Destroying the Traditional Nuba People—George Clooney Brings Attention to the Nuba Mountains

Southeast Nuba traditional body painting

George Clooney had himself arrested to bring attention to the one-sided warfare being inflicted by the northern Sudanese government on the people of the Nuba Mountains—and he has done much more than that, he has set up the Sudan Sentinel Project to monitor the ongoing human-rights abuses. The crux of the problem is that the Nuba Mountains are located north of the newly created border with Southern Sudan, though the people there are aligned with the southern Sudanese. New Yorker online: FREEING SUDAN—AND GEORGE CLOONEY

The traditional body arts of the Nuba have been a major inspiration for my work (see related articles below). In addition to the destructive actions of years of civil war and government aggression, their traditions have long been under cultural attack. In my research for the article on the Nuba for my book in 2005, I read in a National Geographic Magazine that the body art traditions have pretty much vanished from their culture. The religiously conservative Sudanese government was against traditional nakedness and bodypainting, and were working to eradicate those traditions—a primary method they were using was to put satellite TVs into community centers, to lure younger members of the tribal groups into a fascination with modern culture and away from their traditions.

From "Body Decoration", fotos 1975 and 1977

The film “Worlds Apart: The Southeast Nuba” (©1982 B.C. Bristol, directed by Chris Curling) described how the incredible quality of their bodypainting had itself caused cultural upheaval after they became an international sensation via the photographs published by Leni Riefenstahl in the 1970s. Once the villages became tourist destinations, the influx of outsiders and money changed their society and broke down traditional social roles. The young men would wait around for a tourist group to show up and pay them to paint themselves, rather then going to tend their fields and animals.

Probably the best resource for an understanding of world body art traditions is “Body Decoration: A World Survey of Body Art” by Karl Gröning, and accompanying his preface are two photographs of a young Nuba man, taken two years apart, one in traditional body art and one in modern cloths. This is a vanished art, lost in the influences of exposure to tourists, money and the modern world, under the pressure of the horrible violence that has plagued these people for decades.

Today, there is the greater threat that the people themselves may vanish.

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Video from the Enough Project:

WARNING: This video contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

In a recent trip across the Sudanese border into rebel-held territory in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains, George Clooney witnessed rocket attacks and the effects of aerial bombardment by the Sudanese regime against the Nuban people. This trip diary was written and directed by George Clooney in the field with the Enough Project.

To take action, text SUDAN to 30644.

Related articles

About the face and Body Painting:

Traditional Bodyart – Nuba; Sudan; Africa – 1: changing my perceptions

Traditional Bodyart – Nuba, Sudan, Africa- 2: Nuba Personal Art

The Nuba Bird Dance at Bodies Alive! – Nao Dance Collective

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