A typical Sudanese grocer’s shop (copyright: Muna Zaki).
The Sudanese Souq
Sudanese markets are lively places that add much needed colour and vitality to those provincial towns that languish under a general feeling of atrophy and the loss of more optimistic, youthful times. Wandering along lines of stalls and through bustling, tarpaulin-covered alleyways, any sense of loneliness on the part of a homesick visitor will soon vanish. Greetings are exchanged and questions patiently answered. Much good-humoured bargaining then takes place without any undue pressure being placed upon the potential buyer.
Apart from a small tourist section of Souq Omdurman, markets in the Sudan tend to be based upon the needs of the inhabitants. Alongside the greengrocers and butchers, there are other stores selling the basic ingredients used in Sudanese recipes: cones of dried dates; piles of red karkadee (hibiscus) leaves; white mounds of gongolees, the fruit of the baobab tree. Also tubs of sundried tomatoes, cumin, peanuts, fuul beans and powdered okra; heaps of watermelon seeds; the hard fruit of the doum palm; sweet nabag, the fruit of the jujube tree and even chunks of natron dug from the desert.
Walk on further and there will be a row of hardware shops selling all manner of aluminium pots and pans as well as the now ubiquitous plastic goods from China. In another corner will be stalls selling fabric alongside tailors’ sewing machines for making garments.
More interesting perhaps are the traditional handicrafts: wooden mafraka for stirring stews such as mulaaH; canoon charcoal burners made from old tins, together with palm-leaved habbaaba for fanning the embers; metal shragrag used for boiling water; teeth cleaning masaawiik made from the branches of the arak tree, and all manner of leather goods such as the traditional shoes known as markuub.
Sudanese shoemakers making the traditional markuub shoe (copyright: Muna Zaki)
الخنفُسانة شافت ولدها في الحيط قالت دا لولي ملضوم في خيط
al khunfusaana shaafat walada fi l-HeeT gaalat da luuli malDuum fi kheeT.
The dung beetle saw its son on the wall and said these are pearls put together on a string.
Though the dung beetle is ugly, to his mother he is as lovely and beautiful as pearls beads strung together on a thread. This proverb implies that parental love can be blind. There is a short folktale called The Mouse and the Beetle relating to this proverb.
It once happened that a mouse married a beetle. One day when the beetle went down to the river to wash her shamla (a rag of wool or goat hair used by Sudanese women to cover their bodies when having a smoke bath), a strong habuub suddenly blew and swept away the shamla, together with the beetle who was clinging on to it tightly. The gust of wind threw the beetle on an island in the river, leaving her feeling shocked and bewildered. By coincidence, a boy from the house where the mouse and the beetle had their hole was passing near the shore. When the beetle saw him, she called out in her loudest voice: Continue reading
The elegant building shown in these pictures lies in the centre of Khartoum and was once the residence of Sayyid ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Mahdi, the son of al-Mahdi. As the founder of the modern Ansar movement and a prominent nationalist figure in the formation of an independent Sudan, he is perhaps the most important political figure in the country’s twentieth century’s history. He died in 1959 and for some years the building was used as the National Record Office (national archives).
My photographs were taken in the early 2000’s. Unfortunately, a few years ago the building was half demolished and then left in a ruined state. Land prices in the centre of Khartoum are very high and exert pressure on development, but town planning should surely be balanced with keeping representative examples of buildings from the past. It was a great shame that this palatial building dating from 1918, with its beautiful garden and historical connections, should have been damaged in this way.
This expression is used to describe an unwelcome person who it is hard to get rid of because they always come up with excuses and justifications for lingering. Under Sudanese culture it is considered shameful to turn away a guest, particularly at meal times.
This saying has an amusing story behind it.
One day Juha was approached by a man who wanted to buy his beautiful house. Juha agreed to the man’s offer but on one condition. He insisted on retaining the ownership of a single nail that had been struck into one of the walls. Being delighted with the price, the buyer agreed to this odd insistence and the sale was soon completed.
After a few days Juha arrived at the door when the family was having their dinner with the excuse that he wanted to see his nail. The new owner allowed him in and as the Arabs are famous for their generosity, Juha was invited to share their meal after seeing his nail. This was the first of innumerable visits that Juha made in the following days. Juha would arrive at all hours, day or night, on the pretext of wishing to see his nail. The new owner finally lost his temper as Juha was depriving his family of any rest and privacy. In a blind rage, he stormed out of the house, shouting to Juha, “Take your house with its nail. I don’t want it!”
