The Nubian Women’s Costume

By: Ahmed Alhaj (Site Admin)

KHARTOUM, July 12 (SUDANOW)—Local costumes, like languages are inherited or acquired and can survive or perish and can be reinstated, may be more sophisticated if someone is around to do so.

The Nubian women’s costume, called the ‘Jarjar’, (Arabic for trailer) is worn in north- most Sudan, characterized by decency, is made up of a long loose black dress with long sleeves with folding ends and is accompanied by a broad black shawl of the same cloth wrapped around the shoulders, chest and head, leaving only the face in sight.


The Jarjar is characterized by its tailoring style, particularly in the lower part at the back of the feet with a triangular end touching the ground; it covers the feet from the front and well below the heels from behind to trail on the ground, mopping up the footsteps. The design includes special folds on the chest and is as loose as a gown but is not open at the front and there are 10 to 15 vertical folds starting from the waist down to the knee and below that the dress grows wider.

The woman’s age is taken into account in tailoring and knitting of the Jarjar as there is a special style for women above 50, usually more loosely and is easier to wear and take off with wider sleeves with no accessories. The Jarjar is accompanied by a wide black cloth known as ‘Chukka’ which can be used as cover or a pillow when necessary. It is close in resemblance to the men’s costume known as ‘Garnabobah” in west Africa but are different in the colour and improvement and beautification of the Garnabobah.


Costume experts believe that the Nubian costume is close to the decent Islamic costume and still there are others who say it looks like the costume of the Copt women who coexist with the Nubians in northern Sudan and southern Egypt but this viewpoint is incorrect but, other than the black colour, the Coptic costume is not like the Nubian one, especially the extra back trailing portion. Although it is peculiar for the Nubian women, this costume is possessed by non-Nubians due to its beauty and distinction from other costumes.
The Nubian immigration to east Sudan after construction of the Aswan High Dam had an impact on adherence by the Nubian women to the Jarjar. Moreover, living in the major towns and the pressing economic conditions which made the Jarjar expensive also weakened adherence to the costume. In spite of all that Many Nubian women insist on wearing the Jarjar out of an ethnic pride and for preserving it as a Nubian culture, particularly as it distinguishes them from other women and, although it has become an old fashion, they still keep and refer to show up in it on occasions.
The Nubian women believe that appearance in the Jarjar is of a special significance and taste and is comfortable in the movement and causes no embarrassment on the street and they are keen of keeping it at home, even without wearing it, as a way of preserving as part of their culture and introducing it to the new generations.


The Nubian heritage is no longer a monopoly of the Nubians but is adored by many tourists and the Nubian costume is part of the Nubian culture that distinguishes the Nubians who insist on preserving it despite the fierce assault of the modern fashions. Many tourist women insist on purchasing the Nubian Jarjar and happily wear it in public
and feel amazed with adherence by the Nubians to their old costume and refusal to cope with the advanced modern fashion.


Moreover, most of the tourist hotels in Aswan, Egypt, make the Nubian female workers wear the Jarjar as a way of distinguishing themselves from other hotels world-wide to demonstrate the Nubian heritage and culture which prevail only in Aswan Province in Egypt.
In the Sudan, a number of feminine organizations exerted tremendous efforts to link the Nubian women with the Jarjar; exhibitions and seminars were organized advocating adherence to it. Some concerned women introduced minor amendments and improvements to make it match with the modern fashion, cut down the cost and become practical, especially for women working in offices and other facilities, but those improvements were criticized by people who cling to the heritage, yet many girls –Nubian as well as other ethnicities – opted to wear the new Jarjar.
However, the reality aborts the efforts for retention of the Jarjar, particularly as the modern costumes have become so predominant that even the famous and well-established Sudanese ‘tobe’ now resist for survival after numerous women, especially the young ones, stopped wearing it, either for coping with the fashion, for economic reasons or seeking practical costumes for easy movement, particularly in the working offices.



Mas/ AS

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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