Economic development in the Nuba Mountains


The Nuba have been farmers for centuries, if not for thousands of years. They have always worked their fields and watered their cows, raised ther goats and pigs, planted tabacco, guava and onion. They have always hunted in the plains and they know every editable fruit, root and herb.

Little is known about life in the Nuba Mountains befor the end of the 19th century. We do know that the Nuba were certainly aware of a world outside the Mountains, as the slave raids must have come from somewhere and the abducted people must have been taken there.

Most Nuba tribes seem to have had ties with Arab nomad tribes, collectively known as Baggara. Tribute was payed, trade must have taken place: ostrich feathers, gold, ebony and gum arabica made valuable barters. Surely mangos and surplus sorghum must have been traded too.

Nuba men served in the Turko-Egyptian army, they served in the Mahdi army, they served in the Anglo-Egytian army and they served in the Brittish army. Nuba men worked in Khartoum, in Port Sudan, at the Sennar dam. They worked for money, part of which was sent to the Mountains. At the beginning of the 20th century Arab merchants were no rarity in larger villages.

The economic development of the Nuba Mountains started to chage fundamentally in the late 1920's with the introduction of cotton as a cash crop. The changes were not caused by a greater availability of money, but by the people from outside the Mountains drawn by new opportunities. The Nuba were soon outclassed by farmers and merchants from arab origin.

Labour migration became a common strategy for young Nuba men, with far reaching effects on village life. Girls had trouble finding a man. Women started to work in the far fields - traditionally the domain of men. Large herds of cows - a sign of wealth - were sold off because their were not enough youth to guard them. Certain age grade festivals were no longer celebrated in the absense of the men that were supposed to form the centre of attention.

Introduction of mechanized farming changed the economic relations even more drastically. The Sudan Government declared all land to be property of the State and many Nuba farmers found themselves empty-handed. Unsolved conflicts over access to land and water were the main reason for the Nuba to join the SPLA.

During the war, economic development not only came to a standstill, it was as if the clock was turned backwards several centuries. Surely, the isolation mentioned in many articles about the Nuba was not complete. People still went to Khartoum, money still found its way to the SPLA areas, trade continued illegally. But the amounts of money and goods that reached the area were nothing in comparison to what the people needed.

It's safe to say the Nuba on both sides - Government controled areas and SPLA controled areas - suffered from extreme poverty and lack of even the most basic of commodities like coocking utilities, salt and soap.

Some years of relative tranquility have allowed for renewed economic activity. Traders have come back, stores open up for business, agricultural production is on the rise. Still, many thousands of people depend on humanitarian relief. Meanwhile refugees are returning to their homes and they often bring little with them but mouths to feed.

One aspect has been left to touch upon: the likely chance that sooner or later, oil companies start drilling in Southern Kordofan. It is a silent part of the economy that has gained importance with the years. Any discussions about land ownership must be understood in the light of the mineral resources that might lie under the surface.

The Nuba Mountains Homepage was made by Nanne op 't Ende.
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