Architectural Patterns and designs of the Traditional Sudanese House In Eastern and Western Sudan

Tue, 16 May 2017

Dr. Asa’ad Abdulrahman Awadhallah:
    This paper aims to describe and show designs and architectural patterns of the Sudanese traditional house in Eastern and Western Sudan. It also describes the raw materials used in building houses and different stages of construction. Furniture and household items, their types, functions and uses in everyday life are also described.
    Data and information were collected from Sudan National Museum of Ethnography, while photographs of various houses in these areas were taken by the author during field trips.
    One of the most significant findings of this study was that the Sudanese traditional house contains tools of tangible heritage shared by different Sudanese groups living in Eastern Sudan and in Kordofan and Darfur Western regions. Those shared tools and items also stand in evidence of the extent of authenticity of Sudan’s history of tangible heritage.
•    Introduction
• The Traditional Nuba House in Southern Kordofan
• The Mat “Birish” House” ,The Tent of the Arab Baggara”
• Animal Hair House in the North Kordofan Region
• House Building Designs in Eastern Sudan
• The Fronds Mat “Birish” House in Butana Region in Gadaref State
• The Hut “Quttiyah”:
• Conclusion

    The paper describes the traditional house in Western Sudan, particularly in areas of South Kordofan and Darfur and the architectural patterns in the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan and in the Baggara area who share the territory with the Nuba, with focus on the mat” Birish” house, in reference to the palm fronds-woven mat used in building the traditional house in these areas. The paper also provides a detailed explanation of pieces of furniture and other household items made of animal leather, palm leaves or dry pumpkin.
    In north Kordofan, the paper describes another traditional house built with woven- animal hair used by the Kababish tribe as well as all household items inside this type of houses. In Eastern Sudan, the study describes three types of houses, including the hair house used by Al-Rashaida tribe in the state of Kasala, the Birish house used by the Beja tribe and the “Dobali” house, which is another name for the Birish house used by the Shukriyya tribe in the Butana area.
    Later on, the paper provides a description for the construction of the “Quttiyah”, a straw hut with a conical roof and its prevalence in different parts of Sudan. The presence of the Quttiyah, through various stages of Sudan’s history, confirms the authenticity of this architectural style and proves the existence of a unified Sudanese culture. In addition, a description of the Rakuba, a sunshade made of palm frond, hard grass and wood, is also given.
The Traditional Nuba House in Southern Kordofan:
The traditional house of the Nuba in Southern Kordofan is quite unique and distinctive compared with houses in other regions of Sudan.
Materials used for the construction of houses include red mud, from which the Nuba also make clay pots. This material is brought from the mountains and made into building blocks by adding water to it. The construction starts with digging a 60 centimeter deep with a three feet radius circular foundation. Then layers of mud blocks are laid for a meter and half before the roof, which is a conical shape of stalks covered by dry woven grass is fixed on the top. Another type of house in the South Kordofan region is built with mud only, and consists of five rooms, linked by an external wall, it has one main entrance. The height of the walls that connect the rooms and surround the house is about 12 feet.
The construction is buttressed by wooden sticks above the entrance and in elsewhere to reinforce the mud building and connect its units and parts. After the completion of the construction, the surface of the external walls is coated with white lime excavated from mountain rocks. The whole house is also decorated with drawings depicting persons joyfully shaking hands, as the house itself is usually built for the groom by friends and peers in preparation of his marriage.
In some houses different decoration motifs are used, such as a row of cubic shapes drawn in red color, directly under the ceiling in all rooms and on the top of the wall that connects the rooms. These motifs are consistent in height and color, usually white and black colors. The entrance to the courtyard takes the shape of an oval opening.
The house consists of five rooms as mentioned before and each room has a specific function. One of these rooms consists of two floors, the bottom one is used as a coop or hen house, while the other is used for storing water, flour and marisa, a Nuba beer brewed from sorghum. Another room is allocated for cooking, where we find three stones known as “Alladayat”, on which the cooking vessel is placed close to the fire, in addition to “Almorhaka”, a stone tool used for grinding corn flour. There is also a room used for storing grains and another one for sleeping.
This type of buildings in the South Kordofan region is characterized by good ventilation as houses are constructed on flat rock surfaces, while the conical high ceilings also provide adequate ventilation.

