Seeing a girl walking in the streets wearing a long-tailed, transparent black dress with another colourful dress beneath it, is not a familiar sight for Cairo residents. The uniqueness of the costume soon contributes to joy when passersby learn that it’s the traditional outfit worn by Nubian girls before they hear about the history of Nubia.
In a set of pictures, Nubian Knights—a group of Nubians living in Cairo—featured the life of a Nubian girl, while she spent a day practising different activities in the streets of Cairo while wearing a traditional outfit, in an attempt to introduce people to their culture. This is part of their latest online campaign called “A Nubian girl in Cairo”.
Nubian Knights is an initiative that launched in 2011 by 15 Nubians youth living in Cairo. Through online campaigns, workshops, concerts, and seminars, the group aims to spread Nubian culture among Egyptians in order to raise awareness of their forgotten history.
In their latest campaigns, the initiative documented through several pictures the reaction of people when they saw a girl wearing El-Jerjar (a traditional Nubian female costume) while riding the metro, grocery shopping, or walking down the street. In an unfamiliar scene to them, the camera captured people while they stopped Nubian model Dalia Shaaban, asking her about the reason she is dressed that way.
“We are astonished by people’s ignorance when it comes to Nubia,” said Dina Shaaban, the initiative’s general coordinator. “Until now, all people know about Nubia are prominent singer Mohammed Mounir and the cartoon character Bakaar.”
The campaign also attempts to encourage Nubians living in Egypt to revive their heritage by wearing their traditional outfits and talking their language. The pictures are taken by Nubian photographer Kausar Ali.
“Nubian girls are just like other Egyptian women. We go out and practise daily activities; however, we want to do that while wearing traditional outfits we feel loyal to,” Shaaban said.
In Nubian culture, El-Jergar is an extremely long-tailed dress. According to their belief, the dress’ tail has to be long enough to reach the ground beneath the girl who’s wearing it, in order to erase her foot trace. That way, no one knows the places she heads to or where she lives. Nubians believe that this is a form of protecting their women and respecting their privacy.
Their culture also imposes that El-Jerjar has to be black. However, it can be transparent in order to reveal the colourful dresses worn underneath.
The journey Dalia took to introduce people to her traditions started with riding the metro, going to the supermarket, a local coffee shop, and ended with a walk down the streets of Fatimid Cairo. However, it paid off as many people stopped Dalia asking her about her “stylish, yet weird dress”.
“People were really amazed,” Dalia stated. “Men stopped me to ask what the dress represents, and when I answered that this is my culture’s tradition, they wanted to know more and more about Nubia.”
After they talked to some people about Nubia, they were asked why not all Nubian girls dressed that way, since it looks nice, stylish, and elegant, she added.
As they talked to random people about their tradition, the group also mentioned their culture’s history and struggles throughout the years.
“At the end of the day, I was really happy to represent Nubian girls and Nubia’s heritage, and I really wish all of us could wear our traditional outfits all the time,” Dalia concluded.