Gift of a Shrew and Their Role in Graeco-Roman Egypt

Shrews were important creatures in ancient Egypt, seen as key ingredients for certain magical spells, discussed in this blog. Picture source - Lexikon der Götter und Symbole der alten Ägypter sun reshafim

Shrews  and other small creatures were important in ancient Egypt, seen as key ingredients for certain magical spells that are discussed in the referenced blog. Picture source – Lexikon der Götter und Symbole der alten Ägypter sun reshafim

This morning I was awakened by Bébé-Cat gifting me with a little shrew that was dead.  Not the most enjoyable way to start the day.

However, this reminded me of a blog that I wrote a couple of years ago about rats here in Burundi and the important role of shrews in Ancient Egypt, which I have now revised and provide a link, below, for your enjoyment.

The shrew (or related fellow) shown here, who is fabricating the sun, seems to be a potent fellow.



Bébé-Cat after a hard day of work.  He is an unrepentant sun-worshiper – not potent, however, like the fellow above.



Now, please go on to the following link – and enjoy!

Rats and Related Creatures – Now, and in Graeco-Roman Egypt

Posted in Burundi, Cats, Egypt-Ancient, Living here, Pets | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Beautiful Coptic Murals in the Monastery of Surian in Egypt Revealed


Very interesting blog on the cleaning of Coptic murals at the monastery of Surian, Wadi al-Natrun, Egypt, with a video on work to clean and preserve the murals that contains a Coptic chant – very nice. Wadi al-Natrun, a large depression located to the west of Cairo, contains some of the most interesting of Egypt’s monasteries and earlier pharaonic remains.

Cleaning and refurbishing at the monastery of Dayr al- Surian, Egypt.  Source - DeirAlSurianConservationProject FB

Cleaning and refurbishing at the monastery of Dayr al- Surian, Egypt. Source – DeirAlSurianConservationProject FB

Originally posted on ON COPTIC NATIONALISM في القومية القبطية:

deir al surianOne of the beautiful murals revealed at Deir Al-Surian in Wadi Al-Natrun in Egypt

I would like to draw your attention to this important project of restoration by the Levantine Foundation. Start with this video:

Then visit the conservation project on Facebook and enjoy.

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Posted in Coptic, Cultural Heritage, Egypt-Ancient, Egyptology, Wadi al-Natrun | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Net Dresses in Ancient Egypt and Elsewhere – Then and Now

Beadnet dresses seem to have been common in ancient Egypt.  They are generally  made of several compounds (e.g., beads and shells), examples being found in the 21st Dynasty (1069-747 BC), as seen on the line drawing of a coffin painting of the Priestess Iwesemhesetmwt, which is shown in the above heading.  The practice of making or depicting  beadnet dresses continued for hundreds of years, as seen on a small, painted sarcophagi dated ca. 600 BC., discussed later in this blog.

This entry is especially for Karen Resta and her daughter Kristen Bateman, who has recently designed and made a lovely net dress combining several materials – a dress that is very much in keeping with dress style aficionados – both modern and Ancient Egyptian.  Adding historical depth to one/s couture enriches both understanding and value of the final product.  Tremendously.  Here is Kristen’s design -

Net dress designed by Kristen, via Karen Resta.

Net dress designed by Kristen Bateman containing several materials, via Karen Resta.

Now, on to the historical depth part -

Reconstructed beadnet dress,Old Kingdom, Dynasty 4, reign of Khufu, 2551–2528 B.C. .  Source - Giza, tomb G 7440 Z. 1927: excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; 1927: assigned to the MFA by the government of Egypt.

Reconstructed beadnet dress,Old Kingdom, Dynasty 4, reign of Khufu, 2551–2528 B.C. . Source – Giza, tomb G 7440 Z. 1927: excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; 1927: assigned to the MFA by the government of Egypt.  Accession No.  27.1548.1

Depictions of women in Egyptian art occasionally feature garments decorated with an overall lozenge pattern. This design is believed to represent beadwork, which was either sewn onto a linen dress or worked into a separate net worn over the linen.

This beadnet dress is the earliest surviving example of such a garment. It has been painstakingly reassembled from approximately seven thousand beads found in an undisturbed burial of a female contemporary of King Khufu.

Although their string had disintegrated, a few beads still lay in their original pattern on and around the mummy, permitting an accurate reconstruction. The color of the beads has faded, but the beadnet was originally blue and blue green in imitation of lapis lazuli and turquoise.

Source – Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Beadnet Dress

Another beadnet dress of the Old Kingdom, it was excavated by by Guy Brunton at Qau, Upper Egypt, in 1923-24 and now resides in the museum of University College London, where information on the dress states that -

Beadnet dress now in the museum of University College London.  Source - UCL

Beadnet dress now in the museum of University College London. Source – Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, University College London

The dress may have been worn for dancing in Dynasty 5 (c. 2400 BC). Each of the 127 shells around the fringe are plugged with a small stone so that it would have emitted a rattling sound when the wearer moved. When it was being conserved, it was thought to fit a girl of about 12 and to be worn naked.  

