African Appliqué

©Nation Online Project Design: Moh. Salah

©Nation Online Project
Design: Mohamed Salah

Two thousand five hundred miles span the distance between Egypt and Republic of Benin. Depending upon the route traveled, the countries are separated by the Sahara Desert or the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. Between the two countries of North and West Africa, respectively, there are few cultural similarities; however, there is one shared commonality: a handicraft—appliqué embroidery.

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Khayamiya is a decorative appliqué textile in Egypt

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Abomey appliqué – Benin

Questions of cultural diffusion arise. Cultural exchange over the centuries cannot be ignored. Let’s take a moment to imagine a caravan arriving at Timbuktu with embroidered tents from Egypt that move from person to person toward the Gulf of Guinea. Or a Portuguese or British ship docked at the old port of Whydah trading cloth and appliqué textiles for slaves.

Trade is a powerful stimuli for creativity and it might be possible that 200 years ago an Abomey king ordered a craftsman to embroider symbols onto fabric after acquiring an appliqué from Egypt.

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photo credit: René Gardi 1969″African Crafts and Craftsmen.

There are some striking similarities when studying the art of appliqué from each country. Craftsmen from both countries utilize  the technique of appliqué (stitching fabric to fabric) for practical use or for decoration. Both craftsmen use a blind stitch so the thread is not visible at the front of the design. Both craftsmen piece together shapes and designs that have an intentional pattern or a story. In both countries, appliqué is a handicraft made by men not women.

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sitting cross legged on a diwan

 

 

But there are differences. In Benin, wood specialist, gold and silver casters, weavers and embroiders were in the king’s service. All objects were connected with the dynasty or had religious motivation.

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design begins with drawing pattern on perforated stencil, dusting, redrawing the pattern on fabric

In Egypt, the ancient art of appliqué was practiced by artisans to create decorative tents used by the high-ranking military, members of the royal courts, and the wealthy to create colorful rooms in large open spaces.
In Benin, cloth and thread were an import and most likely only in the possession of the king as cotton is not native to the tropics. Whereas the history of cloth and weaving is traced back to ancient Egypt as early as 5500 BCE.

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photo credit René Gardi 1969″African Crafts and Craftsmen. Patterns are stitched into place before attaching with a blind stitch

Egypt

Decorative appliqué textile in Egypt are known as khayamiya, a hand stitched technique used to decorate tents, wall hangings, and pillow covers. They are made in Cairo in a covered market known at Street of the Tentmakers or Sharia al Khayamiya. This craft has been in continuous use since the Mamluk era but intricate pieces of embroidered tents are recorded as far back as the Twenty-First Dynasty where evidence of a funeral tent for the Egyptian Queen Istemkheb was documented by Gaston Maspero in 1881 after excavation of the Queen’s tomb at Deir el Bahri.

Tent makers in Cairo hand stitch cotton appliqué over heavy cotton fabric. The thick materials used for tents protect from the heat, sun, and dust. Geometric designs derived from Islamic motifs and curvilinear arabesque are popular for tent interiors. Pharaonic art, calligraphic patterns, text from the Quran, and animal, bird and fish motifs are also utilized to create a beautiful products such as bedspreads, pillows, and wall-hangings.

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Hand stitching is performed by skilled artisans who sit cross-legged on pillows in their stalls on the Street of the Tentmakers. Their technique begins with a pattern drawn onto a stencil, then the stencil is perforated, holes are dusted that makes a pattern on the fabric. The stencil is removed and a line is drawn that follows the dotted-line. A pattern on the fabric is revealed. Small pieces of fabric are cut with scissors, and a blind stitch is used to attach the fabric along the lines of the pattern. (See photo above.)

Benin

Formerly, the Kingdom of Dahomey, Benin, West Africa, was once ruled by a powerful dynasty of eleven kings from 1600-1900. In the land, then, known as the Slave Coast, the name of the capital city was Abomey. The kingdom ended under French occupation around 1900. But during the reign of the Fon (king), their armies and amazons were powerful and fearful, often instigating slave raids and attacked territories larger than their own.

