Easter Season in Egypt, 1834: ‘Smelling the Breeze’, Making Kishk, Eating Colored Eggs & Salted Fish

kishk, an Egyptian dish made with thickened mi...

A bowl of kishk topped with sautéed onions, an Egyptian dish made with thickened milk or yogurt and topped with fried onions. It is described in the following text as a 19th century treat. In the village where I lived, it was still a great treat that was made by some of the older women.  It is a dish that transcends religious sects and socio-economic strata, as well as ethnicities. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Manners and Customs of The Modern Egyptians, by E. Lane, is a two-volume set filled with lore about Egypt during the author’s time (1834). And although it makes for fascinating reading, the book is now largely ‘put down’ by post-colonial theorists who are troubled by the Orientalist mind-set of Lane and his colleagues.

Nevertheless, taken at descriptive value, it – as so much of the colonial literature of exploration – provides views both into lifestyles of local people at the time and their (presumed) thoughts – as well as mindsets of the authors themselves; of colonial mentality.

The following excerpt describes common practices during Orthodox Easter time in Egypt (1834), and includes a recipe for kishk, which was eaten as part of the celebrations for Good Friday. Kishk is still a very popular dish, eaten year-round, and I remember the delicious kishk that was made in the Izba (hamlet) in Upper Egypt where I lived while doing research.

Salted fish ( فسيخ), lettuce, and onion are also eaten as part of this spring celebration, which is commonly organized as a picnic.  It is said that these practices can be traced back to ancient Egypt, though I cannot find solid information about this.  Nevertheless, it is a celebration that encompasses both Muslims and Christians and transcends socio-economic strata.

An izba in Upper Egypt, similar to the one in which I lived. Kishk was a great treat, as made by some of the older women.  It is a dish that transcends religious sects and socio-economic strata, as well as ethnicities.  Source - Village by Ahmed Moustafa

An izba (hamlet) in Upper Egypt, similar to the one in which I lived.  The green matter on the roofs is fodder, crop leavings, and oven fuel.  Source – oilpaintingsonline.com, the painting is by Ahmed Moustafa, of Alexandria.

Of particular interest in the following description, is the melding of Muslim, Coptic, and non-religious activities into one ceremony – called, as still today,  Shamm al-Nasim (شم النسيم – literally, ‘sniffing the breeze’).  Some of the activities described below are still found, while others, such as ritual washing with a particular plant, are no longer to be commonly found.

Until the presidency of Nasser (mid-20th century), there was a large Jewish community in Cairo and it is possible that the Jewish celebration of Passover, which takes place during the same time period in Egypt, also incorporated aspects of the Shamm al-Nasim celebration.

IT is remarkable that the Moos’lims of Egypt observe certain customs of a religious or superstitious nature at particular periods of the religious almanac of the Copts [Orthodox Christians of Egypt]; and even, according to the same system, calculate the times of certain changes of the weather.

Thus they calculate the period of the Khum’a’see’n [khamsiin], when hot southerly winds are of frequent, occurrence, to commence on the day immediately following the Coptic festival of Easter Sunday, and to terminate on the Day of Pentecost (or Whitsunday); an interval of forty-nine days.

Coptic and Arabic inscriptions in an Old Cairo...

Coptic and Arabic inscriptions in an Old Cairo church. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Wednesday next before this period is called Ar’ba’a Eiyoo’b, or Job’s Wednesday. Many persons, on this day, wash themselves with cold water, and rub themselves with the creeping’ plant called raara’a Ei-yoo’b, or ghoobey’ra (inula Arabica, and inula undulata), on account of a tradition which relates that Job did so to obtain restoration to health. This and other customs about to be mentioned were peculiar to the Copts; but are now observed by many Moos’lims in the towns, and by more in the villages.

The other customs just alluded to are that of eating eggs, dyed externally red or yellow or blue, or some other colour, on the next day (Thursday); and, on the Friday (Good Friday), a dish of khul’tah, composed of kishk*, with foo’l na’bit**, lentils, rice, onions, &c.

