Women and Marriage in the Nuba Tradition

Women are, of course, the mainstay of every society. In fact, the degree of a society’s civilisation is largely determined by the awareness of its women and by the way that society generally treats women. Marriage, in particular, is one of the social relations in which the interests of women are usually sacrificed in many traditional societies. It is, therefore, of paramount importance to shed some light into the position of women in the Nuba communities, in general, and the question of marriage, in particular.

The Nuba woman, though still preserves much of the ancestral, conservative traditions and values, is presently regarded as very liberal and civilised. The obvious reason that helped the Nuba women to maintain the traditions well as being liberal is the state of the society itself which is based, essentially, on the treatment of women as equals with men since the early stages of life. This makes the women appreciate the traditions and sees no rebellion against them. This situation is true regardless of the level of education of the women; one might even argue that the higher the level, the more she appreciates and values the traditions because education will give her the opportunity to realise the horrendous state of women in other societies. The women’s role is apparent in the Nuba community at every stage. Since a young girl, she participates actively with her male brothers in animal herding, land cultivation, and many other income-generating activities. This is in addition to her responsibility for providing men with food which usually involves the daunting task of collecting firewood and water from far distances. It is imperative to note that Maressa (a type of local, home-made beer, usually from sorghum, millet and/or sesame) is used, in many Nuba communities, as staple diet rather than for anything else.

The Nuba people are known by their rich traditional dancing and folklore, such as Kambala, Kaisa, Nugara, Bukhsa and Kirang, as well as body painting and ritual wrestling. The dancing usually performed at night outside the village, sometimes at a central point between two or more adjacent villages to allow participation of many youth as possible (this could be daily, weekly, fortnightly, monthly, etc depending on the season of the year). The girls in the neighbourhood of a village usually spend the night together in a common girls house called Lamanra.

This is particularly practiced in the southern districts of the Nuba Mountains. After the end of the dancing session, in the early hours of the morning, the girls go to the Lamanra rather than to their respective family homes, probably
so as not to interrupt the sleep of the elderly who have got an exciting day awaiting them. There are some big occasions that take place seasonally, normally determined by the Kujur, e.g, the Harvest season celebration.

When a man fancies a girl he can approach her differently in order to obtain her marriage consent before approaching her family. Alternatively, he may send a relative or any trusted girl to inform the girl of his attentions, if he is not sure of her response and wants to avoid embarrassment. 

Although the marriage details may well differ from tribe to another, however, there are many commons features. For instance, the use of cattle and /or goats for payments of dowries is a common feature among almost all the Nuba groups. Some differences might be found in the number of cattle/goats required.

However, it is common that the bridegroom is required, by traditional law, to work with the family of the bride for at least one season in the agricultural farm before he can be given the marriage blessing. Perhaps this is necessary to ensure that the bridegroom is capable of sustain his new family. It is important to point out that the intervention of the family in the choice of the husband and, by necessity, the wife is minimal and does not exceed advice which is certainly needed by both the bride and the bridegroom. in contrast, in many Sudanese societies the fate of the innocent young girls and, to some extent, the boys, is dictated solely by the family; in many instances at the expense of the women.

As a result of this liberal approach of the Nuba to the question of marriage and also due to their peaceful and friendly nature which is rooted in their very traditions, considerable intermarriage has taken place between them and the so-called Arabs. Unfortunately, this intermarriage has not been reciprocal! Instead of being a means of intermarriage and integration of two cultures, it has been used as a means of undermining the indigenous African culture. Sadly still, this has been the policy of the successive governments of the contemporary Sudan for many years: a policy of aforethought violent cultural cleansing. Consequently, some Nuba groups have already lost their identity and were bluffed to detest their rich ancestral traditions. Where Arabisation by way of Islamisation failed to achieve their set objectives, they resorted, in lieu, to the wholesale, brutal, and cold-blooded ethnic cleansing. In spite of the extreme nature of the present regime in the Sudan, it is by no means unique in its actions.