Fake Nubia: a Colonial Forgery to deprive Cushitic Nations from National Independence, Historical Identity and Cultural Heritage

  • The text below is my speech at the 5th Annual Conference of the Network of Oromo Studies (NOS), which took place on 27th February 2021 on Visual Technology. The footnotes will be soon published with the text in an independent article.

For millennia Nubians 1 lived among the Hamitic2 natives of Kemet3 (Masr4-Egypt5) and the Eastern Hamitic natives of Cush6 (Sudan7-Ethiopia8). In Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, the various inhabitants of lands south of Egypt were given several different ethnic names9, whereas many toponyms10 were used to describe diverse parts of today’s Egypt’s South and Sudan’s North. But neither the Ancient Egyptians (the Kemetians) nor the Ancient Ethiopians (the Cushites) named the ‘Nubians’ with the term we call them now; originating from the Egyptian word ‘nub’11 (which means ‘gold’), this exonym was first used by the Ancient Romans and Greeks12, before being adopted later by the Copts of Egypt, the Aramaeans, and the Arabs; the reason for this is believed to be the fact that the fatherland of the Nehesiu13 (as the Ancient ‘Nubians’ were called in Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics) was located in an area of goldmines (southeast of Aswan)14.  

There was never an independent Nubian kingdom before the Christianization of the Roman province ‘Egypt’ (1st half of the 4th c. CE)15 and the collapse of the Ancient Cushitic kingdom of Meroe (2nd half of the 4th c. CE)16. Only around the middle of the 5th c., Nobatia17 emerges in the area of Egyptian-Sudanese border with Faras18 as capital, whereas Makuria19 with capital at Old Dongola / Dongola Agouza (ca. 600 km south of Nobatia’s capital)20, appears to be the Christian kingdom of the Cushites who survived from the Axumite21 Abyssinian22 king Ezana’s attack and destruction of Meroe (ca. 360-370 CE)23 and did not flee to the region of today’s Khartoum and further beyond, alongside the White Nile and the Blue Nile toward the highlands of today’s Oromia.  

Consequently, for 3500 years, the major tenants of the land between the Nile Delta and the junction of the Blue Nile and the White Nile were the Kemetians of Egypt (Masr) and the Cushites of Ethiopia (Sudan). That’s why in order to describe the monuments of Ancient Kemet, we name these antiquities “Ancient Egyptian monuments”. Certainly, there were Nubians living among the Ancient Egyptians and there may have been some Nubians among the high priests of Ancient Kemet; there were also Nubian architects, workers, soldiers and administrators, land owners, and scribes in Kemet; but they were expressed through what was culturally Kemetian (Egyptian). In fact, there was never an “Ancient Nubian civilization”. The civilization of the Ancient Nubians was the Ancient Egyptian civilization and, although the languages were apparently different, the culture was one, with minor differentiation for the Nubians. The only exclusively Nubian gods we know were Merul (Mandulis in Ancient Greek; his main temple was at Talmis / Kalabsha)24 and Dedwen25.

Ancient Kemetian culture was present in Cush during the period of the Kingdom of Kerma26 (2300-1600 BCE); later and for many centuries, Kemet (Egypt) invaded and annexed Cush27. In the beginning of the 1st millennium BCE, the rise of the kingdom of Cush with capital at Napata (ca. 800-500 BCE)28 bears witness to evident, strong Kemetization (Egyptianization) of Cush; this phenomenon explains to some extent the well-documented Cushitic royal cooperation with the Amun priesthood29 at Karnak30 and the subsequent invasion and partly annexation of Kemet by Cush. Following the parallel alliance of the Iwnw (‘Heliopolitan’) priesthood31 with Berber32 princes of North Africa (usually but erroneously called ‘Libyans’ by modern Egyptologists)33 and the subsequent dichotomy34 or even trichotomy35 of Kemet (Egypt), the Cushitic dynasty of Napata36 and Thebes37 managed progressively to occupy the entire country (Delta region included). This development was very brief and was actually terminated because of the triple Assyrian invasion of Kemet/Egypt (670, 669 and 666 BCE)38.

