National Geographic : 1966 Nov
When we left, it was always "Gute Nacht." The Negroid tribes of the Nuba Mountains total perhaps half a million people. Sudanese administrators call them all "Nuba," but by no means are they a uniform group.* Fewer than 1,000 may form a tribal unit, and a ridge of mountains may separate people with lan guages so different that they cannot converse with each other. "We came from the plains," a Masakin elder told me. "Six... ten generations ago there was much tribal warfare, the Arabs came south, and slave traders from east and west pushed us into the mountains. "High in the hills we built our round hous es like forts. Only in recent years have we once more come to the foothills." At Tadoro we were close to six other com munities of the Short Masakin-Reikha, To sara, Tamuri, Tosobi, Taballa, and Buram. Each has twenty to fifty houses. The popula tion of these villages, plus the neighboring Tall Masakin, totals about 6,000. One still night the wailing of women woke us. First it was one voice, then others took up the mournful plaint. The ululating chorus *Other Nuba groups were described in "With the Nuba Hillmen of Kordofan," by Robin Strachan, NA TIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, February, 1951. 686 was not unmusical, rising and falling like the moaning of an uneven wind, but there was no mistaking that the sounds were those of unut terable sadness. In the morning, a small group of young men passed by on the way to dig a grave, and we learned that an old man, the father of one of the secondary chiefs, had died "between one day and the next." Three deaths occurred in Tadoro while we were there. The others were a boy of 14 and a woman in her middle years. Only the wom en wailed to lament the souls' passing; the men betrayed no sign of emotion. Payment for a Back Cure-One Cow The Masakins' health seemed good, and some looked to be very old. But vital statistics were hard to come by, for the passing years go unnoticed amid these lonely hills. Almost every day, we spent several hours disinfecting and bandaging cuts and dispens ing pills, powders, and ointments. Our white bandages, glaring against black skin, were often worn as badges of honor. One young man, overjoyed at losing a decayed tooth painlessly-we had injected Novocain begged Dr. Herz to yank all his teeth on the spot to avert future trouble.