Thumbnail image for this story (this will show up on the stories page of the site):
Relevant issues for this story, separated by commas (eg. war, race, gender):
Geographical region for this story (eg. Africa, Middle East, Southeast Asia):
Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa
Relevant key words for this story, separated by commas (eg. Africa, Hurricane Katrina, Mother Teresa):
Nuba, Religion, Sudan, Islam, Christianity, Peace, Africa, Conflict
A short summary for this story that will go on the stories page (1-2 sentences):
A photo-documentary focusing on the Nuba of Sudan, a people noted noted for its tolerance of diversity with different faiths, cultures and languages living together. At the moment that the pieces of the Sudan peace puzzle are being fitted, the Nuba in Sudan could serve as a guide for how the two sides can live together in a new Sudan.
Francesco Zizola

2004 — professional

The Sudanese government and the southern rebels' Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) are one step away from a final peace agreement, ending a 20 year civil war which has killed 2 million people. A deal to equally split the country's new found oil wealth between north and south was reached in January of this year. The present 250,000 barrels pumped per day is expected to rise to 500,000 barrels by 2005. But the boundaries of the south have not yet been defined. Three areas straddling the north-south divide are still disputed, one of which are the Nuba Mountains, an area believed to be rich in oil wealth.

Why the Nuba?

Strategically positioned like a cushion between black Christian and Arab Islamic Africa, the Nuba Mountains are located in the center of Africa's largest country. The Nuba sought refuge in the Mountains when they rebelled against the Sharia (Islamic) law imposed by the government in Khartoum in 1983 and joined sides with southern Sudan (largely black animists and Christians) in the war.

For decades, the Nuba were completely cut off from the rest of the world - and forced to live under prehistoric conditions. This total isolation caused serious hardship to a people already suffering the dramatic conditions caused by the war. They were subject to ethnic cleansing, the forced “Arabization” of the population (thousands of women and children were abducted, gang raped, and taken north to be used as concubines and slaves), repeated aerial bombings of schools, hospitals, refugee camps, churches and other civilian targets.

The absence of even the most basic necessities: medicine, food, salt, clothing, paper, pencils - caused unquantifiable suffering to these peoples, who faced their lot with strength and dignity and fought to keep a hold on their ancient culture.

In fact, it is thanks to this ancient culture that the Nuba have endured. Fire building, farming techniques and not last, their wrestling tradition - allowed them to survive and maintain tribal and inter-tribal relationships. From an anthropological viewpoint, this created a type of laboratory — and uncontaminated by the social-economic progress to which the rest of Africa has been subjected, the Nuba are an anomaly in Africa.

On another level, the Nuba are an exception in a region not generally noted for its tolerance of diversity. Different faiths, cultures and languages live together. The one and a half million Nuba comprise 52 different tribes - each with its own language and culture. The majority of Nuba families are mixed, living their subsistence existence - untouched by the modern world. In a land without roads or cars, without electricity or running water.

I have traveled four times to the Nuba Mountains (in 1997, 1998, 2001 and 2002) and have documented the Nuba's struggle, as they sought to survive and maintain their traditions in one of the most remote places in Africa.

Today, the presence of peace and the expected subsequent flow of oil revenues would mean the beginning of development for the Nuba Mountains. I would like to continue bearing witness, by documenting how the Nuba develop as the community straddles the fault line between north and south. My interest is twofold: explore the change peace brings to this ancient society as it marries its traditions to the exigencies of the modern world and rebuilds a civil society - with schools, hospitals, roads; and document this potential for peace and cultural development in the Nuba Mountains because it can serve as a model for how the rest of Sudan can find a balance and a chance for peace.

A photo-documentary which focuses on this community at the moment that the pieces of the Sudan peace puzzle are being fitted - could help promote understanding between the two sides as they strive towards peace. The Nuba in Sudan could serve as a microcosm for how the two sides can live together - its history of cultural cohabitation and understanding would make it the perfect guide for a new Sudan.

Read more
Getting from Kauda to the markets in Kerker in the Nuba Mountains is almost always done on foot. Only a handful of vehicles move along the road, almost all belonging to the UN or non-governmental organizations. Francesco Zizola/Alexia Foundation
Nuba return from work in the fields. Notwithstanding the war, the Nuba would come down from their makeshift homes in caves to cultivate farmland. There was no other way to provide food for their families, despite the danger of being caught by government soldiers. Francesco Zizola/Alexia Foundation
The Nuba have practiced a form of wrestling since 2,800 B.C. Wrestling is an important Nuba tradition that has helped foster tribal and inter-tribal relationships. The Nuba have the longest unbroken martial arts tradition in the world. Francesco Zizola/Alexia Foundation
A battalion of soldiers performs maneuvers in the early morning at Kody in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan. In the post-war period, a new joint armed forces is being formed that is half Nuba and half government forces. Francesco Zizola/Alexia Foundation
At Tira Limon in the Nuba Mountains, a young boy clambers on a rock above a peaceful-looking scene. In January, 2002, the Sudanese government and the southern rebels ended a 21-year civil war. In June, 2005, The UN took over monitoring the cease fire. Francesco Zizola/Alexia Foundation
In Luera, Leila Kapirerno, 35, appears in partial shadow.  In 1995, government soldiers captured Leila’s husband, tortured and killed him, leaving her with six children. Afterward, she hid in caves until government soldiers forced her and other displaced people out with machine guns. Francesco Zizola/Alexia Foundation
A recently deceased man is prepared for a burial service. Tens of thousands of Nuba died in the last two decades. The civil war has claimed 2 million lives across the country, mainly from hunger and disease, and forced more than 4 million people from their homes. Francesco Zizola/Alexia Foundation
In commemoration of the Nubas’ struggle, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army organizes celebrations at Tira Limon in the Nuba Mountains. The celebration has become a national holiday during which the Nuba practice ancient traditions including dance and wrestling. Francesco Zizola/Alexia Foundation