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Opinion | Jun 26, 2011

Who are the Nubians in Uganda? Where did they come from?

Nubians started as a colonial army in Uganda recruited in the upper Nile region(South Sudan) by Emin Pasha before they were integrated into the civilian communities in Uganda.This happened way before the Mahdist rebellion in 1882.But they later qualified as a tribe since they developed a culture,language and religion. All the original Nubians were Muslims. The Nubian language is a variant of the Arabic.Olunubi spoken by the Banubi in Uganda as a language is some kind of modified Arabic and all the original speakers served under Gordon, Samuel Baker and Emin Pasha.The numerals are in Arabic.

Islam was used as a determinant to recruit the tribes in the Nile region which some scholars came to call Nubinisation. Emin Pasha Himself later converted to Islam while recruiting Nubians in Sudan.The original Nubians used to be called Sudanese the moment they crossed to Uganda and were integrated into the Uganda society as like any other immigrants. They were called 'SUDANESE' at that time when they entered into all sorts of agreements with Lugard.

They came as mercenaries to Uganda to fight alongside the British.Captain Fredric Lugard hired or used the Nubians in 1891 to bring the whole of Uganda under British control. They were specifically used by the British to fight the Banyoro who had resisted the British rule. Majority of them eventually settled in Buganda where they were already military barracks particularly in Bombo(Buganda) and some later integrated into the East African army called King's African Rifles in 1901. They contributed a lot to the First World War.The first Kenyan police was composed of mostly Nubians.

Eventually, land was given to them in Bombo under the Buganda Land Law of 1908.Other Numbians were settled in different parts of the country especially the north. Those who settled in Bombo became land owners under the Buganda government.They accepted to be intergrated into the Buganda system and pay allegiance to the Kabaka of Buganda. A Nubian exheadman was appointed a Gombolora chief and they had to pay tax to the Buganda government.

In 1893 when the Baganda Muslims were dissatisfied with the British, the Sudanese or Nubians supported the former (Muslims) out of Muslim brotherhood. But the British acted swiftly to break this alliance by disarming all the Sudanese in Buganda and also deported their leader back to Sudan.

Nubians initially did not want to be part of Buganda. They wanted to be independent of Buganda yet Bombo where the majority were staying had become part of Buganda's crown land. For instance, at one time 50 Nubians refused to pay tax to the king of Buganda and as a result 4 of their leaders were arrested. The fact was that the Nubians did not want to go back to Sudan but at the same time they wanted to be independent of Buganda. But In the end, they accepted to be part of Buganda

On that background, a Muganda who converts to Islam is not a 'Nubian' though Muslim Baganda lived a ' love – hate ' relationship with the Banubi before the Nubian question was settled by the British. To be honest, I'm still not sure whether to call Banubi a tribe on its own because these were a mixture of different tribes. It's like calling the BASWAHILLI or BAKYOTALA a tribe on its own. Both these groups are identified with Islam. Most of the Kakwas and Luguburas in northern Uganda who converted to Islam also came to called the Nubians. Some Nyoros were also ”Nubinised” after the Nubians helped the British to defeat the Banyoro. I think this is how some Banyoro became Muslims. As for former president, late Iddil Amin and Kakwas, they are found in both Sudan and Uganda.

Up to now I don't know why the British colonialists settled on calling the Sudanese who migrated to Uganda, under the watchful eye of captain Lugard- Nubians, because the whole term meant a mixture of different tribes that went through a certain procedure to become abanubi as I explained earlier on. Again, how can we compare the Nubians in Uganda with the true Nubians of Upper Egypt, northern Sudan and the people residing in Nuba Hills in Sudan.

The original Nubians and their true ancestors may all be dead. What we have got now in Uganda is 'diluted Banubi' following the Nubian culture, religion (Islam) and dress.I think the true or 'concentrated' Nubians lived in the north of Khartoum, up to the border with Egypt. While Nubian males here spoke Nubian languages at home, they tended to have a strong command of Arabic since they came from communities in which economically motivated migration to Egypt, and later to Khartoum and other Sudanese towns.

Most of the tribes in northern Sudan(Darfurians, Nubians, Beja and Beni Amer) are all Muslims: the majority of Nuba are Muslims though their predecessors were Christians. The last Christian king of Nubia came to the throne early in the fourteenth century and was succeeded by a series of Moslem puppet kings imposed by the Mamluk Sultans of Egypt. They (Christian Nubians) used to put black crosses on their foreheads. Nubian king Silko was the first Christian king.

Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba
UK

Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba
Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba, © 2011

This author has authored 157 publications on Modern Ghana.
Author column: AbbeyKibirigeSemuwemba

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