Asyut to Sohag: a story of movement and migration

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Friends of Manial Palace and Friends of the Coptic Museum at the Red Monastary, Sohag, Egypt

Prince Abbas Hilmi, the chairman of Friends of Manial Palace, enthusiasm to promote Egyptian heritage was demonstrated yet again by organizing an excursion to Asyut, Sohag, and Akhmim, Egypt. Members of the Friends of Manial Palace along with members of the Friends of the Coptic Museum came together for a three-day excursion in December 2016. Our leader and guide was the well-known Egyptologist, Dr. Rawya Ismail. Ahmed Essa from Eagle Travel managed the trip logistics with great success. And to our good fortune, Abouna Maximus, Coptic historian and expert in antique Coptic iconography was on the excursion as well.

I do not claim to be an authority, whatsoever, of Egyptology, archaeology, or Coptic theology (for that matter, any theology), my knowledge is elementary. I offer a glimpse into the past, spanning over 3000 years of history in Upper Egypt. From the reign of Akhenaten at al-Amarnah (1373-1364 BCE) to the Monastery of Virgin Mary at Deir Dronka (1st century), our trip included the White Monastery (442 CE) and Red Monastery (4th century) in Sohag, the Tombs of Meir (6th-12th Dynasty), ancient town of Akhmim, mawlid celebrations in honor of the birth day of prophet Muhammed, mawlid al nabi, (celebrations traced to the Abbasid Caliphate) and the Asyut barrage (1903).

The great Prussian naturalist, explorer, and geographer, Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) wrote about the interconnectedness of the universe and said, “In this great chain of causes and effects, no single fact can be considered in isolation.” Migration is the process in which people move from one place to another for the purpose of settlement. What connects our modern story to the incredible human history, monuments, and philosophy of the past are found in stories of movement and migration. Click on links above for a brief look at connections with past civilizations.

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

Afikpo Masks

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otugukpokpo or woodpecker is an animal mask worn in okwu masquerades and funeral rites; also worn by musicians okunkpa. Mask carver: Okocha Ota jr.

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mbeke mask representing the white race, oyibo or mbeke meaning white man in Igbo language. According to history the mask is named after a British medical officer, Dr. Baikie, who worked among the eastern Igbo during the mid-1800s. The mask represents a wide range of European characters, i.e. colonial officers, missionaries, merchants. Mask carver: Okocha Ota jr.

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Igiri meaning lunacy worn only during iko-okochi  (a dry season festival) as part of a dance choreography to represent the erratic movements of a madman. Mask carver: Okocha Ota jr.

Afikpo, Nigeria (see map) was a centre of ancient Igbo tradition. These ceremonial masks were used in the 1970’s for elaborate masquerades associated with men’s  secret societies and the initiation of boys into them as well as annual festival cycles; all of which was an important part of Afikpo life. All the masks are the creation of Afikpo master carver Okocha Ota Jr.

Some masks represent animals—a goat or a woodpecker. Others are human-like male or female spirits,  a white person or a madman.  The style is narrow, oval or elongated, delicate: bands of raffia tied to the back of the mask hold it in front of the face.img_1219nigerian-masks-001nigerian-masks-2-001fullsizerender-13Biography of a mask carver: Okocha Ota Jr.

Born on 11th November 1949 in Afikpo, Nigeria, Ota Okocha Ota Jr. took a serious interest in art and crafts. He studied the Afikpo cults and masquerade traditions and travelled through the eastern part of Nigeria to Calabar, Awka, Nsukka, Ahoada, Ibibio, Edda, Nkporo, and Arochukwu photographing festivals which earned  him the nickname, “onyia-oha” meaning the greatest.  In January 1966, Okocha Ota Jr. organized a course for apprentices and started to produce various objects drawn from different parts of Eastern region. After the Civil War in 1971, he successfully organized group exhibition in Enugu, Ibadan, Lagos, and Zaria.

How I became an artist

by Okocha Ota jr.

As history may have it, Afikpo is a land rich in arts and culture and it leaves no doubt why I should emerge from this glorious highland. I was born on a bright summer day, 11th November 1949, in a little quarter, known as ‘Godachall Villa’ – a breed of prosperous cultural family at Mgbom village situated at the heartland of Afikpo town, south-east of the Igboland in the East Central State of Nigeria.

