The people in El Kurru belong to the Shaigiya tribe. They trace their ancestry back to an ancestor (Shaig) who lived several centuries ago. They are mentioned in European travelers accounts of the 19th century, when they sometimes raided caravans. In times before Shaig, people in this area were likely speakers of Nubian languages, but they speak Arabic now and in fact hold many of the high positions within the Sudanese government.
To the casual observer, there is not much to distinguish Shaigiya from their tribal neighbors like the Manasir. But they take pride in their distinctiveness in dialect, in musical rhythms, and apparently even in haircuts, as I found out when I visited Ali Jaffar, the village barber in El Kurru.
My Arabic works well for some things here, particularly the kinds of things that a dig director needs to do, like coordinating work on the site or shopping for food and supplies for the team. But I am handicapped by having learned in Syria, where vocabulary and pronunciation can be completely different, and it’s never clear to me in advance when I’m going to have a problem.
I thought I had been clear with Ali the barber that I just wanted a bit of hair removed, but the first crunch of his scissors through my hair showed that we had had a failure to communicate, and by then it was too late—I was getting a Shaigiya haircut. It turns out to work well here, so I’m not complaining.