(The Nile Valley, near Kerma, Northern Sudan – photograph by Edmund Wyatt)
The Wise Man of the Village by Muna Zaki
In a village by the River Nile, there lived a wise old man, whose days of toil and labour were over. Every morning the old man’s chair was placed under the shade of some date palms overlooking the village. Here he would spend his days watching the flowing river and listening to the creaking of the saagiya waterwheels.
Over the years his reputation for wisdom had spread up and down the river so that many people came to seek his advice whenever they had a troubling problem or were in desperate need of help. Around his riverine gardens, he had buried various amounts of money. If anyone wanted to borrow some money from him, the old would lend each according to their need by directing him to a particular spot where some coins buried. The old man only asked that the person should pay back the money when they felt able by placing it in the very same spot from which it had been taken.
Amongst the people of the country was a merchant who did not value the favours of others. One day he came to the old man and asked for ten dinars to help with the purchase of some goods. Because of the loan, the merchant’s business prospered. He knew that he should have returned the money but he could not bring himself to part with it. Finally, he said to himself, “I won’t pay the old man back. My profits are large and I will never have to go begging to him for help again. In any case that old fool has probably forgotten all about the loan by now.”
Days, years passed by, and the merchant’s fruitful business withered and died. Soon he had used up all his money and was desperate. He said to himself, “I’ll go to the old man. I’m sure that he won’t recognize me after all these years.”
He found the old man sitting as before in his gardens near the river. As the merchant approached, the old man welcomed him and asked, “What can I do for you my son?”
“You are well-known up and down the river for your wisdom and generosity. I have come to ask you for some money as I’m facing some hard times,” explained the merchant.
“There should be ten dinars hidden there,” replied the old man pointing to the very spot from which the merchant had taken the money all those years before.
Eagerly the merchant began to dig down into the earth. He thought of what he would do with the ten dinars. Down and down he dug but there was no money to be found. At last he gave up and returned to the old man. “They told me you were wise but that spot does not even have a millieme let alone ten dinars…” the merchant began to complain bitterly.
While the merchant was still in mid-flow, the old man held up his hand and simply replied, “If you had paid it my son, you will have found it.”
© Muna Zaki
One of the funnier stories about Garagoosh’s lack of fair judgment concerns a farmer who appeared before him to complain that a thief had stolen one of his chickens. He produced a witness and the thief made a full confession under Garagoosh’s interrogation. Garagoosh then announced that the thief must pay a fine of one dinar. Upon hearing this everyone thought that the matter had been settled until Garagoosh added that the owner of the chicken and his witness should also be fined a dinar each as well! When they asked Garagoosh about the legal basis upon which the judgment was based, he merely remarked, ‘I judged the thief because he has taken what doesn’t belong to him. I fined the owner because he didn’t take good care of his chicken.’ ‘But what guilt did the witness commit, your honour?’ asked one of the counsels. Garagoosh’s reply was final, ‘Because he has interfered in what doesn’t concern him!’
Hukum garagoosh. The judgment of Garagoosh.
This short expression is used when a peculiar or tyrannical judgment has been passed. The litigious nature of Sudanese society helps to account for why this Arabic saying about a judge called Garagoosh is commonly used.
There are numerous stories about him such as that of Garagoosh although few can be as bizarre as that concerning a pregnant woman: It once happened that a soldier collided with a farmer’s pregnant wife as he rushed to climb onto one of the small boats that ferry people across the Nile. The incident resulted in the poor woman having a miscarriage. After the farmer brought a legal case against the soldier, the parties appeared before Garagoosh to set out their case. Garagoosh decreed that the soldier take the peasant’s wife to his house until she was pregnant again, and that after she had been pregnant for seven months she should return to her husband. “Oh my great master! I withdraw my complaints, and entrust my case to God and his justice,” was all that the flabbergasted farmer could plead.
Another story relates how a creditor went to Garagoosh to complain that his debtor had failed to repay the sum loaned to him. In mitigation, the debtor explained that although he was a poor man he had endeavoured to repay the creditor. However, he had been unable to find the man when the money was in his pocket, and by the time they met the money had been spent. In response Garagoosh passed judgement that the creditor should be gaoled so that the debtor would know the place to hand over the money! On hearing the sentence the creditor didn’t hestitate to forgive the debtor all the money he had borrowed!