Guy Brunton commented that the dress reminds us of the story of King Sneferu going on a sailing trip on the palace lake, recorded on a papyrus dating from around 1800 BC. The King gets twenty young women to row a boat and, to relieve his boredom, orders:

“Let there be brought to me twenty women with the shapeliest bodies, breasts and braids, who have not yet given birth. And let there be brought to me 20 nets. Give those nets to these women in place of their clothes!”

Directions are given on the UCL site for making a similar beadnet dress, which contains both beads and shells (reference below) -

How to make a bead-net dress
By Janet Johnstone

Beads (cylinder beads 1.5 to 3cm long and round beads)
Shells drilled with holes for threading (optional)
Strong polyester thread natural or cream and a long needle

See this link for the rest of the instructions and accompanying graphs.

Small mummy case of the 26th Dnyasty, ca. 600 BC.  Source - Swansia Egypt Center.

Small mummy case of the 26th Dynasty, ca. 600 BC. Source – Swansea Egypt Center.

Important to note – that linen dresses could be worn below net dresses in ancient Egypt.  This would enhance warmth during the winter cool months as well as (perhaps) rendering the dress more conservative.  Kristen/s net dress could also be modelled with a sheer shift underneath, perhaps of a contrasting color.

In addition to actual beadnet dresses in ancient Egypt, drawings of beaded costumes were painted on mummy coffins.  Examples of two ladies who seem to be wearing net dresses appear in the drawing at the very top of the blog.

Another example – the little wooden coffin shown to the left, now in the Swansea Museum, contains a foetus that is dated to the 26th Dynasty, ca. 600 BC.  It is decorated with what appears to be a beadnet dress - approximately 2000 years after the two museum examples pictured above.  So dressing in net remained the vogue for many centuries in Egypt.

The baby-mummy has recently been scanned and shown to contain a small foetus, a touching end to the near-life of an ancient infant.  The case was collected by Sir Henry Wellcome who, as commonly was the case during the era of Egyptomania and related artifact collecting in the 19th Century, did not provide the item with a provenance – with a place of origin, which helps enormously in determining just who was the child, to whom, and so forth.

(In fact, he may have purchased it locally from a dealer who himself was not knowledgeable of the items origin.  This unfortunate practice of  context-free artifact-collecting continued into the 20th Century and unhappily continues today.)

Interesting to note, the hieroglyphs on the little coffin are nonsense, having no meaning, but this was not an unusual practice and perhaps was employed in the less expensive coffins.

Here is pictured the recent scanning of the little mummy from Swansea, wearing her net dress -

Baby Mummy being scanned.  Source - Swansea Egypt Centre.

Baby Mummy wearing a net dress, who is being scanned. Source – Swansea Egypt Centre.

 Moral of the tale – I hope that Kristen will continue her lovely design work – both imaginatively and with historical depth.  Imaginative couture is so often historically grounded – being multidimensional, not just a simple paste-up.  Wearers of her items will surly appreciate purchasing an item that is described as being in a long and famous tradition – whether it is from Ancient Egyptian net dresses or another tradition.


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Coffee Customs in Eastern Sudan and Egypt: The Beja Tribes and a Recipe


I have just updated the following blog on Coffee Culture among the Beja Clans of the Red Sea Hills of Egypt – a ceremony that has also been part of history and culture in the Middle East and North Africa.  A recipe of the drink and the ceremony is included.  Enjoy!

Originally posted on DIANABUJA'S BLOG: Africa, The Middle East, Agriculture, History and Culture:

Revised 14 May 2014
Beja merchants at the Red Sea market town of Shalaeen.  Source - Wikipedia

Beja merchants at the Red Sea market town of Shalaeen. The Red Sea Hills can be seen in the background.  Source – Wikipedia

Coffee culture is a central part of both social and political life of the Beja, as it is in many other areas of the Middle East and North Africa.   The original blog, from which this section is extracted, can be found here: Coffee Rituals, Camel Shins & Ostrich Brochettes: The Beja Tribes of Eastern Sudan & Egypt – Part II

For several years in the early 1980’s I managed a livestock-health project working with several of the Bisharin –or Beja – tribal lineages that are located in the Red Sea Hills of Southeastern Egypt and Northeastern Sudan:

Beja tribal area; our work was primarily in the Hala’ib Triangle next to the Red Sea. The triangle is the disputed area between Sudan and Egypt, now…

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Posted in Coffee Ritual, Cuisine, Egypt-Ancient, Egypt-Recent, Food, Red Sea Hills, Sudan | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Traditional Musical Instruments and Ankole Cattle in Burundi

A warrior celebration during which traditional instraments could be used, according to folks here in Burundi about 1900. Source: Hans Meyer, Les Barundi. Source - Une étude ethnologique en Afrique orientale.

A warrior celebration in Burundi about 1900.  Musical instruments, such as the nzamba horn-flute discussed below, could be used at these times.  Source: Les Barundi. Une étude ethnologique en Afrique orientale, by Hans Meyer.

