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Thursday, 18 October 2018
 

The `Angareb in Northern Sudan: More than Just a Bed

(Birgit Jerbi) - The Sudanese wooden framed bedstead `angareb (pl.: `anagrib) is an important piece of furniture in nearly all homes in the Sudan

. This paper describes the production, variety of forms and especially the multifunctional use of the `angarêb using archaeological finds, written sources as well as field observations. The `angarêb plays an important role in marriage and circumcision ceremonies, at the funeral occasions and within the zar possession cult. There are diverse options for the use of the `angareb and different forms of it, as the manufacture of`anâgrîb is an almost 3000 year-old tradition in Sudan. While in towns it is now being used only as a bier for the dead, people in rural regions still use it in many different ways. In the cities the `anagrib were often replaced by modern beds and people began to change also their view of the `angareb as a “traditional” (as opposed to “modern”) household commodity.
There is little known about indigenous furniture or furniture styles in Africa, which is often depicted as a continent with a scarcity of household objects. In this article, I will describe how one piece of furniture, the `angarêb (identified by Europeans as a bed), has gone through many changes in appearance, decoration patterns and construction materials and then I will focus on its multifunctionality.
what an angareb is, what it looks like, where it came from and how it changed over the centuries.
The history of the angareb can be enriched by the history of the bed in general. Beds are mentioned in a history of lying down and sleeping and in a history of the bedroom .
The `angarêb is a multifunctional object with a long tradition. It is more than just a bed, because it has various possibilities for use and design. It always consists of a wooden frame, in which a seat or sleeping rest-place is included. On the whole, an `angareb is lower than the beds commonly used in Sudan.
The `angarêb is a multifunctional object with a long tradition. It is more than just a bed, because it has various possibilities for use and design. It always consists of a wooden frame, in which a seat or sleeping rest-place is included. On the whole, an `angarêb is lower than the beds commonly used in Sudan, and it does not possess a heightened footboard or headboard.  My informants emphasized that the difference between a ‘normal’ bed and an `angarêb lies in the frame. While the frame of European-type of bed may be made out of iron, that of an `angarêb is always made out of wood.
European-type beds are heavier and therefore less mobile, while a main characteristic of an angareb is its low weight. A single adult person can tuck the long side under his arm and carry it from one place to another.
The oldest known `anagrib in Sudan are from the Bronze Age of the Kerma culture from 1750-1550 BC. Reisner found them in 1917 during his excavations in Kerma, a town close to the third cataract on the eastern bank of the river Nile. He concluded from his archaeological findings that in Kerma every person was buried on an `angarêb with the exception of the poorest non-enslaved people and those who were to be sacrificed. He assumed that the `anâgrîb were used by their owners every day, before they served as their burial objects. The practice of burial on `anâgrîb continued until the Christian period in Nubia. Their everyday use until the 11th century A.D is confirmed by archaeological findings. From the 11th to the 16th century, neither the burial on `anâgrîb nor their everyday use as furniture is mentioned in written sources. Only from the beginning of the 17th century do travellers again report on the `angarêb.
The users differentiate anagrib according to form, production and usage, each with names that match their particular features. This division makes it necessary to briefly survey the most common forms of this object. I will introduce the variations of `anagrib which are known to me, without laying claim for the listing to be complete. The `anagrib have always varied in form and sizes, although the main pattern – wooden frame plus woven lying or sitting surface – has remained unchanged. The frame is neither screwed nor nailed, but is held together only by wooden devices. A simple `angarêb is often named wad al-gaddum meaning ‘son of the adze’, which reflects the way it was produced. The wooden frame is coarsely hewn with an adze, a woodworking tool that looks like a cross between a hoe and an axe.
Anâgrîb of this kind have been and continue to be the most common. The frames for these anagrîb can be produced in every local workshop and are affordable for most people.  The legs of the `anâgrîb from the Bronze Age that were found in the excavations of Kerma were carved in the shape of the legs of an ox. After the Kerma period, very plain and coarsely hewn legs with square cross-section were the most common type. The repertoire of leg-forms of`anâgrîb widened only in the early 19th century by the introduction of turned legs. This development took place as a result of new techniques and new designs that came to Sudan from Indian craftsmen. 5 The Indian craftsmen produced the `anâgrîb with the help of a bow-lathe and not with an adze as had typically been done. Innovations in the production of`anagrib were not only in style and craft, but also in material, like teakwood that also came from India.
These days, the manufacturing centres of `anagrib wooden frames with their turned legs are Omdurman and other towns along the Blue Nile, mainly Sennar, Wad-Medani and al-Suki. Omdurman is significant for the trade of `anâgrîb, while the other towns are situated close to the raw materials. Traders bring the wooden frames of the anagrib from the local markets into the villages, where they are sold in marketplaces.