Mohamed Altoum  |  The Arab Documentary Photography Program  |  2017  |  Sudan

After my father passed away in 2010, I was going through his old family photos and handwritten letters. I discovered his drawings, poems, and calligraphy, all of which revolved around Nubian culture, indigenous to present-day Sudan and believed to be one of the earliest cradles of civilization.

My father was always trying to bring our family in touch with our Nubian identity. He was from the town of Hoshmar in north Sudan, but I grew up in the capital city of Khartoum, far from a Nubian community, so my relationship with the culture was mostly through his memories. After his death, I felt the need to get closer to my roots and better understand what he had tried to pass down. I wanted his legacy live on, so I started a journey which took me throughout Sudan, including my father’s hometown (Aswan in Egypt), and then to Kenya. As I searched out the Nubian culture through my father’s memories, I was searching for my father, and came to understand him better along the way. When I tried to tie the threads between these locations, I found elements that reminded me of details back home. I spent many hours talking to people in their homes, and enjoying Nubian food like gorasa and bamia. I went to weddings and celebrations. I learned about new songs and dances from these places that have connotations about beauty, belonging, and social connectivity. I remembered how my father used to play some songs by Nubian artists on the radio, and how he used to try to explain to me what it all meant. I learned how music is a tool to express happiness, sadness, nostalgia, gratefulness, and thankfulness. I learned about the different dialects and about how Nubian culture influenced all aspects of life.

I was excited to come back to Khartoum and to discover more about the Nubian influences that I had not noticed before my journey. I felt the connection with the people and experienced a part of living history through their stories. I also felt connected to my father, and finally understood why he insisted on teaching us about our Nubian culture and heritage.

Special thanks to Samir Osman and Weam Ali for the drawings, illustrations, and animations.

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