Nubian People – Who Are The Nubian People?

The Nubi are one of Kenya’s most forgotten people who live in Kibera Slums of Nairobi. The history of Nubi dates back to 1820, when they migrated from Sudan to Kenya. Kibera was set aside by the Colonial Government as a settlement for the Nubi ex-soldiers and their dependants (soldiers


The Nubi are one of Kenya’s most forgotten people who live in Kibera Slums of Nairobi.  The history of Nubi dates back to 1820, when they migrated from Sudan to Kenya. Kibera was set aside by the Colonial Government as a settlement for the Nubi ex-soldiers and their dependants (soldiers who fought for the British in the Second World War 11). The population of Nubi stands at an estimated 40,000 – about 200,000 spread across the country (Standard Newspaper 7th Oct 2004). Though its been difficult to get the population of Nubians, though  with the  coming population census in 2019, there is a high probability that the population of Nubians will be documented .

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The Nubi community is also made up of small ethnic groups e.g. Bari, Mundus, Kakwa, Lendu, Moru, Madi, Dinka, Azande, and Ligbara.  The most striking characteristics of the Nubi people are their strong adherence to Islam. The use of the Nubi vernacular was highly encouraged and the fact that they are cultural loyal to Islam reflects the community close ties, whereby relatives -that is cousins care allowed to marry, this is a taboo in other cultures. The Nubi practiced a patriarchal structure, whereby women and children were never heard or valued.   Their physical appearance – they are black and some jet black in colour and enormous heights. Their rich traditional dressing code is partly Islamic.

This article attempts to share the rituals and ceremonies performed by the Nubians in marking stages of growth and growth with regards to the Nubian tradition and culture. Divisions of the life span are arbitrary. They differ from one society to the next and they change from one time in history to another. Living in traditional African societies has made us aware of the value of the rites of passage for the individual and the community. Ceremonies that mark the stages of life from birth to death provides clear definitions of what is expected of the individuals and give her or him a sense of identity and belonging. Ceremony is the structure of celebrating the passage from one stage of life to another and the ritual is the powerful mechanism for keeping in touch with one’s own spirit and the spirit world.

Pregnancy and birth

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In the Nubian community, Pregnancy and birth are special events in the life of a woman and it is an indication that God has blessed the family and that the ancestors approve of the marriage relationship. This is strictly adhered to and the couple must have been married. When conception becomes evident there is joy in the family and the community at large as a new member is brought into the community and the woman is considered very special as she is considered as a source of human life and fertility.

A child is believed to be a gift from God and continuation of life. During this time old women were consulted for their wisdom and they would take care of the pregnant women until the due date. After the birth of the child, the person present at that moment has to adhin-the saying of Islam prayer and initiating the new born to Islam right away. The mother and the child are welcomed with a lot of joy. If it’s a boy child, it undergoes taru (circumcision) takes place after seven days, so that the baby does not experience a lot of pain. The baby and the mother are taken care of, the community believes that this is the time that the mother needs to be taken care off so that she can also take care of the baby. Within the next forty days the mother is not expected to cook for the husband and sex is prohibited during the same as to give the woman time to heal. On that day a ceremony for the forty days is held and the woman goes back to her routine work and it is believed that she has also been purified to rejoin the community and is mentally healthy to care for herself and her family.

Naming ceremonies and rituals are varied and take place at different times, it can be before the child is born or immediately after birth. In case of twins, it is automatic, for the girls they are named Malasen (first) and Toma and for the boys they are names Hassan (first) and Hussein. Twins were also considered to be sacred and blessing and they commanded a lot of respect from the community. While for the other children, the child is always named after a successful and morally upright person and also the name must be from the Quran (Muslim holy book) then it is followed by a goat eating ritual known as Hakika. For a boy child, two goats and for the girl child one goat, slaughter and cut at joints only, boiled without salt and shared to relatives and community members and after the feasting, all the bones are put together and buried in one lot. Then eventually the hair of the child is shaved off. From the foregoing, it’s evident that the Nubian community values the boy child more than the girl child.


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Nubian community consist of single families, extended families and lineage ,all of which create a broad base  of support for children .Kinship terms  such as the ‘’uncle’’  and ‘’aunties” are often used  for a wide range  of people-not only  the parent siblings. The mother takes most of the responsibilities and during the early years of childhood. When the child is ready to emulate and learn then learning was from the extended families.  At this stage, language became very important and the stages of toilet training, and eventually the child learn from the community.

Eventually, the child goes through another stage of socialization, which is the Madrasa (Koranic school).  In the Madrasa, knowledge and skills are imparted and this was blended with religion. This was a special way of socializing the children .At the Madrasa, boys were isolated from the girls, they learnt in different classrooms and socialization between the girls and boys was minimal in the Nubi Community.  The Madrasas did not broaden the knowledge of the children and interaction was minimal.  This can be observed as one of the shortcomings of this kind of socialization. During leisure time, the boys spent time with men while the girls were learning hands on experience on how to weave handicrafts, cooking so in a way this is where the gender roles were defined and practiced. During this time the girls undergo taru as well; this was in away to reduce adolescent confusion and to make the girls less sexually active.