At the time various handicrafts flourished in Abomey to represent the individual Fon’s superiority. Kings and ministers of the court brought craftsmen to the palace to carve thrones with symbols for the king that represent power and historical events.

Appliquéd cloth was a technique in early embroideries to create figures, symbols, and representations. The symbols were used to decorate wall hangings, flags, umbrellas, buildings and other royal items during the reign of the king. One observes gruesome warlike scenes, the head of a decapitated enemy, a prisoner hanged or impaled. Such representations are always direct references to the specific heroic deeds of a specific Fon, and because these stories and deeds were told over and over again, everyone knew what was meant by them.

IMG_1832Throughout its history each Fon (king) had special symbols and proverbs associated with his rule. To read more about the symbols and proverbs click here. The Fons were as follows:

IMG_1834 (1)Gangnihessou: 1600-1620, the King of Allada and the big brother of the first Fon (king) of Dahomey. Royal Symbols: bird and drum

 

 

IMG_1834 - Version 2Dako-donou: 1620-1645. Royal Symbols: indigo jar & “briquettes”

 

 

IMG_1834 - Version 3Houegbadja: 1645-1685. Royal Symbols: fish and wicker trap (As a prince, he once avoided a trap which had been set for him.

 

 

IMG_1834 - Version 4Akaba: 1685-1708, crowned at 50 years old. Royal Symbols: wild boar, chameleon & sword

 

 

 

IMG_1834 - Version 5Agadja: 1708-1741  Initially resisted the slave trade, then became a major slaver.  Lost war with Oyo in 1720.  Paid tribute until 1818. Royal Symbols: boat

 

IMG_1834 - Version 5 (1)Tegbessou:1740 -1774

 

 

 

IMG_1834 - Version 5 (2)Kpengla: 1774-1789

 

 

 

 

IMG_1834 - Version 5 (3)Agonglo: 1789-1797. Royal Symbols: pineapple

 

 

IMG_1834 - Version 5 (4)Ghezo: 1818-1858, 40 years, 40 wars, “killer of elephants”. Royal Symbols: buffalo without dress

 

— (1798-1817): Despotic king written out of history for being internally violent and not interested in expansionism.

IMG_1834 - Version 5 (5)Glele: 1858-1889. Royal Symbols: lion (the teeth of the lion are pushed and feared also).

 

 

IMG_1834 - Version 5 (6)Gbehanzin: 1889-1906, opposed colonial invasion. Exiled by French and died in Algeria. Royal Symbols: shark and egg in hand

 

 

IMG_1834 - Version 5 (7)Ago-Li-Agbo: 1894-1900.  Enthroned by French and later exiled. Royal Symbols: leg kicking a rock, bow

 

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Susanne Wenger at 100!

The òrìşà is like the many aspects in our unconscious: suffering, aggression, creativity, purity, love, wisdom… One can choose any of these roads towards the invisible, and make it alive inside oneself. – Susanne Wenger (1915-2009)

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The Òşun Sacred Grove and Forest might have been lost to the world if it were not for the dedication of an Austrian artist, Susanne Wenger, born July 4, 1915, and who came to Osogbo, Nigeria  in 1960. She studied the Yoruba language, culture, and religion dedicating her life’s work to the restoration and protection of the shrines and grove.

To celebrate Susanne Wenger’s art, to honor her life’s work of perseverance in protection of Yoruba heritage, from my collection of Nigeria Magazine, I offer this gift.

Gods and Myths in Susanne Wenger’s Art

The Example of Batik Cloth

by Stanley P. Bohrer and Susanne Wenger Alarape

Nigeria Magazine, 1976, Issue 120.

