Popular Science Monthly/Volume 17/August 1880/Types of the Nubian Race


PROFESSOR A. KIRCHHOFF has published, in the "Transactions of the Geographical Society of Halle," an interesting description of a party of Nubians who came to that city with the caravan of Messrs. Rice and Hagenbeck. The traveler Marno, in his "Journey into the Egyptian Equatorial Provinces and in Kordofan," gives a flattering account of the handsome forms and features of the youth of the nomadic people of those provinces, with the faces of the boys so fine and soft that one might be made to doubt whether they may not be girls. These handsome traits disappear as the youth grow older, and give way to repulsive ones, especially among the women. One of the most striking peculiarities among the men of the Bishareen and Hadendoah is their manner of wearing the hair. After being worked up into a great tuft on top of the head, it is smeared as thickly as possible with tallow, which, melting under the warmth of the sun, flows down over the face and the back of the neck, and anoints them well. This account, although it relates especially to the pastoral races, whose range extends from the northern boundary of Abyssinia and the Nile to the Red Sea, is equally applicable to the tribes of southeastern Nubia. The twelve individuals attached to the Rice-Hagenbeck caravan, from the tribe of Beni Amr, in the southeast, afford a pleasant exemplification of the characteristics noticed by Marno. The illustrations are faithful portraits of members

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Adam nod Edris. Hamid nod Mohammed.
(From Photographs.)

of the party, and give truthful representations of their forms, attitudes, and expressions. They convey no suggestion that these Nubians belong to the negro race, but show, instead, noble features, without flattening of the nose or exaggerated prominence of the jaws. The gentle prognathism and full lips of the figures remind us of the ancient Egyptian profile, the nose of the Semitic type. Their dark-brown skin does not disturb the pleasant impression which their figures make but gives to their well-built, slender, elastic forms, with their graceful bearing, an appearance like that of bronze statues, especially when they are lighted up by the sun. The eyes of the Nubians at Halle were, without exception, dark brown, with a beaming glance, the whites mottled with yellow or brown. They all wore their lusterless black hair after the fashion common everywhere in the Bêdsha, with the top hair done up over the head in the form of a pillow, the rest of the hair twisted into loose tufts hanging downward over the ears, and gathered at the bottom into broad curls. They all had a growth of beard, not very thick in any of them, but much stronger than it is generally supposed that they have, and much like that of the south Arabians. Little or no hair grew on other parts of the body, except that they had some strong black hairs below the knees. Their height varied from five feet three and three quarter inches, to five feet ten and three quarter inches, the girth of their calves from eleven and one half inches to fourteen and one quarter inches, giving an average height of five feet six inches, and an average measurement of nearly twelve and three quarter inches around the calf. The form of their skulls fixed their place among the mesocephalic races, and, with the broad facial index of seventy degrees and a small per cent., gave to the face the shape of a "well-formed oval of moderate breadth." The head rested on a moderately short, strong neck, and the muscular development of the neck, breast, and arms was very fine. Except in the palms of their hands and the soles of their feet, they appeared to be deeply colored, especially in the covered parts of the body; but the brown in the face was a little more inclined to a bronze color. The membranous skin in the corners of the eyes and on the lips participated in this coloration, and this made the splendidly preserved teeth appear all of a brighter white. The ring-finger in all extended beyond the forefinger, and the great-toe was shorter than the second toe. Their mother-tongue was the ancient Bedanie, the Bêdsha language, but they also spoke Arabic. Their senses of hearing, smell, and sight were delicate and sharp. No trace of colorblindness could be found among them. They distinguished with ease fifteen colors, several of which were very nearly related, but had no particular terms for yellow, or to distinguish between blue and green. This fact contradicts the theory that the absence of a particular name for a color indicates a destitution of the faculty of recognizing it among other colors. For colors for which they had no specific name they used the word sotái—colored.

In a like manner, says Kirchhoff, the Djâlin in adopting the Arabic language use the Arabic word achder (green) also for blue, and the written Arabic assek, blue, more in the sense of black and brown. This may throw some light on the meaning of Bahr-el-Assek, which we translate Blue Nile, after the meaning of the written Arabic word, when it might be better to follow the local meaning, and call it dark Nile, in distinction from the Abiad, or clear Nile. Kirchhoff believes that the race-kindred of these people are to be found among the dark-brown tribes of eastern Egypt and Abyssinia, and the Hamitic branch of the Caucasian race, and maintains that they ought to be considered as a people of some cultivation. They all squatted on their heels when they sat down. It was interesting to notice how, when they sewed, they threw the cloth over the left knee, and held it fast between the first and second toes of their right foot. They spent the day in a round of sleeping, smoking, talking, and strumming upon their five-stringed (otherwise very primitive) guitars, alternating these idle occupations with the important daily business of dressing their

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Mohammed nod Ali (Profile and Front View). (From Photographs.)

hair. They did not put fresh tallow upon their stately head-dress every day, but they performed punctually for each other the mutual service of arranging the cushion, using the wooden pin a foot long, with which it was fastened, as the instrument. The looking-glass was used industriously, for the inner eyelids could not be painted without it. They cleansed their teeth regularly with a short light stick of the aràk-plant, which they had brought with them from home for the purpose. Beyond this they washed themselves but little. Each one carried his "Allah" on his upper arm, a small casket inclosing a text from the Koran as an amulet. Their feet were protected with sandals, while their heads were uncovered, and they wore a small silver ring in the lobe of their right ears, and a chain of colored pearls on their necks. A belt containing the dagger was worn over their white dress, which they knew how to draw around them with considerable artistic grace.