Do you know your thobe from your kanu…?
Your answer probably is: NO! So, what is a thobe or a kanu?
Well it has many names:
- thobe (Arab peninsular)
- galabeya (Egypt)
- dishdasher (Oman)
- kanu (Uganda)
- gandora (Morocco)
Thobe is the Arabic word simply meaning “garment”. However, it has become the name of the long, flowing usually white long-sleeved, loose-fitting garment worn by men throughout the Middle-East, and is known as being the traditional clothing from Arabia. But it is prevalent and uniquely worn in Africa, all over…… Egypt, Sudan, Uganda…
WHAT IS THIS GALABEYA?
Length: ankle length (the large hem keeping the garment close to the ground, protection from sand)
Loose-fitting: in a hot climate, having loose garment helps with air circulation and keeping the body cool. Tight clothes do not allow for good ventilation they say!!
Sleeves: usually long, as this helps with protection from the sun
Fabric: usually made from cotton (light and breathes easily). In “winter” there are some of a slightly heavier weave, and colors can be grey or brown.
Colors: usually white and pale colors (so that it reflects the heat). But galabeyas for meaningful days and occasion may be of a shiny fabric, can have piping or even contrasting colors, perhaps gold around the sleeves and neckline. But for usual daily use, it is a non-fuss, nothing fancy, easy to pull on and off when you are in the “lazy languor” of the summer heat.
Collars: there is no collar on these garments, a simple round neckline
Pockets and buttons: there are usually a few “hidden” pockets on a galabeya (2 large and 1 small), and a few buttons from the neckline down, covered by a small hem of fabric.
Head: the head is usually covered both as protection against the sun and to respect religious beliefs.
When? This garment is worn daily, but the fancier versions are worn on special or ceremonial occasions: weddings, funerals, Eid, birthdays etc. Tailors can make a plain galabeya into a special creation: as you please!
Sidery: In southern Egypt (Aswan) and Northern Sudan, it is considered fashionable (in “winter” or for weddings) to wear a waist-coat/sleeveless jacket over the galabeya, usually of a contrasting color.
When the men are sitting on the sand in a group, they are striking to look at: the contrast with their dark skin and the white garments is almost breathtaking…. they take the meaning of looking “cool” to a very practical level!
During a wedding, with all the men in their formal versions of this garment, they look serious and proud…
Each country tends to wear their galabeya in a slightly different manner, so if you “Know your galabeya” you can spot where a man comes from at a distance!