Crafts and Industries through the Ages

Traditional culture

The tangible and intangible aspects of the traditional culture are numerous. For study purposes
these may be classified to include:
1-Literature: folktales, epics, legends, folk poetry, folk songs, ballads, anecdotes, fables, provei
erbs, jokes….
2-Material culture: arts, crafts, architecture, costumes, food and cookery, recipes, techniques,
3-Social customs: rituals, life cycle of the individual, annual celebrations, plays and recreation,
folk medicine.…
4-Beliefs and world outlook: ontology, myths, folk religion.…
5-Performing arts: music and musical instruments, dancing and body arts, folk drama.…
Culture has never been rigid. It has always been a dynamic live entity transmitted across generati
tions. Each generation guards the essentials and at the same time makes effort to create a balance
between the lore and the different existing situations, by adding something here and omitting
another there according to the new problems faced. But, nothing was challenging that traditional
Mohammad Ali who started his project to build a modern state in Egypt. Alien elements of
knowledge, production, techniques, behavior and others were introduced and started to replace
some of the components of the inherited traditional culture to which the people were used.
Modernization did not take place overnight. It is a process that has been going on for two centi
turies, and is still going on today and will continue tomorrow. In spite of this fact, much of the
components of the Egyptian traditional culture that prevailed till the end of the eighteenth centi
tury still persist and resist disappearance. The Egyptian has two cultures simultaneously affecti
ing him. He systematically gets modern culture from schools and through official information
channels and the like. The other one is the traditional culture inherited from his ancestors, which
singles the Egyptian out among others, and which bears his distinctive national character.
Cairene traditional architecture was the creation of Egyptian traditional artists and craftsmi
men whose concepts, skills, techniques, motifs and aesthetical values project the accumulation
of knowledge transmitted through the traditional apprenticeship system of passing information
from one generation to the other. These traditional artists and craftsmen created works and decori
rations that represent technologies that may go as far back as the ancient Egyptians. Among the
traditional arts and crafts one may mention:
1) The interlocking joinery which has been the most beautiful of all traditional wood works.
It does not employ nails nor glue. It relies completely on tongues and grooves. It has been used
in making big
doors, cabinet leaves, pulpits for mosques and screens for churches.
2) The turnery which produces the components of the masharbeya. Thousands of these elements
are attached together by means of dowels and holes without using nails or glue. The masharbeyas
cover the window openings to simultaneously accomplish two functions. It prevents direct sun
rays and filters what penetrates into a room, while allowing the free circulation of air.
3) Inlaying is the insertion of a chosen material into a depressed surface carved in wood in order
to create specific ornaments.
4) Wood carving includes relief and bas-relief to create works of geometrical or floral traditi
tional decorations. The artist carves the small panels of the interlocking joinery and its frames.
He also carves the stalactites and the capitals and bases of columns.
5) Fine gypsum works are used as three dimensional ornamentations that allow the light to penei
etrate while at the same time breaking down the direct sun rays. The beauty of the stucco colored
glass can be enjoyed when the light passes through the glass.
Mawlid is the birthday of a holy figure. At the end of the 11th century in Egypt the ruling Fatimi
mids observed four mawlids, those of the Prophet Mohammad ( Mawlid an-Nabi ), Ali, Fatima,
and the ruling caliph.
Mawlids are not limited to the Prophet’s family. They have always been extended to celebrate
the birthdays of popular saints, Moslems and Copts. The Mawlid is preceded by several weeks
of merrymaking by the masses. Musicians, jugglers, and assorted entertainers attract people
from far away places. A large number of camels, sheep, and oxen are sacrificed, and all those atti
tending are invited to feast. On the eve of the mawlid a torchlight procession passes through the
area. Mawlid poems relate the saint’s life and virtues. The mawlid is an occasion for fulfilling
vows, circumcision for boys…. It is a group ritual of the saint’s cult serving social, economic,
psychological and recreational functions.