Incense- Charm, Ritual, Brisk Trade

By: Ahmed Alhaj (Site Admin)

Khartoum, (Sudanow) - Incense is a remarkably impressive ingredient of the human heritage, culture and even psychological state and has been known to humanity since ancient times.

For the Sudanese, it is of a distinguished peculiarity as it is a component of many aspects of their culture, both in life and death. For this reason, the incense in the Sudan is of diverse types, purposes, rites and instruments, but Khartoum's Taiman (Sudanese colloquial Arabic for TWINS) Incense remains the most popular and highly demanded kind in this country.

Eureka – Eureka:

Accidental Incense Blend:- Mansour Osman Rahmah, the grandson of the Taiman, speaking in his famous shop in Omdurman Market (one of the three towns forming the national capital Khartoum at the point where the two Nile hug each other forming a triangle before heading for Egypt), said the Taiman Incense is a blend of aromatic herbs, garadh (acacia plant), gum and a coloured pea, known as the bride’s pea, imported from India and believed to drive the evil eye away. Rahmah explained that the name was after two brothers who closely look like each other to the extent that they were thought to be twins. It was those


brothers who invented the blend. It was basically a collection of different types of incense dropped during the selling operations, picked up and collected in a bag known as the shop dirt and burned outside the shop as garbage. Persuaded by the refreshing scent of this “garbage”, people began to order it and they began to believe that it is a tranquilizer and a remedy and the mothers began to cense children with it against any illness, with the
11 process accompanied by rituals and hymns. Rahmah said that this incense has become of increasingly brisk trading and that his sons distribute it to retailers in different markets and it sold in the perfumery shops in pound and ounce. Hajjah Fatimah, a lady from Omdurman, said that Taiman Incense is found every house as it is believed to cure the evil eye infection. She explained that it is the bride’s pea, which the Indians call the Satan eye that drives the evil eye infection away. 3 During the censing operation, hymns are sung, such as:- “You evil eye…you infidel unbeliever's eye filled with dust “If you are a girl’s eye, be filled with earth “If you are an old woman’s eye, go blind “May the crippled stand up and walk after the censing. And so on goes the hymn which is usually memorized by the mothers by heart. The Taiman Incense is powerfully present in the Sudanese home; it is burnt at sunset with the belief that it would expel the devils, it perfumes the place during the sunset tea and is also burnt during parties to drive away flies from food. The special Sudanese coffee session is also distinguished by incense imported from Asia, mainly from Indonesia, and Aden, Yemen, mixed with the coffee beans scent. The censer is placed in the middle of the coffee utensils, making a pleasant chat. Fortune winner, customer attractor Woman sellers of coffee and tea on streets in Khartoum believe that incense attracts customers, males in particular. Awadhiyah Mahjoub, a coffee seller in Omdurman market, is of the view-point that the Indonesian incense, in particular, brings about fortune and that releasing it ahead of coffee- and tea-making is the most important activity she goes before start of her work. This incense is imported from Ethiopia and is bought for 5 to 10 SDG a pound. D


uring the Sufi sessions of God’s utterance, the permeating scent released from a big censer in the middle of the ring provokes a peculiar charm that frees Sufis into spiritual, heavenly being. The "male gum", fakouk, ghasoul and fasoukh are different kinds of aromatic herbs which are brought from India and which are used by sorcerers who, in the process, utter fright-provoking hummings which they say can spoil magic. The male gum is used by women for making kohl by holding a container above the gum vapor which is condensed and collected and kept in a special jar for decoration and cleaning and whitening a red eye. Brides invoke a busy trade: The Sudanese woman is distinguished from women of the world with her special perfume the most important of which is the incense. The bride begins her beautification programme with the incense which is known “the smoking”.
Abu Roaf Market in Omdurman specializes in selling wood of special kinds of acacia trees of a nice scent used for smoking the body of a bride. He said they receive the wood in the form of big tree trunks which they chop into pieces and sell for 80 to 100 SDG a hundredweight, while another kind called “Habeel”, the smoke of which is believed to cure rheumatism, is sold for 30 to 40 SDG a hundredweight. This wood trade flourishes daily, Mahjoub said.Abdul Rahim Mahjoub, who sells this commodity, said the smoking wood is brought from different parts of the country but the best kind is imported from a region in the Northern State and from Ed Damazin. It is light in weight and white in colour and is sold for a price higher than the other kinds.

