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The `Angareeb

The Traditional Sudanese Bed

Above, the women’s quarters of a northern Sudanese home in the mid-1980s. The angareeb shown here draining pots and trays was often also used for drying vegetables and rinsing clothes.


The bed above has clearly seen better days. Demoted to kitchen service, it has entered the final stage of the angareeb’s eventful life cycle as documented by Birgit Jerbi. Bought originally as the nuptial bed, she explains, the angareeb would later be moved to the porch or men’s part of the house, and finally relegated to the hosh harim or women’s quarters where the most “badly worn was only fit for dark of the smoke-filled kitchen”

The angarêb in Northern Sudan

The word is believed by many to come from the Nubian “angari”, and is one of several names that gained currency as the bed spread from region to region.

The Beja call it the “saydaab”, central Sudan tribes often refer to it as “al-Qadu al-Shabah”, and Riverain peoples often use the term “dagaag”. Particular types of angareeb have their own names, such as the “jirtig” or “hug” angareeb which became popular in 1970s, the long-legged, wide Abu Suruuj, while others take on the name of the type of lathe used.

Left, an angareeb and wooden bambar or stool; once staples of every northern Sudanese home. The rope surface of the angareeb consists of two parts, the main, often zigzag patterned sleeping section or “baHr”, woven just loosely enough to allow cooling circulation of air around the bed, and the unwoven foot end “karraab” (from the verb “to tie”), used to tighten the strings as they slacken over time. My thanks to Peter Holly of Sudan English Teachers Facebook Group for the photo above left.

Tightening and restringing tired angareeb would often take place before communal celebrations, such as Ramadan (Birgit Jerbi). The light, low and very portable angareeb habaabi, pictured below, (from Sudanese Arabic for” fan”), often used without a mattress, would be taken outside in summer to catch the refreshing breezes and the cool air of the freshly sprinkled earth floor of the courtyard, though some contemporary Sudanese sources say it is now rarely found outside Quran school (khalwa) courtyards.

Above, angareeb habaabi in an Ed-Debba courtyard, early 1980s. Thank you, Peter Holly, for this photo. The Egyptian craftsman in the video below strings his angareeb with halfa grass rope in ways very similar to those of Sudanese bedmakers.

The long poles of the angareeb are known as mirg, or beams and the shorter poles which give the bed its width are the wisaada, or pillow poles. The wooden frame is most often made from scented pod acacia, “sunut”, jujube tree,”sidr” or neem; the timber often sourced from Damazin and Rosieres. The traditional angareeb, unlike modern wooden beds and newer angareeb hybrids, used only wooden joinery and so contained no nails or screws.

Below, tightening an aging angareeb; photo taken by Andy Croy, Sudan English Teachers Facebook Group, somewhere between Kassala and Port Sudan, 1986.

Setting the Scene

Then and Now; A Vanishing World? Women, Men and the Angareeb

Brief History Ritual Use Reminiscences

Arabic Sources

Setting the Scene

Elaborately turned and inlaid angareeb legs, colonial era, Sudan Ethnographic Museum, Khartoum.

If, like me, you lived in Sudan thirty-five years ago, you would have seen this simple, often rough-hewn, wooden framed, rope or hide strung bed in almost every northern Sudanese courtyard, reception hall, kitchen and bedroom. Birgit Jerbi rightly upbraids non African anthropologists for defining the angareeb by the lazy shorthand of “bed” in her fascinating article, The angarêb in Northern Sudan, aptly subtitled “much more than a bed” (Birgit Jerbi, Medische Anthropologie 18,1, 2006). Indeed, with exquisite economy, the angareeb was for decades the epitome of non-consumerist, multifunctional practicality, readily affordable and repairable, serving as couch, bench, shelf, and portable storage, drainage and drying space in the Sudanese home and even as rafts in the rainy season and camel-drawn sleds for children and provisions (Birgit Jerbi). Yet the angareeb was also invested with intense symbolic power, playing a centre stage role in rites of passage surrounding birth, circumcision, the zar healing cult, marriage and even death. While it is fading fast from contemporary life, some of the angareeb’s powerful symbolism still endures, especially in jirtig and funeral ceremonies and remains alive in numerous proverbs and sayings.

Above, late afternoon conversations, reclining on angareebs lining the women’s hosh. While Sudanese tended not to have their own individual angareeb, members of the household usually had their own habitual sleeping place and angareebs were moved around over the course of the day (Birgit Jerbi).

