Mende was born into the Karko tribe of the Nuba Mountains, Sudan. She had an idyllic childhood while growing up with her family in a typical rural village where cattle and farming provided the livelihood, much as they have done for hundreds of years.
The Nuba are characteristically patient, tolerant and have a peculiar tenderness. They are known for always making music, singing, dancing and carving. There are as many languages are there are tribes although many of the Nuba also speak Sudanese Arabic which is the official language of Sudan.
The Nuba people reside in the foothills of the Nuba Mountains in central Sudan. The Nuba Mountains mark the southern border of the desert and the northern limit of the fertile soils washed down by the Nile. They consist of over 50 tribes who share the common geography in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan Province.
Sudan is the largest country in Africa with the Nubian desert in the North and vast swamps and rainforest in the south. It is a country rich in oil and mineral resources which has fuelled and added to the complexity of the conflict.
Villages consist of a series of family compounds. Nuba villages are often found where the mountains form valleys that open to the surrounding plains. This is because water was easier to find at such pints.
Traditionally the Nuba are farmers as well as herders who keep cows, goats, chickens and donkeys. They often maintain a garden near their homes where they grow vegetables requiring more tending to such as onions, peppers and beans. Fields further from the village were used to grow white millet (sorghum) and other crops such as peanuts.
The Nuba tribes are rich in culture. One of the most famous displays of this can be found in the works of Leni Riefenstahl such as The Last of the Nuba. They have a passion for athletic competition, in particular traditional Nuba wrestling. The strongest young men of a community compete with athletes from other villages for the chance to promote their personal and their village’s pride and strength. They often spend hours painting their bodies with complex patterns and decorations. This reflects the basic Nuba belief in the power and importance of strength and beauty.
The main religion of the Nuba is Islam although the old shamanistic beliefs still prevail along with a Christian influence in the South.