Khartoum at Night
Fashion and Body Politics in Imperial Sudan
Marie Grace Brown

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Introduction

Photograph SAD 540/1/80 (Fig. 1 below) is one of over four hundred pictures of early twentieth-century Sudan captured by a man named D. Clifton. It is labeled, in Clifton’s hand, “One of my neighbors, Khartoum.” Little is known about D. Clifton. He has no records of his own in the Sudan Archive at Durham University that now houses his photographs. In fact, SAD 540/1/80 came to the archive by accident as part of the papers of Kenneth Henderson, a prominent government official, who purchased Clifton’s pictures at a saleroom. Even less is known of the stately woman in the photograph. Her face is weathered, with a hint of a smile. She stands composed, her hands loosely cradling an unidentified bundle. And though she looks to be on her way somewhere, she pauses for Clifton to take her picture. She is wary of neither the camera nor the man behind it.

Many imperial photographs from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries aimed to capture colonized people in their “native” habitats, whether that was a particularly wild landscape or a primitive-looking home. Here, the scene behind the woman is notably sparse; there are no clues to her location, surroundings, or place in the world. Clifton, however, provides all the context necessary: the woman is his neighbor. We can only guess at how well the two knew each other, or even if they had exchanged names. Indeed, imperial and local conventions would have discouraged a British man and a Sudanese woman from extensive socializing. Yet the confidence in the woman’s gaze and the intimacy of Clifton’s caption indicate a certain level of recognition, if not familiarity. The two were neighbors, largely unknown to history, brought together by the unpredictable currents of empire.

FIGURE 1. “One of my neighbours, Khartoum,” ca. 1900–1920, SAD 540/1/80 (K. D. D. Henderson Collection). Copyright Durham University. Reproduced by permission of Durham University Library.

This is not the story of D. Clifton, but of his neighbor and the thousands of northern Sudanese women like her whose lives were altered under imperial rule. For such women, empire was not a far-off place, nor was it limited to the administrative machinations in colonial offices. Empire was lived at close range, with an intimacy akin to that of neighbors.

In 1898, just a few years before Clifton took his first photographs, a determined contingent of Anglo-Egyptian troops, led by Lord Herbert Kitchener, conquered Sudan. A neglected territory on the outskirts of the Ottoman Empire, Sudan itself held little appeal for the British. The value of its occupation lay in the country’s geographic position as a bulwark against any political unrest moving northward into Egypt and as a critical link in Britain’s dreamed-of north-south line of influence from Cape Town to Cairo. As for the Egyptians, they were eager to reclaim control over a territory they had long held to be an extension of their own. Together, the two foreign powers entered into an uneasy and uneven partnership for governing Sudan that would last until 1956. In addition to this dual control, it was clear from the start that Sudan would not be like other British imperial holdings. It could not boast of tight links to the Indian Ocean trade, like Kenya, the opportunity for missionary work in South Africa, or the romantic allure of India. Instead, the Foreign Office deemed Sudan a hardship post, best suited for athletic bachelors who preferred the rigors of the trek to the comforts of home.

The country that they ruled was geographically and culturally diverse, making the application of universal policies difficult and resulting in uneven imperial legacies. Most of the government’s energies were concentrated in the northern and central regions of Sudan, anchored by the capital cities of Khartoum and Omdurman and a relatively homogenized Arab-Muslim culture. The people who lived in the major cities and surrounding areas developed an even stronger cultural identity, one that was urban, middle-class, and socially conservative but open to certain aspects of Western education, governance, and material culture. The women who were part of this emerging society are the subjects of this book.