The Mat “Birish” House” ,The Tent of the Arab Baggara”:
    Here, nature interferes and dictates on the people how to build their homes, for example, in the environment inhabited by the Baggara group in South Kordofan and South Darfur, large amounts of harps, Dom palm tree fiber, saplings and Lyon tree bark are available. These raw materials are used by the people in the construction of their dome-shaped tents, by placing saplings into holes in the ground, then bending them over and tying them at the top. Smaller branches are tied into the frame and then covered with thatch or grass mats.
    Inside the tent we find many pieces of furniture, utensils and tools that are placed inside the tent or hanged from the ceiling. These pieces are made from raw materials that are available in the environment, such as animal skin, fronds, dry gourd, fiber…etc. One of the most important pieces of fixed furniture is a large platform or a large wooden beam bed that covers a large area inside the tent. The bed which is used as a sleeping place for the mother and her small children is called “Aldarangal”.
    Men, especially the young, sleep outside the tent on a small size traditional bed called “Angaraib”, in order to guard the cows and they would be armed with a kind of spear called “Alkokab” or “Tabaiga”, as well as swords with sheaths made of patterned skin.
Pieces of traditional furnishings inside the tent are listed as follows:
-    Al-Darangal, is a bed that consists of a fronds mat woven with leather straps and mounted on wooden poles fixed on six 60 CM long harps that are fixed into pits in the ground. It occupies a large area in the tent and used as a sleeping place for the mother and her small children.
-    Luggage pod, a large saddlebag made from red-colored animal skin, used for keeping tools, clothing and other belongings and carried on ox back during seasonal migration.
-    Pad, a circular-shaped pillow made of animal skin, stuffed with cotton, wool or grass and decorated with different sizes and shapes of colored circles. The pad is used for sitting on.
-    The skin-made trunks. There are two types of bags: (a) a circular-based one with a long cylindrical neck, adorned from the outside by skin straps and used for storing grains. (B) A bag also made from skin similar to a great extent to handbags used by women in urban cities. The medium-sized bag has a long hand and a leather lid. It is decorated with colorful motifs and used by women to carry their personal belongings.
-    Assafarook, a crooked wood stick typically used by boys for hunting rabbits and antelopes.
-    Horse Saddle, made of wood and comes in different shapes.  The beautifully decorated one shows the status of its owner.
-    Al-Libda, sort of a cushion made of leather in the shape of a pod, stuffed with cotton and placed on the saddle for the rider to sit on.
-    Al-Farayah, another type of a pad, made of leather decorated with dots and straight lines and placed on the horse saddle for the rider to sit on.
-    Al-Barda’a, also a sort of a pad placed under the donkey’s saddle and fixed on the saddle and donkey by a long skin rope.
-    Perfume bottle, used for keeping local made fragrances and placed inside a leather grid with long cilia hanging from its sides. It is hung on a pole inside the tent.
-    Al-Noggara, a musical percussion instrument made from a clay pot with goatskin applied to one side resembling the” Daluka”, the traditional drum used in girl songs and wedding rituals. Al-Noggara, a single headed clay drum, with goatskin applied to the head beaten with sticks and hands. it is played during seasonal migration trips and during festive occasions.  
-    Al-Umrah, a large vessel covered by a lid made of fronds, which is tightly fixed on the opening with a leather strap. The bottom part is covered with colored leather. It is used for storing flour.
-    Al-Bokhsa, a dried gourd bowl the neck of which is covered by a fronds-made lid, used for storing milk and butter. It is decorated with sheets of skin from the outside and has a long hand made of a leather strap.
-    Al-Bamber, a four-legged leather-woven wooden seat usually placed outside the tent for women to make butter.
-    Al-Gulla, water keeping red pottery vessel that comes in different shapes and decorated with white color triangular and straight line shapes.
-    Al-Kalbash, small vessels made of dry gourd that sometimes take circular, cylindrical or conical shape, decorated with straight lines, dots and triangular drawings. They are used as decoration and hung on interior walls of the house.
-    Ghaffar, a large basket made of woven bamboo, used for keeping utensils and carried during seasonal migration trips. It is usually placed under the bed or in front of it inside the house.
-    Cot, a small size four legged wooden bed, easily carried on bull back during migration trips to grasslands. It is used for sleeping by young men outside the house to guard the cattle.
-    Grill, made of thin sheets of iron woven into a square or rectangular shape and used in grilling meat.
-     Anti-suckling muzzle, made of small sized sharpened sticks fitted on the head of a calf to prevent it from nursing, as a way of weaning.
-    Calf muzzle, a net of leather woven in a cap shape fitted on the calf’s mouth to prevent it from grazing during migration trips and not lag behind the cattle.
-    Al-Hababa, a hand-held fan made of woven colored palm leaves with a small stick holder, used for inducing airflow.
   Animal Hair House in the North Kordofan Region:
    This type of house building is found in North Kordofan and North Darfur regions among the Kababish and Zayadia camel herding groups. They use mats woven from camel hair, also called”shamla”,for the roof of the tent which is made of canvas or cloth walls. Women usually build the tent and decorate it with different colors and motifs.
    In fact there are many similarities between household items of these groups and the Arab Baggara, such as the big bed in the middle of the tent and other utensils such as gourd-made vessels, the Tabaq, which is a flat tray made of woven palm fronds. There are also the skin bag used for carrying utensils and the wooden saddle, also called “Al-Makhloofa”, which is placed on camel back for the rider to sit on.
    Generally, the Bedouin life in North Kordofan and Darfur is similar in many ways to that of groups in the south of the region, particularly in regards to tools used in everyday life. These are all made of leather, fronds, gourd or wool available in natural environment; they are all light in weight and easy to carry during their constant movements to and from grassland.

