A girl shows a papyrus souvenir in Qaramos village of Sharqiya province, Egypt, on Dec. 17, 2019. In Qaramos village, people of different ages can be seen around carrying papyrus sticks from the farms to their workshops to process them until they finally become in the shape of ancient-like papyrus souvenirs. The village is the main source of papyrus in Egypt and perhaps the whole world, which prompted the Egyptian authorities to work on inscribing papyrus making in Qaramos on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)'s World Heritage List. (Xinhua/Ahmed Gomaa)
by Mahmoud Fouly
SHARQIYA, Egypt, Dec. 21 (Xinhua) -- In Qaramos village of Sharqiya province north of the Egyptian capital Cairo, people of different ages can be seen around carrying papyrus sticks from the farms to their workshops to process them until they finally become in the shape of ancient-like papyrus souvenirs.
The village is the main source of papyrus in Egypt and perhaps the whole world, which prompted the Egyptian authorities to work on inscribing papyrus making in Qaramos on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)'s World Heritage List, particularly under the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.
"After the Pharaohs, Qaramos people are the only papyrus makers in the world," Abdel-Rahman Mostafa, one of the village's papyrus makers, told Xinhua.
He pointed out that the craft was revived in Qaramos in late 1970s by Hassan Ragab, Egypt's former ambassador to China, noting that in ancient Egypt papyrus grew on the Nile River banks, but Qaramos is the only village in Egypt that grows it in agricultural lands away from the river.
Qaramos used to plant more than 500 feddans (about 2.1 square kilometers) of land of papyrus and now they are limited to 50 feddans, and there were about 600 papyrus making workshops that declined to 30, according to Ahmed al-Nimr, member of the scientific office of Egypt's minister of antiquities.
"The village is distinguished by papyrus making in the old ways used by ancient Egyptians. It is the only village in Egypt and perhaps the whole world that grows and processes papyrus in ancient ways," Nimr told Xinhua.
Nimr is member of the higher committee for documenting and registering the papyrus making craft to inscribe it on the UNESCO's List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. The committee comprises Sharqiya province and the ministries of antiquities, culture and tourism.
"Today, we're documenting an important stage of the papyrus making craft, enlisting all its aspects including the steps of growing, making, printing and drawing through field visits to workshops," he explained, noting that Qaramos is also the destination for all researchers interested in studying papyrus.
The papyrus making process starts with growing the plant, harvesting only the long sticks and sparing the little ones for another six months, cutting them according to the measures requested by customers, unpeeling them, putting them in large boilers to be mild and flattening them with mallets.
"After that, we spread the papyrus flat strips crosswise to form sheets, putting a plastic sheet between each two papyrus sheets as a separator, then squeeze them by compressors to be completely dry," said Mohamed al-Askary, owner of a papyrus making workshop in Qaramos.
The papyrus maker praised the project attempting to inscribe his craft on the UNESCO's World Heritage List, saying it would help preserve the craft and open new markets for papyrus production beyond the tourists visiting Egypt.
Askary added that Qaramos papyrus makers in cooperation with the government try to broaden the papyrus market, recommending to print flight tickets, higher education certificates and the like on papyrus to shed light on the craft and safeguard it against dying out.
"We revive a craft used by ancient Egyptians 7,000 years ago," he said.
The Egyptian committee that works on inscribing Qaramos papyrus making on UNESCO's World Heritage List invited Corrado Basile, chief of the papyrus museum in Italy, also the only papyrus museum in the world, to visit Egypt to discuss cooperation in this regard, according to Rasha Hassan, head of the Heritage Department of Sharqiya Province.
"We discussed a protocol to market the craft and the village through the exhibitions held by the museum. We can also learn from the Basile's expertise in papyrus making and restoration as he is an expert in the field," she pointed out.
Hassan emphasized that papyrus making faced the issue of declining lands for growing papyrus due to insufficient marketing, which is why the committee works on preserving the craft by including it on the UNESCO's World Heritage List.
"We have chosen the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding because it helps preserve the craft of papyrus making and also set up a plan for its development at the same time," the Egyptian official told Xinhua.