Thursday, 11 October 2012

11th October – beauty treatments Sudanese style

As you may know from previous postings, I have had my hands and feet hennaed twice in the short time I have been in Sudan.  I have since been told that this is only ever done for married women and is considered very beautiful.  I have been complimented frequently on my henna and told enthusiastically that I am now a ‘Sudanese lady’.  The simpler henna process that I have experienced takes around 2 – 2 ½ hours from start to finish.  Some women have very complicated henna designs on their arms and legs which have particular meanings and undoubtedly take considerably longer to do.

Generally, women in Sudan wear Islamic dress, but the face and hands are not covered.  However, I have seen some women who do cover completely so that you can only see their eyes.  At first I was under the impression that this type of dress was due to passionate religious feeling.  Not necessarily so.  The reason is often to allow the skin to become paler in advance of the woman’s wedding, when she will use creams to make it even whiter. 
What started me on this train of thought?

Yesterday evening my friend Huida was sitting over an incense burner, with smoke billowing around her and sweat trickling down her face.  I was completely mystified.  Then she took me out into the courtyard and showed me a large sack which she told me contained a special type of rather expensive wood.  To my even greater bafflement she then showed me a pit in the ground where a charcoal fire was still burning.  She told me that this is a traditional way for Sudanese women to make themselves attractive for their husbands.  Women take off their clothes, cover themselves in a large blanket and sit directly over the charcoal pit so that they get the full effect of the smoke and heat for as long as they can stand it (up to an hour for the hardiest).  Apparently the smoke from this type of wood colours the skin very beautifully.  Additionally the heat makes the woman sweat profusely which is supposed to increase the appetite, causing her to eat much more than usual.  Fat, as in many non-western countries, is considered beautiful.  Once the smoking process outside is finished, she dresses, comes inside and sits over the incense burner to add its fragrance.  Huida told me that this is common practice across the whole of Sudan.  Remember that this is all done in what are already extremely hot conditions. 

As anyone who knows me will already be aware, I have never been one for beauty treatments of any kind, so I am not looking at this from a personal point of view, whether I am considering UK treatments or Sudanese ones.  Strange as they may seem, looked at objectively I am not sure that Sudanese treatments are any more outlandish (and considerably less harmful) than botox, tatoos, tanning salons and cosmetic surgery.  Henna I can cope with.  If anyone suggests I smoke myself I think the answer will be a decided 'no' though.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Rbecca,
    It's good desrciption of Sudanese traditional beauty treatment. Some customs and tradtions disappeared, but this smoking still with this generation. You can find Henna in some Moroccan and tribes, but smoking just in Sudan. Moreover, Sudanese women make local perfume they use it just for thier husband that is really very nice!
    So, I appreciated your idea, writing and voluntary work in Sudan