After the Assyrian annexation of Egypt, which lasted several decades, the Cushites remained a threat for the Berber origin Pharaohs of the 26th dynasty (called ‘Libyan’ by Manetho39) and that’s why Psamtek (Psammetichus) II40, supported by Carian, Greek and other mercenaries41, undertook a military campaign down to Napata and up to the 5th cataract of the Nile in 591 BCE. Later, during the 5th c. BCE, after the Iranian invasion of Kemet and Cush, the Cushitic capital was transferred to Meroe42, further in the south. It is then that we attest the first properly Cushitic (alphabetic) writing system, i.e. the Meroitic hieroglyphic and cursive texts43. Meroe lasted for almost 800 years as capital of Cush.

What occurred in Kemet was also observed in Cush throughout the millennia; there were Nehesiu (Nubians) living among the Cushites, but there was no Nubian culture, monument, writing, architecture or civilization. The civilization of Ancient Cush and Meroe is the Ancient Cushitic (or Meroitic for the later period) Civilization. The antiquities of Kerma, Napata, Meroe and other archaeological sites of today’s Sudan are the “Ancient Cushitic monuments”. And there was no Nubian kingdom before the Christianization of NE Africa. Consequently, it is totally false, certainly misleading, and absolutely inappropriate to attribute all the material record of today’s Southern Egypt’s and Northern Sudan’s archaeological sites to ‘Nubia’ or ‘Nubians’.  

The Meroitic texts, although not completely deciphered, demonstrate clearly that the Ancient Cushitic language was totally unrelated to the language of the Ancient Nubians, who lived in Kemet and Cush. Modern Cushitic languages have affinities with Meroitic44 and Ancient Kemetian (Egyptian) hieroglyphics, but are totally unrelated to the Nubian languages that belong to the Nilo-Saharan family of African languages.


Kemet (Egypt) in Kemetian (Egyptian) hieroglyphics
Musur in Assyrian-Baby;lonian cuneiform
Kush (Kash) in Kemetian (Egyptian) hieroglyphics
Kush (Kash) in Assyrian-Baby;lonian cuneiform: (Mat) Ku-u-si / (Land of) Kuus

Meroitic cursive (‘demotic’) and hieroglyphic scripts


The offspring of Ancient Kemet are today’s Egyptians45.

The descendants of Ancient Cush are the following people:

A) today’s Arabic-speaking people of Sudan’s central provinces46

(excluding a) the Cushitic Beja47 who are descendants of the Ancient Blemmyes48, b) the Kordofan ethnic groups49, and c) Sudan’s Nilo-Saharan ethno-linguistic groups, namely the Berta50, the Nubians51  of the North, the Furi52  and other people of Darfur53)

B) today’s Eastern Cushitic nations that were formed due to the migrations following the Abyssinian attack and destruction of Meroe, namely the Oromos, the Sidamas, the Kaffas and several other nations54.

The use of the colonial term ‘Nubia’ (‘Lower Nubia’ for the Egyptian South and ‘Upper Nubia’ for the region between the Egyptian-Sudanese border and Ad-Dabbah55 or, according to some extremists, Khartoum) is tantamount to enormous historical falsification56, because it attributes Cushitic History and Heritage to a non-Cushitic, Nilo-Saharan nation, i.e. the Nubians57.

By attributing the Cushitic Heritage to today’s Nubians, colonial Orientalists (Egyptologists and Sudan archaeologists) deprive a) today’s Arabic-speaking people of Sudan’s central provinces and b) today’s Eastern Cushitic nations, namely the Oromos, the Sidamas, the Kaffas and several others, of their own, true and common58 antiquities, cultural and spiritual heritage, and national identity.

This colonial effort hinges on an enormous misinterpretation of Sudan’s Christian and Islamic History; as per the terms of this highly ideologized falsification,

a) today’s Arabic-speaking people of Sudan’s central provinces are all Arabs and migrated from Hejaz to Makuria and Alodia (the central and southern Christian Cushitic kingdoms, which flourished until as late as the 13th c. and the 16th c. respectively) 59 and

b) today’s Eastern Cushitic nations, namely the Oromos, the Sidamas, the Kaffas and several others, are unrelated and unconnected to Ancient Cush60.

Both pretensions are unsubstantiated, and there is no historical source to support any of them. The first part of the distortion emanates from the colonial fabrication of Pan-Arabism61, which was geared in order to disconnect various Asiatic and African nations from their historical identity and past, which are not Arab. And the second part of the distortion originates from the colonial fabrication of Ethiopianism62, which was produced in order to disfigure numerous subjugated Cushitic nations through a disastrous amalgamation with the Semitic, non-African tribes of the Amhara and Tigray Abyssinians.

