Tomomi Fushiya, Leiden University
I arrived at the Amara West dig house in Ernetta island towards the end of the 2017 season with a final draft of the children’s book, Life in the Heart of Nubia. Designed as an introductory booklet for schoolchildren in the local communities around Amara West – Abri, Amara East and Ernetta – the book explores the lifestyles, culture, language, oral histories and archaeology of these communities. It is shaped by members of these communities and their responses, and also questions we received from them during the interviews and outreach programmes over the last two years.
In November 2016, I had travelled to Abri to discuss and plan the book with those who were willing to volunteer in their spare time on this small project. We discussed the concept, topics, structure and the book title, and decided to focus on three key points throughout the book: exploration, continuity and locality.
Exploration: Knowledge and stories about objects, buildings and skills which they considered part of the local Nubian heritage, practised and remembered over generations. The book is intended to encourage schoolchildren to question, explore and find answers about the local heritage within the community, but also to remind other community members that amongst them is much knowledge about that heritage.
Continuity: The book starts with scenes of today’s life in and around Abri. Selected aspects of everyday life are introduced through change and continuity with the past, to emphasise the relevance of older lifestyles to the present.
Locality: Resources for heritage education can be found within the local communities, although local teachers rarely use them. Topics and images in the book are selected from those found in the local area, where possible, to help schoolchildren to feel familiar with the book, and help teachers find resources in their neighbourhood.
As schools finished their final exams in March, I returned to Abri with the freshly printed books, to plan and deliver a pilot heritage program at the local school. Despite swarms of nimiti-flies, thirty schoolchildren and 3 school staff showed up for the program. Hassan Sorta, one of the bookmaking team and the headmaster of Amara East primary school, explained about the book and how to use it. I gave a short presentation with objects and rubbish from the ancient site (sherds!) to convey how they can help understand history of place. I used images of the Meroitic temple, which once stood here but was destroyed in the late 19th century AD, to show how history can easily disappear from memory. A program that utilises the book will then be discussed with Hassan and other local teachers for when the books are distributed to each school.
650 books will be handed out at local schools at the beginning of the school year in July. Some copies of the books will also be used in a teachers’ training course at a newly built centre in Abri. Other members of the book team will be invited into classrooms to talk about local heritage in the coming school year. The most encouraging part of the project, for me, is how teachers and others felt this will help raise awareness of the local heritage among younger generations.
The Amara West Project is generously funded by the Qatar-Sudan Archaeological Project, with this book made possible through the Research Grant Program of the Toyota Foundation, Japan.
Alongside regular updates on the blog, follow the project on Twitter: @NealSpencer_BM and #amarawest