14 Things You Didn’t Know About The Nuba People

14 Things You Didn’t Know About The Nuba People

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The Nuba people consist of numerous tribes that live in an area of Sudan’s Southern Kordofan Province known as the Nuba Mountains.

Though the Nuba people originate from various places and speak a selection of languages, their shared geography has led to the collective classification as the Nuba people.

They have been historically discriminated against by Arabic regimes in power. In 2011, war broke out between the Sudan government and a rebel group called the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N) in the Nuba Mountains.

To this day the conflict continues, with humanitarian aid blocked. Sudanese journalists are banned from reporting on the war, and face imprisonment if they dare to cover the conflict.

The Nuba continue to live through these hardships, with many displaced due to the ongoing war in the region.

Here are 14 things you didn’t know about the Nuba people.

Sources: OccasionalWitness, NewYorkTimes, News24, AlJazeera, SudanTribune.

A Nuba tribal woman. Photo: Flickr
A Nuba tribal woman with a typical dwelling in the background. Photo: Flickr

Around 2.5 million Nuba people

The Nuba people originate from all parts of Africa, having traveled to the Nuba Mountains area over thousands of years. A few estimates suggest that there are around 2.5 million Nuba people in existence, including those who have moved away from the Nuba Mountains.

Children in the Nuba Mountains. Photo: Indiegogo
Children in the Nuba Mountains. Photo: Indiegogo

Over 100 languages spoken

Incredibly, the Nuba people are made up of so many different groups of people with varying cultures that over 100 different languages are spoken by those in the Nuba Mountains area, while many of the Nuba also speak Sudanese Arabic.

The Nuba People are primarily farmers. Photo: HuffingtonPost
The Nuba People are primarily farmers. Photo: HuffingtonPost

They are primarily farmers

The Nuba people are historically farmers and herders who keep cattle, chickens, and other domestic animals. They have farmed at the foothills of the Nuba Mountains for centuries and continue to do so to this day.

Not all of the Nuba people have remained within the Nuba Mountains region. Photo: NMPC
Not all of the Nuba people have remained within the Nuba Mountains region. Photo: NMPC

Some Nuba have left in search of economic development

In modern times some of the Nuba people have moved into wider society to be employed in various fields outside of farming. While most remain fiercely proud of their Nuba heritage, they move in search of economic development that would not be possible within the Nuba Mountains.

South African court says government acted unlawfully
Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir. Photo: AFP/mg.co.za

They have been historically at odds with the Sudanese government

Sudan gained independence from colonial British rule in 1956, and since the 1960s the Nuba people have been at odds with each of the national governments that have been in power. To this day the relationship between the government and the Nuba is contentious at best.

The Nuba people are made up of numerous tribes. Photo: Originalpeople.org
The Nuba people are made up of more than 50 tribes. Photo: Originalpeople.org

They may not identify as Nuba

The Nuba people may not necessarily identify as Nuba. There are over 50 tribes represented among the Nuba people, and some identify as their tribe, such as the Miri. When they are away from the Nuba Mountains, they may then learn that others consider them to be Nuba.

The Sudanese civil war affected the Nuba people. Photo: www.smh.com.au

The Nuba Mountains have been considered a war zone

Between 1987 and 2001, the Nuba Mountains were effectively a war zone — part of Sudan’s larger civil war between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. There were many Nuba casualties.

African Union forces deployed to South Sudan.  Photo: Real Clear

Many displaced as war returned

Shortly before South Sudan became an independent state, fighting again broke out in In 2011. War continues to ravage the area and the Nuba people. Nearly 20 percent of the population is displaced by the conflict, according to the U.N.

A virtual reality film documents their struggle

Produced by Nuba Reports and Emblematic Group, and presented by the New York Times, a virtual reality film entitled “We Who Remain” documents the lives of four Nuba people – a mother, a soldier, a student and a journalist – in order to create awareness and connection to a conflict that rages on.

Many of the Nuba people are Muslim. Photo: Twitter
Many of the Nuba people are Muslim. Photo: Twitter

The majority of Nuba are Muslim

The majority of the Nuba living in the east, west and northern parts of the mountains are Muslims, while those who reside to the south are either Christians or part of a number of traditional animistic religions.

A Nuba man with a painted face stands proud. Photo: Wikipedia.org

The importance of strength and beauty

The Nuba people believe in the importance of strength and beauty, and the power that it exudes. Young men and women often spend hours painting their bodies with intricate patterns and decorations in order to reflect beauty and power.

South Sudan's Economy
Cattle are cash in Sudan. Photo: Kyodo/Landov/NPR.org

Livestock represents wealth

For the Nuba, wealth is measured in cattle, with the wealthiest tribe members possessing much livestock. Animals are kept in enclosures called coh for cows and a cohnih for calves.

The Nuba eat plenty of sorghum. Photo: Wikipedia

Sorghum is the staple food of the Nuba

The staple food of the Nuba people is sorghum. The sorghum is boiled with water or milk to make kal, which is then eaten with meat stew called waj. The Nuba also roast corn and eat it with homemade butter.

Scarification is common among the Nuba. Photo: pinterest.com


Along with circumcision and genital mutilation, the Nuba people practice scarification, which involves scratching, etching, burning, branding or cutting designs, pictures, or words into the skin as a permanent body modification.