Washing before a meal, a necessary task. Source: Lane, Manners and Customs…

* Kishk is prepared from wheat, first moistened, then dried, trodden in a vessel to separate the husks, and coarsely ground with a hand-mill: the meal is mixed with milk, and about six hours afterwards is spooned out upon a little straw or bran, and then left for two or three days to dry. When required for use, it is either soaked or pounded, and put into a sieve, over a vessel; and then boiling water is poured on it: what remains in the sieve is thrown away: what parses through is generally poured into a saucepan of boiled meat or fowl, over the fire: some leaves of white bete, fried in butter, are usually added to each plate of it.

** foo’l na’bit are Beans soaked in water until they begin to sprout, and then boiled.

On the Saturday, also, it is a common custom of men and women to adorn their eyes with kohhl. This day is called Sebt en-Noo’ r (Saturday of the Light); because a light, said to be miraculous, appears during the festival then celebrated in the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

A custom termed Shemm en-Nesee’m* (or the Smelling of the Zephyr) is observed on the first day of the Khum’a’see’n. Early in the morning of this day, many persons, especially women, break an onion, and smell it; and in the course of the forenoon, many of the citizens of Cairo ride or walk a little way into the country, generally northwards, to take the air, or, as they term it,smell the air, which, on that day, they believe to have a wonderfully beneficial effect. The greater number dine in the country.

This year (1834), they were treated with a violent hot wind, accompanied by clouds of dust, instead of the nesee’m: but considerable numbers, notwithstanding, went out to smell it.

*شم النسيم

Source: Edward William LaneAn Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, Written in Egypt during the Years 1833, -34, and -35, partly from Notes made during a Former Visit to that Country in the Years 1825, -26, -27, and 28. In Two Volumes
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A Tasty Congolese Relish with Manioc Leaves – Isombe y’umwamba

Cooking palm nuts to soften the nuts for oil e...

Image via Wikipedia


Yesterday I went out into the parcel’s garden and noticed that both palm oil trees have nice clumps of palm oil kernels that are growing.  They should be ready in a couple of weeks, when I’ll do another blog about their use here in central Africa.

The following blog details a very popular use of manioc leaves cooked in palm oil, and manner of extracting oil from the kernels that is still found in some areas of the county –

The following recipe – ‘Manioc leaves with crushed palm oil kernels‘ – is popular throughout central Africa and combines three of the most important local ingredients – manioc leaves, fresh oil from palm nuts, and ground nuts.

Batwa men operating a traditional oil palm press in the eastern Congo

Here are the ingredients – quantities are pretty much up to you:

Fresh manioc leaves –
Oil palm nuts –
Fresh peanuts –
Garlic –
Palm oil
Red pepper –
Salt –

Preparation requires a bit of work. First, you must collect a basket of tender manioc leaves:

Tender, young cassava/manioc leaves

Then, you need to pound the manioc leaves into a paste, like this:

Pounding the manioc leaves can take a couple of hours, and is a task often shared by several people.  This is Eileen, daughter of one of the staff, pounding manioc leaves.

In the meantime, send your menfolk off to collect a bunch or two of fresh palm nuts:

Oil Palm nuts. 

You prepare the oil palm nuts by removing the flesh from the kernels and pounding it – then, you squeeze the crushed fibers between your hands, using the liquid, but throwing away the fibers.

Groundnuts you’ll probably have to buy fresh at the local market, unless you raise them yourself:

Groundnuts, not quite ready for harvesting. Source: Global ministries

Shell the groundnuts and crush them into a powder.

The garlic and leeks are not indigenous to central Africa, but were introduced during the colonial period and now are featured in many local dishes.

They are pounded together with the cassava leaves, once the leaves have been fairly well mashed.

The oil palm liquid and groundnut powder is also added and pounded/mixed in.

Some people also add tomatoes and green peppers.

The final mixture looks something like this:

Pounded manioc leaves. Source: shianlotta, flikr

The best way to cook is in a clay pot, but increasingly folks cook in aluminum pots, like this:

Isombe being cooked to the left, goat meat to the right, by project staff preparing for a wedding feast

You can add a little palm oil to the pot – but not too much, because you’ve already extracted some oil with the liquid of the fresh palm nuts.