Mahjoub said new kinds of wood previously used in making furniture taken from some kinds of trees that grow in Ed Damazin, central eastern Sudan, and now, due to its nice flavor, began to be used for body smoking. The sawdust of this wood, nicknamed “mackintosh” is made into paste, placed in square moulds which are then put in boxes for sale for a higher price. This sort of wood is scarce due to the furniture trade competition, Mahjoub said, adding that it is processed in a special factory in Abbasiyah, a quarter in Omdurman, and although it is sold for a high price, this kind of smoking wood is highly demanded because it can be carried and stored easily, especially for women who are planning to travel abroad. It is packaged in cartons, each containing 30 small boxes each containing one piece which is sold for 10 to 15 SDG, Mahjoub. The bride begins with the smocking which smoothes, softens and brightens the skin. A small-size pit inside the room is filled with this acacia wood that is burnt and when the smoke thickens, a circular mat of palm leaves with an opening in the middle of the size of the pit is placed and the bride sits on it. The bride’s friend, a girl called the Minister, rubs the bride’s body with a certain kind of anointment known as “karkar” made of fats, cooking oil, cloves and a special kind of perfume. The bride’s body is covered with a c

abroof market for altalih wood

ertain woolen cover called “shamlah” to keep the smoke within the cover. This process is carried out twice a day. Between the two sessions, the bride’s body is massaged with “dilkah” which is composed of sorghum or millet flour that is pasted and cooked and then it is perfumed and held over the smoke that arises from the pit and made into small balls ready for the massage when time comes. The processes of smoking and massaging are followed by the “jirtiq” which is regarded as the most part of the wedding. For this process, the jirtiq wooden and plastic bed painted in red and black is placed. In front of this bed there will be a table on which a red tray on which
coloured vessels are placed, containing the “dharirah” which is a blend of mahaleb, ground sandalwood, Taiman Incense and a number of bottles of native perfume with a censer in the middle of tray which contains burning sandalwood. The sandalwood incense is the main item of the Sudanese wedding as a whole day is devoted to it called the aroma preparation day. On that day, the women sit down on the ground, each holding a small axe with which they break the sandalwood into equal pieces. Others put on fire a big baking iron sheet on which a reasonable quantity of sugar is


cooked until it becomes golden in colour. Yet other women mix different kinds of perfume in a big vessel. The pieces of sandalwood are placed on the molten sugar and mixed together until they stick together and the mixture of perfumes is poured on the sheet and a powdered mixture of aromatic bark and musk is sprayed while the iron sheet is still on fire and, with the rising vapor, the scent diffuses throughout the neighbourhood announcing the wedding Incense businesswoman: Ruqayah Sheikh Ahmed, a famous incense seller in Omdurman, said she began making the incense after the women stopped the aroma preparation sessions in wedding houses and preferred buying the ready-made incense due to various circumstances such the small space of time, ignorance of how to prepare it or the high prices of the components as the a kilogram of sandalwood is sold for 70 to 80 SDG and the perfume that is extracted from the sandalwood for 100 to 200 an ounce. The mahaleb costs 50 to 60 SDG a kilo, musk 70 to 90


SDG a kilo and cloves 30 to 40 SDG a kilo, Ahmed said, adding that the imported perfumes cost 50 up to 70 SDG a bottle. She said, in addition to the bride’s incense, she prepares a blend which is a combination of the Indonesian and Adenine incense sealed in a can which is opened during sessions of Zar, a practice a woman pretends falling under the influence of an evil spirit and starts to dance to tune of certain music. She said she also sells the wood incense which is imported from the Gulf States and is used by girl university students residing in boarding-houses to cense their dresses. This is a practice brought into the country by daughters of Sudanese working abroad, she added. The incense seller said she made a new blend for censing both houses and clothes. This incense is packed in small boxes each sold for 10 to 15 SDG. She said she takes part in internal and external fairs and she always endeavors to develop new brands to satisfy the taste of the Sudanese woman. She even sells her incense to churches, she added. Majdah Emil, a Copt, said the incense emits a nice scent in the Church during hymns, creating an atmosphere of tranquility. This kind of incense is brought from Egypt and is also found in local perfumeries and is sold for reasonable prices. It is made of strong aromatic herbs and its scent is smelt only in the church. Incense is used even on occasions of death and can be smelt in a mourning house as it is a habit of the Sudanese to bid their dead farewell by censing and perfuming him, using sandalwood and other substances just as in the wedding jirtiq. Have you even asked yourself how do the aromatic vapors pervade and influence your senses?23 End MAS/M

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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