Changing Customs Of The Riverain Sudan

By: Ahmed Alhaj (Site Admin)

Khartoum (Sudanow)-The Social customs that were practiced by the Sudanese who live along the Nile or near it, over the past century, rolled up some change due to variables of time and vicissitudes age and variability. some are still practiced even today in some parts of the riverain Sudan ,as brand Professor Abdullah Tayeb said, who collected and wrote many of these habits in Articles in the magazine (Sudan notes and records), a magazine concerned with documenting the life and history of Sudan.

Professor Abdullah Tayeb show in these articles, which he wrote it in 1955 -1956-1964-1998 years,  the customs of the people of Sudan in the Nile valley from Woman's pregnancyup to marriage .

The Professor Abdullah Tayeb Institute for the Arabic language, University of Khartoum, recently published this set of articles after being translated by Mohamed Osman Makki.

D. Siddiq Omar Siddiq Director of the Institute, the importance of this articles and its place in the studying of Sudan Folklore motivated us to translate it in to Arabic.

 He goes on saying it is  One of the venerable knowledge which accounted for, as a multitude of research, was (Sudanese Folktale) which he wrote  in Arabic, then he translated it into English with his own pen, not mentioning his other encyclopedic works, such as what he wrote in a research connected to the Sudanese colloquial Arabic Language to the Academy of Arabic Language in Cairo, and the scattering works of interest, in the numerous articles in magazine and lectures. 

Abdullah Tayeb said himself ," Even as I now write this paper ,most of us are aware of the rapid  change that are daily transforming Sudanese life from that of a medieval community deeply rooted in tradition, to that of an Afro-Arab nation newly born under the impact of western civilization-Many styles and modes of life-as I knew it in my boyhood-have completely disappeared, Many are in the process of fading away, And some, very few indeed, can still be described in the distant villages and among the more conventional  homes. It is in the interest of students of sociology, anthropology and history to make a record of all these, before the final break-up of the old patterns takes place and new fashions and ways of living and behavior prevail.


And we will publish them on (SUDANOW) pages in this thread, and we'll start onset also began by Abdullah Tayyib himself, a customs relating to pregnancy and pre-and post-natal and related nifaas. then evolve with it in human life at the stage of early childhood, games, boyhood, education, work and marriage.



From Birth to Puberty Birth and Early Infancy


This term (derived from the Arabic "shahr" =moon" was applied to all the apparently inexplicable ailments to which a pregnant woman was exposed, and which would cause a miscarriage or a difficult birth, if not treated and dispelled at once.

A woman would certainly be attacked by "mushaharah" if she saw a dead body or went to a funeral, or if she was visited by any who had been a funeral or who had seen a dead body. It was therefore necessary for any person retuning from a funeral and wishing to visit a pregnant woman, to exorcise the spirits of the dead before doing so> This was performed either by looking into a well or by visiting some other people who had not been to the funeral.

If however, the visitor went straight to the pregnant women, she would be attacked by "mushaharah" at once > To cure her, a bone of a donkey which had died at least a year before, would be sought. It would then wrapped in rags in imitation of a shrouded corpse. Then the women of the neighborhoods would be called upon to wail and mourn over it as if it were a deceased relative. They would do so in a very earnest manner and shout  loudly:

Son of Umm Keshena We mourn for thee

Then The bone would be ceremonially buried in the "bosh" (the family compound); and water would be sprinkled over its mock grave.

Another cause of "Mushaharah" was gold. If one of the visitors was wearing gold ornaments, the "Mushahrah" spirit of gold had to be exorcised immediately after her departure. This was done by making the pregnant women herself wear gold, and by placing dates and grain under her bed. If a golden necklace or bracelet was not available, an English shilling would be used as a substitute for gold, presumably because of the similarity of design between the shilling and the sovereign > In the Northern Province,  among the Rubatab,ha'aliyyin and Shatgiyyah, a gourd containing dates and grain was permanently place under the bed of the pregnant woman, as a precaution against "Mushaharah"

The taboo on Blood-Spilling

To  protect his wife from miscarriage the husband would abstain from the spilling of blood. He would kill no animal with his won hands, not even on the occasion of the Korban Bairam Otherwise his wife would certainly suffer terribly would very probably be deformed or stillborn.