Following the common strategy of divide and conquer, imperial policies further exaggerated Sudan’s cultural and ethnic differences. In the late 1920s, a series of legislative acts known as the “Southern Policy” drew a boundary line between north and south, splitting the country into artificial, asymmetrical categories of Arab vs. African and Muslim vs. Christian and leaving its southern portion at a political and economic disadvantage. Upon independence in 1956, northern Sudan, led by the government in Khartoum, emerged as the hegemonic power. The legacies of this north-south split dominated post-independence politics and served as a backdrop for two civil wars. The divide between the two regions crystallized in 2011 when, in a highly anticipated referendum, the southern Sudanese overwhelmingly voted to secede from the north and form an independent country, the Republic of South Sudan.

Even before the referendum, scholars had inherited these constructed divisions in the way we write and talk about Sudan. The terms north and south are inadequate to describe the ethnic, geographic, and cultural diversity (east to west; rural and urban; desert, riverain, swamp, and grassland) that continues to exist in the two countries. Nevertheless, the Arab-Islamic identity that developed in Khartoum and Omdurman in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is identified as “northern” Sudanese culture. For the sake of brevity and consistency, I will do the same. However, I ask that the reader keep in mind that identities were in flux during the imperial period and that for many people, the far more pressing question was how to maintain closely held values and a sense of self in the face of foreign occupation.

Many books detail Sudan’s time under imperial rule and the country’s struggle for independence; few, however, examine the lives of Sudanese women during this period of upheaval and change. The standard political histories of Sudan rarely address women, except as subjects of government policy.1 Conversely, works that take women as their central focus are episodic in nature, limiting themselves to a single event or topic such as girls’ education, female genital cutting, or women’s activism, and make little attempt to incorporate women’s experiences into the larger framework of Sudan’s national history.2 This unevenness in scholarship is not surprising, for there are very few historical documents authored by Sudanese women. In the first half of the twentieth century, formal education for men and women was limited. Only a small minority of women could read and write and even fewer left written records of their lives. Low levels of literacy compounded with Sudan’s strict harem culture have led previous scholars to alternately claim that women’s history cannot be known, or cast women in the role of a Greek chorus, echoing the voices of their fathers, husbands, and brothers. However, Sudanese activist Nafisa Ahmed el Amin, who came of age in the late 1940s, cautions, “Women’s [political] awareness was higher than their education.”3 Her assurances suggest that women’s political voices were there—if one only knew where to look.

Locating and making use of this awareness would require a different type of historical work. As Sarah Deutsch describes her search for women’s urban experiences in nineteenth-century Boston, “At first I looked . . . where I had been trained to look for men’s theories of city form, in explicitly theoretical texts or in sentences that started, ‘The city is . . .’ I did not find them. Instead women revealed their reconceptions of the city in the ways they wrote about moving through it, in the practices of their organizations, and in their daily lives.”4 Similarly, Sudanese women did not leave records stating, “Imperialism is . . .” Instead, they articulated their complex understanding of empire in the ways they moved through the capital city, Khartoum, in the clothes they chose to wear, and in the adjustments made to their daily habits. Here was the broad political awareness that Nafisa Ahmed was referring to: expressed not in words, but in gestures and postures. Women’s small, individual movements afforded glimpses of broader sociopolitical engagement. Disciplinary prejudices have prevented us from recognizing political consciousness and expression in areas other than written texts. In contrast, this book treats northern Sudanese women’s bodies as records of imperial experience and, in doing so, seeks to bring the voices of Nafisa and her peers out from the chorus and onto center stage.

Two overlapping arguments about bodies, movement, and place form the core of this book. First, the experience of empire was intimately expressed on and through Sudanese bodies. Imperialism was immensely personal—a visceral reality as much as a political system. In much the same way that Clifton stopped his neighbor, positioned her within his camera lens, and captured her image, the civilizing and political missions of imperialism interrupted and rerouted Sudanese women’s lives on a much larger scale.