House Building Designs in Eastern Sudan:
There are three types of architectural designs in Eastern Sudan, mainly in the states of the Red Sea, Kassala and Gadaref. We will review the “Beja House” in the Red Sea state and the hair house of Al-Rashaida group in Kassala. The latter, similar to the hair house in North Kordofan, is built by women by preparing the “shamla” a mat woven from sheep, goat and camel hair, using the traditional weaving tool.
The Hair House of Al-Rashaida Group:
This hair house is not different from the one built by the Kababish and Zayadia groups in North Kordofan, except in the size of the tent itself. But the building materials are the same, mainly goat, sheep and camel hair. Women undertake the task of weaving the hair mat using the same traditional tools. The only difference is the furnishings as there is no bed in the middle of the tent here, because the Rashaida is the last group to migrate to Sudan from the Arab Peninsula in the 19th century that is why they are still using tools and furniture of the Bedouin tents in the Arab Peninsula.

The Fronds Mat” Birish” House of the Beja:
The Beja are pastoral group of camel herders who inhabit a large area in Eastern Sudan, stretching from Kassala in the west to the red sea coasts in the east.
The fronds mat house is the basic shelter of the Beja family and is built by the wife’s family at the beginning of her married life, while the husband’s family assists by preparing materials such as mats and ropes. The Beja takes advantage of the locally available materials to build their homes and its contents. Both husband and wife work together in the building process. The man processes harps and fixes them into pits in the ground, while the wife weaves the mats and fit them on top of the big harps construction by using smaller harps called ”Kholal”. Finally the tent takes an oval shape, cohesive enough to prevent rainwater seepage and protect against scorching sun and strong winds.
Household items Inside the Beja Tent:
One of the most important items inside the Beja tent is a large size mat coated with a red cloth and decorated with geometrical patterns of different shapes and sizes embellished with beads and seashells. The “Al-Attanaiba”, as it is locally called, is hung on the wall for decoration purposes and to protect residents from evil eye as they believe.
Another household item is the bed, similar to the one used by pastoral groups in Kordofan and Darfur, particularly the Baggara. The bed is used for keeping household tools and possessions under it and as a sleeping place for the mother and her small children. The Beja are also famous for making distinct types of pod-shape pillows stuffed with aromatic plant called” Firinkit”.