The amulet of the Fekki

The husband would ask the advice of the "Fakki" 9the local religious Sheikh), who would five him an amulet against the payment of the fee called the "bayad". There were three commonly –used types of amulets. The "BaKraha" was a piece of paper congaing astrological formulas, which was to be burn and the used as an inhalant.The "hujab" was an astrological formula written on a sheet of paper which would later be rolled up and covered with leather according to a certain design reqyiring the skill of the local saddler.

The piece of paper used for "bakhra" of "hujab" had to be of a certain quality called "Abu shubbak" the name being derived from its window-like watermark. "Abu shubbak" was manufactured in Europe in imitation of the medieval paper which was used by Muslims for religious purposes. It is still being manufactured and is widely used by religious sheikhs, most of whom have not the slightest idea of its un-Islamic make.

The third kind of amulet was the "mihayah" This consisted og Quranic cerses written with a dura-cane pen and an ink made from the soot of cooking-post mixed with water and Gum Arabic. The writing was done on a wooden table and then washed with water into a container.

The pregnant women would drink the holy liquid, which, it was believed, would help her against all the evils of giving birth > Nowadays, the writing of the "mihayah" is done on clean China and honey is often substituted for the black ink.

A "bakarah" or hujab" or 'Mihaya" written by a religious sheikh who was not the official "Fekki" of the village would not be very effective. An official "fekki" had the right of writing form his father. It was he alone whose writing was of real value and who deserved to be given the Bayad' the amulet. The "bagaa" literally means "whiteness", and it was thus named to emphasize the fact that it was given  willing and with a strong belief in the power of the "fekki" , the heart of the giver being clean (white) and free of all doubts.

 The Magic of Old Women

Older women. Particularly the mother of the pregnant women, supplied her with all sorts of magic objects which would guard her from malignant sorcerer and from bad luck. The "ju'ranah" (scarab) was considered a powerful protector against witchcraft, An other useful object to possess was the "hajar al-damm"  a small round stone of amber colour. It is still  widely used in the towns and is said to have the power of stopping hemorrhage. The seventh month was the occasion of an important ritual  called "jartig". The etymological origin of this word is obscure, perhaps the Arabic "daradag" (the young of men and beasts) .

The "Jartig" is still observed on the occasions of "Iris" (wedding)," Tahur"  (circumcision) and" Nifas" (giving birth) . The pregame women was placed on an "angarib" (native bed) covered with a ceremonial mat made of "dom" leaves and colored  barley straw. He hair had already been done in the traditional plaits several days before. A powder of sandalwood mixed with scented grease would crown her head. The round edge of this crown would rest on a red silk band with a big turquoise beat at the parting of this hair above the forehead.

Then the hair would be adorned with beads and shells called "rikhayami" . The eyes and the eye0brows would be blackened with antimony (kohl). The face the skin would be rubbed with oil and scented bread called "dilkha" (literally, massage). A necklace with the all-import ants silver disc called "faraj allah" ( the help of god) had to be worn. A red band of silk would be tied round the right wrist with beads and shells of magical value,. One of the vertebrae of big Nile fish or sea fish, together with an ostrich feather, would be attached to the silk band. These were considered essential. Small effigies of very repulsive shape, such as the Ancient Egyptians and Nubians used to preserve in their tombs, would be placed near the bed of the pregnant women. These would protect her from the Evil Eye. And they would remain near her until the period of confinement was over. We may note that this custom of keeping effigies was not observed by the ja'aliyyin of the 'Aramnh branch and their kinsmen of Berber and Ruubatab. The influence of the Quran schools of the Majadhib of Ghubush and the "Vmarab may accound for this fact.