Gods and myths-2-008Gods and myths-2-001Gods and myths-2-002Gods and myths-2-003Gods and myths-2-004Gods and myths-2-005Gods and myths-2-006Gods and myths-2-007(click on separate pages to enlarge)

Article in Obelisque Magazine, Osun Osogbo Grove, January 2015: http://nomad4now.com/articles/osun-osogbo-grove/

Go to post: Osun Sacred Grove and Forest http://nomad4now.com/2014/02/25/osun-sacred-grove-and-forest/

For more information go to :

http://www.susannewengerfoundation.at

http://www.susannewenger-aot.org

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Osun Osogbo Sacred Groves

(Music in clip by Orin Orisa. Adedayo Ologundudu, Yoruba traditional songs of praises for Orisa: Osun Yoruba Spirit of Rivers.)

Ramadan Kareem! A sweet story – kunafa

Spinning of Shredded Wheat on Ahmed Maher Street
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Ramadan, the ninth month of the Hijiri calendar, is the month for fasting for Muslims. Fasting in Ramadan is one of the Pillars of Faith. The benefits of which are given in the Qur’an, “O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you so that you may be more able to guard against evil.” (Qur’an 3:184) The faithful abstain from eating and drinking between dawn and sunset. The month of Ramadan, especially when in the summer with the long days and heat, is met with unhesitating and heightened anticipation.

One of the pleasurable anticipations of Ramadan season are the morsels of sweets, lightly spiced with cardamom and dipped in syrup, pancakes stuffed with cheese or nuts, or the the Ramadan favorite, Kunafa—layers, top and bottom, of buttery, crunchy shredded wheat stuffed with white goat cheese and soaked in lemon sugar syrup.

“Kunafa is said to be of Fatimid origin,” says 62-year-old haj Ali Arafa, the owner of Cairo’s most famous kunafa outlet. Arafa grew up in his grandfather’s confectionery shop in the working class quarter of Al- Sayeda Zeinab, where he still works today. “It was introduced by a physician at the court of the Khalifa Abdel-Malek Bin Marawan,” he explains. “Some princes were having a hard time fasting because of their voracious appetite. So the doctor worked to develop a dish that would not only be delicious but would have a long-lasting warming and filling effect. The doctor then instructed the princes to eat great quantities of this heavy dish just before dawn. As a result, they never went hungry during the day again.”
(Al-Ahram 14 – 20 October 2004)

These are what sweet dreams and stories are made of…but to satisfy a sweet tooth, there is a beginning. In the case of kunafa, its travel to sweetness begins with the spinning of shredded wheat…

Before modernization, to make shredded wheat the process began with the dough dispersed through a sieve and cooked on a hot copper tray that was heated by a wood or coal oven set beneath the tray. Today, the process of making shredded wheat uses electricity and a mechanical oven that resembles a rotating tray-like skillet. The dough is much like a pancake batter. The equipment used to cook the dough is a hot iron that rotates while the dough is released through a metal funnel similar to a sieve. The kunafa threads emerge onto the iron tray that functions like a skillet. One rotation of the tray and the baker retrieves the strands. The sieve is adjusted for different widths of the thread.

raw shredded wheat

Kunafa is sold throughout the year but during the month of Ramadan the demand triples. Kunafa ovens can be found throughout Cairo particularly in Darb Ahmar and Sayyida Zeinab and on Ahmed Maher Street. People buy the raw shredded wheat from the stores and make their own sweet dishes at home.

SHUBRA: off the beaten path

Emblem is from Khedivate Egypt 1867-1881

Emblem  from Khedivate Egypt 1867-1881

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Organized by: Amr Abo Tawila, Shaimaa Ashour & “Shurfa”‬

The Shubra Group

The Shubra Group

 

A morning tour of Shubra, a district in Cairo, is an unusual way to spend a Friday morning. But for a group of young Egyptian professionals, it does raise the question, ‘why’?  Taking advantage of a new event organized by Megawra, young Egyptian’s want to know their city and the organizers at Megawra have responded with a tour to Daher, Shubra and after the summer to Dokki.

What is there to see in Shubra? Plenty!  We wandered for 5 hours. Of course, the organizers had done their research with plenty of information to impart at every stop: streets are lined with 19th and 20th century architectural gems, old churches, the Mamluk Khandazar mosque, schools and hospital, and remnants of the past such as photograph studio, knife-maker, and even a WWII bunker.

