When the state of Bavaria in Germany claimed that koshari was a dish prepared by ancient Visigothic tribes, street protests broke out in Old Cairo as residents demanded proof that the lentil and rice delicacy is exclusively a product of this Egyptian culinary genius.
While the above is a fictitious spoof of nations arguing over who created what, a project aimed at documenting and archiving Egyptian folkloric traditions in different parts of the country (recently approved by the ministry of culture) will go a long way towards cementing long-held beliefs and dispelling myths.
Asad Nadim, a veteran folklore expert whose efforts were instrumental in the restoration of Al Darb Al Asfar in Old Cairo, predicted that the project will cost about LE 5 million at Beit Al Kharazati, one of the old Egyptian houses turned museums in Al Darab Al Asfar, and be accomplished within two years.
The project dubbed ‘Documentation and Development of Folklore Traditions and Folkloric Life in Egypt’ will be funded by the Kuwait-based Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development in response to a world move aimed at preserving heritage from loss and robbery.
Beit Al Kharazati is currently being prepared to serve as a digital research centre to store related information and make it available in Arabic, English and French for tourists and researchers of all kind.
“Efforts are now in full swing to buy digital cameras, laptops and voice recorders that will enable 12 fieldworkers to save related data in image, voice and word, said Nadim, adding that the number of researchers, currently undergoing training, is likely to increase so as to face that demanding intricate task.
Nadim pointed out that the fieldworkers will tour the country tracking down traditions and winnowing the nuances that make them different from one another.
Research in folklore preservation in Egypt will focus on three major areas – the period of time preceding the rule of Mohammed Ali, whose early 19th century era marks the modernization of Egypt; the post-Mohammed Ali era, and the current modern age.
“Take for example the circumcision of boys, the wedding parties or the celebrations marking the birth of a child. Such traditions in Nubia are different from their counterparts in Upper Egypt or the North Coast and so on.
According to Nadim, heritage is divided into four different areas: Oral literature that encompasses folkloric tales, proverbs and epics; material culture that includes traditional arts, crafts and architecture; social folklore customs and beliefs which stand for inherited rituals practiced from birth to death ( feasts, parties and other lifestyle related issues) and performing arts like music, theatre, poetry.etc.
The data of accumulated research will be reviewed by experts who will be online and in contact with the fieldworkers.
“It will then be archived and made available on a special Internet website in Arabic files. Each file will be tailed by an English and French briefing. The briefings will develop into full-fledged translations as the site garners momentum, Nadim added.
The need for archiving Egypt’s traditions arose after international agreements warned copyright ownership is best protected once heritage data is collected and documented.
There is also one section in the UNESCO devoted to safeguarding folkloric traditions so as to prevent disputes among countries that a certain custom belongs to the one or the other.
Nadim warned against underestimating the importance and complexity of the task. “You never know, tomorrow a neighboring nation might claim that or Falfel are not Egyptian, he noted.
“At the end of the day it’s significant to preserve the heritage that, besides losses incurred as a result of change and invasion, could also be subject to usurpers, he explained.