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Ibrahim El-Salahi Pain Relief at The Saatchi Gallery, London

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Above, painting of a Sudanese bride dancing for her groom while he stands by, holding her traditional red and gold garmasis wedding toub. As she dances, the band of hagu / hagoo / haqu / haqou beads and bells encircling her waist and hips glitter and sway.

Title photo, a modern hagu.

For more on traditional Sudanese wedding customs, see Anointing in Robes of Red and Gold

If you are interested in the symbolic and decorative power of Sudanese beadwork, you might enjoy The Sudanese Tambour For more on Sudanese jewelry, see “A Necklace of Shells from Distant Seas…”

For Sudanese leather amulets or Hijab, see Unfolding Blessings

The Hagu / Hagoo

Setting the Scene

This week’s post is the first of a series of brief blogs on aspects of Sudanese women’s traditional attire and adornments. Today I look at the elusive hagu / hagoo beads, which until recently were worn by many Northern Sudanese brides. Extracts from a fascinating, intimate 1960-70s account provided by Anne Cloudsley (left) in her Women of Omdurman, Life, Love and the Cult of Virginity, (Ethnographica,1983, p45-47) provide the focus of this post. Learn more about the writer, researcher and artist, Anne Cloudsley

It would be wonderful to hear from any readers who can offer more information on the hagu / hagoo / haqou, especially in the form of first-hand Arabic sources or photographs, or indeed any corrections or additions to the account below. This post merely scratches the surface of a fascinating, multi-layered tradition and I see this very much as a conversation starter.

Below, some of the Sudanese artifacts donated by Anne and her husband to the British Museum.

Below, “Bride dancing at the subheya in 1936, the traditional bridal dance consisting of a number of arous (bridal) songs accompanied by clapping, ululations and the beat of bongos. She wears a rahat (skirt made of leather strips) with a hagu belt. On her hand is a sin fil (ivory) bracelet.”

Griselda EL Tayib, Regional Folk Costumes of the Sudan, p 138.


Griselda EL Tayib goes on to describe the hagu / hagoo; “The rahat in this case was a new one of plain leather not tanned in any special colour. Just lying over the top of it above the hips was a very important string of beads called al hagu, hip band. It was made of of big red imitation coral beads called al fum interspersed with large silver hollow balls which contained rattles called al kamad al kas. As the bride’s hips were shaking in the traditional bridal dance, these silver balls rattled to the rhythm of the drum beat.

Griselda El Tayib, Attire of the Riverain Sudan, p142, Regional Costumes of the Sudan, Dal Group, 2017.

The hagu is not confined to wedding rituals. A sudanese jewelry expert told me; “In the Nubian Kawaleeb tribe, the hagu is placed around the waist of the newborn girl as a covenant of engagement to one of the sons of another family. It is put on by the mother of the fiancé and never taken off by the bride until they grow up and get married.” She added that It is also associated with healing rituals of zar ceremonies and pain relief.

See too Traditional Sudanese Medicine, Dr. Ahmad Safi, p132, extract below:

Below, a colonial era photograph of a young girl wearing a rahat skirt.

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Women’s Education Partnership

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The Hagu / Hagoo, as recounted by Anna Cloudsley In “Affaf’s Wedding”

“Affaf was pretty, with regular features and a soft gentle voice. She had beautiful skin and was darker than her mother Saeda or her father, Mahmoud. She was still little more than a child herself, with rather serious eyes.” When Cloudsley wrote her account, Affaf was sixteen.

Above, the grace and shimmering beauty of the Sudanese bridal dance. Plate from Women of Omdurman, Anne Cloudsley, p55, as above. Note the hagoo beads encircling the bride’s waist.

After months of marriage preparations – sewing wedding clothes, embroidering counterpanes and pillow cases, blending perfumes and scented pastes, gathering furniture, saucepans, wooden boxes for spices and coffee, tea glasses and Turkish coffee cups, lemonade glasses, jugs and trays – the moment arrived:

“Finally, the old wooden box of Affaf’s grandmother, Fatma, was brought from its hiding place under her angereeb and taken into Saeda’s yard. Among her personal belongings Fatma disentangled the family hagoo. The hagoo is a belt of huge beads. The largest ones are in the centre or may be dispersed between the smaller beads. Usually they are threaded on a leather thong or cotton string which is tied round the waist of the bride. The beads are often of amber or some substitute and hagoos can be very expensive. Sometimes the large beads are made of hollow tin. The hagoo is worn at the ceremony of the cutting of the skirt. There is a good deal of secrecy about the wearing of the hagoo and it was a long time before I discovered its existence. I learned its use while travelling through Kadugli in the Nuba Mountains of Kordofan.”

Above, a bead stall in Omdurman market

Cloudsley goes on to suggest that the wearing of the hagoo has special sensual significance and speculates that the custom might well have originated in the Nuba Mountains, where “it is not confined to marriage rituals”. She continues:

Once familiar with the hagoo I very much wanted to buy one, but I was not successful in the women’s souk. They are not easy to find as every household has one and close relations borrow it. I could not have expected a young Sudanese woman friend to come to the market to help me look for one. I might have found a grandmother who would have been willing, but Mahmoud volunteered to help me. We found our way to the small women’s section of the souk, amid broad jokes and grins from the merchants, most of whom knew Mahmoud and wanted to know what we were buying. When they learnt the answers their jokes became more ribald, but we did receive helpful suggestions as to which woman would be likely to have a hagoo for sale. We were lucky, there was just one entwined with a good many other necklaces suitable for brides who could not afford the usual gold. They were in a deep, carved black ebony bowl hewn from the solid trunk of a tree which many years ago would have been used as one of the central food bowls in the men’s diwan.”

“Affaf wound the hagoo around her waist over her rahad. Her bridal dress was red with gold thread running through it, making it glisten. A head-dress or sharifa was then placed over her hair. Made of net covered with rows of gold discs, the sharifa is often sewn on to the hair with threads so that it does not fall off during the dance. She wore gold earrings and a complicated necklace hanging in tiers down to her breast. In Omdurman the bride also wears beads and very often charms round the waist or the neck. They are often in a leather purse fastened on the upper arm for luck and to keep away the evil eye.”

For more details on the bridal jewelry Cloudsley mentions above, see Anointing in Robes of Red and Gold

Below, a member of Affaf’s family, Anne Cloudsley as above, p12.

Postscript to Affaf’s Story – Confinement

Saeda’s eldest daughter Affaf became pregnant when her baby sister Haala was still only six months old. Affaf was now seventeen. She occupied rooms her husband had rented in the hosh across the street from her mother. She kept them in a neat and orderly manner. There were little curtains at the window, a pink satin cover on her brass bedstead and a simple dressing table with a mirror attached to it. It was not a large room and the double bed took up a great deal of space. The shutters which took the place of window panes as in most of these mud houses were kept closed to exclude the sun and the heat, so it was always rather dark, though tidy and restful. An iron cot with cotton draperies had been made up and stood in the corner of the room.”

Women of Omdurman, Anna Cloudsley, Confinement, p129″

This is a cultural post for

Women’s Education Partnership

Help us to provide educational opportunity for women and girls in deprived communities.

See Latest News and At a Glance for more about our work.

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