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Aurora in Paris

Last week, the participants from the Bergen side of the Aurora collaboration with the Institute of African Worlds of Paris-I met in a series of fruitful venues at the French capital. These meetings were meant to be the last ones in the frame of the Aurora mobility grant that the two institutions received for 2014, since unfortunately, the grant was not renewed for 2015. The experience from the year we shared, however, proved sufficient for the recognition of the potential of this collaboration and so both sides are determined to find means to pursue our common tasks starting with the seminars planned on the topic of “African books: production, producers, and products”.

All presentations from this year concerned case studies that are already part of this topic. My own contribution a week ago was titled “Christian Literature from Medieval Nubia” and introduced the audience to many topics of the overarching phenomenon of religious literacy in the Middle Nile region with emphasis on issues of codicology, paleography, and language. For all these fields of textual study I used literary works from Nubia relating to the Archangel Michael, favorite topic and end goal for my postdoctoral project at the University of Bergen.

The presentation began and ended with references to the research conducted by Robin Seignobos on the external sources about Christian Nubia, so as to show the complementarity of our approaches in the frame of Aurora and beyond, as well as the importance of Robin’s work for the elaboration of analyses on a multiplicity of phenomena from medieval Nubia. And of course, I wished to underline how crucial it is to support Robin’s research in France – either at his home institution or in the frame of the CNRS – since it is a unique contribution to the field of Nubian Studies, both in the sense of its qualities and in the sense of Robin being the only researcher occupied with this part of studies on Medieval Africa as conducted at IMAF/Paris-I, under the auspices of professors Bertrand Hirsch and Marie-Laure Derat.

At my talk, I was honored by the presence of students of both Hirsch and Derat, as well as of Ph.D. candidates of the IMAF – including the premier moteur of the Aurora collaboration, Rémi Dewière, who right afterwards presented an interesting section of his thesis on the Kanem-Bornu Empire in the frame of a seminar of the doctorants at IMAF, a very praiseworthy effort of sharing the experience of conducting research at this level of one’s academic career.

Moreover, the kindness of Robin to promote the venue at several departments of the vast, and dispersed all over the town, Paris-I university premises brought very fruitful results. For example, among those present at the talk, there was a master student from the École Pratique des Hautes Études, namely Pietro D’Agostino, working on the cult of the Archangel Michael in Byzantium. We were both positively surprised with the interest of the other in the topic and, sharing several views on the cult of Michael in general, we happily concluded that we should remain in contact and collaboration.

At the same time that this meeting took place, I was in contact with a Greek researcher, namely Georgios Tsiaples, who has worked on homiletic literature in Greek relating to the miracles of the Archangel Michael for a conference he participated in at the end of November organized by Parekvolai, An Electronic Journal for Byzantine Literature.

An idea starts being formed about a seminar on the cult of Michael in Early Eastern Christianity. Such a seminar will not only enrich the perspective of the individual researches conducted on the topic, but it will hopefully also enhance the place of Nubian Studies in the framework of larger regional, historical, religious, cultural horizons.

Such an integration of the Nubian world in larger contexts can be felt very acutely when one visits world-class museums, like the Louvre. With new exhibitions on Christian Nubia, as well as on Kush and Sudan, it was natural that Robin and myself chose to spend our free day after the presentation in this most impressive of all European museums.

morocco@louvre

The two displays in question were located beside the exhibits from Egypt relating with the respective periods. In detail, Kush follows the predynastic and Pharaonic periods’ halls and consisted of two panels and two showcases, as well as a free-standing sculpture.

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Christian Nubia is placed right before the beginning of the galleries dedicated to Coptic Egypt. No more than 25 objects are displayed in the tiny room: two mural paintings, two architectural spolia, two funerary stelae, ten ceramic vessels, and nine bronze ones. They manage though to encapsulate quite a lot of the traits of the Christian Nubian civilization, like the importance of the cult of the Archangel Michael (one of the murals), the persistence of the use of the Greek language (in both stelae), the exquisite quality of the ceramics. From the latter it is worth mentioning that most are dated in the Post-Meroitic period (ca. 4th-6th centuries CE), and three of those come from the island of Sai. Three vases of the Classic period displayed are given as proposed provenance “Upper Egypt”. The other sites represented are Faras (murals and spolia), Qasr Ibrim (bronze cup), Ballana (bronze recipients and incense burner), and Sesebi (Post-Meroitic pottery).