The Fronds Mat “Birish” House in Butana Region in Gadaref State:
This type of house is similar to the one built by the Baggara and the Beja groups, except that here they call it the “Dobali House”. The house, used by the Shukriyya camel herder group, suits their life style of constant movements in search of water and grassland, as it is built from lightweight materials available in the surrounding environment. Another type of houses in the states of Kassala, Gadaref and the red sea, is the hut “Quttiyah”, used by settled groups in villages who practice cultivation as their main subsistence. This type of construction is also found in western Sudan and the southern Blue Nile region.
The Dobali House:
The Dobali house consists of thin easily bent wooden poles used for the construction of the tent’s oval-shape basic structure which is then covered by mats woven by women from fibers of the Doom palm tree.   A group of women cooperate in building the Dobali house by first fixing harps in pits in the ground before covering the curved and convex structure with mats.
Furnishings and Tools inside the House:
An important item inside the Dobali house is a bed similar to the one used by the Baggara. It is fixed on short four wooden beams called “Daggagat”, on which longer and broader beams are laid and then covered by a mat made from palm fronds strapped by camel skin strips.
As for household items, they are the same as the ones found in houses of the Baggara. These are made of local materials such as animal hair, wool, gourd, leather and Doom tree fiber. At times of settlement, these items are hung inside the tent for decoration. Another important item is the “Batta”, a pottery made vessel used for keeping fat and ghee, covered by a lid made from Doom tree fiber. Other utensils include a dinnerware curved from wood called “Qadah”, used as a plate to eat porridge made of corn flour.

The Hut “Quttiyah”:
The hut,”Quttiyah” is an architectural pattern generally linked to villages and permanent settlements in different parts of Sudan, where residents adopt cultivation as their main subsistence. The Quttiyah is known as a housing unit in many regions and represents a common heritage shared by different groups in different geographical areas.
This type of construction dates back to early periods of Sudan’s history as observed by Swiss archeologist Charles Bonnet who discovered remnants of this house design at the archeological site of Kerma civilization in Northern Sudan, a testimony of authenticity of this architectural style which is a unique component of Sudanese culture.
The Quttiyah consists of two parts, the first is a circular wall built with mud mixed with animal dunk and grass. After the making of mud bricks, the builder digs the foundation, a 60 CM deep circular shape trench 2.50 meters in diameter. Then wall is built to a height of one and a half meter and left for three days to dry.
The frame of the roof, fitted on the circular wall, is made on the ground from long wooden poles supported on thick uprights, before grass-thatched mats are placed on the wooden frame. At the top, the end of the straw mat is weaved with colored ropes, thus giving the structure the conical shape. Materials used in this process include bamboo, wooden members and ropes. The construction is usually carried out by men and youth of the village.
An architectural unit attached to this type of construction is known as “Al-Rakuba”a sunshade usually built in front of the Quttiyah. It is used as a resting place during hot summer days. Al-Rakuba is built from the same materials used in the construction of the Quttiyah. It also represents a common material heritage shared by different Sudanese groups. The oldest reference to its existence in ancient history was found at the site of Kerma civilization. The architectural pattern of Al-Rakuba still exists to this day, reflecting all elements of heritage pertaining to different aspects of social and economic life as well as customs, traditions and beliefs.
Sulaiman Mohammed Yaya wrote about several functions of the Rakuba, as it is used as a shed, a guest sleeping area, a place to wash clothes and pots and a cooking place.
Through previous review of house patterns in eastern and western Sudan, we concluded that there are two types of houses; one is associated with pastoral groups such as the Beja, Rashaida and Shuhriyya in eastern Sudan as well as other communities and groups in north Kordofan and Darfur such as the Kababish and Al-Zayadia and Baggara. The first type is built either from animal hair or fronds such as the “Birish” house. The Other type is the Quttiyah and Al-Rakuba which are built with thatch. The second type is associated with stable sedentary communities that rely on agriculture for livelihood.
The most important result we came up with is that these types and patterns are almost similar and widespread in all regions of Sudan. They reflect a common heritage that unify and bring us together as Sudanese. This makes us certain that there is a cultural unity despite the diversity in Sudan.

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