Moustapha has kept a pictorial account of events and trips on the wall of his study
THERE is no doubt that many civilisations in Africa owe a lot to Nubians, Joseph Batte explores how they have influenced the Ugandan society, the wars they fought and traces their origin to the Sudan
FROM crude liquor, locally known as waragi or enguli to the sweet sometime hotpancake called kabalagala, Nubians had something to do with it. Originally enguli was called Nubian gin, which begs the question: �How did a people, who are renowned as devout Muslims end up brewing waragi?�
Moustapha Khamis Kenyi, 68, laughs at the question before explaining: �You see, when our grandmothers came from Sudan they were not very good Muslims like we are today. They carried with them the formula of making waragi all the way from Sudan.
Compared with today�s waragi, theirs was so potent that it attracted so many customers that Bombo became known as the �Centre of Waragi�.�
Nubians, who are known for their expertise in cookery, also introduced the art of making pancakes (Kabalagala), sumbusa and mandazi. Hairstyles like corn rows (Biswahili and bututtwa) were also introduced in Uganda by Nubians.
Today, kabalagala, the banana pancakes made from cassava flour and sweet banana�s are one of the many delicacies that Uganda copied from the Nubian cookbooks.
From Bombo, the art of making kabalagala was spread to other parts of the country by the Nubian communities living in urban centres.
Mzee �Macarena,� who has been selling pancakes from a white Suzuki on the streets of Kampala for over 40 years is one of the �students� who were taught how to make it by the Nubians.
�It�s true kabalagala is a Nubian delicacy. I also learnt the art of making it from them when I went to visit my uncle, who was living in Bombo,� he was quoted as saying in an earlier newspaper interview.
Mzee Macarena has since made a fortune out of selling kabalagala all his life. �I married a wife, bought land, constructed a house and educated my children up to university with the money I made from kabalagala,� he said. Such is the demand for his kabalagala that he get clients from abroad, especially Ugandans in the UK.
Kabalagala is a Luganda word that refers to that hot sensation one feels when one eats anything that had red pepper or chilli. Originally, kabalagala, was baked with red pepper, but due to complaints from customers the Nubians figured out how to make pepper-free pancakes.
In addition, the word Lufula, which means �abattoir� among most of the Bantu-speaking tribes in Uganda, was borrowed from the Nubian vocabulary. It is an Arabic word that means hole. When a cow was slaughtered, the blood was drained in a hole. Most of the abattoirs around Uganda have these holes.
For most Ugandans, Nubians are just a group of people, who came from Sudan and settled in Bombo town. Some people regard them as refugees, while others consider them to be mercenaries. The Nubians have also been associated with the brutal Idi Amin�s regime, for which they paid a heavy price.
In Bombo town, about 33km north of Kampala, I met Moustapha Khamis Kenyi, a respected Nubian elder. At over six feet tall, Moustapha is a giant. He has a strong voice like that of an army commander on the battlefront. Despite his advanced age, Moustapha is still as fit as a fiddle and walks with a spring in his step, which reveals a little about his past.
�I was a teacher but I also played football for the western region and Ankole in the 1960s. I�m also a qualified referee,� he boasts.
We are seated in the study of his house located opposite the army headquarters in Bombo. The walls of his study are covered with pictures, newspaper cuttings and books about the Nubian culture.
He says he is a devotee to Nubian history, culture and language. �My people call me �professor� because I am a walking embodiment of the Nubian people in Uganda.�
Acording to Moustapha, the Nubians of Uganda should not be confused with the Nubians of the Nubian Empire, who actually attacked, conquered and controlled all of Egypt for almost 100 years, from 760 to 664 BC.
In ancient times, much of what is now Sudan was known as Nubia or the Kingdom of Kush (also known as Cush). The Black Pharaohs, as they were known, ruled over a mighty empire, stretching along the Nile Valley 2,500 years ago. Moustapha has kept a pictorial account of events and trips on the wall of his study Moustapha�s father and his contemporaries in a picture taken in the 1950s
�The history of the Nubians in Uganda is actually different. We are the grandsons of the gallant soldiers that that were recruited in Sudan during the Turco-Egyptian regime and eventually brought down to present-day Uganda by Captain Frederick Lugard in the 1800s. My grandfather Kenyi was one of the soldiers that Lugard recruited.
�Our ancestors were recruited by Emin Pasha from about seven non-Arab Muslim tribes, which originated in an area between Aswan in southern Egypt and Dongola in northern Sudan. They included tribes like the Dinka and the Bari.�
Some were recruited as soldiers while others were taken as slaves. Those who were recruited as soldiers were taken through a series of military drills, which included how to fire big and small firearms.
Moustapha says the new recruits were not originally Muslim. �At the time, most of them had no proper religion. A few of them were Christians while others worshipped their traditional gods and each group had it own language.�
He says when they were recruited; the language the Arab commanders used was Arabic. �So, the new recruits were forced to learn Arabic, just like soldiers who join the army today find themselves speaking Swahili because it is the lingua franca in the army. In the colonial days it was English.