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The excavations conducted by Louvre at Muweis in Sudan, as well as other French expeditions working in the Middle Nile, should provide material in the future for temporary exhibitions or a renewal of the permanent display in the Louvre. The strengthening of the museum’s collaboration with the Sudan National Museum may also enlarge the place of Nubian antiquities in the Louvre.

In any case, the organizers of temporary exhibitions in that museum have not neglected Sudan archaeology. An exhibition on Meroë was mounted four years ago, and we were lucky enough to purchase the very fine catalogue for less than half the price from the museum’s book store!

However, the Sudanological activities of the day did not end in the Louvre. As darkness was falling over Paris, we walked from the river Seine to the northern neighborhoods and visited a venue organized by the French photographer Claude Iverné, whose work on Sudan and on the history of Sudanese photography is of world renown.

Signature of Sudan Photographs, vols. I & !!

The discussions about events that we could set up with Claude in Bergen were the last impressions from this visit to Paris. I was soon again in an airplane, returning home. But just for 24 hours, since on Sunday the whole family moved to Greece from where I am posting this. Soon it’s time for a Christmas break, but before that there are more things to do…

This week I experienced one of the most complicated travels I have had until now: on Sunday I flew from Bergen to Paris (via Copenhagen) for my own share of the Aurora mobility grant (about which see HERE). On Monday I had to travel back to Oslo to participate in the 2014 NEWCONT-workshop, only to get on the plane on Wednesday early morning to be in good time back to Paris for my presentation about Christian Literature from medieval Nubia. On Friday the circle is coming to an end with my return to Bergen (via Copenhagen again)…

But in this post I do not want to write about any of those academic venues or the easiness of my travel experiences so far. More from my talks and the visit in Paris in due time.

Today I just want to share two stories that stroke me as intriguing coincidences, since they appeared in my news feed right before my departure from Norway, and they made a contrast to the life of a traveler we are all enjoying in “the West”, when I managed to read them this morning.

The first one was an article in the Sunday issue of Bergens Tidende. It referred to the difficulties encountered by those South Sudanese who are fleeing the crisis in their homeland and they are trying to make a new life in Europe, passing more often than not from Greece. And, as you can read HERE, this is not an easy dream to fulfill…

And as I was googling about that story, I came across a story of those sans-papier immigrants at Calais, France, who expect to start a new life on the other side of the channel and while being in their makeshift camps, they enliven their stay with music from their homeland. Follow THIS LINK to read the story and hear some of their music!

I am posting this with the wish for better conditions for all those who need to migrate and as a pray for safe and smooth travel to everyone!

Archives

During the last days many things have been happening, so I had to come back to the blog twice, in order to write some comments about events directly or indirectly linked with our activities, although I had thought that since the presentation of the 18th volume of Sudan & Nubia, I would only write again from Paris to where I am traveling tomorrow.

As the title of this post shows, this time the issue concerns Archives.

I have been working with archival material at the University of Bergen for more than two years now and two of the results have already found their way to the world wide web:

1. http://darfurbefore.wordpress.com

2. http://pahoyden.no/galleri/sudan-sett-gjennom-ofahey-samlingen

The process of preserving an archive physically and making it accessible digitally is in our days one of the most fundamental processes by which knowledge is safeguarded and made accessible. And it seems that it gets the support of funding institutions with very good rates in comparison to other projects – especially in the Humanities.

Now, it is the case that the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Bergen possesses very important archives of local, national and international value. The way that the University, the Faculty and the Institutions are treating their stakeholders’ role may differ, but the principles and the goals are in essence mutual. What has not become mutual yet is a common strategy to tackle the matter.