Traditional musical instruments, aside from the drum, are difficult to come by and so I was quite pleased when I was recently given an nzamba, which is a flute made of the horn of an Ankole cow -

Ankole cattle in central Burundi, c. 1910.  Source: Hans Meyer, Les Barundi. Une étude ethnologique en Afrique orientale.

Ankole cattle in central Burundi, c. 1910. Source: Hans Meyer, Les Barundi. Une étude ethnologique en Afrique orientale.

The horn-flute was tried out by an elder in the village, but unfortunately it is missing a piece in the interior.  We will try to find someone who can restore it, and they experiment with traditional Burundi music.  Here are a couple of photos of the nzamba that was given to me:

The following video is of a couple of Ankole bulls having a good time sparing – a favorite activity of these local cattle.  Compare the eye movements in the video with those of the cattle in the above painting of local Ankole – in both, the eyes are actively engaged in viewing their opponents.

The following video must be taken in the States, not only because of the audio (which is pretty funny), but also because the bulls are much too fat.  Fatness has become a desirable attribute of edible livestock in the States, along with heavy marbling of the meat. Livestock here are thin by comparison and their meat is correspondingly lean.  Good for making stews and chewy skewers, but not for tender steaks.  To see the differences, check out the pictures of local herds in this blog compared to the video.

A herd of ankole cattle that I passed in central Burundi that is on its way from Tanzania to the abattoir in Bujumbura - perhaps the last, long commercial cattle drive in Africa.

A herd of Ankole cattle that I passed in central Burundi.  The herd is on its way from western Tanzania, east Africa, to the abattoir in Bujumbura (capital of Burundi) where they will be slaughtered.  This is perhaps the last, long commercial cattle drive in Africa, the trip taking three to four days and accompanied by professional drovers.  Horns at the abattoir in Bujumbura are sold on to artisans and others.

Posted in Africa-Central, Ankole cattle, Art in Africa, Burundi, Cuisine, Food, Living here, Tanzania | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Music to Bike By – The Hills of Burundi

Source /

Source /

The best music to accompany the following video of a descent (by bike) from the highlands of Burundi into the capital of Bujumbura on Lake Tanganyika – a drop of some 30 kilometers and 1400 meters – is, in my opinion, some rousing Scott Joplin.  So, do play the following rag by Joplin,  while you watch the action in negotiating the mountains shown in the above picture of Bujumbura and its famous hills, taken from my place.

I have started the video about half way through, where events become a bit exciting during the descent.  The entire video (and descent) takes about 45 minutes.  Many thanks to Tired of I.T. for this great video!

The video provides a quickie lesson in micro-marketing and person-transport into the capital from the highlands.

The music, which is the first link below, is derived from an original  piano roll, and this is described here.  The first sheet of Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag appears at the bottom of this page.  Be sure to press the first (audio) link – and then the video, which follows.

Have fun!

Press here first, for the music >


Now press here, for the video >

Negotiating the hills of Burundi can be as daunting as playing Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag.  Source -
Negotiating the hills of Burundi can be as daunting as playing Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag.  As a kid, I could play this and some other music roles on my grandfather’s ancient player piano, which was broken but still worked with a lot of effort.  Source –
Posted in Africa-Central, Burundi, Hills of Burundi, Lake Tanganyika, Living here, Scott Joplin | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Singing About Burundi

Burundians love their country, and here is Steve Sogo’s song, ‘My Beautiful Country, Burundi,’ which celebrates this fact. The song has been a run-away hit, very much beloved throughout the country.

Scenes in the video are of traditional Burundi styles and musical instruments and of various famous spots in the country, including the little pyramid and small trickle of water out of which Steve sips, which is claimed to be the southern-most source of the Nile River.

Today Steven is considered as the best bassplayer in Burundi and the most original artist of his country. Recently he has been selected by the World Bank Institute to be Burundi´s music ambassador. STEVEN SOGO sings in Kirundi, Swahili and in French.

For his composition he has been inspired by daily life. “J´aime la vie!” he explained in an interview and his love for live is his motivation.  Peace and life after a long war struggle are important subjects in his songs.

… His music is a permanent reflection of his cultural identity and heritage. STEVEN SOGO wants to be an example for the new Burundian generation to be proud of their culture instead of forgetting it. 

Steve Sogo on our beach with Bujumbura in the background.  Source:

Steve Sogo on the beach with Bujumbura in the background. Source:


The scenes in Steve’s video that are by Lake Tanganyika were shot here, where I live. The piece has become a classic.

Steven plays the guitar, the Ikembe (thumb piano) and the Umuduri (a single-stringed instrument and the ancestor of the Berimbau of Brazil). He sings in Kirundi, Swahili and in French. His take on traditional Burundian music is graceful and refreshing.  His music is … full of pain and hope at the same time, a mirror of present day Burundian society.

Regarding the years of war, Steve has these wise words to say -

[In my music] I just wanted to show the beauty of my country to change our thinking and be forward looking. I wanted to focus on a peaceful Burundi and not dwell on our differences. In any society music and words can be a real force for change that can touch everybody.

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