I have less to offer on my educational status. I attended and obtained the Ministry of Eduction first school leaving certificate in 1961 in Afikpo. A little further between 1962 and 1965 I trained in a government handicraft vocational school – a detachment of the government owned secondary/ technical school at Afikpo, where I came out with flying colours.

At the age of seven, my father, a renowned physician and a craftsman in Afikpo, called my attention on one evening as one of the beloved sons. Being interested in me, he requested my explanation on why I should characterize in exhibiting before him toys of wooden carvings, clay moulding, and painted pictures of Afikpo masquerades produced by me. I had little of excuse to offer and remember telling him that ” those who live in glass windows should not throw stones.” This reminded him that I was completely of his blood. He wished if I should retort attaining scholastic hero rather than artistry which had been dominated by the family in Afikpo town. I objected and replied, “Daddy, you can’t force nature.” He broke the conversation, shrewd, nodded and remarked before a section of the family: “Keep it up my son, for you are garlanded with laurels of artistic genius which do not grow on trees.” He then recalled the memories of our ancestors and grandfathers viz: Egu, Uzo Iǵbe Oka, Okoroukwu Ukwenyi, Aja Iberekwukwu, Uche Otta and Ekuma Okocha etc., etc. With this remark and impression, I was emotionally geared to embrace crafts, arts, and culture as my hobby. -1974

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For further readings about Afikpo traditional art and customs:

-Afikpo Masquerades: Audience and Performers Author(s): Simon Ottenberg Source: African Arts, Vol. 6, No. 4 (Summer, 1973), pp. 32-35+94-95 Published by: UCLA James S. Coleman African Studies Center Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3334798

“We Are Becoming Art Minded”: Afikpo Arts 1988 Author(s): Simon Ottenberg Source: African Arts, Vol. 22, No. 4 (Aug., 1989), pp. 58-67+88 Published by: UCLA James S. Coleman African Studies Center Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3336662

-S. Ottenberg, The Masked Rituals of Afikpo: The Context of an African Art, UW Press, Seattle, 1975.

-“Humorous Masks and Serious Politics among Afikpo Ibo,” S. Ottenberg, African Art and Leadership, ed. by D. Fraser and H. M. Cole, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1972, p. 99.

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

 

 

 

Borders Literature for All Nations and Olatoun Williams Review Cairo’s Street Stories

Borders Literature for All Nations 2016 is a Facebook site with the mission: In 2016, a forum for engaging with important issues and events in Africa’s history as recorded or reflected in good books.

Cairo’s Street Stories (AUC Press, Cairo, Egypt) was chosen for review by well-known and esteemed reviewer of African literature, Olatoun Williams. She writes:

We walk about the City of a Thousand Stories, ‘listening’ to Lababidi ‘speak’ with refreshing clarity on a wide range of topics spanning that history. What I have learned from her is fascinating about the evolution of women’s rights and the liberation of women embodied in the full figure of singer – el Sitt – Umm Kulthum….

…Though Lesley Lababidi does not take us on a linear journey, the tour is well-planned. She does not make it difficult to take in the plethora of evidence of foreign occupation manifested not only politically, but in art, language, education, urban planning and in the fact and manner of economic exploitation. Looking at the timeline of foreign invasions through her eyes, it is easy to see why Egypt’s raging identity crises are as inevitable as the annual flooding of the Nile.

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Courtesy of Olatoun Williams

 My response to Olatoun for choosing to review Cairo’s Street Stories:

Your intellectual critic of CSS is beyond my admiration, beyond my gratitude, almost beyond words…. for your analytical approach as using CSS as a backdrop to study other literary books, that of the past- Mahfouz- and the moving, contemporary poetry of Zahery overwhelmingly left me shaking with delight, perspiring with the desire to walk the Cairo streets, and with pride : I am very, very honored that you choose CSS to examine the intricate texture and history of Cairo.

Read the full review here and here.

