Sudanese Cultural Customs
Many visitors to the Sudan have commented on the genuine friendship and hospitality offered by the Sudanese.
The Sudanese have a very formal way of greeting. They will expect the foreigner to respond in similar fashion. The host generally inquires about the visitor, his family, his health and his general well being. After this the Sudanese host will begin to discuss business, if the meeting is to be business one. It is not considered impolite for a newly arrived friend or business associate to interrupt an on-going conversation, complete his business and depart. Conversation then picks up where it left off.
Sudan is a male oriented society. It is in bad taste for a western man to inquire about a Sudanese host’s wife.
The customs upon two men meeting each other is to shake hands and tap each other’s should at the same time. A hug and rubbing of cheeks may be exchanged between Sudanese ladies and their friends.
Whenever a Sudanese caller is present, either on business or for social reasons, a drink is always offered as well as some form of refreshment such as potato chips, small pieces of candy, or other small refreshments. One does not ask the Sudanese visitor if he wants such a thing, one simply offers it. When a westerner visits a Sudanese home, he will also be presented with small cakes, a drink, or other refreshments.
The Sudanese custom is for a man or woman to call the westerner and ask, “If you are free on Friday, may we drop in?”
When one is invited to a Sudanese home for dinner, it is the custom to eat at approximately 9:00 or 9:30 p.m. After dinner, tea is served, and very shortly after tea, the visitors take their leave. The Sudanese are very concerned about the welfare of their guests and will frequently insist that the guest take second helpings of the food.
It is essential that one check with the host, before accepting a dinner invitation, as to whether the wife is also invited.
Sudanese weddings are times of great festivity lasting several days. The climax of the ceremony is the bridal dancing, which can last until the early hours of the morning.
Another interesting custom is the custom of the “Zar”. This takes place when a Sudanese man or woman, generally a woman, feels that she has been possessed by an evil spirit. Her friends then get together and hire an exorcist. The exorcist then comes to the family and performs the rite of exorcism. There is generally a high feeling and great excitement at the “Zar”. It is important to remember that to the Sudanese ladies the possibility of possession and the rite of exorcism are very real.
At dinners it is usual for the men to be seated on one side of the room and the ladies on the other.
It is quite rude for a guest, particularly for a western man, to point the soles of his feet at an Arab; also when one beckons, one does not do so in the American fashion by crooking one’s finger at a guest. This is considered grossly disrespectful. Instead, one extends one’s hand, palm downwards, and motions towards oneself.
The Sudanese in general, because of their climate and their culture, do not have the sense of timing that the westerner does. Therefore, one should not be upset if a state appointment, say at 4 o’clock, is not fulfilled until 4:30 or 4:45.
The westerner should know that the Sudanese have a very strong sense of family responsibility. Much of the social life of the Sudanese is involved with visiting families and receiving reciprocal visits. In return, especially during the Eid and during family festivities such as weddings, a Sudanese will, because of his concern and respect for his family, put family obligations above others. It is also not unusual for a Sudanese guest to bring along a relative to dinner if the relative has come for a visit to the Sudanese house.
For western women in the Sudan, it is extremely important that they dress properly. This includes no halter tops and no shorts in public areas. These are offensive to the Sudanese and can result in insult to the western woman who is foolish enough to flaunt the Sudanese moral and religious customs. Also a teenage girl should be careful in her dress outside the home.
The Sudanese are most courteous and are always happy to help a foreigner.