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The thobe is the national dress of Sudanese women, a trademark of the country along with its male equivalent, the jalabiya and the 'emma . In Sudanese dialect, the word thobe is actually pronounced as 'tobe' . The thobe is greatly idealised in Sudan as the highest form of feminine beauty, much like the Indian sari. The renowned Sudanese singer Abu 'Araqi al-Bakheet jokes in one of his songs how the beauty of the thobe is so overwhelming, that it's owner is irrelevant in comparison.
The Sudanese thobe is the mark of distinction between married and unmarried women. It also serves as a form of cover and symbol of modesty. Over time, it has become a tradition, iconic of Sudanese women , and an expression of their elegance. It is also an indication of their social and material status. This transpires in the diverse materials and designs of thobes, ancient and modern.
The history of the Sudanese thobe has been traced back to the ancient Kushite civilizations of Sudan, but in fact, it's history is murky. We do know that the first Sudanese thobes, which were called the Kanga, the Zaraq, the Tarqa and the Ferda , were all made of Sudanese cotton. These were followed by the Kerib, which was exceptional because it was pure black and unpatterned. Brought from Egypt, the Kerib was considered a luxury for wealthier women.
The types of thobe s available in the markets in Sudan and that can be found online on alsoug.com , reveal the variety of raw materials out of which thobes can be made. For example, click here to see examples of Tetal Thobes , Sahra Thobes (those worn in the evening for special occasions), Fared Kaslawi Thobes and Hindi Thobes (Indian thobes).
Tetal Thobes are the most widespread and desired thobes, whether plain or patterned or hand-painted . They are made from a raw material which is cool and suitable for the warm Sudanese climate. Tetal Thobes come in a range of types, such as Swiss , German , Italian , Amazon , Rati, Mandil , Mohoob , Al-bashra and more.
Current Prices of Thobes The prices of these Tetal Thobes range as follows: -the Italian variety go from SDG300 to SDG 1600 and up;
-the German variety go from SDG400 to SDG 850 and up;
-the Mandil variety go from SDG270 to SDG 550 and up; -the Mohoob variety go from SDG380 to SDG 480 and up;
-the Swiss variety go from SDG 700 to SDG 1200 and up; -the Amazon variety go from SDG 400 to SDG 1300; -the Bashry variety tend to be set at SDG 850.
The other varieties of the Sudanese thobes are used for evening wear, Theyab Sahra . These also come in a variety of types, like Lamy , Jubair, Dentelle (lace), Tel (tulle), and silk with gems, sequins or Swarovski or other crystals. These thobes are usually made of silk, chiffon and tulle, and the embroidery work on them is done according to the wishes of the customer. The prices of these thobes are very much on demand, as they range according to the amount of embroidery and the materials used.
But to give you an indication, the prices of these evening thobes start at 140 SDG and go up to 1300 SDG or more if the embroidery is done with Swarovski crystals. The chiffon or plain with embroidery varieties range from SDG 150 to SDG 1500. However, there is also a type called the Thiab Hindi (indian thobes), which start from 170 SDG and go up to 3500 SDG. The other variety of these evening thobes is the Fard al-Kaslawia and this is worn on different occasions or for visits to family, and again this comes in a range of colours and designs, but is usually priced between SDG 200 to SDG 850 .
Despite the great diversity of its shapes and forms over time, the thobe has maintained its basic style. It has taken on foreign competition such as the Gulf Arab abaya with great steadfastness, and seems likely to come out the winner. It remains loved and cherished by Sudanese women and in fact, a new trend is the revitalisation of thobes using paint and embroidery to keep pace with modern fashions.
As we said before, we would love to hear from our honoured readers their thoughts on the Sudanese thobe. Please do share with us your stories and any comments on prices or varieties. We would also be happy to learn about your cleaning and preservation techniques.