The issue has been raised in a chronicle written by Johan Myking, Head of Department of Linguistic, Literary and Aesthetic Studies, and Anne Bang, Associate Professor at the Institute of Archaeology, History, Cultural and Religious Studies. Their intervention was published on Friday in the independent online journal of the UiB, titled På Høyden. With the eloquent title “Our common digital memory – a strategically important milieu for UiB” the two authors propose to see investment in the digitalization of archives as a means for becoming “internationally recognized, nationally strong, and locally relevant“. All the key words in the title and the short quote are very carefully selected so as to make reference to the main points that the new strategic plan of UiB will have to cover in the coming months so as to navigate in the difficult waters of the next five years in the sea of academic competitiveness and competition on both national and international levels.

s(h)elves in a library

The archives that I have mainly been working with myself are of international character. They concern work conducted by Bergen-based researchers in Sudan. These archives are far from being completed, and there are others still to be formed, like for example the Sudan TV digital archive that a is colossal project lead by professor Anders Bjørkelo.

The significance of these archives for studies relating to Sudan, Nubia, Egypt, the Nile etc. was the focus of my short intervention today during the Annual General Meeting of the Norwegian Egyptological Society (NES). And the main issue raised was that of the importance of creating around all the archives and the libraries related to this part of the world, a space where those interested to pursue this field of studies will find a home.

In Bergen, the collaboration for more than half a century now between UiB and the University of Khartoum and of investment in Sudan Studies, the existence of the base of the Nile Basin research programme, the Mahmoud Salih collection, the Egyptological collection at the University Museum (=Museum of Cultural History), complemented by finds from excavations conducted by Randi Haaland in Sudan, the archives of the Haalands themselves along with those of O’Fahey, Pierce, Bjørkelo and others, give also to NES a special role as an independent organization that can help the different actors come together, that can give further meaning to the existence of a locality where its meetings can take place, its members can have access to the sources of relevant knowledge, even the place where NES itself can house the book collections of an eminent Egyptologist who seems to have decided to donate the publications accumulated in a long career to NES!

When I heard these last news in today’s Annual General Meeting, I felt that it was a sign to write this blog, raise the voice of Medieval Sai Project along those who have already done that in UiB and support the claim to become responsible, dynamic, and imaginative stakeholders of the archival treasures that have accumulated in the University of our town.

At the same time, I believe that this is a fitting moment to praise one institution that I visited during my stay in Johannesburg last month and about which I have written very little: the Maria Katrakis South African Hellenic Archive housed at the SAHETI school.

Originally at the University of Johannesburg, the Archive has created in both localities where it was hosted a point of reference for everybody interested in the history of the Greek Diaspora in South Africa. Moreover, it functions as a prototype for similar projects to be undertaken in other places in Africa or elsewhere, it can support research and education, and its administrators are always willing to find new partners and collaborators, learn from the experience of others and offer their experience in return welcoming all interested students and scholars.

One can read more about the Archive and its history in four contributions in Part Three of the Papers read at the Symposium on “Hellenism and Africa” in 1999 and then edited by professor Ben Hendrickx and published in Johannesburg in 2000.

I felt touched by the interest that Mrs. Niki Sourri, the President of the Lyceum Club of Greek Women in Johannesburg, expressed in what we are doing in Bergen, and I wish to express my gratitude for all the honors I received there by confessing in the end of this post  that what I saw being done in the venue of the Maria Katrakis Archive was in many ways an inspiration to keep up the efforts here in Bergen until we see our Sudan archives finding a home appropriate for their value and sufficient to become the shell of a center of studies dedicated to Sudan, Egypt and the Nile Basin.

Updates

This morning, a memorial for Mahmoud Salih took place at the Resource Centre for International Development, the depository of the Mahmoud Salih collection.

minnestund

Photo by Sylvia Keala Duerr

Dr. Howaida Faisal Abdelrahman and professor Anders Bjørkelo led the friends of Mahmoud Salih, who were present in Bergen this morning, through a decent ceremony consisting of a series of short but deeply felt obituaries.

