In Conversation with Natalina Yacoub – Voice of Peace from the Nuba Mountains
This week’s post is dedicated to the courageous young Nuba campaigner and peace advocate, Natalina Yacoub Abbo Kanuna. I was blessed to meet Natalina while she was volunteering at Women’s Education Partnership in Khartoum a few years ago. The moment we met, I knew she was destined to go far. And indeed she has. From Ahfad management graduate to Nuba beauty queen campaigning on the deadly dangers of skin lightening products, from spokeswoman for the Nuba people in perilous times to TV presenter to her present role as aide to the Prime Minister, Natalina is a woman who knows why she’s here. She’s a woman of calm conviction and a deep sense of service.
Natalina as a student in 2017 in Khartoum
For Natalina’s story in Spanish, see http://mundonegro.es/revolucionarias/
Natalina was kind enough to talk to Women’s Literacy Sudan about her life and you can read our conversation below. I would like to thank her for her generosity of spirit in responding so fully and personally to my questions.
All photos in this blogpost are copyright and are used with Natalina’s permission. They may not be reproduced without written permission.
“I am the eleventh child in a family of twelve with five boys and seven girls, I was born here in Khartoum and I studied here. I went to the mountains in 2006 where I spent two months living with people there, who are very simple and they welcome you in every way possible and the most important thing is that the people there are convinced that with their simple life they can still change things the way they want. Through my education and what I have learnt I am able to know the importance of education as I came from the Nuba mountains where education is hard and there is a lack of education. But finding an opportunity and to get educated is a great honour for me.”
Voice of Peace from the Nuba Mountains – In Conversation with Natalina Yacoub
Imogen: Natalina, you are a committed Christian and often speak of your faith as a profound inspiration in your daily life. Could you tell us a little more about what your faith means to you?
Natalina: As a Christian woman my priority is my faith. I allow God to lead all the affairs of my life, I obey His Word because with Him I can do all things. I believe my faith in God is something very personal to me and endures within me whatever the situation in the country. My God is able to lead me through it all. I think for everyone, their faith should be a priority.
Below, Natalina offering Christmas gifts to Sudanese Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok.
Sudan is striving to revive the values of ethnic and religious diversity so much a part of Sudanese life.
Imogen: Could you talk about your mother and how she has influenced you?
Natalina: Mothers play the most important role in everyone’s life. For me, my mother has always been the key person in my life, especially after the death of my father. That’s when my mother filled my heart completely and growing up under her leadership and care shaped me and made me the person I am today. She was widowed, yet she was so strong and was able to raise twelve children by herself. She influenced me as I grew up – I was guided by her persevering spirit. She was determined to see us become leaders in our communities and society, so I can say she represents leadership in my life.
Below, Natalina embraces her mother.
Imogen: What would you say have been the hardest moments or biggest challenges in your life?
Natalina: If I try to answer this question, I guess I have to say the hardest thing in life to me was to overcome the idea of seeing some things being harder to overcome than others. Losing my father was the hardest moment of my life, especially because I was just a child and I really needed him most on my journey of growth. It devastated me. As did so many other things; being born and raised in a nation full of war and racism and injustice, being a woman from the Nuba Mountains, having a dark skin, being a Christian, trying to have equal rights and the opportunity to enjoy life as any other Sudanese citizen. And how to overcome those barriers erected by society without changing my identity – that was one of the hardest things that I have faced. But I come back to my father, the loss of him and the suffering of missing him.
Imogen: Could you tell us a little about your current role and what you would like to achieve? What are your hopes for Sudan and what obstacles does she face? You recently went to Port Sudan after an outbreak of violence and you led peace workshops, highlighting women’s voices in conflict resolution. How was that experience and what motivated you?
Natalina: I believe in peace and peace is what I stand for and am hoping to enjoy peace and equality in my country as a whole. My visit to Port Sudan came out of an invitation extended to me as a free agent of peace. I was motivated by the situation there and inspired to magnify the voice of peace in Sudan as a whole, not just Port Sudan. My current role is in serving the nation. I’m trying to achieve peace and bring awareness to all young women and inspire them to achieve a successful life by embracing peace and equality and self confidence too. I am currently striving to do this through my organization Emtilah For Peace And Development and I’m 100% behind them and committed to my cause as a free agent of peace.
Below, Natalina on a recent visit to conflict areas.
Imogen: What is it like to be a Nuba woman? And what’s the situation now for the Nuba community? You are considered a role model for Nuba women – how do you feel about that?
Natalina: First of all, I am a proud Nuba woman. I love my people and I love my nation. Of course it’s never easy being from a tribe suffering injustice and abuse – I had to stand on my own and fight for my rights and the rights of my people, not only from the Nuba Mountains, but from Sudan as a whole. Being a role model is, yes, exciting but not easy because there are great expectations and demands from my people. I am not trying to be a hero but I want to fight for peace and the acceptance of every identity, regardless which part of Sudan they are from. As we know, to this day, the Nuba Mountains have been struggling to have peace and justice and equality.
Below Natalina at her engagement ceremony.
Imogen: You have spoken about women and the nature of real beauty and raised awareness about the risks of using skin whitening products. How do you see the position of women in Sudan now?
Natalina: Identity is one thing I am very passionate about, especially for us women! We are all uniquely beautiful and we must accept our God-given beauty. Until we accept our own identity and respect it, no one else will. First we must accept our natural beauty, our unique culture. Operating in a different identity is always risky and for us women in Sudan we need to encourage others to accept our differences as expressions of beauty and not undermine the value of other skin colors or beliefs or culture. So many young women in Sudan are just trying to fit in; they’re not aware of the implications and consequences.
See too The Guardian article Meet the Radical Nuba Beauty Queen
Below, traditional Nuba Mountains Kambala celebrations. Read more about the origins of this fascinating ritual in Kambala
“Hala al-Karib, director at the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa, points to the 1980s, when globalization and sociopolitical change encouraged countries once proud of their diverse, tribal heritages to adopt a more homogeneous mindset. In Sudan, especially, the proximity to the Arabian Peninsula had a pronounced effect — shifting a country built on blended cultures toward one where diversity was seen as undesirable. To al-Karib, the trend is alarming. “People want to be Arab-looking to imitate what they see on their TV screens. Women have abandoned our traditional Sudanese tobe [body wrap] and are wearing black Arabian abayas,” she says. “This is not us. Moving away from our Africanness brings with it a dangerous inauthenticity. We have an identity crisis.”
See Natalina talking about the real Nature of Real Beauty
An English transcription is available here
Read about Natalina’s awareness campaign against toxic skin-whitening creams
Above, Natalina on set.
Imogen: Finally, Natalina, education is so important to you. How do you see educational opportunities for Sudanese women and girls now and what challenges do they face?
Natalina: I believe everyone have the right to educate themselves and education is key to many changes in a nation. Yes, I understand the situation is hard in Sudan and it’s hard for some to educated themselves but if anyone has the opportunity, it’s important to study so we can change the way we think as a nation and contribute to her development – especially as woman, we need to study so that we can exercise equality in leadership and participate in our country’s development.
Imogen: Natalina, thank you so much for being with us today. You are an inspiration to so many women in Sudan.