As a wet-behind-the-ears English teacher in the mid-1980s, stunned by the sweltering heat of a Dongola summer night, I would drag the angareeb out of my room – its only furniture – and into the wide dirt courtyard. Although the bed frame was no more than a creaking skeleton held together with a ragged string vest of tendons – a threadbare hammock rather than a bed, I would fall asleep gratefully and almost instantly, under the canopy of desert stars, only to awaken later, stiff with backache.

The angareeb has proven a source of endless anecdotes for wide-eyed foreigners like me, entranced by Sudan. While I was researching this article, the Sudan English Teachers Facebook Group responded with a treasure trove of stories and photos, some of which I gratefully reproduce here. Everything from placing saucers of water under bed legs to drown scorpions and cockroaches, having one’s bed crash to the floor in a cloud of dust, to Nuba generals calmly retiring to impossibly low-slung angareeb as government Antonov bombers droned ominously closer.

Above right, folk art capturing the domestic versatility of the angareeb; (Pinterest). Above left, an angareeb strung with cow hide. This most ancient form of angareeb is often referred to as angareeb al-gadd, from the Sudanese Arabic word for holes or perforations (photo, Sudan Ethnographic Museum, Khartoum).

Scroll down to the end of this post for the Arabic sources drawn on in this article.

Then and Now – A Vanishing World?

Women, Men and the Angareeb

Above, colonial-era photo of roof-top angareebs.

kaan Safat an-niyya l-`angareeb bishiil miyya

If people’s intention is pure (sincere), one `angareeb would be enough to carry a hundred; a Sudanese saying reminding us to help one another even when our own resources are limited, and which to me epitomizes Sudanese open-handed kindness. Having enough angareeb to offer comfort and rest to expected and unexpected guests was seen by many as a pillar of Sudanese hospitality.

My thanks to Muna Zaki for this proverb.

Ten years ago, Angareeb Street, in Omdurman market was still home to Ibrahim Hussein Qasim and his brother, Mustafa, sellers of angareeb for over forty years and among the founders of this specialist section of the market. Sadly they were then among the few last surviving tradesmen of angareeb in Omdurman as the bed gradually fell prey to changing urban tastes and the charms of modern imports and neat suites of matching furniture. Yet, although among the younger urban generation, Sudanese sources report, the word angareeb is often unknown, young designers are tapping into the angareeb’s enduring cultural appeal, offering a sophisticated modern spin on its traditional structure and weaving. From being affordable in its simplest form to nearly all Sudanese, the angareeb has become significantly pricier than the metal, wooden and hybrid beds that have largely taken its place in the Sudanese home.

Above, still from a Sudanese TV report showing angareeb at Omdurman market. You can watch this and other TV reports with English annotations in my transcriptions blog, The Angareeb 1/2

Below, marrying the modern and traditional, photo Pinterest.

Abdul Aziz, from Berber, Northern Province, recalls, “In my region, when a baby is born, the parents get an angareeb for the newborn and it is his to sleep on. Years later, upon his marriage, the same angareeb is used for his wedding henna ceremony. And when he eventually dies, he is carried to his final resting place on the angareeb.”

Most Sudanese commentators agree that the everyday use of the angareeb is now confined to the older generation and those still living a traditional rural life. A seventy-year old interviewed recently recalled with nostalgia the days when every village room was lined with angareeb. Another reveals how she proudly rejected her son’s offer to replace all her beds when he became well off enough to afford to, exclaiming “My son, the angareeb is as essential to me as the ziir I drink from”. And with its decline, the status of the angareeb has shifted too.

Birgit Jerbi notes that in the past, “elaborately worked angarêb were found in the areas of the house that were meant for visitors. They had mattresses made out of cotton, covered by white, hand-embroidered sheets or coloured, industrially produced fabrics, just as the iron beds are covered today. They are increasingly regarded as outmoded. They were once put in the guest rooms for male visitors, the most prestigious place of the house, but have been demoted to the space of the women.”

Many Sudanese commentators go further, saying the angareeb now languishes in dusty storerooms, only to be taken out or borrowed from neighbours for occasional ceremonial use. In urban communities, it is often only used as a bier for funerals, where it is still viewed as indispensable. (More on this custom below).

