Urban Algerian man wearing a white/beige burnous, 19th century

A burnous (Arabic: برنوس, romanizedburnūs), also burnoose, bournous or barnous, is a long cloak of coarse woollen fabric with a pointed hood, often white in colour, traditionally worn by Arab and Berber men in North Africa.[1] Historically, the white burnous was worn during important events by men of high positions. Today, men of different social standing may wear it for ceremonial occasions, such as weddings or on religious and national holidays.[2][3][4]


The word burnous (Arabic: برنوس) is an Arabic word for a "long, loose hooded cloak worn by Arabs", which itself is derived from the Greek word "birros".[5] The word is found in a hadith by Muhammad that prohibited the burnous and various other clothing during Hajj. In Mashriqi sources, it denotes a long hood or body garment.[6] The burnous was also present in the early Muslim Arabian Peninsula.[7] Various nineteenth century sources have referred to the burnous as an Arab cloak.[8][9][10]

In antiquity this garment was referred to as byruss Numidicus meaning "Numidian hooded cloak" and was mentioned as such in the Expositio totius mundi et gentium.[11] In the Maghreb, the colour of the burnous may be white, beige, or dark brown. There are rock engravings near Sigus that attest the existence of the burnous in the ancient times and that it was worn by the Numidians and inhabitants of the Arabian Desert.[12][13]

Cultural significance

In Algeria

Algerian military leader Abd el-Kader wearing a burnous in 1853

During the French colonial period in Algeria (1830-1962), the burnous became a symbol of resistance and identity for Algerians. Many Algerians, including those who were not nomadic, began wearing the burnous as a way to assert their cultural heritage and resist French influence. The burnous was also worn during the Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962), both as a symbol of resistance and as a practical garment for guerrilla fighters operating in the mountains and deserts.[14]

Today, the burnous remains an important symbol of Algerian culture and identity. It is often worn on special occasions, such as weddings and religious festivals, and is sometimes used as a costume in traditional dance performances.[15][16]

Burnous in other cultures

Arab man wearing a burnous and an Arab woman in indoor clothes, in the Regency of Algiers.

The burnous became a distinctive part of the uniform of the French Army of Africa's spahi cavalry, recruited in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. It was also sometimes worn unofficially by officers or soldiers of other units in North Africa. The white burnous remains part of the parade uniform of the one remaining spahi regiment of the French Army: the 1st Spahi Regiment.

Other names for a burnous include albornoz, sbernia, sberna, and bernusso.

See also


  1. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Burnous" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 4 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  2. ^ CHANCEL, Ausone de (1858). D'une immigration de noirs libres en Algérie (in French). Bastide. p. 40.
  3. ^ Encyclopédie du costume: des peuples de l'Antiquité à nos jours ainsi que, Nouvelles editions latines. Maurice Cottaz. (1990). Page 80. ISBN 2-7233-0421-3. Date:02-08-2016.
  4. ^ El Briga, C. (1992). "Burnous". Encyclopédie berbère (11): 1668–1669. doi:10.4000/encyclopedieberbere.1883 – via journals.openedition.org.
  5. ^ Alhussami, Ahmed Abdullah (2020-07-06). Mutual Linguistic Borrowing between English and Arabic. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 91. ISBN 978-1-5275-5569-3.
  6. ^ Georges Marçais, جورج مارسي (2016-08-10). Georges Marçais Le Costume Musulman D' Alger (in Arabic).
  7. ^ Stillman, Norman (2022-06-08). Arab Dress, A Short History: From the Dawn of Islam to Modern Times. BRILL. p. 17. ISBN 978-90-04-49162-5.
  8. ^ Goodholme, Todd S. (1889). Goodholme's Domestic Cyclopaedia of Practical Information. C. Scribner's Sons. p. 56.
  9. ^ Hossfeld, C. (1877). New French Dictionary. C. Scholl.
  10. ^ Moser, Gustav von; Heiden, E. (1897). Köpnickerstrasse 120 (in German). D. C. Heath & Company. p. 146.
  11. ^ Wilson, Andrew. "Archaeological evidence for textile production and dyeing in Roman North Africa." Purpureae Vestes. Textiles y tintes del Mediterráneo en época romana (2004): 155-164.
  12. ^ Ancient Civilizations of Africa. G. Mokhtar. UNESCO.
  13. ^ Rome depuis sa fondation jusqu'a la chute de l'empire par Mary Lafon. Mary-Lafon. Furne.
  14. ^ Barbet, Charles. Au pays des burnous: impressions et croquis d'Algérie. Mallebay, 1898.
  15. ^ "The Burnous in Algerian Memory and History" by James McDougall, published in the Journal of North African Studies (Volume 13, Issue 1, 2008).
  16. ^ Fisquet, Honoré (1842). Histoire de l'Algérie depuis les temps anciens jusqu'à nos jours, etc (in French). A la Direction. pp. 89–92.