Jubba, a cotton tunic with appliqué panels

Northern Sudan, Africa, 19th century AD

Patches of humility and power: the uniform of the Mahdist army

There was increasing unrest in the nineteenth century in the savannah regions south of the Sahara, beginning with the Islamic jihad (holy war) led by Uthman dan Fodio in Hausaland, northern Nigeria, from 1804 to 1809. By 1885, the religious leader Muhammed Ahmad, the Mahdi, had united the Muslim people of northern Sudan and founded the Mahdist state, with its capital at Khartoum.

His original followers, the darawish, or dervishes (literally, 'poor men'), were religious men who wore ragged, patched outfits, muraqqa'a. Their clothing was a clear indication of their rejection of material wealth and an embracing of religious life. The muraqqa'a originated from ragged, woollen garments worn by initiate members of the Sufi order centuries earlier. In his quest for power and authority, the Mahdi decreed that the darawish should be re-named ansar ('helpers'), and owe their allegiance to him alone. The original tunic was replaced by this smarter outfit, the jubba.

The appliqué panels on the muraqqa'a were made of wool, as were the distinctive garments of the founders of the Sufi orders, and from which the Sufi derive their name, suf being the Arabic for wool. Following the change of the jubba from a predominantly religious garment to the tailored uniform of a warrior class, the appliqué panels were usually made of cotton, thus subtly reflecting the changing ideology of the Mahdist state from religious zeal to military and political expediency.

Find in the collection online

More information


C.J. Spring and J. Hudson, North African textiles (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)


Length: 84.000 cm
Width: 130.000 cm

Museum number

AOA 1909.3-15.3


Gift of Lady Gatacre


Find in the collection online

Related objects

Search highlights

There are over 4,000 highlight objects to explore