Lababidi 2008

Finding Tolerance in Northern Nigeria

You don’t get points for accepting someone who wants to be just like you. You get points for accepting someone who doesn’t want to be like you — that’s where the difficulty lies. -Malcolm Gladwell

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Piti Tribe of Kaduna State, Christian affiliation

A short weekend trip* to Kaduna State in Northern Nigeria revealed a piece of the puzzle overlooked in news about Nigeria. That piece is not easily uncovered because of stereotyping and the complexity of a society but here it is, on bold display—tolerance of the other—in Lere Town 30 kilometers east of Jos City.Lere-1.8

 

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The trumpeters blow in unison to announce the entrance of the Emir. The kakaki trumpets are used only for announcing the presence of an Emir

Lere Emirates was established in 1870, by the fifth Sarkin Lere Muhammad Dankaka. To understand the origin of the founders of Lere one would have to go back deep into history to the Takrur region of present day Mauritania and Senegambia, where a kingdom once thrived under the Fulbe or Fulani. –Wikipedia.org

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Emir, Brig. General Garba A. Mohammed rtd.

On May 1, 2016, eleven members of the Nigerian Field Society are introduced to Lere Emirate through the hospitality and wise words of the tolerant Emir, Brig. General Garba A. Mohammed rtd.   The Emir honoured us with his presence and spoke of acceptance of ‘the other.’ He explained that in Lere Emirates there are several tribes that are not Fulani or Hausa but of other ethnic backgrounds. For today’s occasion members of the Piti Tribe  demonstrate drumming, dancing, and horsemanship specific to the Piti tribe.

Piti tribe population is approximately 8000 and according to Joshua Project, 80% follow a type of Christianity.  Piti is a minor Kanji language of Nigeria.

The mainly Muslim crowds look on and thoroughly enjoy the exhibition. Cheers and shouts rise, loudly, as the warriors with spears race along the crowded road.

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*Organized by Nigerian Field Society. Lead by Edouard Blondeau, Veronica Noxell, and Terri Brennan. The three-day trip took us to Kaduna, our hub radiating out of the 5th Chukker Polo Club. From there we travelled to Zaria to meet the Emir of Zazzau, Alhaji Shehu Idris; the Maggagin Garin of Zazzau, Mal. Ahmed Nuhu Bamalli; and to Lere Emirates to meet Emir, Brig. General Garba A. Mohammed rtd.

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Members of Nigerian Field Society with Mal.Ahmed Nuhu Bamalli, Magagin Garin Zazzau

**Pictures and photographs in this blog are solely my photography unless otherwise noted. Photographs, articles, and poetry are the intellectual property of Lesley Lababidi and protected under international copyright law.

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

 

Conference: Inheriting The City

IMG_1042Inheriting the City: Advancing Understandings of Urban Heritage

March 31 – April 4, 2016, Taipei, Taiwan

Ironbridge International Institute for Cultural Heritage, University of Birmingham, is pleased to announce our next international conference. We invite academics, policy makers and practitioners to consider the ways that heritage is being protected, managed and mobilised in rapidly changing and pressurised urban contexts. This multidisciplinary conference will explore the type of heritage, both tangible and intangible, that cities and towns will pass to future generations, and the processes through which the heritage of cities is being re-made, re-presented and re-used.

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Above photo: Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, Taipei, Taiwan– The venue for the conference.

This conference brought 200 professionals together from 40 countries to present papers on a variety of urban heritage issues from adaptive reuse of urban heritage to approaches to conservation of Chinese language, the 5-day conference was as diverse as it was inspiring. See program here.

The conference presented an opportunity to get out from behind the computer and meet, face to face, the people who work at preserving culture, saving heritage, and sometimes remembering heritage lost.

IMG_1069Fervor Troupe

Shaimaa Ashour, Egyptian architect, and I collaborated on the project, #City Walks: Another Perspective for Narrating the History of the City. Cairo, Egypt.  The research covered the chronological growth of city walks from 1970-2016, tracing initiatives (individual and organizational) across ten criteria. The analysis of city walks as a cultural heritage activity in Cairo emphasized individual and community initiatives that defines many facets of Egyptian heritage. A paper follows this presentation.

