Kibra which is home to most Nubians.

The story of Nubians of Kenya has been told several times before and on many forums. What should be clarified though is the fact that there is a common confusion between Nubia and Nuba Mountains. The former is almost at the border of Sudan and Egypt. The mountains are at the border of South Sudan and Sudan.

When the British army in Egypt descended southwards to Sudan around 1850 they had Arab officers in their senior ranks. The Arabs were used to forcefully recruit local black Sudanese to join the Kings African Rifles (KAR) for purposes of forming a strong contingent to help fight the Germans in East Africa during the two world wars.

Since Arabs were Muslims, they encountered animists and pagans who did not profess Islam like them. As they recruited them into the army they also converted them to the Islamic faith. All the senior ranking officers were from Nubia hence the word ‘Nubians’.

The more they converted local indigenous tribes the more the local languages disappeared since the soldiers adopted a mixture of their own language and Arabic as their means of easy communication. The new lingua franca was named ‘Nubian’.

Nubian was basically a language created to serve recruited soldiers. It soon became known as a version of Arabic or if you may wish ‘bastardized Arabic’. The new recruits were drawn from along the Nile Valley hence included the Shilluk, Dinka, Nuer, Bari, Moru, Mundari, Kuku, Madi, Acholi, Kakwa, Pajulu and Zande.

African soldiers during the World War 1.

Although the soldiers embraced the new language, they still identified with their origin or genealogy using the term or prefix ‘bab’ meaning ‘your ancestry’. Therefore any Nubian would first identify themselves as ‘bab-Shilluk’ or ‘bab-Bari’ or ‘bab-Mundari’. Few although still speak their original language besides acquired Nubian. Comparatively, Nubian was like Sheng in Kenya where urbanised children may speak their mother tongue but mostly use Sheng for common usage.

The more south the soldiers moved the more they appeared as one homogeneous entity called ‘Nubians’ bound by one language ‘Nubian,’ a name derived from where the officer soldiers came from. After World War One, the soldiers never went back home to their respective communities. They stayed wherever they had been demobilised.

The British colonial government failed to honour their promise of sending them back home and instead allocated them land to form new homes.

In Uganda they were mostly settled in Bombo, Kampala. Others were scattered in Arua, Gulu, Masindi and Masaka. In Kenya they were settled in Kibra, Kibigori, Kibos, Kisii, Mazera and Eldama Ravine.

The Nubian influence in East Africa is mostly felt in chang’aa (Nubian Gin) brewing or ‘Waragi’ which is a corruption of an Arabic word ‘erik’ meaning ‘sweat,’ a distillation by-product.