Dammur cloth from Sudan

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Piece of Dammur cloth from Sudan, 1920s, collected by Grace Crowfoot (TRC 2016.0034).

Piece of Dammur cloth from Sudan, 1920s, collected by Grace Crowfoot (TRC 2016.0034).

Magdalena Woźniak from Poland is studying Nubian textiles. She was recently at the TRC to look at relevant objects that were collected in the 1920s in Sudan by the British textile historian, Grace Crowfoot. Magdalena has written a brief report:

The TRC Collection is very much like Ali Baba’s cave – each box contains hidden treasures! While working for the last few days on Grace Crowfoot’s ethnographic collection from Sudan, I had the immense pleasure of discovering a cotton cloth (TRC 2016.0034) labelled “ ‘Dammur’ woven from ‘Tree’ cotton at Hillet Mahmud, Sennar.”

Why is this so exciting? Because ‘dammur’ was mentioned by European travellers from the 19th century as a substitute for currency. Here is an extract from an account by the Swiss geographer and Orientalist, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt (1784-1817), who visited Sudan in 1813: “The common currency of the country at Berber, and all the way from thence to Sennaar, is Dhourra, and Spanish Dollars; […] Besides the Dhourra, another substitute for currency is the Dammour, a coarse cotton cloth, which is fabricated in the neighbourhood of Sennaar, and principally used by the people of this country for their shirts: one piece of Dammour is exactly sufficient to make one shirt for a full grown man; this is called Tob, or Thob Dammour.” (J. L. Burckhardt, Travels in Nubia, London, 1819:234).

Label that goes with the 'Dammur' textile from Sudan.

Label that goes with the 'Dammur' textile from Sudan.

So it would appear that the TRC example is a genuine piece of ‘Dammur’ cloth, which was still woven in Sennar a century after Burckhardt’s visit to the region!

Now, a few observations: the TRC piece measures 125 by 40 cm: both selvedges are preserved, as well as the decorative fringes at the end border, typical of the Nubian attire, however the starting border is missing. So we might conclude that the cloth was initially longer, but it was certainly not wider – so how was it possible to make a complete shirt for an adult man with this relatively small piece of ‘Dammur’ textile?

Fortunately, Burckhardt gives additional information that can help to improve the identification of how the TRC piece was used – he states: “The Tob Dammour is divided into two Ferde Dammour; the Ferde makes a long napkin, used by the slaves to wrap round their waists. The Ferde contains two Fittige, which serve nothing else than currency.” (Burkhardt 1819:234).

I think that the traveller’s description of the “half-Dammur” piece as a long napkin fits better with the textile from Grace Crowfoot’s collection. The mention of a division of the ‘Dammur’ implies that a complete cloth was made of at least two lengths of cloth sewn together. Which once again is quite consistent with both ethnographical and archaeological observations of the Nubian attire.

In conclusion it is possible that the TRC example of dammur was originally intended for making a ferde.

Many thanks to the TRC team for their warm welcome and the possibility to study such a wonderful treasure!

Magdalena M. Woźniak, PhD Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow Project "Nubian Textiles". Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, Poland.

Friday 18th May 2018

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