Papyrus: Intangible Heritage – a new project by Nagwa Bakr, (ITP 2019, Egypt)

Written by Nagwa Bakr, Community Exhibition Officer, Ministry of Antiquities (ITP 2019, Egypt)

This project was made possible thanks to the cooperation between Ministry of Antiquities, Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Tourism and Sharqia Governorate. In this project I have been collaborating with my colleague Dr. Ahmed EllNamr from the Ministry of Antiquities. The main aim of the project is to document the papyrus industry in the UNESCO Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage List through the record the places of papyrus planting, its workshops, manufacturing stages and drawing and colouring. Moreover, we aim to monitor the papyrus markets and shops in Cairo, Giza, Beni Suef and construct a comprehensive study on preserving the craft and its old methods. Furthermore, we want to plan the sustainable development of the project by training cadres to learn the ways of the old industry.

The researchers obtained a training course from experts to learn how to document the intangible heritage and field collection.

The data is collected by individual or group interviews, video and audio recording and participation by observation. The collected data will be presented to the experts of the immaterial heritage for evaluation in order to present the file in March.

In the field research – Ahmed and Nagwa with a man producing brown papyrus

We spent four days in Tukh El Qaramusvillage located in Sharqia Governorate, North Egypt. It is the only village in the world that is still planting papyrus. We met about 50 families in the village who plant and manufacture papyrus. At the beginning we asked the locals about the meaning behind the village’s name. The answers surprised us! El Qara means a village, and Mus derives from Prophet Moses name, which combined together mean literally the Moses’s Village.

Historically, this fortified town was intended to protect Egypt’s north-eastern frontier and appears to have been rebuilt several times. While there are tombs from the 18th Dynasty, most of the settlement activity appears to have occurred in the Third Intermediate Period and later. An early Ptolemaic treasure horde was recovered from the temple. There a numerous mud-brick structures including domestic architecture at the site.

Papyrus field

The history of papyrus in the village can be dated back to 1970s when Mr Anas Mostafa, a local, joined the faculty of the Fine Arts in Cairo, where he studied papyrus in ancient Egypt.  After completing his studies, he returned to his village El Qaramu to plan papyrus seedlings, and then manufacture the material by implementing the ancient Egyptian method. After the success of the experiment, he began to teach local people to plant papyrus and work in the craft. Throughout forty years people developed the craft and added new and fast methods of production to produce big amounts of papyrus for the market. Even though several crises reduced the number of cultivated land people still care about their craft.