Islamic convert and former governor of the Equatoria region of Sudan. They speak pidgin Arabic.

The coming of the Nubians to the region was prompted by the Mahdist revolt of 1880’s that cut off Pasha from his Turko-Egyptian henchmen and he was forced to flee with his worriers to West Nile where he established garrisons at Dufile in Moyo and Wadelai in present day Pakwach district.

When Pasha left the region for Europe upon persuasion by Henry Morton Stanley, he left the motley Sudanic troops under the command of Afendi Salim Bay.

Kania says it was Bay who signed an agreement with Captain Frederick Lugard at Butiaba near lake Albert that allowed Lugard to take the soldiers to Buganda to help him and the young Kabaka to defeat the Kabalega and Mwanga rebellions and after the fight the Kabaka provided land for the Nubians to settle at Bombo and created a seat for Nubian representation in the Lukiiko (parliament).

The British later took some of the Nubians to fight the Maumau rebellion in Kenya and the World Wars in Burma, then part of China, explaining why there are many Nubians in East Asia and Kenya. Bay himself died in Naivasha.

Kania who is also the patron of Ofunaru Nubian social club in Terego says some of Pasha’s soldiers turned out to be people from West Nile who were previously abducted by Arab slave raiders and traded to rich Arab masters but ended up being recruited by Pasha.

The two prominent examples that Kania gave to back this claim are Fadlelmula Babua, the father of Juma Bondo in whose name the Bondo military barracks in Arua district is named. Bondo’s daughter is Hajjat Umar Anuna, the presidential advisor on Islamic Affairs.

The other former slave turned Nubian soldier was Fadlelmula Ali Adhu who eventually declared himself the Sultan of Aringa upon his homecoming and whose legacy remains a divisive subject in the region.

To that list, Labidi identified some of the Nubians in town as the Fataki family whose grandfather Khalifa Fataki was a Gulumbi, Mahboub family whose grandfather Murjan Mahboub was a Zande, Rizigallah family of Rizigallah Asol, a Dinka, Garawan family whose grandfather Garawan Loro was a Bari and the Babala family whose grandfather Yaba Babala Galiba was a Muru.

Kania says what is of import is that distinct Nubian customs covering broad issues such as home hygiene, public disposition, dress code and mannerism penetrated deeply into some religious and cultural practices in West Nile.

In agreement with the minister is Jabir Ajuga, an oral historian in Yumbe who said it was under Adhu’s rule that the traditional music and dance of the Aringa that they used for mourning the deceased or for celebrating marriage, good harvest and heroic deeds were wiped-out and replaced by Nubian Duluka.

Nubian Foods

Who doesn’t like to enjoy Kofuta, a Nubian recipe made of pounded beef mixed with rice, garlic and onion pieces rolled into a meatball? That is just one example of the extent to which the Nubian culture has penetrated the region including into the kitchen and dining rooms.

Uniquely flavoured cuisines such as Kisira and Gurusa are also popular in West Nile. Few non-Nubians know how to prepare them, says Medina Ismail a renowned Nubian chef.

At her Tasty African hotel in Gaagaa cell, in Arua town, Gurusa-a chapatti-like pancake made out of wheat flour and some sugar is most preferred by Ugandan customers while South Sudanese dash for Kisira.

Medina explains that Kisira is made out of finely pounded maize flour mixed with wheat. She has a round skillet she uses to prepare both Kisira and Gurusa on a hot charcoal oven.

She says for Nubian and Moslem pilgrims to Mecca, a product known as Kisira Lebere is prepared. It is basically dry Kisira that according to her can last for one year without getting spoilt.