The Melik Society visit Khartoum

Henry Keown-Boyd with Anis Haggar

On arrival we were met by Anis Haggar, our Sudanese Council member, in the early hours of the morning and installed in our hotel which we found extremely comfortable. After a very short night’s sleep, the Melik Society was rapidly launched into a series of official meetings followed by an evening reception hosted by our Ambassador in the beautiful garden of the Embassy. In his welcome speech, the Ambassador outlined the purpose of our mission to Khartoum and we were introduced to many local dignitaries. We also met the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Salisbury who had stopped over in Khartoum on their way to the South and the Ambassador kindly included our mission in the arrangements for their visit.

The mission was warmly received by the Minister of Culture and senior officials at a special lunch. Amongst the hosts were Dr Ibrahim Aboauf, Chairman of the Committee specially formed by the Minister to co-operate with the Society, and many of its members. Anis Haggar had also arranged a full programme of meetings with The Blue Nile Sailing Club and the River Transport Corporation.

Several meetings were held with the Committee which included Professor Yousef Fadl Hassan, Chairman of NCAM, Dr Hassan Hussein Idris, Director General and Sayed Abdel Rahman Ali Mohamed, Director of Museums. The purpose of the MoU was to establish the working relationship between NCAM and the Melik Society regarding the independent Technical Assessment and the necessary charitable financial structure. It envisaged the formation of a Foundation which would be responsible for raising the funds and managing the restoration and preservation of the vessels. The Foundation would be managed by an independent board consisting of representatives from the interested parties including the Government of Sudan, The Blue Nile Sailing Club, who have been responsible for the Melik since 1925, and the Melik Society.

Unfortunately, last minute changes requested by NCAM to the MoU could not be finalized during the visit and as a result a new Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) has subsequently been drafted and submitted through the good offices of HE Ian Cliff and Anis Haggar.

On the technical side, Wyn Davies and Mike Reynolds were able to survey the Melik and Bordein with the help of The Blue Nile Sailing Club and the River Transport Corporation. They were also able to visit the Khartoum North Dockyard.

The initial results of the surveys which are to be contained in the preliminary Frazer-Nash Technical Report, indicate that the condition of the Melik is surprisingly good and no great technical difficulties are involved in her repair and refurbishment.

However, the Bordein which is lying in the Khartoum North Dockyard is a different proposition. She had recently been cut into sections in order to move her clear of the slipway. Although the majority of the ironwork is in exceptionally good condition, there will be additional work to reinstate her hull. The mission, accompanied by the wives of the Chairman and Secretary, was most warmly welcomed and lavishly entertained throughout the visit. The Melik Society is indebted to the Ministry of Culture, The Blue Nile Sailing Club, the British Embassy and the Haggar Cigarette and Tobacco Co for their most generous hospitality. In particular, the gracious and efficient Hanan Abbas who ensured that we had VIP treatment throughout our stay.

On our first morning we were received by the Director of the National Museum of Antiquities and were shown a wonderful array of artefacts dating back as far as 200,000 BC. Later we were escorted by General Abouf to the two Military Museums where Melik’s armaments have pride of place. One of the Museums was located within the old grounds of the Governor-General’s Palace where General Gordon fell in 1885. The museum contained historical records and photographs of Sudan’s Independence in 1956. The Anglican Cathedral, now part of the Museum with its collection of Rolls-Royces on display outside were a stunning reminder of Anglo Sudanese ties. We also visited the bustling market at Omdurman with its massive mud fortifications still standing. We also visited the Khalifa’s House which is opposite the Mahdi’s impressive Tomb.

One of the many highlights was the visit to the Whirling Dervishes and the cruise on the Blue Nile hosted by The Blue Nile Sailing Club. We were given a delicious lunch of traditional Sudanese food and were entertained by a lively Nubian band with two beautiful singers. Unfortunately, the Haboob (local sand storm) swept over Khartoum on the last day which prevented a trip to the Shabluka gorge, which is the 5th Cataract immediately down river of the City. Of course, members of the mission travelled at their own expense and thanks to everyone’s hospitality we were able to see Khartoum from a very privileged position reminding us of the longstanding friendship and mutual respect between our two countries.