Here I am inspired by a recent turn in interdisciplinary feminist scholarship that analyzes global structures and intimate behaviors side by side. As explained by Geraldine Pratt and Victoria Rosner, “the global and the intimate” are overlapping rather than opposing forces. Read together, they collapse and reconfigure standard measures of scale and disrupt “grand narratives” with “the specific, the quotidian, the affective, and the eccentric.” Put simply: attention to that which is closest in gives new shape to large, familiar stories. Intimacy is often associated with “feminine” domains such as sex, domesticity, emotion, and attachment, but it should not be mistaken for benevolence, affection, or authenticity. It is, in fact, “infused with worldliness” and bound up with context-specific relationships of inequality, power, and violence.5 Imperial rule relied on coercion, brutality, and oppression. The cost of progress and opportunity was often discord and division. These multiple effects of empire were not abstractions, but tangible phenomena impressed on Sudanese bodies. Indeed, the power that Clifton exercised over his neighbor was played out again and again in marketplaces, schools, kitchens, bedrooms, and even the private moments of birth. Bodies translated imperial philosophies into close, physical realities.

A generation of scholars of gender and empire has produced a rich corpus of work demonstrating the ways in which asymmetrical relationships of gender and sexuality were fundamental in making and maintaining imperial power. Women’s bodies, in particular, served as charged nodes of contact.6 Contemporary artists, novelists, and explorers cast uncharted terrain and blank spaces on the map as feminine virgin landscapes, awaiting men’s efforts of discovery, domestication, and cultivation. Today some scholars have extended this metaphor further to argue that white men’s sexual conquest (both real and imagined) of brown women offered a precise parallel for the violent dominance of the imperial system as a whole.7 Moving from metaphor to actual structures, Ann Stoler has shaped much of the scholarly conversation with her arguments that imperial authority (with its attendant racial distinctions) was constructed on gendered terms. She states, “The very categories ‘colonizer’ and ‘colonized’ were secured through forms of sexual control.”8 Yet, dominance and control just as often took other forms, which, though nonsexual, were no less intimate. Under the guise of a civilizing mission, administrators pursued an unrelenting interest in the colonized body, legislating how it would be nourished and clothed, whether it was to be considered clean and healthy or dirty and diseased, and which of its children would be recognized. These modes of control were powerful and pervasive because they were applied “at the level of detail . . . not by restricting individuals and their actions but by producing them.”9 Disciplining the body at the closest level, producing and guiding its actions, was just as central to imperial rule as economic hegemony, military might, and imposed governing institutions. Power, however, never moves in just one direction. Although bodies behaved well in theory, in practice they were “arena[s] of colonial bargaining and strife, translation and mixtures.”10 If the body was a site on which government policies played out, it was also where imperial power reached its limit and colonized voices asserted themselves.

In search of “translations and mixtures,” this book follows an ongoing call in gender and world history for us to zoom in closer: to look past the rhetorical and structural relationships of gender, sex, and power and inquire how colonial and colonized bodies actually felt and experienced these systems. By treating the fleshed body as a historical subject in its own right, we gain a greater understanding of the materiality and everyday effects of large social and political systems.11

Contrary to what one might expect, there is nothing universal or unbiased in the ways our bodies move. Even the most basic human actions such as sitting, walking, jumping, or throwing a ball are historically and culturally specific “techniques of the body,” varying across nations, social classes, and time.12 In short, our physical habits are not natural or automatic, but the result of carefully taught social processes. Thus, techniques and movements are not much different than other marks of identity found on our bodies. As described by anthropologists, our skin serves as a visible “frontier” between our individual and communal selves, on which society’s rules are taught, enacted, and, oftentimes, refused.13 How our bodies and our behaviors conform to, or reject, these expectations maps both our difference and our belonging. Some aspects of this “frontier,” such as race, sex, ethnicity, and caste, are relatively fixed. Other body marks like tattoos, piercings, and hairstyles are changeable. Similarly, many of our daily behaviors have become ingrained and unconscious while others are the result of highly strategic choices. Bodily practices make our political praxis visible. Combined, body marks and techniques all work to plot our distinct sociopolitical position and our sense of place, within our own communities and the world at large.