Professors, researchers, students, librarians, administrators, and representatives of the Sudanese diplomatic corps, shared their honest respect, friendship and love for a man who was always bringing to his visits to the north the most positive energy and warmth from his south. This was one of the ideas behind the title “Connecting South and North” for the Festschrift that was offered to Mahmoud Salih for his 70th birthday five years ago …

But what we wish to keep from the commemoration honoring him is the promise to continue servicing Sudan Studies, and his sincere love for books, archives, history, literature, the arts.

_______________________

We’ll be talking about some of these topics on Saturday in another venue in Bergen: the annual general meeting of the Norwegian Egyptological Society. A small panel is planned as the closing talk, a panel that will discuss the future of Egyptological, Nubiological, and Sudanological Studies at the University of Bergen. Here follows the program:

rsmte_2014

_______________________

Another academic update we want to refer to concerns one of the sessions in the ASOR 2014 annual meeting in San Diego, USA. It was the only session concerned with Sudan:

Kush and the Ancient Near East after 1000 BCE  

Theme: The culture of Kush and its northern relationships before the Roman conquest of 

Egypt. 

CHAIR: Bruce Williams (The Oriental Institute), Presiding

PRESENTERS:

4:20

Introduction (5 min.)

4:25

Stuart Smith (University of California, Santa Barbara), “Egyptian Dominance, Nubian

Revival: Entanglement, Hybridity and the transition from imperial subject to Pharaoh in

Nubia.” (15 min.)

4:45

Jeremy Pope (The College of William & Mary), “Kushite Strategy in the Near East: Was

it Imperial?” (15 min.)

5:05

Geoff Emberling (University of Michigan) and Rachael Dann (University of

Copenhagen), “New Perspectives on Napatan Kingship: The 2014 Excavation at El

Kurru, Northern Sudan” (15 min.)

5:25

Kathryn Howley (Brown University), “Imports or Influence? Tracing the Origin of Royal

Tomb Assemblages from Nuri” (15 min.)

5:45

Vincent Francigny (American Museum of Natural History, New York), “Sedeinga:

Kushite Burial Traditions Beyond the Borders of Egypt” (15 min.)

6:05

Douglas Comer (The ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Archaeological

Heritage Management (ICAHM), Baltimore, Cultural Site Research and Management),

“The Qatar-Sudan Archaeological Project (QSAP): The Kingdom of Kush on a Global

Stage” (15 min.)

_______________________

Last but not least, there are interesting developments from the cultural heritage challenges that appeared at El Khandaq, Northern Province, Sudan last week. News broke that the so-called “House of the Officer” has been sold for the sake of some development project.
Photo by Intissar Soghayroun el-Zein

Photo by Intissar Soghayroun el-Zein

As stated by professor Intissar Soghayroun el-Zein, the photograph shows that restoration work had started before the issue was settled with the archaeologists and the other stakeholders of the cultural heritage in the region.
However, it seems that after the initial reactions at el Khandaq and the announcements in the press mainly by Azhari Mustafa Sadig (see HERE and HERE and HERE in Arabic) – to whom we owe all information for this and the previous post on the topic – things seem to have changed:

Professor Intissar reported that she received several calls from the ministry of culture in the Northern Province who assured her that they are eager to protect archaeological and historical sites in the state.

Also she received a call from the governor of the province in el Goulid who said that there was a misunderstanding of the information between the People’s Committee of Khandaq and the team.

He said that he had a discussion to establish what he called “a Tourist resort” along the Nile bank in el Khandaq and discussed the sale of a government house for those who wish to invest in the project.

He told Intisar that the committee agreed with this idea, and “they” never resist it.

Still they negotiate to build the Tourist resort, but they stop selling any historical building there.

They assure that they will not affect any archaeological building or the general panorama of the site.

The balance between tourism and archaeology in such vulnerable areas like the Middle Nile is a difficult one…

Sudan & Nubia volume 18

WordPress reminded us on Saturday that it was the fourth birthday of Medieval Sai Project @ wordpress platform!

