Geri Fai Omir: picture books to revive and teach Nubian languages

Today we’re delighted to welcome Sudanese and Nubian author and artist Ramey Dawoud to tell us about an exciting collaboration between Geri Fai Omir and independent publisher, Taras Press: they’re publishing four bilingual children’s books to support children in learning modern Nubian, spoken since ancient times in southern Egypt and northern Sudan…

Hello, my name is Ramey Dawoud, and in addition to being a musician and an actor, I’m also one of the authors in the Geri Fai Omir project, bringing children’s books to the Nubian language.

I want to add my voice to the World Kid Lit Month to talk about how children’s books can help bring languages under threat like Nubian to a new generation, as well as reflecting on my own process as an author dealing with multiple languages.

First, let me tell you a little bit about Nubia and the languages of Nubia. Nubia straddles the border of Egypt and Sudan and is a community with thousands of years of history. Now, part of this history is our written script which recorded Nubian history from as early as the 6th century but has fallen out of regular use. This is one of the oldest indigenous written scripts in Africa and preserves a history that is important to our community, of course, but also a huge chapter of world history of Indigenous and African communities, that are skipped over in history books.

So, we’ve written these books, each one aimed at a different level of learner, to help Nubians to read and write our own language, as well as to share that with others. Many of the people who speak Nubian languages today, including the two largest groups – Nobiin and Andandi – used in the books are older, and don’t write in the Nubian script. By making these books fun for children and available in bilingual editions that are well suited to their learning levels, we’re revitalizing our language. We hope that other people even who aren’t Nubian will also be interested in these books, not only because they are beautifully illustrated and have fun stories, but also because it’s an entry point to a period of history and a world that should be better known.

Another thing worth sharing is actually how we wrote these books. We’re all Nubians, but we’re not all fluent. We couldn’t have just sat down and written these books. Each of the authors in this project has been affected differently by marginalization of our Nubian languages and has grown up with a different combination of Arabic, English and other languages. But these stories are a product of that, and they reflect each of those these languages in a different way.

We have versions of the books in Arabic, Nobiin, Andandi and English, but we can’t even say that they are just translations from one language, because we’re familiar with all of them at the same time. This is one of the beauties of World Kid Lit: it’s that it reflects the world we live in. And we hope when you see our Nubian books, you won’t just say “Oh, that’s a nice project for Nubians.” No, no, it’s a project for all of us, and you can read the English or Arabic text in our bilingual versions. Now we’re realistic that those are more widely spoken, but still appreciate that the Nubian language was written before the oldest manuscripts we have in either of those languages. And it’s still alive today.

So, thank you for letting me add my voice to those of many others in the World Kid Lit Month, and if you want to follow the Geri Fai Omir project – which means Read, Write and Count in Nubian – we’re on Twitter and Instagram. And you can get the books at TarasPress.com/Nubian (editor: the link will be up and running later this month). Now, they’re just being released this month and what we’re going to do is we’re going to release them to our backers from our successful Kickstarter campaign first, and then to the general public, so check it out if you are a lover of Nubia.

Affielago!

Alphabet chart in Nabra’s Nubian Numbers by Ramey Dawoud, written in Sawarda Nubian (Taras Press / Geri Fai Omir)