Above left, modern angareeb with colourful nylon and plastic weaving. Though often preferred to the traditional woven palm fibre or hide surfaces, these hybrid angareeb are said to be hot and sticky and so need to be used with mattresses. Above right, the traditional angareeb, which, in the daytime, was usually cool and comfortable enough to lie on without a mattress. (thank you, Martin Norris for this photo). Birgit Jerbi relates that mattresses, made of “coarse cotton sack filled with raw cleaned cotton wadding” were only used in the daytime” when guests needed a a particularly long rest, as in Ramadan.

Above, Khartoum courtyard with examples of the metal beds now ubiquitous in northern Sudan.

Women, Men and the Angareeb

Left, women in 1980s Northern Province undertaking household tasks traditionally associated with female roles. Birgit Jebri, recounting the customs of Shaigiya women near Merowe, noted the gendered aspect of angareeb use, reflecting, she suggests, the fact that women often worked sitting or squatting close to the ground and relied on low stools and angareeb as work tools.


Men tended to see the angareeb purely in terms of rest, preferring metal and wooden beds where possible, with the exception, Jerbi notes, of tradesmen who would display goods for sale in the big markets such as Soug al-Libiya and the men of the Hassaniya who would prepare “dough for for sorghum porridge by drying it on angareeb” Birgit Jerbi.

For Jerbi, the angareeb was overwhelmingly associated with the world of women, often relied on as a physical barrier to preserve the privacy of their domestic quarters. This was especially true during smoke baths where the angareeb would be placed “with long side on the floor” and draped with bedsheets and clothing, offering “additional protection from view”, while absorbing “the smoky smell of the dukhan.” She also relates that in the past, the angareeb used during childbirth allowed birth fluids to flow away freely through the unwoven, karraab end of the bed.

More on Sudan’s aromatic heritage in Karkar, Dilka and Dukhan

Brief History and Ritual Use of the Angareeb

Above, aspect of the Dafuufa, Kerma, Northern Province, pinnacle of Kerma civilization, (1750- 1550 BC) and inset, one of the earliest examples of the ancient burial angareeb, displayed at Sudan’s National Museum.

Brief History of the Angareeb

Reporting on Kerma excavations in 1917, Reisner recounts that everyone, with the exception of the poorest, non-enslaved citizen and those to be sacrificed, was buried on an angareeb, often bearing ox-shaped legs. The archeologist assumed that the objects found accompanying the dead had been in everyday use before burial (quoted by Birgit Jerbi). The Kerma leather-strung angareeb al-gad, Fawi Hassan Bakheet believes, is remarkably similar to those used until recently in Sudan. The practice of burial on angareeb is believed to have continued until Christian Nubian period and the bed was in everyday use until the 11th century. From 11th to 16th century neither burial on angareeb nor their everyday use as furniture has been found in written sources. Only from the start of the 17th century did travellers report its general use again (Birgit Jerbi). Above left,The Kerma Bed, recreated.

Sudanese accounts reference researcher Abbas al-Hajj, who claims the dual symbolism of the angareeb – celebrating life and death – flows from the burial rites of such legendary leaders as the Kandaka Amaani Shaakhiitii. Laid out in state on an ornate angareeb, her perfumes and adornments arrayed below her, the queen also bore delicate henna tattoos on her hands, thus, according to al-Hajj interweaving propitious wedding rites – perfumes and henna, with those of mourning and forgiveness. Eventually, he claims, the angareeb ceased to be associated with burial itself and came to used for bearing the dead to their grave, echoing too, he speculates, omens associated with the constellation of bannaat na`sh; the female coffin bearers.

Archeological finds reported in Sudan Notes and Records, (Volume 1,1918) describe Egyptian burial rites in Sudan as echoing those of Nubian tombs; “The Egyptian lay on an angareb on his right side with his head east and the usual equipment of head-rest, fan, sword, sandals, stone vessels and pottery. At his feet lay a ram buried whole and around him were from two to thirty males and females all covered by the great ox-hide which was laid over the burial.”

Jerbi references Gustav Nachtigal’s accounts of the angareeb during his travels in the mid 1880s. Describing it as a low bench or seat, Nachtigal praised its portability, remarking “No jallâbî or civilized man in eastern Sudan would ever travel without one.” She also quotes Slatin Pasha’s claim during the Mahdiya (1883-1898) that the angareeb was “common in all strata of society”, while of “different qualities and materials.”

