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