                        Another "jartig" ritual, which was observed in the region of sennar and Singa was the "Eating of the "Asidah" ((native porridge). A big bowl would be filled with "asidah" and clarified butter. The pregnant women was made to partake of the 'asidah' and other women present did likewise. They took handfuls and wiped them on the exposed belly of the pregnant women before eating This was said to help childless and newly-married women to become pregnant.

               The clarified butter did not serve any magical purposein the rite. It was just a part of the dish (as butter is to bread) and should therefore not be confused with anointing oils. In this particular ritual of "asiddah', the magical symbolism centered on the adorned women, the exposed belly, and the actual wiping of the handfuls thereon. One could imagine any other traditional dish being substituted for the 'asidah'and butte, but it is certainly the cleanest of them all.

The women would remain in a state of "jartig" - that is to say, would wear the "jartig" ornaments and be confined to the house-for one week. After that, she was allowed to carry on with her domestic activities. But shed had nevertheless to observe all the taboos which, if neglected, would cause an attack of "mushaharah" .


The Act of Giving Birth

                        On the night of the delivery the village midwife would be sough by the husband or by one of his male relatives. She would not respond to an invitation by a female and would consider it an insult. The house of expectant mother would be packed full of women. On her arrival the midwife would first ask a btanch of "shajarat al-khalas"  (the tree of delivery). The branch would be dipped in water; and if it swelled and glowed with colour, that would be taken as a sign of an easy delivery. But it if did not, that was considered to be a sign of a difficult birth. The midwife would dip the branch several times in the water until it swelled or at least showed signs of beginning to do so.

The she would instruct the women to have a strong rope tied to one of the beams of the ceiling near the "shibah"  Very often the older and more experienced women among the gathering would have had the rope fixed in the right place before the arrival of the midwife. In this case she would cast o hostile glance at the rope and the women whom she suspected of anticipating her instructions, and then criticize the position of the rope or the knot holding it to the beam or simply declare that the tope was weak and feeble. After some heated discussion, followed by minor adjustments, she would be satisfied. Then she would examine the women and declare that it was too early yet for the baby to arrive. Then she would throw herself on a bed, especially reserved for her, and pretend to go to sleep.

The women would wait in silence for sometime listening to the moans and groans of the patient. Then one of them, often an elderly aunt with a rosary wrapped round her wrist, would say: "Let us pray and pray and praise the Prophet and the saints' , whereupon they would all join in signing the following hymn.

]Deliverer of the pregnant one

 from the burden of a young son

 he that tension does cause

 it is he that tension will case;

And Gabriel will import his Master.

And with hope descend hereafter

East he will grant

The seeker of no reward

The Deliverer will deliver her,

The quencher of thirst

Her thirst will quench;

The Solver of problems

Her problem He will solve.

The Midwife in Action

            A painful shriek amidst the noise and the chanting of the birth-hymn would tell the midwife that the hour of delivery had come. She would get up from her pretended sleep and begin to issue orders .

Many prodigies used to be told of the strange powers of midwives and their ability to recognize which of the moaning woman' shrieks was the right one. As a boy, I have heard a midwife boast that she would night, and for several hours and sometimes for a whole night, and then she would hear a voice in a dream bidding her rise up, because the child was due to arrive.

The women would first dig a pit opposite to the rope if this had not already been done. The pit would receive the boll pouring from the mother. This would later the removed and disposed of as dirt in the "hosh". Then the older women would help the laboring mother to stand near the "shi bah" and hold fast to the rope with both hands. The midwife would then approach the lions of the patient with her knife and  make an incision in her circumcised parts, sufficient to all allow the passage of the baby. An experienced medical assistant told me that patient did not feel the pain caused by the incision because the internal pains of parturition were much greater .

It was thought advisable for the patient to groan and cry in an ostentatiously loud manner, and not to be tempted to exhibit courage and endurance, for that would make her vulnerable to the Evil Eye. Some women, however, did not take heed of this common belief. And when a misfortune befell them or their offspring later in life, it was usually attributed to this obstinately courageous behavior while in labor.