�Likewise, our ancestors were forced to drop their original ethnic languages in favour of Arabic. That�s how the creole Arabic or Kinubi, which is spoken by the Nubians in East Africa was born.
Eventually, they abandoned their diverse ethnic identities.
They were converted to Islam by their Arab masters, adopted the Islamic culture and finally came together to form a new tribe, which they named after the ancient Nubians, who once ruled Egypt. That�s how the Nubian tribe was born.
�To date, Nubian culture is based on Islamic tradition. In fact, to be a Nubian, you must be a Muslim first. When you introduce yourself to me as a Nubian, the first thing I will ask you is: Are you Muslim?�
�Even if you speak Kinubi, your parents are Nubi, but you are not a Muslim then you are not a Nubian,� says Mzee Moustapha.
While administering Uganda, Lugard went on a seven-month mapping tour of western Uganda, which saw him journey round Mt Rwenzori and the western arm of the Great Rift Valley to Lake Albert, Edward Nyanza, sometimes known as Lake Edward.
Lake Edward is the smallest of the African Great Lakes, which was named by the explorer Henry Morton Stanley in honour of the son of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, Prince of Wales (November 9, 1841�May 6, 1910) who later became King Edward the VII.
While there, Captain Lugard met thousands of Nubians, who numbered 2,085 (and some 6,000) dependants led by their commander called Salim Bey at Kavallis on the western shores of Lake Edward.
These soldiers had been left there by Emin Pasha, a German doctor and naturalist, who had been appointed Governor of Equatoria and Henry Morton Stanley during the Emin Pasha relief expeditions of 1886 to 1889.
This expedition, which is regarded as one of the last major European expeditions into the interior of Africa in the 19th century, was organised by a Scottish businessman and philanthropist William Mackinon and James Frederick Hutton, to rescue Emin Pasha, Gen. Charles Gordon�s besieged governor of Equatorial, who was threatened by Mahdist forces.
With Nubians brought on board, Captain Lugard�s small IBEA force grew considerably. He then deployed the Nubian troops in a string of forts that he had built in western Uganda like Fort Gerry in Kabarole district which later became Fort Portal and Bombo in the north of Kampala, in Buganda.
However, before the Nubian soldiers and their families were deployed to Bombo, they were first taken to Port Bell Encampment, later named Port Bell and put in a garrison, which was later converted into the present day Murchison Bay Maximum Prison, Luzira.
Originally Port Bell Encampment was covered by a thick forest. Upon arriving, the Nubian troops remarked in Kinubi (Creole Arabic), Umon jibu ina fil Ghaba, which translates: �they have brought us into a bush (forest).� The name �bush� stuck.
To date the place is called Ggaba.
When the Nubian troops were eventually deployed to Bombo, they went on to form the core of the Uganda Rifles upon its establishment in 1895.
Later they were integrated into the East African army called King�s African Rifles in 1901 then finally Uganda Army and Uganda Police by the time Uganda attained independence on October 9, 1962.
Wars Nubians fought
The Nubians soldiers were renowned for their ferociousness. And, one of the first people to take notice (and later experience) the Nubian soldiers� ruthlessness was Omukama Kabalega of Bunyoro.
When Omukama Nyaika Kasunga of Toro, offended him by sending his men to Mwenge to capture Kabalega�s royal cows, an angry Kabalega sent his men to capture Nyaika Kasunga and bring him to his court in Bunyoro. The expedition sent to capture Nyaika included 40 ruthless Nubian mercenaries, who nevertheless were defeated.
After Toro seceded from Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom in 1830, Omukama Kabalega continued to harass the breakaway kingdom. Captain Lugard, with the help of Nubian troops, finally brought an end to Kabalega�s harassment, when they defeated him on August 14, 1891.
After defeating Kabalega, Captain Lugard handed back Toro kingdom to its rightful heir Omubiito (Prince) Kasagama, who had sought refuge in Buganda. Kasagama subsequently became Omukama Daudi Kyebambe Kasagama MBE., on August 16, 1891 and is regarded as Toro�s first modern-day Omukama.
Today, the descendants of the Nubian soldiers are found on the Kampala-Fort Portal road at a place called Kitumba. Some of the soldiers that fought like Mzee Moustapha�s father Kenyi were buried at Boma.
The British did not actually stop at restoring peace in western Uganda, but they set about conquering the rest of the country, with the help by Nubian soldiers.
Furthermore, the wars that British waged against Kabaka Mwanga and Omukama Kabalega, which led to their final capture was with the help of Nubian soldiers. They also fought in the first and second world wars. Nubian mutiny
Formally made a British Protectorate in 1894, the British still feared the encroachment of its colonial rivals France and Italy. In 1897 London sent an officer, Colonel J.R.L. Macdonald, with a force of Nubian troops to strengthen Britain�s hold on the region.