It was in the 19th century under Turkish- Egyptian rule that the ubiquitous wooden jointed “wad al gadduum” (“son of the adze”) angareeb gave way to more elaborately worked versions with turned legs, thanks to the introduction of lathe techniques brought to Sudan by Indian craftsmen. Indeed contemporary Indian charpoy / charpai beds are remarkably similar to the Sudanese angareeb. Some sources claim these Indian craftsmen settled along the Blue Nile, others that they were based in Saudi Arabia and others still that a lone Indian carpenter had plied his craft in secret, refusing to reveal his techniques until the Sudanese family of Al- Nefirab established itself in Wad Medani and mastered the new craft of turning.

Above left, a contemporary Indian charpoy bed, photo, Above right, the leather-strung angareeb, Sudan Memory

“I remember there was a railway station on the line to Wau, at which the entire train filled up with angareeb legs, which I understood to be the fruit of a missionary-run development project that had brought along a wood-turning lathe. The next stop filled the carriages with water melons.” Peter Moszynski recalling life in Sudan in the 1980s.

Watch a Sudanese angareeb with turned legs being made here:

السودان| أسواق شعبية | شاهد كيفية صناعة العنقريب السوداني (سرير)

“And now came in one of the conveniences – so far the only one – of travelling in the Sudan. “Three angarebs”, said the correspondent of experience; and came back the servants presently with three of the stout wooden frames lashed across with thongs that form the Sudanese bed: you can get them anywhere there is a village – as a rule to be sure there is none – and they are luxurious beyond springs and feathers.”

From With Kitchener to Khartoum, Chapter V, “The Luxury of Angareebs”, Steevens.

My thanks to Geoff Holden for this excerpt.

Left, the giant angareeb of the Khalifa’s House, Omdurman. Slatin, describes the Khalifa’s residence in Fire and Sword in the Sudan in eloquent terms; “The reception chambers are furnished with the greatest simplicity. An angareb, over which a palm-mat is spread, is the article of furniture; but his interior apartments are provided with all the luxuries it is possible to procure in the Sudan. Brass and iron bedsteads with mosquito curtains, – the spoil of Khartoum, – carpets, silk-covered cushions, door and window curtains of every variety of colour and texture, and the principal articles of furniture while the verandahs are provided with the universal angareb and palm-mat.”

Sudanese sources tell us the Khalifa’s angareeb pictured left was found in Northern Province, near Argo, was made of wood originally parts of a water wheel and had been in use for at least three centuries, often as a communal bed for young boarders of the khalwa or Quran school. I was told by a guide there that it was used to store the lawH, or wooden boards used by Quran school pupils to perfect their writing and memorize sacred text.

Ritual Use of the Angareeb

Birgit Jerbi provides fascinating and detailed descriptions of the use of the angareeb, draped in sheets of propitious red and embroidered cushions, even richly canopied, in the Sudanese jirtig wedding ceremony where bride and groom sit side by side on an angareeb positioned towards the qibla as they are anointed with henna and perfumed pastes and oils and receive sacred talismans and blessings. She also tracks the changes in jirtig angareeb use, the decline of the canopied and teakwood wedding angareeb and its relegation to the home’s storeroom. Jerti outlines too the angareeb’s role in circumcision, where again covered in red, the bed is used both for the operation and convalescence of the child, as well as its use in zaar rituals. Above right, a modern take on the wedding jirtig angareeb.


Read more on jirtig customs in Anointing in Robes of Red and Gold

More on Sudan’s aromatic heritage in Karkar, Dilka and Dukhan

Perhaps less well known is the jirtig ceremony performed for pregnant women and new mothers, where the angareeb is also centre stage. Below, two extracts from The Changing Customs of the Riverain Sudan, by Abdullah El Tayib, published in Sudan Notes and Records, December 1955 (Vol 36, No.2):

Before the birth:

“The pregnant woman was placed on an angareeb covered with a ceremonial mat made of dōm leaves and coloured barley straw. Her 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 bead at the parting of the hair above the forehead.”

And on becoming a mother:

“After the midwife’ work had been done, the house was swept clean and prepared for visitors of both sexes. No male, 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 nifaas-jartig…. The kujrah was a kind of Howdah made from coloured dōm-mats. It was pitched round the bed and supported on a frame of green date-palm branches. Arches of such branches would be placed either side of the angarīb . A sheet of expensive Indian cloth known as Surrati would be spread as a 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 adornments of the jirtig. 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.”

Above, a Sufi funeral at Hamid Al-Nil, Omdurman.