At adolescence, the boys were initiated into adulthood when they break their voices balekhe while the girl’s initiation was based on the menstruation. The moment the women learnt of the girl’s new condition, then the girl is brought into womanhood by being taught the roles of housewives. The aunties, uncles and grandparents and it marked an entry into adulthood, did this. This period provides the next stage of life and assumes more adult responsibilities. It provides the individual with instruction about what is expected in the next phase of life. It allows a child to develop with a sense of direction and meaning.


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The dressing code changes tentatively for the women to clad in “Gurbaba” (ankle length kind of kikoi) and draped their upper bodies and face with long colorful scarves and later she receives a strand of sukusuku (beads) that she will wear throughout her adult life .After  marriage ,the husband may refer  to her waist  beads as ‘’a man’s rosary”. The men wore “Kanzu” (long white gowns) and hats.

This stage involves the learning of the adulthood roles, which are more the less related to marital roles.  The marriages were arranged by the parents of the man who approaches the family of the bride to be.  In the Nubi Community, cousins were allowed to marry and men were given the privileges of marrying up to four wives as accepted by the religion as well long as the husband could take care of all the wives.

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Marriages took place in the Nubi Community only (no inter-tribal marriages) and to some extent to other Muslims.  In all these, the women’s voice is not heard (not decision makers) and women were not to socialize before men.  As concerns the roles, the ladies were to cook, take care of their husbands and children while the men had to provide for the family. For her marriage the Nubian girl under goes a series of beauty treatment that mark her transition to woman hood using herbs that are natural.

During jouju (weddings, women enjoy a lot, as this is the only chance to socialize with other women.  This is the time that, most women look forward to especially during the traditional dances (doluka). This influences the mood, emotions and feeling that colours the ceremony. Nubians weddings were ancient and very colorful.  The bride was tattooed with Mendi (henna) on her fingers, nails, and the soles of her feet and this ensured that a girl going away from her mother’s home meets good fortune.  The longer it stays on her fingers, the better as that is a sign that her man is not forcing her to do menial jobs. The bride is dressed in a white gown over a “gurbaba” and covered in a white scarf and the utmost beauty lies in her hair which plaited in cornrows topped with elaborate hair extensions and her forehead covered with a massive gold pendant.  The bridegroom is adorned in a white “kanzu, a jet black coat and a red hat.

The bride is escorted to her new home with a uziri (best maid) whose main role was to assist the husband if the girl resisted consummating the marriage and to witness the girl’s  loss of virginity .That night , a cloth displaying  the virgin blood would be displayed  to the women waiting outside and eventually taken to the brides parents to share the joy with the rest of the community. Marriage is   a major passage into responsible adulthood and it completes adult status.

A brides’ foot that has been tattooed in preparation of r the wedding ceremony

At the weddings, the food is always traditional which includes meat stew, bean stew, vegetables, “kisira” a kind of flat fermented bread, rice”pilau”(spiced rice mixed with meat) , okra sauce, “gurusa” a thicker and bitter tasting bread, ”mongo lobo”( a kind of deep fried snack).  The food is uniform in all weddings.

On the plate is the kisira and the meat stew specially prepared during weddings only. The community has been socialized to eat while seated on the special mats as shown in the picture.


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In Nubian community, the celebration of the life of a mature adult attains its climax when he, she is ushered into elderhood. A person first moves from adulthood to junior elderhood and later to senior adulthood. Elderhood is seen as an inescapable stage of human growth and development, the last stage before death. Elderhood rites are ceremonies that elevated a mature adult in the community as a custodian of culture and moral guardian.  it is also seen as a preparation  for ancestor hood. Elders were also prepared for death and it is the responsibility of the men to bury at the graveyard, (the deceased was draped in white linen from head to toe then wrapped in a mat then put in a makeshift casket to facilitate the removal from the house to the graveyard. Different colored clothing were spread on the casket to identify, if the deceased was a man or woman and for children was neutral) while the women were left at home while the men proceeds to the burial site .

Nubi burials coincides with the Islamic burials rituals and are quite cheap in that they are no mortuary scenes and is highly recommended that the body is buried the same day of death unless the death occurs at night and or the immediate family members are not within so in this case the burial will take place the next day.  Burials are conducted after a mass at the Mosque and it is mostly after the 1 o’clock prayers called “Dhuhuri” and it is rarely conducted after the 4 o’clock prayers “Asir” as this is considered as the beginning of dusk. The community mourns for about forty days and final prayers are said and the widower stays in the house for another four months ten days for them to know whether she was left pregnant and if so then she is given the option of staying until the birth of the baby and can later decided to live amongst the family members 


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Each community has its unique way of marking the stages of human growth and development. What seems to be common among most communities are the stages or the phases of growth and development that each individual has to undergo-thus people are a product of their culture .It follows then, that the members of a society will be similar in many fundamental respects, although there are some individual exceptions and sub cultural variations.  Powerful social forces shape the individual, but we must not forget that people are not utterly predictable. Moreover, human beings are actively involved in shaping the social landscape. It is important to note that, some of the African rituals and ceremonies have disappeared and the Western ways are the belief systems of many cultures. Concerned that many of these ceremonies and rituals are in imminent danger of being lost. Ceremonies that mark the stages of life from birth to death provides clear definition  of what is expected of the individual and give her or him  a sense of identity  and belonging.

In traditional African societies, the passage from one stage of life to the next marked with important rituals and ceremonies. From the moment of birth, an African is connected to family .to community and to the ancestors.