Dammur cloth from Sudan: Continued

Last week we put a blog online about the visit of Magdalena Woźniak to work on the TRC’s Crowfoot Collection and in particular the Sudanese items (click here). To Magdalena’s great pleasure she found a piece of dammur cloth. Magdalena also wrote a blog about this piece of cloth and its social and economic significance (click here).

John Crowfoot (the grandson of Grace Crowfoot) has just sent us further information about how Grace Crowfoot may have got hold of this type of cloth. The information is included in the Memoirs of Babikr Bedri (c. 1856-1954), who was a former soldier of the Mahdi (a religious leader in Sudan in the late nineteenth century), but later in life he became a strong proponent of education for girls in Sudan and a friend of Grace and her husband, John Crowfoot.

In the second volume of his Memoirs, Babikr Bedri describes a trip to Rufaa in Sudan (a village where he was born), apparently in the early 1920s, with a party that included Mrs. Crowfoot (the comments between square brackets are by John Crowfoot), and in this letter Babikr Bedri includes a reference to the acquisition of dammur cloth. The piece of dammur cloth now in the TRC may well have been obtained during this trip to Rufaa.

I was recalled from a tour of [school] inspection in the Red Sea Province to accompany Miss Evans and the wise and well-mannered Mrs Crowfoot to Rufaa [his home village and location of the first girls' school in Sudan]. During our inspection of the school Miss Evans turned to me and said bluntly, 'They keep saying "Shaykh Babikr this and Shaykh Babikr that." What IS it so splendid that you have achieved?' With a smile I answered her, 'My achievement is your coming to Sudan. In a year or two's time it is I who will be asking you what you have achieved, you may be sure.' She was too disconcerted to reply.

Next morning Mrs Crowfoot asked me to take her to see the local weavers of damur cloth and woollen blankets. I showed her round the damur weavers in Rufaa; then, taking a car to the village of al-Hibayka, I showed her the blanket weavers. Miss Evans went with us. On the way home we were passing some laot bushes in blossom. These have white cylindrical flowers shaped like fingers spun in low grade silk, so that an insect in the centre of a flower looks like a silk worm. Mrs Crowfoot stopped the driver and got out to cut a spray of these flowers with her penknife. In doing so her fingers were pierced by a thorn and bled. As we resumed our journey she began to talk about the flowers to Miss Evans who turned her face away and ignored her. From this behaviour I realised that she lacked good manners even towards the wife of the senior official who had selected her. After that I never had a good opinion of her or saw her evince the slightest sign of good manners. On my return to Khartoum the Director [John Winter Crowfoot] questioned me in a critical way about my remark to Miss Evans in reply to her exclamation. In response I asked him why he had selected this inspectress for the girls' schools and related how she had treated his wife. Thereupon he dropped the matter without further censure.

Babikr Bedri (1980). The Memoirs of Babikr Bedri, London: Ithaca Press, Vol 2, p. 241.

More historical titbits to come!

Wednesday 30th May, 2018. Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood and 

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