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Shaimaa, myself, and Professor Mike Robinson, University of Birmingham in front of Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall

Alone in Taipei for a Day

“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world” – Freya Stark

I have a day on my own in Taipei with no personal guide and no language skills; a dislike for public transportation (walking is quite acceptable) and a joy of discovery. I have a list: Buddhist temple. Paper Culture Museum. Traditional Tea House. Elephant Hill. Forget fumbling for directions on a smartphone. The receptionist at the hotel writes directions in Chinese on an old-fashion piece of paper.

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Longshan Temple: I visited the night before with a study group so prepared with a little knowledge, I sat for an hour and observed, peacefully, the comings and goings and follow the lingering incense smoke connecting spirit to spirit.IMG_1101

IMG_1076SuHo Memorial Paper Culture Museum: Founded the Chang Chuen Cotton Paper Plant in 1940 by Chen SuHo and his wife, they were killed 50 years later in a plane crash. Their children opened this paper museum in their memory. Walking through the museum, one examines various paper’s made from a variety of bark and fibers. At the top floor crossing onto the roof of another building is a bamboo traditional house that carves out a quiet place in the midst of the city.

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Back on street level, I could not resist the aroma of strong coffee wafting from an open doorway. Chat Coffee. Watching movement on the street and then spotted revolving parking plates: a car drives onto the plate and it turns 45 or 90 or 180 degrees to position the car for a parking space.

Not to be missed are a variety of man-hole covers that decorate the city sidewalks…

Wistaria Tea House located in a Japanese-style 1920 wooden house serves Taiwanese tea in traditional Chinese and Japanese tatami rooms. The service gracious and unassuming, lingering over fine tea and pineapple cakes is a grand way to spend a few thoughtful hours. Afterwards, an art exhibition raising money for a children’s violin group: The Light of Taiwan

Elephant Hill ( aka Nangang District Hiking Trail) rises quickly 400 meters above Taipei. Determination is all that is needed to climb the uneven stone steps to the top of the hill for great views of Taipei skyline and Taipei 101.

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Back to the best little hotel in Taipei: Royal Biz Hotel, to greet the friendly staff, sleep on satin sheets in a sparkling clean room, enjoy an extraordinary breakfast located in the heart of the city.

IMG_1138Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall during cherry blossoms season

More Reflections:

Conference Paper: City Walks: Another Perspective for Narrating the City

http://shaimaa-keephuntingphotos.blogspot.com.eg/2016/08/narrating-cairo-walks-exploring-taipei.html

Obelisque Magazine 2016

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Articles featured in Obelisque Magazine 2016

Indigo and the Turban

read article here

(Text and photography by Lesley Lababidi)

Indigo18 .Nov. 30, 2015, finalpdf-001

Kaber Sobhy, The Street of the Food. 

Read article here.

(Text by Lesley Lababidi; Photography by George Fakhry)

Sobhy 05 final Dec 6, 2015-001

Raouf Zaidan, Egyptian Opera

 Read article here.

(Text by Lesley Lababidi; Photographs by George Fakhry)

raouf article 12 .Dec 6, 2015pdf-001

Mahmoud Mandour, Artist and Potter

Read article here

(Text by Lesley Lababidi; Photography by George Fakhry)

Mohamed Mandour 6 .pdf final November 8th-001

From Lebanon With Love

read article here

(Text and photography by Lesley Lababidi)

From lebanon Dec 2,2015 final pdf-001

Street Art – Ibrahim Pasha

(Text and photography by Lesley Lababidi)

street art final .Nov 29,2015pdf-001

Book Review by Lesley Lababidi: Discovering Downtown Cairo

Book Review 144..pdf Final Nov 5,2015-001

 


 

*Copyright 2016 by Lesley Lababidi. All rights reserved under international copyright laws. To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required.

**Articles are seen in Obelisque Magazine 2016, all rights reserved. Photographs and text cannot be reproduced without the written permission of Obelisque Magazine and Lesley Lababidi and George Fakhry.

***To purchase the magazine, in Cairo, the best place is at Tanis at the First Mall, Giza. They usually always have a copy. The new, annual 2016 just came out so they should have the 2015 and 2016. Also in Zamalek there is a Tanis on 32 Mohamed Anis and Diwan Bookstore on 26th of July, Zamalek (sometimes sold out but they try to keep it in stock). Outside of Egypt, contact: obelisque_magazine@yahoo.com or info@obelisquepublications.com. Telephone: +201094449762.