British Museum blog

Angareeb – a living Sudanese tradition

Shadia Abdu Rabo, Sudan National Museum

New beds stacked up in Omdurman market near Khartoum

New beds stacked up in Omdurman market near Khartoum

In November, clearing out a store in the expedition house at Amara West, we came across many fragments of traditional beds, or angareeb, made of wood, leather and rope. We have repaired some of these, to use in our lounge area, but also in some of the bedrooms.

Angareeb bed legs found in the storeroom of the expedition house at Amara West

Angareeb bed legs found in the storeroom of the expedition house at Amara West

These beds have a very long history in Sudan, going back to the ancient Kerma culture, where the dead were placed on low beds inside graves.

The Virgin Mary on a bed. Painted scene from Faras, Sudan National Museum

The Virgin Mary on a bed. Painted scene from Faras, Sudan National Museum

In the cemetery at Amara West, despite the actions of both robbers and termites, there is clear evidence that some of the burials featured similar beds. In some tombs, there is evidence for both beds of this type and Egyptian coffins, reflecting a mixture of different cultural traditions in the late second millennium BC.

But the form of the bed survived through historical, political and religious changes.

In a fifth century AD painting in the church at Faras, now in the Sudan National Museum, the Virgin Mary is shown upon a bed, while in the late nineteenth century, the wife of the ruling Mahdi owned a lavish example of an angareeb.

An angareeb decked out for a wedding

An angareeb decked out for a wedding

The beds follow people from birth to death: childbirth often takes place on such angareeb; circumcision rituals are performed; beds are used in Koranic khalwa-school, are adorned for wedding ceremonies, and are a feature of funeral processions.

Craftsman cutting legs for a new angareeb, in Omdurman market near Khartoum

Craftsman cutting legs for a new angareeb, in Omdurman market near Khartoum

The shape has not changed radically, and today one can visit craftsmen in the market to see the beams of acacia, mahogany or date palm being cut and joined (now with wire and metal nails), before the bed is strung – often with nylon string not rope.

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Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Bust of a warrior. Silverpoint, on prepared paper, c. 1475-1480.
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