Their ancestors, the Pharaohs, knew of it … Some Egyptians still produce papyrus.
Hassan Masri — Sharqia
In the footsteps of the ancient Egyptians, the Pharaohs, residents of the village of Qaramous in the province of Sharkia, continue to grow and produce papyrus. They produce it in a way that may not exist elsewhere in Egypt or in the world.
For thousands of years, Egyptians knew papyrus. It was used by the pharaohs in writing and documenting.
However, the technological developments and appearance of the paper industry led papyrus to almost extinction. Its existence is limited to a few purposes, mainly for producing souvenirs for tourists in Egypt.
While wandering in the village of Qaramous, you will unmistakably notice, that women are the heroes of this industry. Almost in every home, women are manufacturing papyrus, while men play a major role in its cultivation, as it is the main village’s crop beside rice. This is how the roles are distributed between men and women to produce papyrus.
“We have no governmental work, no land, no heritage, other than our work in the production of papyrus,” said Azza, 16 years old, to Al-Jazeera Net. Azza has been working in the papyrus industry since she was a child, just like her nine brothers.
As for the secret behind women’s involvement in the production process, Azza reveals that it is normal within the village since papyrus work does not require leaving the house.
When the sticks are brought home from the field, women’s work starts. They cut the papyrus sticks then they peel them and chop them into small pieces. Later, they soak them in hot water with chemicals, such as chlorine, for 24 hours. Then, they slice them and compress them in special compressors. Finally, the papyrus slices are left under the sun to dry and take their final shape.
Even though this profession is about to go extinct since it is a rare one, the village has suffered from government negligence despite officials’ statements claiming they are interested in preserving it. For example, the governor of Sharkia, Mamdouh Ghorab, stated the importance of supporting the village and protecting the craft of papyrus cultivation. He even called for the formation of a national committee, and working towards adding the ancient practice to UNESCO’s world heritage list during the current year. These statements remained empty promises.
The lack of interest in the village has negatively affected production, as more than one farmer has lamented to Aljazeera.net. Atef Mohamed is one of those farmers; he has been working in the cultivation and production of papyrus for forty years. He speaks about the history of papyrus production and its beginning, as a craft, in the village since 1977.
Atef point out that, With the decrease of tourism and export, the price of the papyrus sheet has dropped from Five Egyptian pounds to 2.5 Pounds (1 US Dollar is equivalent to about 6.5 pounds), despite the unchanging high cost of its production.
“With the decline in the price of paper and low sales, the daily labor fees also dropped. men are getting 150 Pounds, while girls get a hundred Pounds.” He added.
As for who buys these papers, he points out that the most prominent paper purchasers are artists and owners of tourist bazaars. The reason why tourists buy it is because it reminds them of the Pharaonic civilization, especially with the coloring of the paper and the engraving of Pharaonic drawings on it.
The main challenge that the village is facing is the shortage of water allocated to it, which negatively affects the production of papyrus, Mohammad explained.
On the other hand, with the lack of tourism, the main source of income for villagers, he calls on Egyptian authorities to provide support to the marketing efforts of the papyrus plant, and he suggests to use the paper in the issuance of university degrees or other various educational uses.
Source: Aljazeera.net (Original Content -Arabic)