McDonald was not wholly successful as the Nubians mutinied, but after the suppression of the mutiny, Uganda�s place in the British Empire was firmly cemented by an alliance with the Baganda � the majority tribe.
Macdonald�s expedition is seen as one of the last incidents in the �Scramble for Africa� which brought almost the whole continent under European rule.
With Buganda secured by Lugard and the Germans no longer contending for control, the British began to enlarge their claim to the �headwaters of the Nile,� as they called the land north of Lake Victoria.
As a reward for this support, and in recognition of Buganda�s formidable military presence, the British negotiated a separate treaty with Buganda, granting it a large measure of autonomy and self-government within the larger protectorate under indirect rule.
One-half of Bunyoro�s conquered territory was awarded to Buganda as well, including the historic heartland of the kingdom containing several Bunyoro royal tombs. Buganda doubled in size from 10 to 20 counties (sazas), but the �lost counties� of Bunyoro remained a grievance that would return to haunt Buganda in the 1960s
Idi Amin connection
Nubians have always been erroneously associated with Idi Amin and his brutal regime. As a result they have suffered persecution and sega picture of staff members of Bombo Sudanese Primary School regation for the wrongs that were committed during Idi Amin�s regime from 1971 to 1979. How did this association come about?
�Let�s get this straight. Firstly, Amin was a Kakwa not a Nubian. His father Dada died here in Bombo barracks. Before he passed away, he requested his friend Yusuf Tambu, to take care of his son (Amin).
Amin was not originally a Muslim. So, Mzee Tambu�s first task was to convert him to Islam and teach him all about the religion. Since Amin was brought up by a Nubian at a place called Lomule, he learnt Kinubi and was assimilated into the Nubian culture.
�He was a very bright man. Besides Kinubi, he could also fluently speak other languages like Acholi, Lugbara and Kakwa, the language of his father, because all these languages were spoken in the barracks.
Generals Bazilio Olara Okello and Tito Okello, who were Amin�s comrades in the King�s African Rifles, could also speak fluent Kinubi.
The little English Amin spoke, he learnt it at the Army School in the barracks. The school was established by the British colonialists to teach illiterate recruits how to read and write.
�Because of that, people thought Amin was a Nubian. When he fell in 1979, Nubians became targets of popular hatred and have been forced to withdraw into their own shells. Many were forced to change their names while others had to flee into exile.
I went to exile in Sudan and lived there for eight years from 1979 to 1987 until President Yoweri Museveni took over power.
�In exile we were discriminated against because we were black and Muslim. The Arabs in the north, who are Muslims, segregated us because we are black. Our black brothers in southern Sudan, who were mainly Christians, segregated us because we were Muslim.
They said we were from Uganda and should go back home. So, when Museveni took over I convinced fellow Nubians in exile to return. We have not been mistreated since then.�
During the war against Amin, the liberators – Tanzanian army and Ugandan exiles – led by civilians came with lorries and looted every house. Doors and window panes were pulled down as the Tanzania forces watched.
When I returned I found fellow Nubians suffering. �It is true that some Nubians committed atrocities during the Idi Amin regime and those who did were punished. But it does not mean that all Nubians are bad.
We should not be persecuted or suffer discrimination for crimes we did not commit. For example, I have never touched a gun in my life. I was a teacher and later a miner in Mbarara. But to date when I tell people that I was not in the army, they can�t believe me because of my big size.
Besides contributing to the security of the nation, the Nubian community in Uganda has always been a perfect breeding ground for sportsmen.
Abdul Majid Mohammed, now retired and living in Bombo, is among the many prominent Nubians who donned national colours. He played for the Cranes in the 1950s and 1960s after which he coached Mbale-based Gangama FC (Now Mbale Heroes) and steered them to the Uganda Cup victory in 1976.
He is credited for discovering Paul Hasule and Steven Higenyi. When he fled into exile, he watched various clubs and finally the Kenyan national team, the Harambee Stars.
Other Nubians who played for the Cranes are Aloo, Fauzu, Ahmed Doka, Ibrahim Dafala. Abbey Nassur and Rashid Mudin (late) were part of the Uganda Cranes squad list that went to Ghana for the Nations Cup in 1978 in Ghana.
Mohammed Rajab Kisekka, the retired referee/instructor and match commissioner who passed away in February was also Nubian. The list is long. Although Nubians held Ugandan passports, they were not recognised as a tribe until the promulgation of the 1995 Constitution.
�In the 1960s we were stopped from participating in elections on the pretext that we were not Ugandan citizens. When we tried to argue our case, we were asked to produce birth certificates. Are Nubians Ugandans?
Absolutely. I was born a Nubian. I will still be a Nubian, I will die a Nubian. But I�m a Ugandan my father was born here; my grandfather was buried in Uganda in Fort Portal.
Published on: Saturday, 2nd April, 2011