From Selma Badawi
Sudan is a treasure. I have learned that when I visited the country last November and December. It’s a land full of contradictions and grievances, but it also has a wonderful cultural treasure. I have seen lots of historical juwels when I traveled around with my family and friends. It is important to pass the word about these unknown attractions to everyone possible because in the outside. In order to reappraoach to the international community, where Sudan was long enough excluded from academical and touristic exchange has to take place. We can profit as much as Sudan itself from adressing the cultural, forgotten treasure of this African country.
The first big discovery I made were the pyramids of Merowee. An incredible landscape, fallen out of time, and lying there mostly unnoticed from culture-political institutions. In a desert in North Sudan, along the banks of the Nile River, lies a collection of nearly 200 ancient pyramids—many of them tombs of the kings and queens of the Meroitic Kingdom which ruled the area for more than 900 years. The Meroë pyramids, smaller than their Egyptian cousins, are considered Nubian pyramids. Nubia is the name of the region and also refers to a historical tribe. The Pyramids were built between 2,700 and 2,300 years ago, with decorative elements from the cultures of Pharaonic Egypt, Greece, and Rome with whome the local Kings had lots of interactions.
Though the pyramids are one of the main attractions for Sudan’s tourists, the local tourism industry has been devastated by a series of economic sanctions imposed by various Western nations throughout the course of the country’s civil war and the conflict in Darfur. Also the ministery in charge of cultural heritage leaves this places without renovation and financial support. Seeing these artefacts in such a neglected state, I was deeply concerned. How can we save this treasure? I think reactivating the international interest in these places could be one way to try. At them moment, according to reports, Sudan receives fewer than 15,000 tourists per year, compared to past estimates of as many as 150,000.
This has to change, because the country is full of surprises, lovely and unique places, like the miraculous beaches in South Sudan or the pure green mountain landscape in the West. Sudan is divers, exciting, surprising and breath-taking. I was particularly amazed by all the historical leftovers from the war of 1899. The military conflict between the British and the Mahdi movement is well known on the side of English history, but not well presented from the Sudanese point of view. The international public is not aware of this past and unfortunately the Sudanese government did not much to shed light on the remaining monumental artefacts you can still find in Khartoum and Omdurman.
There are for example the two original gunboats «Melik» and «Bordein» lying unprotected and unrestored in Omdurman and Khartoum. They were not put in museums neither enriched by special devices so that you could guess their historical relevance. As a matter of fact they played a major role in the English – Sudanese war which ended with occupation of the British and the termination of the Mahdi rule over Sudan.
Today the protective wall in Omdurman with its little holes through which the soldiers used to shoot still reminds of the big defeat in Sudanese History in 1899. Unfortunately it only reminds people who already know the history and who pay special attention while driving through Omdurman. There are no signs that anybody takes care of this monument. No official marks could let us believe that the ministry of culture even took notice of this treasure. Same is with the memorial of the died English soldiers in Omdurman al-Waha, an inconspicuous pillar even though surrounded with a grid barrier. Inside and outside the cordoned off area lies trash und the pillar does not interest any of the private housekeepers or shop owners around it. Such a sad appearance, a strange atmosphere and absence of awareness that you would want to shout to wake people up. I at least wanted to grap my companions at their shoulders and shake them intensively to make them see their own ancestors history.
But as sandy as the surrounding neighborhood, the pillar which tells about English as well as sudanese history is covered in dust and neglection – and nobody stops to blow away the dust of oblivion.
What I talk about is not an exception, a coincidence or an exageration. It is what the status quo in most places of Sudan and most countries in Africa. So what can we do? Talk about what we see. It is our to duty to kick off discourses about African cultural assets and their conservation. Because obviously lots of natives have unlearned to value their own past and culture. In the middle to political, economic and health crises culture is a treasure that stands back soon in the shadow. When a people struggles with the long-time impacts of colonialism and imperialism on top, it is even harder to find a way back to the recognition and care of its own culture goods. Say I call for discourses everywhere, to give people back the awareness for their treasure. After all European powers to it from Africa and now it’s time to give back some good energy.