One element that has characterized all these four years is the presentation of the new volumes of the peer-review journal of The Sudan Archaeological Research Society, titled Sudan & Nubia. Volume 14 was presented HERE, volume 15 HERE, volume 16 HERE, volume 17 HERE, and volume 18, well, here-by:

cover page

Some things did not change from last year at all. This means that there was again no paper dedicated to fieldwork conducted on Sai Island, while the medieval period was the object of just one paper, with a couple more indirect references.

This does not mean that the reports presented were uninteresting, even though one should stress that to the exception of the reproduction of the Kirwan Memorial Lecture all the rest of the 18 contributions are categorized by the editors as “reports”. This is the phase that Sudan Archaeology is into currently: lots of fieldwork – mostly supported by the QSAP – means a lot of energy invested in new discoveries and little focus on the study of the material.

Nevertheless, the paper by Pernille Bangsgaard on “Animal Deposits at H29, a Kerma Ancien cemetery in the Northern Dongola Reach” presents the results of the osteological study conducted on material excavated in 2011-12. Moreover, the paper by Pavel Onderka on “Wad ben Naga: a history of the site” and by Pawel Wolf, Ulrike Nowotnick and Florian Wöß on “Meroitic Hamadab – a century after its discovery” offer much more than just a field season’s report, since they recapitulate knowledge assembled through long periods of fieldwork and study.

Also, the paper by Cornelia Kleinitz on “The graffiti of Musawwarat es-Sufra: current research on historic inscriptions, images and markings at the Great Enclosure” is a very useful description of a project that is very promising, also for matters of literacy in the medieval period.

As a particularly important contribution we consider the paper by Matthew Davies from his fieldwork in South Sudan. It is noteworthy that such attempts are being initiated in the context of the difficult new realities for the South Sudanese.

Otherwise, a thing that changed in this year’s volume of Sudan & Nubia is the number of contributions by Sudanese researchers: only two papers are authored exclusively by Sudanese, while in two more Sudanese are co-authors. Interestingly, Mahmoud Suliman Bashir figures thus on the top of the list of contributors in this volume (behind his name of course there is a long list of field archaeologists and other specialists who are always referred to in detail in the respective reports); Derek Welsby, Ross Thomas, and Vivian Davies appearing (just) twice.

Vivian Davies is actually the author of the Kirwan Memorial Lecture which was expected last year: “From Halfa to Kareima: F.W. Green in Sudan”. And it is in this lecture that Sai Island (and our project!) gains a reference with a drawing from the column capital from the so-called cathedral site that is decorated with the so-much discussed in our blog eight-pointed cross.

From the reference in Davies’ paper to the passing of Green from Jebel Balal, near the village of Kassinger, some kilometres upstream from Jebel Barkal, we are also reminded of the inscription found there in a rock shelter identified by Sayce as an anachorete’s dwelling. The inscription reads:

+ΠΕΤΡΟΣ ΑΠΟΣΤΟΛΟΥ+

+ΑΝΔΡΕΑΣ ΑΠΟΣΤΟΛΟΥ+

The interpretation proposed claims “that the workers for gold believed themselves to be under the patronage of the Apostles Peter and Andrew” (Sayce A.H., “Karian, Egyptian and Nubian-Greek Inscriptions from the Sudan”, Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology 40 (1910), pp. 267-268, pl. xli, no. 12). A logical explanation, but one that considers gold mining in the area as contemporaneous to ascetic activities. If that’s the case, are we to understand the reference to the two brothers who became the first apostles of Jesus as a hint that there was a relation of brotherhood between a “monk” and a “seeker of gold”?

Two more references to medieval inscriptions can be found in Sudan & Nubia 18:

1. In the report from the 2013-4 field season at Dangeil, Julie Anderson, Mahmoud Suliman Bashir and Salah Mohamed Ahmed include the photo (Plate 5) of a Christian (?) period shard with an inscription that they read as H/I?]NOC. If this reading is correct, then the image is published upside down. If the direction of the shard is the one which is shown in the photo though, then the inscription reads something else. I am not able to identify the first letter, but the four that follow read ONTH while there can be discerned a Δ right after written in characteristic Nubian majuscules, just like the rest of the discernible letters. Thus, the shape of the illegible first letter would be either O or Ω. In any case, a very interesting find and will be looking forward to learning more about the medieval phases of life at Dangeil!