The focus on real, tangible bodies introduces drama and kineticism to the imperial narrative. It overturns assumptions that imperial agents, most often European men, were the only ones capable of action or movement, while colonized people and spaces remained fixed and static. In their work on mobility, subjectivity, and empire, Tony Ballantyne and Antoinette Burton argue that though historical subjects did not “literally feel the ground moving beneath their feet [they acted] as if its rifts and fissures, its uneven and unstable surfaces, were part of the regular (albeit anxiety-inducing) business of empire.”14 This sense of motion and connection to unsteady terrain is particularly valuable for understanding marginalized subjects like Sudanese women, where a lack of preserved historical information threatens to uncouple their lives from specific historical contexts and set them adrift in an amorphous, unknowable past. Counterintuitively, perhaps, when we recognize women as moving subjects we are able to ground them more firmly in existing historical landscapes.

Thus the themes of location and uneven terrain frame the second argument of this book. I contend that the body and its adornments are as much an indicator of where we are as of who we are. In Sudan in the twentieth century, imperialism disrupted existing body techniques and habits. Anglo-Egyptian rule reinforced existing gender divisions and hierarchies, but also directed new modes of dressing, washing, birthing, and walking. Like Clifton’s neighbor, Sudanese women gazed back: responding, resisting, and adapting to the changes brought by empire. With the world shifting beneath their feet, women used their bodies to calibrate and register their positions within overlapping systems of protected domesticity, empire, nationalism, and modernization. Coming of age in this time of transition and excluded from standard forms of political participation, a pioneering generation of young urban women used a careful choreography of bodies, behaviors, and dress to articulate and make meaning of the rapidly changing world around them.

Motion, then, is at the heart of this story. Each chapter turns on women’s complementary forms of movement—within their own skins and across newly constructed imperial space. Medically trained midwives rush to a delivery; schoolgirls find discipline in new uniforms; activists navigate dangerous city streets; and consumers search Khartoum shops for the latest fashions. In following these active bodies, we begin to construct the worlds of politics and pleasures in which northern Sudanese women lived.

Women’s moving bodies were wrapped in a unique form of dress, the tobe.15 Meaning “bolt of cloth,” a tobe is a rectangular length of fabric, generally two meters wide and four to seven meters long. It is worn as an outer wrapper whenever women are outside their homes or in the company of unrelated males. The tobe’s origins date back to the late eighteenth century when prosperous merchants in Darfur clothed their wives and daughters in large swaths of fine imported linen, muslin, and silk as a sign of their wealth and prestige.16 As markets expanded and prices dropped, the range of fabrics increased, so that by the twentieth century tobes of varying quality were imported from Egypt, India, England, and Japan. Those who still could not afford the high cost of imported fabrics turned to a locally produced, roughspun cotton known as damuriyya as a substitute. With women across classes wearing the tobe, it shifted from a luxury item to an everyday garment closely associated with domesticity and gender responsibility. Girls received their first tobes at the onset of puberty; husbands bought tobes for their brides-to-be; and women again received gifts of tobes on the occasion of the birth of each child. This simple piece of clothing conveyed multiple messages. As an imported garment, it proclaimed a woman’s connection to an expansive global economy, far beyond the boundaries of her town. As a gift connected to fertility and reproduction, the tobe was a visible sign of women’s most private acts. And as the preferred uniform of teachers and nurses in the twentieth century, the tobe allowed newly professional women to craft an image of progress tempered by modesty and tradition.

Fashion, like the body, is an indicator of self and place. As an extension of the body’s surface, clothing conveys status, values, and belonging. But fabric is more fluid than flesh; as a result, clothing styles and adornment are far more adaptive and responsive to rapid social and political change. It is no surprise, then, that in imperial contexts fashion was a prime site for creation and negotiation. Scholars of dress, particularly in Africa, have vividly illustrated how expanding markets, urbanization, imported measures of modernity and morality, and the introduction of the Singer sewing machine all dramatically altered existing rules of fashion and adornment.17 Imperial reformers imposed standards of modest dress, along with strong soap, to discipline exposed and dirty bodies. Africans playfully responded with inventive (mis)uses of European styles to create expressive hybrid identities and imagine new senses of self.