The pretext for the colonial forgery was offered by means of several historical developments attested in the Late Antiquity and in the Christian-Islamic times; Egypt’s Nubians were concentrated in the area between the Nile’s first and second cataracts, and Cush’s Nubians gathered in the area between the second and third cataracts. Gradually, over the centuries but mainly in the 2nd millennium CE, the Cushitic-Meroitic populations retreated south of the third cataract.

The Christological63 opposition between the Nubian Kingdom of Nobatia64 and the Cushitic Kingdom of Makuria65 testifies to different ethnic, linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Following the Coptic Patriarchate of Alexandria66 and accepting Coptic67 as religious language, Nobatia demonstrated its attachment to Christened Kemet (Egypt). Contrarily, connecting with the Greek Patriarchate of Alexandria68 and accepting Greek as religious language, Makuria echoed the traditional Cushitic-Meroitic stance (i.e. opposition) against Lower Egypt69. ‘Old Nubian’ is an erroneous and distortive term for the Makurian language and writing70. The language of the Nobatians was not written at the time, and the main administrative and religious language in the kingdom of Nobatia was Coptic. We cannot afford to call Makurian as ‘Old Nubian’, because this is sheer dementia.

The official language of Christian Cushitic Makuria was written by use of Greek alphabet; it consists in the next stage of Meroitic writing, but again it is not fully deciphered. When the Cushitic Makurians accepted Islam (14th – 15th c.), they gradually abandoned their language and the Greek alphabet, adopting Arabic. What happened to them had been also attested to Aramaeans and the Yemenites, and to lesser extent to the Berbers of the Atlas region71. Contrarily, the Nubians, after they accepted Islam, retained their language, while using Arabic as religious language only.

When 18th and 19th c. European explorers, antiquaries, agents and travelers visited the lands between Aswan and Ad-Dabbah, they heard the indigenous people stating their ethnic name as ‘Nobiin’ in Arabic; subsequently, the toponym Nubia72 was formed in the languages of the Western colonials before they managed to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics, study the Ancient History of Kemet and Cush, and excavate the Cushitic monuments at notably Kerma, Napata, Meroe (today’s Bagrawiyah), Mussawarat as Sufra73, Naqa74 and elsewhere.

The case of the extraordinary Italian-English adventurer, explorer, antiquarian and early archaeologist Giovanni Battista Belzoni75 is indicative; traveling in Egypt in the 1810s, he wrote his ‘Narrative of the Operations and Recent Discoveries within the Pyramids, Temples, Tombs and Excavations in Egypt and Nubia’76, which was published in 1820, i.e. two years before Champollion77 sent his famous “letter” to Bon-Joseph Dacier78, secretary of the French Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. This letter is considered as the founding text of Modern Egyptology79, as it is the first, successful step in the decipherment of Egyptian Hieroglyphics.

The truth is that the inhabitants of the lands south of Aswan80 were Nubians, when Belzoni visited the regions, but in the Antiquity that land was inhabited by Egyptians and Nubians alike, as it was still part of Egypt. Even worse, Belzoni seems not to have studied well the Ancient Greek and Latin texts relating to that region. For Ancient Greek and Roman historians and geographers, the land or the state south of Egypt was Ethiopia, i.e. Cush, today’s Sudan – not ‘Nubia’. And the demarcation of the borders between Egypt/Kemet and Ethiopia/Cush created in the Late Antiquity two new terms, namely Dodekaschoinos81 and Triakontaschoinos82 – but again not Nubia. All Ancient Greek and Latin references are made to Nobadai83, an ethnic group, like the Blemmyes (the ancestors of today’s Bejas). Nobadai are considered as ancestors of today’s Nubians, but no major monuments of Kemet and Cush can be attributed to them, except for the temples of Mandulis and Dedwen, as I already said. But these are only ethnic names – not geographical terms, not names of lands and states.

However, it is to the times before Belzoni (i.e. 18th c.) that we have to date the first use of the fictional term ‘Nubia’ by Western European colonials; apparently, it was then that the first colonial plans providing for an independent Nubian state were made84. Quite interestingly, one had to wait until 1981 and the initial release of the movie ‘The Omen III: The Final Conflict’85 in order to hear for the first time the term ‘Nubian Liberation Front’ – from none else than the character Damien Thorn (interpreted by Sam Neill), who represented none else than the Antichrist.


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