• Thu Feb 26 2009
  • The conservative Nubians

IN the late 1970s, a Nubian could issue any directive, anywhere in Uganda and no one would dare question it, unless it was a fellow Nubian or Kakwa. That was during Idi Amin’s regime when most of the Nubian men joined the armed forces and rose very fast
Vision Reporter
Journalist @ New vision
IN the late 1970s, a Nubian could issue any directive, anywhere in Uganda and no one would dare question it, unless it was a fellow Nubian or Kakwa. That was during Idi Amin’s regime when most of the Nubian men joined the armed forces and rose very fast
By Titus Kakembo

IN the late 1970s, a Nubian could issue any directive, anywhere in Uganda and no one would dare question it, unless it was a fellow Nubian or Kakwa. That was during Idi Amin’s regime when most of the Nubian men joined the armed forces and rose very fast through ranks to become senior officers.

They suddenly exploded onto the country’s centre stage and disappeared as swiftly.

So, who are they?
The fall of Amin saw a drop in the Nubian fortunes and those who survived retreated to their local base in Bombo.
Some, like Nasur Abdallah and Brig. Ali Fadhul, are just returning from Luzira Prison after receiving a presidential pardon.

In the last national population census, Nubians were estimated to be roughly 15,000, most of them in Bombo, which was a colonial headquarters.

Presently the men trade, serve in the army and drive long haul trailers across national boarders. Their women stay at home to weave intricate handicrafts and plait their hair. Nubians may be a minority tribe but they are unique.

After living among the Baganda for a century, these ebony-skinned, energetic people have resisted assimilation into the surrounding cultures.

They are so conservative, that they have retained their names, staple food, dress style of buyi buyi (sari) and language. These are the people, who made Bob Astles, a Briton, etch Nubial tribal marks on his face.

Even when they inter marry, the female becomes a Muslim, has to learn their language, dress in a buyi buyi, pierce her nose and wear ankle bangles.

Although some have the ability to speak English and Luganda, they are known to prefer communicating in their language or a mixture of Arabic and Kiswahili. And if they pursue Western education, they opt to take their children to Madras (Quran schools.)

Islam remains predominant in the Nubian community living in Uganda. But about 1% are Christians. This one percent does not even have a Bible translated in Kinubi (their language).

The only available Bible they know and use is written in Arabic. Although their academic levels are not so high, Nubians are literate in Kiswahili, which remains their means of communication with other people.

Their origin
According to a journal by the International African Institute, The History of Nubian People, they are descendants of former slave soldiers from southern Sudan.

Their presence in Uganda dates back to the 1880s, when the Mahdi Islamic uprising came into Uganda under the command of a German officer, Emin Pasha.

These soldiers were later taken on by Frederick Lugard of the Imperial British East Africa Company, which formed the core of the forces used to carve out Britain's East African Empire.

They were rewarded with a piece of land in Kibera, in southwestern Nairobi. But while in transit between Kenya and Sudan, some stayed back in different parts of Uganda.

On arrival in Uganda, Nubians proved to be organised, loyal and fearless fighters. Their skills bought them mercenary status to the kingdoms of Busoga, Buganda, Toro and Ankole which used them to raid each other.

Mohammad Wahib, the chairman of the Nubian community, says they fought alongside Baganda and the colonial British forces.

“The Kabaka rewarded our ancestors with the land in Bombo after suppressing the Bunyoro anti-imperialism uprising of 1880-87.”

According to Uganda 30 Years, it was after Idi Amin’s coup d’etat in 1971 that most Nubians and his Kakwa men were recruited in the army.

They were identified by three vertical lines on their faces. They rose to prominence in the army and society as Amin hurriedly replaced sacked high ranking Langi/Acholi officers with them.

They were given properties that had been owned by Asians who were expelled by Amin in 1972 and became owners of industries, houses, shops, and cars.

They soon became the mafuta mingi (bourgeoisie) with access to essential commodities smuggled from Kenya. While other people were crying poverty, Nubians had even the scarcest commodities.

During the economic war declared by Idi Amin, the Nubian delicacy kabalagala (locally made pancakes), replaced bread at tea time.

That is when a song Kabalagala Gonja hit the charts. Duluka, a Nubian dance that involves moving in circles while waving white pieces of cloth, was the main entertainment at State events.

By then the governor of the Central Province was Abdul Nasur, who banned slippers in the city.

Asked whether it was true that he forced people he caught wearing slippers to eat them, Nasur’s face breaks into a sarcastic smile.

“If there is any one who can testify to that, I challenge them to come forth,” he says at his Bombo home.

But the bigger name was Col. Maliyamungu (God’s property) a.k.a Isaac Lugonzo. According to the Drum magazine, he assumed power whenever Amin was not around.

After the fall of Amin, Nubians faded out of politics and melted into new settlements all over the country. They claimed persecution and that they could only speak their language in low tones.

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