The crowd of women would abandon themselves to loud shrieks. Some would call upon the saints, saying:

O, Allah the strong one


O,father of the virigin

O,sheikh Madhoub

O,Master Al Hassan

O,Nagar of the young women,

Who can not be reproached


O, prophets

Some would utter the familiar expressions of fear and anxiety such as:


O, Merciful

And some would simply add the volume of their voices to the noise.

This would continue until the baby had been born and the afterbirth safely delivered. Any delay in the delivery of the afterbirth would cause and subdued, and a foreboding tension would ensue, and upset the customary order of the ritual performance.

In normal case the midwife would declare the sex of the baby soon after delivery. The birth of a boy would be saluted with loud cries of joy "zaghard". But that of a girl would call only for faint ones. When the midwife was satisfied that whole act parturition had been completed, the mother would be made to lie in a bed or on a "birish" (a mat made from the leaves of the dom palm). The midwife would sew up the incisions which she had inflicted with silk stitches and "talh". The thorns were planted on the sides of the cut; and the silk thread was made to go round them, thus bringing the sides of the cut closer. This operation would restore to the woman's parts the tightness which which had originally been caused by circumcision .

The Afterbirth

The afterbirth of a boy would be solemnly buried in the family compound, often as near as possible to the foundation of the house, without any song or magical incantation. That of a girl was buried with laughter, in the hope that the baby would become a charming women. The burying of the afterbirth may be regarded as symbol of protection, the ceremonial burial indicating that no harm could be worked on the child through the afterbirth .

Another method, widely used and still practiced in Omdurman, was to throw the afterbirth into the river, thus formally and publicly concealing it from evil- doers. In some regions of the Red Hills, the afterbirth  is thrown on to a tree and left there to dry and wither away or else be devoured by numerous vultures. This is of course, a symbol of rejection. The afterbirth is treated as a fundamentally evil thing to be got rid of and cast away.

However, there are not no stories (as far as I now) of the afterbirth being used for purposes of white or black magic (as, for instance, the sailor's  caul which is referred to in " Macbeth". 

If a badly – deformed child with a monstrous appearance was born, the mother would refuse to suckle it (the only method known of feeding a child), and so it would die. If an albino was born, it might be treated in the same way. In the case of twins of whom one was unmistakably feeble, the midwife might advise the mother to feed the stronger one only. However, some deformed babies managed to survive; and the advice of the midwife concerning a feeble twin was often ignored. The Second Jartig 

After the midwife's work had been done, the house was swept clean and prepared for visitors of both sexes. Normal, however, not even the husband, would have been present on the occasion of a normal birth. The new mother called the "nafasa", and her child would then undergo a process of ritual adornment called the "nafas-jartig".

The same formalities as in the earlier "jartig" were repeated with only two additions. The first was the second was the "jartig".

The "Kujtah" was a kind of howdah made form colored Dom-mats, it was pitched round the bed and supported on frame of green date-palm branches

Arches of such branches would be placed on either side of the "angraib" Bed). A sheet of expensive Indian cloth know as "Surati" would be spread as lining inside the "kujrah", if available. Nowadays, a curtain of "surrati"- most often of European make-has replaced the traditional "kujrah" in the town of Omdurman and similar areas.

Inside the "kujrah" the "nafasa" (new mother) would lie covered with all the necessary ornaments of the "jartig". The tendency now in Omdurman is to make her look as much as possible like a new bride. Her hair will have been done in the bridal fashion and she is then made to wear all her gold, and the expensive "garmasis" of the wedding-night will cover her bed.

Sudanow is the longest serving English speaking magazine in the Sudan. It is chartarized by its high quality professional journalism, focusing on political, social, economic, cultural and sport developments in the Sudan. Sudanow provides in depth analysis of these developments by academia, highly ...


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