2. In the report from the “Excavations in the fort, site KRG2″, 1,2 km from the Hagr el-Merwa Pharaonic site and cemetery, we learn that the site is now to be dated in the medieval period! A note on the ceramics written by Petra Weschenfelder informs us that the Classic Christian period is “the best represented in the ceramic assemblage of the tower area excavated in the 2014 season” and that this assemblage included “incisions of Christian symbols and inscriptions hinting towards the piety of the inhabitants” and “showing that they shared ideas that were part of the cultural milieu of the Christian kingdoms during that period” (quotes from page 152).

Perhaps the most important reference to the medieval period though can be gleaned by the report prepared by Mahmoud Suliman Bashir about the “QSAP Dam-Debba Archaeological Survey Project (DDASP), Preliminary report on the NCAM mission’s first season, 2013-2014″: at site DS 7 at Ganatti the area of the medieval church was expropriated and excavations begun revealing “seven complete, well preserved granite columns lying on the ground surface, together with a dense scatter of red-brick fragments and plaster along with Christian postsherds” (quote from p. 158). Good luck for the challenging work to all members of the team lead by Dr. Elgazafi Youssif!

There is one last point to make about the other paper in which Mahmoud is co-author together with Philippe Ruffieux, namely the “Preliminary report on some New Kingdom amphorae from the Korosko Road”. The structures in which the amphorae were deposited look very much like some of the “Pottery Deposits at the Fourth Cataract” that were recorded by Alexandros Tsakos and Ulrike Nowotnick during surveys in the frame of the Merowe Dam Archaeological Project. The results were published in the 2012 in the Proceedings of the Third International Conference on the Archaeology of the Fourth Nile Cataract, University of Cologne, 13-14 July 2006. Africa Præhistorica 22, pp. 91-99 & pl. 17,1.

The Korosko Road project is one of the British field projects in Sudan. Kurgus, Kawa, and Dangeil are three more. In total, these four projects take up more than half of the 18th volume of Sudan & Nubia, showing the importance of the contributions by the British in Sudan Archaeology.

Interestingly, this weekend took place the 2014 African Archaeology Research Day in Bristol.

AARD 2014

The event brings together (mainly) British archaeologists working in Africa. Sudan was represented by Laurence Smith who must have presented something very similar to his talk in Neuchâtel since the title is the same as then: “Archaeology, Trade and Pilgrimage at Suakin”. Another Sudanological talk was by Maria Gatto who spoke about: “At the border between Egypt and Nubia: ten years of archaeological research in the Aswan-Kom Ombo region”. You can find the full programme HERE.

And with this, we complete a week that was quite marked with English atmosphere, since John Gait, who became a good friend for us, must have just returned to his base in Athens, Greece!

Most probably, the next time we write in our blog, it will be from Paris, where Alexandros is traveling in exactly a week from now in the frame of the Aurora mobility grant. There, lots of work with Robin Seignobos is awaiting. So, nothing more fitting than concluding today’s entry with a picture that Robin sent to us during his last visit to London!

Dongola Road

Nothing really ends…

Today Dr. John Gait gave to us “A new look at old pots” by presenting his work with petrographic and macroscopic analyses of pottery from the Lower Nubian Nile Valley in the 4th and 3rd millennia BC. John was kind enough to allow the presentation to be constantly interrupted by questions from the audience and this helped us enormously to understand the results from the application of such methods for reconstructing a more nuanced picture of the communities whose ceramic industries we are studying.

Image courtesy of the Liverpool World Museum

Image courtesy of the Liverpool World Museum

Moreover, it gave us time to consider how useful the applications of such techniques could be for the Medieval Sai Project that is always in search of the appropriate manner to tackle the difficult site of Dibasha with the clear signs of industrial activity, very probably pottery kilns included.

