Things from Old Nubia in Bergen – part I

On Wednesday starts in Bergen a workshop on Old Nubian, which is based on a collaboration aiming at the publication of the collection of manuscripts discovered in the 1960s at the island of Attiri in Lower Nubia, Sudan. About the event you can see here a first announcement in the UiB webpage:

http://www.uib.no/ahkr/88958/reading-old-nubian-manuscripts-attiri-island-sudan

More things about the workshop will appear both here and in a new post at the webpage of the Research group on Middle Eastern and African Studies at our university.

There are still a couple of days until the event though, and we wish to grasp the opportunity to present two objects that link UiB in a very particular way  with:

– first, the study of Old Nubian and

– second, the finding conditions of the Attiri manuscripts, namely the Aswan High Dam campaign launched by UNESCO in the 1960s.

It is the latter point that will be the focus of today’s entry.

From all these important Sudan-specialists in Bergen that have appeared in the posts of this blog, there is only one who has been part of this campaign: Richard Holton Pierce.

Pierce is professor emeritus and has spent most of his academic career in Bergen. The reason is that his wife, Wenche, comes from Bergen. She is in fact the only person from Bergen that has excavated in Lower Nubia. Richard and Wenche took up the responsibility of excavating for the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago the fortress on the island of Dorgi, a unique site for the history of Nubia.

We will not offer here a biography or a praise of these persons, although the time for this will also come sooner than later. We will just present one image that Pierce shared with us and the story that lies behind it, as he narrated it; one of these innumerable stories that never make it to the books, but that are the salt and pepper of life on the field.

Hassan's stein

Hassan, the donkey driver who supplied the ORINST dig house with water, had a particularly fine animal. Some of the villagers were said to disapprove of the excessive care he bestowed on the beast and held that it had become undisciplined. Hassan thought otherwise, and one day he asked Wenche, my wife, if she would like to take a ride on it. Wenche was reluctant but gave way. According to Wenche, no sooner was she mounted than the donkey took one look over his shoulder, decided she was just a girl (bint bass), bolted, and set out on a joyride into the desert. After he was satisfied that she had been thoroughly tossed and bounced on the wooden saddle, he threw her onto a sand dune and returned to the village. There he bit a neighbor’s donkey. A delegation came to the dig house, demanding compensation for the injured donkey, a case we left Hassan to negotiate. The joyride was passed over in discrete silence. A good while later, Hassan gave me the cracked stein in the photo as a token of friendship. I have cherished it to this very day.

Hassan was a veritable storehouse of knowledge about donkeys and their ways. On another occasion he explained to me that if you wanted to get a donkey to mate, you should whisper in its ear “harr shuff shuff shuff”. I was sceptical, but one day when I was walking to the dig past the “parking lot” where dozens of the workers donkeys were tethered, I decided to see what would happen if i put Hassan’s method to the test. The result was instantaneous and a tad disconcerting. The test donkey set to braying loud and long, and was soon accompanied by others nearby until finally the entire gathering was joined in a chorus of braying that reverberated across the Nile. No explanation for this remarkable incident was ever found — or proffered from my side.

Thank you very much for this Richard Holton Pierce!

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