Below is a mosaic of a day in Shubra. (Pass the cursor over the photo for the caption.)

Follow City Walks on  Facebook or Twitter at #ShubraCityWalk

See old photographs of Kitchener of Khartoum Hospital (now Shubra General Hospital), here (http://shoubrahospital.com) .

To see “elevator baskets in action” in Shubra, go to Cairo Colors

By special request, a slideshow of pictures:

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Cairo Colors

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Elevator Baskets

Elevator Basket Seller on his way to older building to sell brightly-woven baskets that are used as an elevator for goods, much like a ‘dumbwaiter’; however, these baskets are hoisted out of a window or over a balcony. The lady of the house calls out for supplies, lowers her basket and the grocer puts the goods inside, the price is known and payment lowered or put on account.

The brightly woven baskets are something new to the elevator basket market, usually the baskets are simple reed baskets as seen below (elevator baskets in action are photos taken in Shubra, but this is typical all over Egypt). Whatever the choice, using them saves energy (climbing up and down a lightless stairwell), convenient, and environmentally friendly!

Mohamed Tanamly offers a vivid explanation of the word, sabat (basket):

The correct word for the process of collecting/ lifting up small items with a dropped down baskets is named after the word for basket, for the process itself. People would use the word “Sabat”. While it refers to the basket itself, but by implication, is refer to the use of the basket to describe the process. It’s something akin, in English, to the work “trucking”.

Undreams

 

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Undreams*

An unfinished tapestry, pushed deep into the unlocked drawer, brought unshed tears to her eyes. After her grandmother’s death, the unowned tapestry was now hers to keep or, perhaps, upkeep.

The granddaughter unjammed the drawer, unwrinkled the unvalued tapestry and tugged at it, slowly, to unravel an unloved memory.

Her grandmother had worn the hijab when she unfortuitously was forced to flee. She was unbearably young, unable to unidentify herself from the only life she had ever known.

She had untangled, untamed dreams. But in her flight, unwontedly flushed with misery, those ungratified desires were undreamt.

It was someone, unremembered, who pushed the cloth and needle into her hands. “Here, stitch and stitch and don’t look up. Unthink what you thought, unclench strings of yesterday.”

Her un-shining needle pricked the un-colorful cloth.

Each day when an unfed child cried, she undecorated the embroidered cake she would never eat.

When the rain unrestrainedly covered the ground, she unstitched the coat she would never wear.

When a mother moaned, she unwrote the poem she would never read and unmeasured the music she would never sing.

When unutterable screams surged through the un-dawned day, she unclimbed the mountain she would never see.

The granddaughter cradled the unfinished tapestry in her arms. Her fingers unexpectedly pulled a thread, undoing one stitch and then another.

Unwinding undreamt; for her grandmother’s true tapestry was sewn with love.

*Undreams ,won an international poetry contest sponsored by Persimmon Tree. Published at http://www.persimmontree.org/v2/summer-2015/international-poets/?utm_source=June+16%2C+2015+-+Final&utm_campaign=June16Final&utm_medium=email.

See American University in Cairo Facebook page:

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See American University in Cairo Press website: 

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On the night of April 14, 2014, over 200 girls were kidnapped from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State, Nigeria, by terrorists.

Boko Haram has abducted 2,000 girls, women since 2014 –Amnesty

“Undreams” is for all those imprisoned in exile, forced from their homes, separated from friends and family, their way of life banished—the Palestinians, the Syrians, the Chibok girls and millions more…

Read Malala Yousafzai’s “My Open Letter to the Abducted Chibok Schoolgirls.”

Follow: https://twitter.com/csrchildren

Sign Petition to commission monument to remember abduction of women and children in Nigeria. This monument is a constant reminder of human failure to protect the innocent. Not a popular concept for a government or nation but a reminder that might stir actions in the hearts of those able to protect.

*Copyright 2015 by Lesley Lababidi. All rights reserved. To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required.