Women’s fashion in Sudan followed a different trajectory. Compared with their neighbors, Sudanese women were relatively resistant to Western fashions. Many considered the dresses they saw British women wear to be immodest or indecent. Instead, European-style clothing (especially undergarments) came into use gradually through the intermediaries of Egyptian and Syrian women in Sudan.18 No matter what they wore underneath, in public women continued to wear the tobe—an entirely Sudanese fashion not shared by other women. The embrace of their traditional tobe did not mean that Sudanese women were any less imaginative in their use of fashion. In fact, the word traditional as it is commonly understood when referring to dress is a misnomer here. The tradition that women evoked in their tobes was not a period of isolation, but a centuries-long history of luxury, fertility, and transnational trade. Events under Anglo-Egyptian rule added further meaning to the tobe. Unlike other places in the empire, where “native” clothing was roundly condemned, British administrators in Sudan viewed the tobe as a dignified and modest form of dress. As a result, tobes became critical components of modernizing projects such as girls’ education, medical training, and even political action. Thus it was the tobe, and not Singer-sewn dresses, that most closely modeled the opportunities, changes, and refashioning brought by imperialism.

There was one other aspect of the tobe that made it a particularly meaningful vehicle for women’s voices and imaginations: each garment carried a name. The best-quality tobes in the first half of the twentieth century were white or very light pastel. Each new season brought subtle shifts in the pattern of dots, stripes, tufts, or borders that decorated the fabric. And each new style was matched with a creative name. Chosen informally by male merchants and their female customers, names highlighted the desirability of the fabric or commemorated popular items of interest, including political leaders, celebrity marriages, and national achievements.

The title of this book, Khartoum at Night, is taken from the name of a popular 1950s tobe. It is used here to convey the sentiments of possibility, momentum, rupture, and danger that characterized Sudan’s imperial period. At the turn of the twentieth century, Khartoum was an abandoned city, wracked by warfare and famine and populated with mud-brick buildings alongside sewage ditches. By the 1950s, the capital city was a cosmopolitan node of empire complete with a university, dance halls, cinemas, parks, and shops filled with high-end European goods. It was also home to the largest Communist party in Africa, a visible corps of women activists, and the best-educated teachers and nurses in the country.

For the historian, evocative and topical tobe names stand as a remarkable and yet largely unacknowledged record of Sudanese women’s lives. They are rich and concrete examples of the interweaving of bodies and politics. Most importantly, the editorial function of tobe names counters presumptions that “the public” and “the political” are entirely male spaces. Instead, the pleasure that women took in the latest fashions was woven inextricably into shifting political and social landscapes. Wrapped in their creatively named tobes, Sudanese women navigated the complexities of imperial rule just as they did the sharp corners of Khartoum’s changing streets.

Finding women’s bodies and gestures in traditional archives poses a particular set of challenges. The body’s role in constructing our identity and defining our place is at once too large and too mundane to capture on the page. Where evidence of the body does exist, it is often marginalized as anecdotal and thus outside “real” history. In her work Dwelling in the Archive, Antoinette Burton criticizes historians’ persistent “temptation to ghettoize women’s memories” as mere “memorabilia.” Instead, Burton contends that women use domestic space (and here I would add, domestic bodily practices) as an archival source from which “to construct their own histories and through which to record the contradictions of living.”19 This is not a call to abandon the archive, but to mine and supplement it in creative ways: to recognize that intimate spaces and intimate practices honor stories and experiences not recorded elsewhere.