Dibasha kilns by Medieval Sai Project

Dibasha kilns by Medieval Sai Project

And just then we realized that we had started again dreaming of a return to Sai; nothing really ends…

John’s presentation was the last one in this (first?) Sudan Archaeology Week in Bergen that opened with Cornelia Kleinitz’s talk on Rock art and Graffiti from Ancient Sudan. Cornelia was also the main speaker during the second talk on Tuesday, when Community Archaeology was discussed on the basis of the excellent work that she is doing together with Stefania Merlo from Wits University in South Africa. Cornelia’s main co-panelist was Mohamed Farouq Abdelrahman who joined us through skype from California, staying awake and keeping the discussion very lively until very late in his time zone – in fact almost very early in the morning. John was also present and naturally followed along the whole discussion. It is very difficult not to get engaged in such passionate topics like cultural heritage, politics and archaeology, and the relations of archaeologists with the local communities. Especially in a country like Sudan, with very acute contrasts between traditional lifestyles and violent forms of development; lots of archaeology and even more illegal gold mining; dams that threaten lands (also) of ethnic minorities; controversial legal frameworks; and neo-colonial attitudes in financial investments and scientific collaborations.

In the end of the discussion we knew how we would like to approach the local communities of Sai Island, although we cannot figure out yet how the time-consuming method is applicable to our realities of life… Perhaps the shift of paradigm for conducting fieldwork means a change of mindset… Challenging times to conduct archaeology abroad!

And just as we thought that with such a conclusion we had put an end to the troublesome thoughts about cultural heritage in the Sudan, a post at Azhari Sadig’s blog today made us realize that some things never end…

El Khandaq

The news have circulated only in Arabic, but Azhari gave us this comment a couple of hours ago:

“The issue started yesterday when a government surveyor come to take measurements from a historical house in El Khandaq site (known locally as the Officer House… bait al mamour)… He told professor Intissar Soghayroun el-Zein <from the University of Khartoum who is leading the archaeological works at El Khandaq> that the area was sold including the house!!! and they must ask the office in El Goulid…. The house is already classified for restoration this year and there is agreement between the N.C.A.M., Intissar and Al Wilaya Al Shemalia to protect the site and all buildings inside it…. Still there is no word from N.C.A.M. or the local government…”

Well, that’s one of the cases that one should demand loudly that some things come to an end…

In memoriam Mahmoud Salih

Earlier this afternoon, Henriette introduced the first speaker of this week’s Sudanological events to an audience of mainly students of archaeology from the University of Bergen.

conny talk

We could say many things about Dr. Cornelia Kleinitz, a dear friend and colleague since the first experiences we had in the field of Sudan Archaeology, in the frame of the Merowe Dam Archaeological Salvage Project.

Her credentials can be found in these links:

@humboldt

@topoi

@musawwarat graffiti project

But for the purpose of today’s post, we would rather just note that it was thanks to Conny (as she is known among friends) that Alexandros and Henriette met in 2006, during the first evening of the Nubiological Congress held that year in Warsaw. It was Conny who brought Henriette along to dinner and drinks with a gang of friends formed already in 2004 at the Gdansk Fourth Cataract Archaeology conference.

Another person was very important for Henriette’s meeting with Alexandros: Mahmoud Salih.

Mahmoud Salih

He was the main supporter of a cultural project that Henriette initiated in 2007 and materialized in early winter 2008.

She brought to Sudan two gifted musicians, Joachim Kwetzinsky and Camilla Ediassen. The main venue would take place in Omdurman, at the Folks Art Theatre. The whole visit was under the auspices of the Abdel Karim Mirghani cultural center run by Mahmoud Salih.

Mahmoud Mirghani Haugtussa

And the complementary concert, in a Khartoum context, took place at the Greek Cultural Center where Alexandros organized the event.

Greek cultural center

And this is where our fairy tale begun…

In September 2008, Henriette and Alexandros got married in Bergen, and the Sudanese part of their life was ‘represented’ by Mahmoud Salih.

Mahmoud wedding

A year later, we edited in his honor a Festschrift titled: “Connecting South and North. Sudan Studies from Bergen in honor of Mahmoud Salih”.

