Media in Cooperation and Transition
Brunnenstraße 9, 10119 Berlin, Germany

Our other projects

Nubian holy water

Samia Ibrahim
From baptisms to marriages, ritual cleansing with Nile water has a long standing in Nubian culture.
11.03.2016  |  Khartoum, Sudan
Confluence of the White Nile and the Blue Nile, near Khartoum. (photo: De Agostini / N. Cirani, gettyimages)
Confluence of the White Nile and the Blue Nile, near Khartoum. (photo: De Agostini / N. Cirani, gettyimages)

People of the Nubian regions, north of Sudan, sanctify the Nile and consider it the giver of life, fertility, happiness and prosperity. Since the birth of the early Sudanese civilisations, such as the Kerma culture (which began around 3000 BC), man has found that his life within these communities is linked to the Nile. Dependence on this great river is related to a number of customs, traditions and rituals associated with the various stages of life itself.

Shafouqa Abdul Rahman Dahab, an archeologist interested in Nubian heritage, said the rituals practiced by her family in Wadi Halfa city in northern Sudan are concerned with marriage, birth and circumcision. “Two days ahead of the marriage ceremony, the bride goes to the Nile to wash her face, while the bridegroom goes there on his wedding day to bathe. Afterwards, the actual wedding preparations are arranged,” she explained and added that on the seventh day after the wedding, the bride and bridegroom walk to the Nile to wash their face and feet with its water.

Sacraments and rites of passage

In the Sukut and Mahas districts and in some areas near Dongola, mothers take their newborns to the Nile at sunset and wash their faces as well as the faces of their newborn babies with the Nile’s water. They fill seven containers with Nile water to irrigate seven small palm trees to invoke bounty and happiness. All babies’ items used to clean their newborns are thrown to the Nile. A quantity of cooked chickpeas is prepared some of which are eaten by the riverside while the remaining quantity is thrown along with the baby’s items.

In certain areas of the Nile between Wadi Halfa and Khartoum, mothers have to stay indoors for 40 days after their delivery. On the 40th day, the mother takes her newborn to the Nile and washes the infant in accordance with the adopted ritual. Local inhabitants in the Nubian regions believe that women who disregard this ritual will be afflicted with all types of evil. Women carrying palm branches and singing folk songs accompany the mothers. The newborns’ mothers wash their hands, feet and face as well the face and feet of their babies. Meanwhile, the accompanying women ululate in joy after the rituals are completed. When a boy is circumcised, he is taken to the Nile on the same day to wash his face with the Nile’s water.

This ritual is similar to baptism performed by Christians for their newborn children. According to the book entitled ‘Discovery of Ancient Nuba History’ by Giovanni Fantini, these rituals still exist in Nuba areas in northern Sudan and Darfur in the west. These rituals testify to Nubians’ Christian past.

The priest of Two Martyrs Church, father Velothaos Faraj said a number of customs in Nuba districts are regarded as remnants of Christianity which existed in the Nubian regions between the sixth and the sixteenth centuries. These customs continued after the advent of Islam, including those that were associated with the river Nile. “The Nile is a sacred river to all Nuba population and they turn to it for renewed life,” he added. Faraj also said there are customs linked to the start of married life where the bride’s procession goes to the Nile to take some water from the blessed river. The groom as well visits the river and then the marriage procedures are consummated.

Manal Saleh, a mother of two, said she followed these rituals when she gave birth to her children. “Despite the changes of lifestyles at present, these rituals are still followed in the Nubian villages and rural areas located north and east of Sudan.”

This article is part of:
Water: A fool won’t even find water in the Nile!
All articles are available for republishing. Please notify us via email when you syndicate our content. Thank you!