In writing this book I went in search of women not as objects of discussion, but as active subjects making their way through complex, uneven sociopolitical space. In some texts, such as a political cartoon about shopping, women’s bodily experience leapt from the page. Other sources proved more elusive; it took a second reading to realize that a teacher’s critique of a mathematics lesson was also a judgment about dirt and discipline. These traditional sources are joined by an “archive” of remembered tobe names. Assembled together, these names form a collective accounting, a narrative, of women’s aspirations, values, and experiences under imperial rule. By way of illustration, each chapter in this book is titled with the name of a tobe or a reference to tobes that exemplifies the period under discussion. They serve as a structural reminder of the critical value of the body and adornment in narrating and memorializing Sudanese women’s history. Threading such disparate sources together is simultaneously exciting and slippery; I have done my best to construct broad, textured arguments while remaining, as Natalie Zemon Davis instructs, “held tightly in check by the voices of the past.”20 The resulting narrative is necessarily fragmented—woven more tightly in some areas than in others.

A final example serves to show how women’s histories are so often body stories. In one of my earliest conversations with Nafisa Ahmed el Amin, she poignantly referred to the first time she spoke in a public gathering as the moment of her “unveiling.” At a meeting at Gordon Memorial College in February 1952, Nafisa Ahmed raised her hand to speak. Wrapped in her tobe, which covered her head, body, and the bottom half of her face, Nafisa realized that her voice could not be heard; she lowered the fabric from her mouth and began to speak. When finished, she raised her tobe back over her mouth and quickly sat down. Sixty years later, Nafisa laughed and laughed as she acted out this story for me. She went through the motions in part to demonstrate the absurdity of it all, but also to perform her strong corporeal memory of that day. The desire to speak her mind gave this young activist the courage to reveal her face. Yet once Nafisa had spoken, she covered herself again. These are the “contradictions of living” of which Burton speaks. And it is only by seeing them play out on the body that we understand their full effect.

Moving between texts and textiles, this book recounts a history of Sudanese women in a language of signs and symbols that held particular resonance for the women themselves. This analysis of bodies and dress demonstrates that women like Nafisa Ahmed and D. Clifton’s neighbor experienced and interpreted the vast social, political, and economic systems of empire in intimate ways. The result is a rich and colorful narrative of mobility, danger, beauty, and global connection not fully found in the pages of any written document. Following the paths that they traveled from home to schoolhouse to city streets, Khartoum at Night seeks to honor the ways in which Sudanese women told their own stories in the swing of their hips and the tucks and folds of their clothes.

Notes

1. M. W. Daly’s foundational surveys of Sudanese history, Empire on the Nile: The Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, 1898–1934 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003) and Imperial Sudan: The Anglo-Egyptian Condominium, 1934–1956 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), make no mention of women as historical actors. Heather Sharkey has written a thoughtful survey on the issues and successes of Sudanese women’s social progress under Anglo-Egyptian rule, “Chronicles of Progress: Northern Sudanese Women in the Era of British Imperialism,” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 31 (2003): 51–82. However, her larger work on the acculturation of nationalism among educated elites, Living with Colonialism: Nationalism and Culture in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), excludes women’s experiences, stating that women’s lack of education precluded their participation in politics.

2. Janice Boddy’s work on the imperial campaign to end female genital cutting is a notable exception. See Janice Boddy, Civilizing Women: British Crusades in Colonial Sudan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007). More typical anthropological surveys include Marjorie Hall and Bakhita Amin Ismail, Sisters under the Sun: The Story of Sudanese Women (London: Longman, 1981); and Susan M. Kenyon, Five Women of Sennar: Culture and Change in Central Sudan, 2nd ed. (Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2004).

3. Nafisa Ahmed el Amin, Director, Documentation Unit for Women’s Studies, conversation with author, Ahfad University, Omdurman, July 22, 2013.

4. Sarah Deutsch, Women and the City: Gender, Space, and Power in Boston, 1870–1940 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 6.

5. Geraldine Pratt and Victoria Rosner, eds., The Global and the Intimate: Feminism in Our Time (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 2–3.