The event in the frame of which Henriette presented the book to Mahmoud was not insignificant:

It was the opening day of the Resource Center for International Development in Bergen where the Mahmoud Salih collection of rare books on Sudan is housed.

Where also the main agent of Sudan research in Bergen in the fields of anthropology, political science, development etc., namely the Christian Michelsen’s Institute, met with the Centre of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, the main agent of historical research on Sudan in Bergen.

It is there that later on Alexandros built the archive of Sean O’ Fahey, and there that the archive of Richard Holton Pierce is being built up.

That is also where we would like to see in the future a center for Sudan and Nile Studies in Bergen develop.

The presence of a friend of Sudan and Bergen, like Mahmoud, was always a guarantee that our efforts would find optimism and support – moral and material.

Such a center would have the archives gathered in Bergen as the axis for all related activities.

Alexandros has been involved in this process from very early: the first work completed was the creation of a web space where photos from Darfur taken by Gunnar and Randi Haaland were hosted. This work was titled “Darfur Before” and can be seen HERE.

The scanning, input of metadata, selection and uploading to the net was a work executed by Alexandros under the guidance of the Haalands.

It was therefore only natural that Alexandros was suggesting to Mahmoud from very early in their relationship to plan some interviews where the memories of Mahmoud could be registered and used for the production of a biography or a book about the Salih family history.

The interviews finally took place in December 2012, when Mahmoud was in Bergen for the defense of the doctoral thesis of Marianne Bøe, one of his dear friends here in Bergen.

But it was not easy to make Mahmoud speak of himself.

His genuine modesty and deep respect for his forefathers always turned the attention to them: Osman Salih, his paternal grandfather, a Mahasi from the village of Akad born in 1878, and Salih Osman Salih, his father born in 1906.

Mahmoud was born on the 4th of June 1939 in Omdurman, in the house of his father.

He had to remember six generations before coming to a great grandfather who was born in the Mahas land.

But it was there that the base of the economic dynasty of Salih the farmers and traders was born, based, and developed, although the family did not only do business for personal gain.

Back at Akad, in the late 1940s – early 1950s, they even developed innovative projects of communal ownership and distribution of the agricultural output: Osman Salih, resident in Omdurman, decides to donate his family land at Akad to the community provided that the rest of the owners do the same. They then created a scheme according to which all locals had a share of land that gave to them income from the divided product of dates. This scheme foresaw that none of the Salih family would administrate it. The situation remains the same today.

What else persists today is that the Salihs are not cultivating the land but are trading its product. This has been their job for more than a century now and they have done it with excellent results.

Mahmoud never considered his own life and achievements as worthy of the honor of becoming the focal point of a narrative, biography or otherwise. But the family’s achievements were important for the story of Sudan as a whole.

In Janury 2013, Alexandros visited the archive of the company in Khartoum and was overwhelmed by the amount of data that should be processed in order to achieve this task. Anders Bjørkelo, perhaps the closest friend to Mahmoud here in Bergen adviced to contact professor Ahmed Ibrahim Abushouk.

During his last visit to Bergen, professor Abushouk accepted the invitation to start up a project that would see to the publication of a book about the Salihs.

Alexandros promised to ring Mahmoud and speak about the matter.

He never managed to have a last talk with this great man…

In the early afternoon of the 15th of November 2014, we were ready at home for the children’s party with which we would celebrate the fourth birthday of our eldest son Ilias.

It was then that we received from Elena Vezzadini – these days in Khartoum for fieldwork – the shocking news that on that same day Mahmoud Salih had passed away in London after a severe chest infection.

We are in deep sorrow.

But we want to keep alive his memory and do the best out of the fantastic energy that this man spread around him: dedicate a periodical Sudanological venue in Bergen to his memory and build around the treasures that he has deposited at our University an archive where Sudan Studies will continue to thrive in one of the many homes that Mahmoud had in this world, one of the many places that mourn him and will deeply miss him for times to come.

Rest in bliss oustaz Mahmoud…

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