XI. Folklore

(The following text is quoted from Osman 2004)

 “Today the district around Jebel Barkal is occupied by the Shaigiya tribe, a people formed of mixed Arab and Nubian elements.  These people evolved and settled here before the 14th century and, remarkably, they still have stories and myths about the mountain that seem to have connections with what is academically and archaeologically known about it.

As for the origin of the name of Jebel Barkal, local stories relate that it was derived from that of an ancient king named Barkal, who used to live nearby.  It is said that he was a hard-headed dictator.  He used to form his people into two lines between Barkal and el-Kassinger (about 10 km upstream) to provide him with wine.  The cup was filled at el-Kassinger and was handed by the people one to the other until it reached him in his palace near the mountain.  Then the empty cup was returned the same way, to be filled again.  El-Kassinger earned this name because of the interactions of the two words:  el-kass (‘the cup”) and inger (‘was pulled”).

Another tale presents the mountain as the location of a kingdom of jinn.  These spirits lived in the mountain, guarding a golden treasure stored there.  It is said that a queen of the jinn once came out of the mountain searching for food.  Her name was Nasira bint el-Jebel (“daughter of the Mountain”).  She was seen by a farmer, who asked her who she was and why she was stealing sorghum (dhourra) from his field.  She told him about herself and her people’s lack of food.  The farmer is said to have married her, and she is said to have given birth to a daughter and a son.  The couple, however, quarreled, and Nasira returned to the mountain, never to be seen again.  It is said that her children grew up and that they became founders of the Omerab tribe, who lived beneath the mountain.

People also tell of a huge cobra living at Jebel Barkal, inside a locked cave known by the inhabitants as Beit Abu Kalaan (“House of the Father of Guardians” = B 300).  This cobra was said to guard a fabulous treasure of gold.  The story adds that some European travelers once visited the site, carrying with them some frankincense, and burned it in the cave.  When the snake smelled it, it became drowsy and slept.  The Europeans stole the gold and fled.  When the snake woke up, it came after them, caught them and killed them at the edge of the desert and retrieved the gold.

Other oral traditions describe an underground tunnel that links Jebel Barkal with Old Dongola town, about 110 km distant [to the west-southwest] in a straight line. A favorite story tells of a cow that entered this tunnel at Beit Abu Kalaan (B 300) and arrived at Old Dongola without its skin, which had been scraped off on the rocks of the underground passage.  Other variant tales describe a tunnel that passes under the Nile and links the mountain to the Nuri pyramids, about 10 km distant.  People say that the funeral processions of the kings buried at Nuri used to start at Jebel Barkal and pass under the river through this tunnel.

People living in the neighborhood of Jebel Barkal describe the ruins at the site as atharat (“antiquities”).  This indicates, to some extent, that there is some understanding of the site.  While a few of the people do not comprehend the significance of the antiquities, which have very little meaning to them, most know that the pharaohs were here and that they were followed by the Nubian kings, who were in turn followed by the Arabs.  Yet they do not know when this was, or why the pharaohs came here or why they left.  Some educated people in the area, however, have studied the details of the region’s ancient history, and it is not impossible that some of this lore [especially the story of the cobra] may have recently crept into some of the folk traditions.

Today [the local Sudanese] people commonly visit Jebel Barkal in the afternoons, especially on Fridays.  The mountain is considered a place for recreation for adolescent boys, who enjoy climbing it [and running or sliding down the sand slope on the west side].  It is also a place visited by families on special occasions such as marriages and circumcisions.  These visits are always closely related to the Wali Ahmed el-Karsani, who is buried in a gubba [tomb] near the southern corner of the mountain (figs. 1, 2, 3).  His grave is a small rectangular structure built of sandstone blocks taken from the ancient temples; its flat roof is made of wooden beams.  Wad el-Karsani, who lived in the later nineteenth century, is remembered as a good man, an omda wali (saint), with distinguished social standing. Hence the local inhabitants seek the saint’s blessings to fulfill their needs.  They say that every person who prays to him for the fulfillment of anything gets it done.  When the wish has been fulfilled, such a person normally brings a small goat or lamb as a vow or sacrifice in honor of Wad el-Karsani.

The most important visits to Jebel Barkal are those made at night by women seeking fertility.  Such women go to the mountain, accompanied by another, and they ask Wad el-Karsani to enable her to have a child.  She then goes to the great temple of Amun (B 500) and sits on one of the ram statues (fig. 4) so that her genitals touch the body of the statue.  This is thought to impart fertility to her.  There is a common understanding among the people that these statues are a source of fertility (See below for further information).

As for the pinnacle, it was used in the recent past as a way of telling rough time, since there were no watches.  Thus it was used as a way of distributing irrigation time to farmers using a saqia or water wheel.  In this context, it is known that there were two rotations of irrigation by these machines – i.e. el-Fajrawi (the dawn watering) and el-Ashawi (the evening watering).  When the sun was vertical on the pinnacle, the first watering ended and the second one began. …

Today the family of Wad el-Karsani, especially the elder members, claim ownership of the mountain through the position of their great grandfather.  They say the mountain for long periods was called “Jebel Wad el-Karsani.” They add that their grandfather used to worship God in this mountain and was buried near it.  It is, though, a fact that Wad el-Karsani was the first to be buried in the present cemetery, where his relatives and supporters followed suit, to be followed by all the people of the surrounding villages, despite the existence of another cemetery near to their homes.  It is an interesting fact that this family does not claim their ownership of the antiquities, pyramids and buildings.  They claim ownership only of the mountain, since it was the place of worship of their sainted ancestor.


(The following data gathered by T. Kendall, S, Shartzer, and M. Saied)

Some of the local Sudanese village women living in the vicinity of Jebel Barkal believe that the eroded granite ram statues (which they believe are  “lions”) in front of the entrance to the great Amun temple (B 500) have the power to impart fertility to women who have had difficulty conceiving children.  The women have a ritual, performed late at night, in which an older woman, who has had many children of her own but who has reached menopause, leads out to the statues a younger woman, who is fully mature and has been married for some time but who has been unable to conceive.  On their way to the temple they stop first at either the cemetery in Karima or the cemetery beside the mountain to pray at one of the saints’ tombs (gubbas).  The gubba next to the mountain belongs to Ahmed el-Karsani, and that in the village belongs to Abdullah al-Yemeni, both venerated local holy men, who died within the last 120 years.  Once there, the older woman makes a cut in the right calf of the childless woman so that it bleeds slightly.  They then proceed to the temple and visit one of the three complete ram statues. At that point, the older woman cuts the left calf of the younger woman.  The flowing blood is thought to allow the illness to escape the body.  The younger woman is then required to straddle and pass over the back of the statue, saying, as she does, “I rely on Allah, and there is none more reliable than him.  Sufficient unto us is Allah, and he is the greatest of authorities.  On Allah I rely, and may he fulfill the wish.  On Allah I rely….”   The older woman then walks around the statue and meets her companion on the other side.  The statue is believed to impart fertility to the latter.  After this, the two women go to the Nile, where the younger woman washes her face with the water.  She then goes home and stays inside her house for three days without leaving.  If she later has a baby, people have a party and make a sacrifice at the temple, and they give thanks to the statues for the fertility; they also make offerings to the saint to whom is attributed the miracle.