6. The robust scholarship on imperialism and women’s bodies is far too extensive to list here. Those studies most salient for this work are Tony Ballantyne and Antoinette Burton, eds., Bodies in Contact: Rethinking Colonial Encounters in World History (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005); Boddy, Civilizing Women; Sarah Graham-Brown, Images of Women: The Portrayal of Women in Photography of the Middle East, 1860–1950 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988); Nancy Rose Hunt, A Colonial Lexicon of Birth Ritual, Medicalization, and Mobility in the Congo (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999); Adeline Masquelier, Dirt, Undress, and Difference: Critical Perspectives on the Body’s Surface (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005); and Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest (New York: Routledge, 1995).

7. Edward Said argues this most clearly: Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1994), 6. See also Malek Alloula, The Colonial Harem, trans. Myrna Godzich and Wlad Godzich (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986).

8. Ann Laura Stoler, Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule, 2nd ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010), 42.

9. Timothy Mitchell, Colonising Egypt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), xi.

10. Hunt, Colonial Lexicon, 11.

11. Kathleen Canning provides a thorough introduction to “the body” as a historical concept in “The Body as Method? Reflections on the Place of the Body in Gender History,” Gender & History 11 (1999): 499–513. For a reflection on bodies, sensation, and analysis, see Marie Grace Brown, “In Touch: The Body and Sensibility as Historical Text,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 48 (2016): 565–69.

12. For a discussion on how bodily movements are culturally specific, see Marcel Mauss, “Techniques of the Body,” Economy and Society 2 (1973): 70–88.

13. Terence S. Turner, “The Social Skin,” in Not Work Alone: A Cross Cultural View of Activities Superfluous to Survival, ed. Jeremy Cherfas and Roger Lewin (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1980), 112.

14. Tony Ballantyne and Antoinette Burton, eds., Moving Subjects: Gender, Mobility, and Intimacy in an Age of Global Empire (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008), 4.

15. Properly transliterated as thawb, the garment is pronounced as “tōb” in Sudan. As a result, the phonetic rendering tobe is one of the most common transliterations and will be used throughout this book. Other popular spellings include thobe, toob, and taub.

16. For a discussion of tobes and Sudan’s international trade, see Marion Johnson, “Calico Caravans: The Tripoli-Kano Trade after 1880,” Journal of African History 27 (1976): 95–117; George Michael La Rue, “Imported Blue Cotton Cloth: Status Clothing for Rural Women in Pre-Colonial Dar Fur” (paper presented at the African Studies Association annual meeting, Boston, 1993); and Terence Walz, Trade between Egypt and Bilad as-Sudan, 1700–1820 (Cairo: Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale du Caire, 1978).

17. A central text is Timothy Burke, Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women: Commodification, Consumption, and Cleanliness in Modern Zimbabwe (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996). See also Jean Allman, ed., Fashioning Africa: Power and the Politics of Dress (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004); “Fashioning the Colonial Subject,” in John L. and Jean Comaroff, Of Revelation and Revolution: The Dialectics of Modernity on a South African Frontier, vol. 2 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 218–73; Hildi Hendrickson, ed., Clothing and Difference: Embodied Identities in Colonial and Post-Colonial Africa (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996); Phyllis M. Martin, “Contesting Clothes in Colonial Brazzaville,” Journal of African History 35 (1994): 401–26; and Leslie W. Rabine, The Global Circulation of African Fashion (Oxford: Berg, 2002).

18. Griselda el Tayib, “Women’s Dress in the Northern Sudan,” in The Sudanese Woman, ed. Susan Kenyon (Khartoum: Graduate College, University of Khartoum, 1987), 42, 48.

19. Antoinette Burton, Dwelling in the Archive: Women Writing House, Home, and History in Late Colonial India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 5.

20. Natalie Zemon Davis, The Return of Martin Guerre (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983), 5.