Perhaps the most poignant and enduring role the humble angareeb plays is to bear the dead on their final journey. The angareeb-bier is often still kept stored away in homes and after use, Sudanese sources say, it is left leaning against a wall outside the home for three days before being brought back inside and returning to everyday use. Right, sketch based on a photo in منوعات/سرير-الحياة-والقيامة-من-ينقذ-العنقريب-السوداني؟ showing the deceased laid out on the funeral angareeb as prayers for the dead are offered.

Nomadic tribes are known to carry their shroud and other funeral objects with them as they travel. Left, a sketch based on a photo by Enikö Nagy, in her wonderful photographic tribute to the peoples of Sudan, Sand in My Eyes, p 651; “Burial items nomads carry with them: white cotton, gum arabic, incense, spices, perfume and a woven mat laid out on an angreb, Northern Kordofan.”

Below an extract from Sisters under the Sun, The Story of Sudanese Women, by Marjorie Hall and Bakhita Amin Israel, published in 1981, describing funeral rituals and the use of the angareeb.

From Sisters under the Sun, Longman 1981, p 182.

” The body is first washed by a close relative as a ritual purification then wrapped in a white shroud and laid on an angarib. A green cotton cloth especially brought from Mecca and bearing the inscription attesting to the unity of God, is placed over the body. Most households have such a cloth which is carefully preserved and used for successive funerals……When the time for burial arrives, the angarib on which the body lies is carried by four male relatives or friends of the deceased to the cemetery……After the burial the bed and the green cotton cloth are brought back to the house and kept in a special room for two weeks. After this period water and milk are sprayed on them, sandalwood is burned and prayers said in honour of the deceased.”

Reminiscences – Sudan English Teachers Facebook Group

Sleeping on an angareeb wasn’t without its risks for English teachers in the Sudan of 1980-90s. Martin Norris recalls:

“Waking up in the middle of the night with with a large snake in the bed. Grabbing it with my right arm and pounding it repeatedly into the wall – I could feel its muscles writhing … and then falling back in a cold sweat as the feeling returned to my left arm as it ached from the battering I’d given it…..”

Rob Glaves remembers the pitfalls of buying an angareeb, as a teacher new to both Amentego, Northern Province and Sudanese Arabic, and asking for a scorpion, agaarib, to sleep on – doubtless to the bemusement of the soug traders there.

Above, Angareebs in the teachers’ house, Kadugli, 1985, photo Geoff Holden. English teachers would occasionally use angareeb for more than socializing; one teacher posted a photo of angareebs lined up on their sides as makeshift hurdles.

Peter Moszynski highlights the power of the angareeb as magical personality props, recalling an old Nuba Mountains friend and military top brass there:

“lying down on the smallest angareeb I ever saw, drinking local beer from a gourd whilst waiting for an illicit, under-the-radar flight at the local airstrip, when suddenly one of Khartoum’s notorious Antonov bombers appeared overhead, causing a great commotion with lots of people senselessly running to and fro in blind panic. “When this happens,” he remarked nonchalantly, taking another draught of marissa, “I prefer to remain lying down, out of harm’s way.” I couldn’t help bursting out laughing at the sight of him serenely perched on his micro angareeb, a full two inches above ground.

I close with the ultimate khawadja angareeb story from Peter Moszynski:

Just because you’re delirious…

Arabic Sources





العنقريب!!!تراث يتحدى الزمن

سرير الحياة والقيامة… من ينقذ “العنقريب” السوداني؟

موضوع: عنقريب الجرتق

العنقريب) .. موروث خالد للسودانيين

This is a cultural post for Women’s Education Partnership.

Women’s Education Partnership

Learn more about our women’s literacy, orphans schooling and university scholarship projects programmes below:

Opening Doors – Our Women’s Literacy Programme

Our University Scholarships giving bright young women the chance to go to university

Scenes from Our Orphans’ Schooling Programme and From Hardship to Hope Our Orphans Schooling Programme

More cultural posts that might be of interest:

A Taste of a Sudanese Summer 2022 Cultural Posts Spring 2022 Selected Cultural Posts

Selected Cultural Posts

2 comments on “The `Angareeb

  1. Dr. Aziz suliman says:

    In my region, when a baby is born the parents get a angareeb for the baby. The new baby sleeps on it, then when he grow up, he sit for hinna for his wedding on it. And when he finally dies, he is carried to his final resting place on the angareeb. I love this article. It brought back some dear memories. Thank you


    1. Thanks so much, Abdul, for your very interesting comments. I am going to add them to the article, with your permission. Which region are you from?


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