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Object Name
Label Text
In 1881 Mohammed Ahmed Ibn el-Sayyid Abdullah (1844-1885) declared himself al-Mahdi, the "Proclaimed One," successor to the prophet Mohammad. A scholar and an ascetic, the Mahdi criticized the corruption of both local religious leaders and the intrusive Egyptian colonial officials who governed the Sudan. Soldiers in the Mahdi's army wore patched tunics that were intended to invoke vows of Islamic holy poverty and to unify the diverse regional and ethnic factions in the war against Egypt and England. The colored patches, which were cut from the enemy's uniforms and supplies, also commemorate the army's victories. Because of the smaller size of this tunic it may have been the parade uniform of a commander's son.
In the late 1800's Egypt was officially part of the Ottoman Empire, but its ruling khedives (viceroys) had a great deal of autonomy and controlled the Sudan as a provincial colony. In 1882 a nationalist-driven revolt by the Egyptian army led the British to intervene and assume control in Egypt to counter what they perceived as a threat to the Suez Canal. England then found itself involved in an existing holy war in the Sudan--one that the Mahdi was winning and would continue to win against the combined Anglo-Egyptian forces. Soon after taking the capital at Khartoum in 1885, the Mahdi fell ill and died suddenly. Khalifa Abdullah Ibn Mohamed, leader of one of the army divisions, was declared Khalifa al-Mahdi, the Madhi's successor. Under his direction, the Sudan took on more the aspect of an established administration than of a moving rebellion, a condition that prevailed until Khalifa al-Mahdi met with a series of defeats by British Major General Sir Herbert Kitchener in the 1896-98 campaign to retake the Sudan. Khalifa al-Mahdi died in battle in 1899.
Cotton t-form tunic with flaring skirt and appliqued red rectangles on shoulders, sides and torso, as well as dark blue wool applique around the pockets, soutache or cord embroidery coiled around pockets and "dragon's teeth" embroidery around the neck.
McIonnel family, Perthsire, Scotland, late 19th century to 1992
Exhibition History
TxtStyles: Fashioning Identity, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., June 11-December 7, 2008
Published References
National Museum of African Art, 1987-1997: Celebrating 10 Years on the Mall. 1997. Museum brochure. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, no. 1992.
Credit Line
Museum purchase
See more items in
National Museum of African Art Collection
Object number
Undetermined artist
Male use
Male use
Mahdiyya State, Sudan
Cotton, wool
H x W: 78.2 x 88.5 cm (30 13/16 x 34 13/16 in.)
National Museum of African Art
Costume and Textile