|Thousands of people turned out to vote in the referendum for secession [Al Jazeera]
Under a tree on a plain encircled by hills, the men come to wrestle. It’s village against village, a very African celebration of a harvest completed. It is an afternoon of sheer passion and abandon.
Several fights go on at once in a fevered atmosphere of shouting and ululating. The wrestlers coated in white chalk dust which rises up in clouds as one fighter thunders into another.
All around the sweet smell of sorghum beer, carried on the heads of women in their multi-coloured clothes. Crowd control effected by men in the melee wielding thin strips of wood, which they constantly whip at encroaching ankles and shins.
Every now and then a winner is held aloft, pumping his arms and posing like a peacock. The women of his village deliriously run around their dusty, sweat-grimed champion.
Guns in crowd
Ancient traditions, framed by 21st century trouble. The menace of modern day Sudan is never very far away. Many of the watching men are armed, usually with AK 47s, testimony to the fact that tensions are once again running high.
The Nuba Mountains has historically served as an area of retreat. As far back as the 14th century, Baggara Arabs pushed black tribes out of the plains into the hills.
In the 1980s land disputes with the cattle-herding Baggara became more common and eventually disaffection grew into resistance and civil war.
The entire region was blockaded and captured land sold off to the Khartoum elite. It was a bad time and the evils are still raw. Over two decades, thousands were arrested and tortured, burnt out of their homes and killed.
The more education you had, the more likely you would be targeted.
Mahmoud Cambal broke down as he told us about his capture. And not because of what happened to him.
"They took 29 other educated men from my village...they were all executed...I only escaped by chance. I know what happened but I can’t tell you what they did to them." He could barely get the words out.
To get a real grasp of the issues here, you need to examine the geography. The Nuba Mountains area lies in the North of Sudan but the people sided with the South in the civil war. So they have deep concerns about what will happen if the South separates.
It is a highly sensitive, isolated area dotted with remote hillside villages. It’s also quite beautiful, there’s a bucolic tranquillity to village life, which belies what lies beneath.
The area is this volatile mix of rival Arab and African groups. With villagers tending crops in the lowlands vying for land and water with Baggara cattle herders. We hear of a number of incidents.
"Two Baggara came in the night with guns," says one villager. "They said we’d got their camel - and they started shooting at us. We ran, but one of us was killed."
We hear more stories of sporadic violence, sometimes rape, sometimes murder.
With escalating racial tensions, many here want the Nuba Mountains to be under southern control. But all that can be hoped for is a measure of autonomy.
Daniel Okendy breaks open nuts for animal feed on a rock in his home village. He fought for years in the civil war and says it’s unacceptable if the North rule the Nuba Mountains.
"We Nubans and southerners were fighting the northerners, fighting the northerners as our enemies. If we can’t have self-rule we will go back to war."
The Government says the people of the Nuba Mountains will be looked after. De-centralisation of power they say, is the way forward for this region. But they deny autonomy is what the people want.
"It is not expressing the wish of the people here in this state," said Ahmed Haroun, Governor of South Kordofan.
“What they are asking for is to emphasise the non-centralisation of the rule to make a better use of the resources. That is what we are going to support as well.”
We film a group of Nubans taking their animals to water in a verdant, high-sided valley that was once raked by bombs and strafed by gunfire.
The serenity and peace is all the more powerful because it’s just so fragile.
One of the cattle herders is an eight-year-old boy. He’s proudly wearing an oversize army jacket belonging to his dad, a veteran of war.
In an area aligned to the South but forever in the North, you wonder how the future might be.