STORY HIGHLIGHTS


Egyptian village keeps ancient papyrus alive

CNC
Added On October 12, 2017

One reason why so much is known about Ancient Egypt, is thanks to the civilization's use of papyrus.
 
For hundreds of years, these durable, paper-like, plant sheets were used to document Egyptian life. 
 
While the world may have moved on, the papyrus industry still lives on. 
 
Lifestyles went to take a look.
  
For thousands of years, the small village of Qaramous has been one of Egypt's centers of papyrus production.
 
Today, the papyrus sheets they produce aren't made for the pharoes to write their thoughts and proclamations on - but instead the tourists.
 
However, since the revolution in 2011, tourist numbers have dwindled. 
 
The following recession also hit the sector hard, with materials and chemicals skyrocketing in price. 
 
As farmer Mohamed Sayed explains, many have since turned their back on the industry.
 
SOUNDBITE 1 (Arabic): MOHAMED SAYED, Owner of papyrus farm
"The land of papyrus plants reached more than 200 acres, but now we don't even have 10 acres in the whole village, due to the tourism crisis. Therefore, the people changed their papyrus crops to plant food grains, because it cost much and there is no income to compensate losses."
 
Despite the troubles, in Qaramous, men go to harvest the papyrus sedge like the ancient Egyptians did centuries ago. 
 
Women collect the harvested stems in small workshops based in their homes and begin the process of transforming them into the final paper product.
  
SOUNDBITE 2 (Arabic):UM SOAAD, Worker woman
"This is the only village, at first women came from the neighbor villages to work in this craft and cut the papyrus. These women used to depend on this craft for their living, but now it's done."
 
In order to soften the slices, they must be left to soak for eight hours. 
 
After this step, the slices are placed next to one another to form a sheet. These sheets are then placed in rags and squeezed in an iron press. Finally, they are placed on cardboard and left to dry out in the sun.
 
SOUNDBITE 3 (Arabic): ABEER, Worker
"After we cut the papyrus in slices, we put them in a water mixed with chlorine, then put them in clean water like this and we stick them in horizontal and vertical ways, then we put them under the presser to squeeze them from water, then we put them between cartons and put these cartons under the sun."
 
When the final product is ready after it has been painted in a print shop, it is sold to bazaars in Cairo, Luxor and Sharm EL Sheikh. 
 
The final product can be sold for anything between one and 28 U.S. dollars. 
 
But with tourism revenues down by a quarter since 2014, the village has struggled. 
 
However Saied Targhan, head of the village's papyrus association is confident the industry will live on.
 
SOUNDBITE 4 (Arabic): SAIED TARGHAN, Head of Papyrus Association in Qaramous
"The whole villagers work in papyrus, but not in one field, as there are people specialized in farming, and other people working in drawing and marketing. Tourism in Egypt gets sick but never dies. Surely, a lot of workers and handcrafters have left the craft, but we still keep many skilled labor, who were taught by great masters. They don't leave the craft because they love this craft."