The Land of Gold

A sailing journey to modern-day Nubia

By: Riana Lagarde

Straddling southern Egypt and northern Sudan lies a nation with an extensive history intertwined with the Nile River since 3500 B.C. Quite possibly the oldest living civilization, the Nubians known as the “Kush” in the Bible were very rich in gold as well as in culture, arts, community and agriculture.

The Egyptians called the land Nubia, “Land of Gold,” as the word is phonetically written in hieroglyphics. Throughout antiquity, precious mines of gold, stashes of ivory tusks and most importantly, the Nubian’s warrior slaves were the reasons Egyptian pharaohs invaded the land, and eventually annexed them into their kingdom.

During a visit to Egypt with Ya’lla tours, we set sail on a felucca sailboat helmed by a young Nubian who smiled as he guided us past the first cataract and showed us his village along the river’s edge. Brightly painted stucco houses dotted the horizon, and domesticated donkeys and goats wandered the shorelines, offering us a glimpse of Nubian life. Our boatman had hand painted “Don’t Wory, Be Hapy” on the stern in bright blue, which was an appropriate mantra for our Nubian experience as well as a poignant spelling error since the Nile is known as the Goddess “Hapi” in ancient Egyptian lore.

As we sailed through the sweet Nile waters, cousins of our captain, who were no more than 7 years old, rowed up next to us in a homemade boat singing all the while. They used old wooden box sides as hand paddles and dived and swam about our felucca like friendly dolphins.

Existing through a cultural symbiosis, Nubians and Egyptians lead a life seesawing between warfare and peaceful trading. During 1,000 years of occupation, the Nubians adapted to Egyptian lifestyle; worshipping Egyptian gods as well as their own, building temples and pyramids, writing in hieroglyphics as well as their own alphabet and even becoming Egyptian rulers.
Modern-day Nubia suffered the near loss of their glorious history with the construction of the Aswan High Dam, which has caused permanent flooding in the monuments and temples close to the Nile River, displacing Nubians from their homeland. One hundred thousand Nubians were forced to relocate to higher grounds. Fortunately, many artifacts have been saved and placed in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, as well as the Nubian Museum in Aswan. Today, the Nubian population is around 1 million people, half living in Egypt; the other half in the Sudan.

A most generous and honest people, modern-day Nubians subsist as farmers on the borders of the Nile River. Villagers are like a very close-knit family, sharing in joys and hardships together. Everyone takes part in raising children. They feed their neighbors, and each person has a job to do when planting and harvesting. Nubian women dress in brightly colored dresses and scarves and adorn themselves with necklaces and bracelets. They are very skilled jewelry makers. Traditions like weddings have elaborate ceremonies. Nubian weddings last for 40 days and end with a blessing of the couple in the Nile, thanking the river for life and fertility.

Many tour operators offer one-day excursions to visit a Nubian village near Aswan or Elephantine Island (a favorite holiday spot of Egyptian pharoahs) as part of their standard tours, allowing clients to experience Nubian lifestyle including how they eat, cook and share with each other.

Clients can have dinner with Nubian families in their homes, take a short village tour via camel caravan or ride on a felucca boat as a mode of transport. A nice way to end or start the visit is by going to the Nubian Museum to learn more about their amazing heritage.


Museum of Fine Arts in
Boston: houses the most extensive collection of Nubian art outside of Africa.

Nubia Museum in Aswan: showcases artifacts from Nubia gathered by UNESCO salvage operations during the construction of the High Dam. Located just south of the famous Old Cataract Hotel, the museum is open daily 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and 6 p.m.-10 p.m. (summer); 9 a.m.-1 p.m., and 5 p.m.-9 p.m. (winter).

Memphis Tours
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Ya’lla Tours
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