Isombe y’umwamba (which means manioc leaves with oil palm) is always eaten with a pate – a thick porridge – and often in this manner:

Sorghum pate with isombe y’umwamba as a relish

Isombe is frequently served at the Hotel Lac Tanganyika, by way of presenting a much-loved traditional dish that is highly nutritious – and tasty!

Thanks to Yolanda, who asked me about this recipe here.

Posted in Africa-General, Cuisine, Food, Hotel Club du Lac Tanganyika2, Recipes, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Desperate for a way out

Bridges from Bamako

“A tragedy of epic proportions” — that’s how the International Organization for Migration describes what’s been happening to the migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean this year. On the African continent, while instability and economic stagnation have driven thousands of young people to leave home, chaos in Libya has made it easier for migrants to get access to the Mediterranean coast.

Migration routes through northern Africa (source: NY Times) Migration routes through northern Africa (source: NY Times; click map above for the full story)

Migrants arriving in Europe via the Mediterranean (source: UNHCR) Migrants arriving in Europe via the Mediterranean       (source: UNHCR)

The number of people making this risky sea crossing reached an all-time high last year: by UNHCR estimates, 219000 arrived on the shores of southern Europe in 2014, ten times more than in 2012. So far this year, thousands of others have died in the attempt (3500, or one every two hours, according to figures cited in Le Monde).

What lands do they…

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A Ptolemaic Tale of Lust and Abandonment

A take by Reeder =

.. it is not coincidental that the Egyptian word muu, for the so-called muu dancers, … who were responsible for bringing the souls of the dead to the afterworld, referred to jesters, buffoons, and dwarfs (Budge, 1978; Faulkner, 1986), for these dancers were evidently originally the Egyptian analogues of the dancing mushroom spirits people have typically seen after ingesting entheogenic mushrooms.

This analysis is in full accord with: (1) the belief that the muu were originally dwarfs, just as the word for them implies (Moret, 1927); (2) the belief that the muu crown was a variation of the White Crown (Abubakr, 1937); (3) the belief that the muu were personified crowns (Altenmuller, 1975), for the muu were indeed originally personifications of the Psilocybes* their crowns were designed to represent

* Psilocybes – a genus of small mushroom with psychedelic properties.  ” Psilocybin mushroom ingestion results in hallucinatory symptoms which begin as early as ten minutes post ingestion and typically last anywhere from four to twelve hours, although cases of much longer duration have been reported in the literature. While personal accounts of intoxication share some common themes, both the intensity and length of the hallucinogenic effects of Psilocybes are highly variable.

This variability has been attributed to many factors, including the psychological characteristics of the user, the cultural background of the user, the mood or expectations of the user prior to ingestion (the “set”), the environment of the user (the setting), the psilocybin content (which can vary ten-fold between individual species and may change as a result of preparation or handling), previous use of hallucinogens, and concurrent use of other drugs or alcohol. Also, it is possible that individual sensitivities may result from inherited differences in metabolic capability.”

Source  > The Mysterious Muu and the Dance They Do, by Greg Reeder

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Supersyllabogram A for amphora with the aromatic and dye saffron UPDATE

Nice, Rida – Merci!

Ritaroberts's Blog

Source: Supersyllabogram A for amphora with the aromatic and dye saffron UPDATE

This is one of many of Richard Vallance posts about the Linear B ancient scripts writings.  As you all know Richard is teaching me this subject and I thought my fellow bloggers would like to read more of his translations  as he explains in great detail more than I can about the Minoan/Mycenaean writings which help bring the past culture to life. Please leave a comment and or a like on his blog and not mine. I will be posting more of Richard translations very soon. Don’t forget please leave him a comment as he is dedicated to his subject and works so very hard.

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Récent happenings Here in Burundi

I’ve been out of circulation for some weeks due to illness – soon to catch up/In the meantime, here is an interesting article on weaving in the old kingdom and nice photo of a very unhappy Manul cat. Sorry – computer problems here and will get back to you in  day or so.

(1) The Hidden Industry_ Weaving at the Workers’ Settlement _ Ana Tavares – Academia

· Le Manul ou chat de Pallas FB

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Ancient Lives: Papyrology for People Who aren’t Papyrologists

More and more manuscripts are now appearing online – and, as this one – invites everyone to join. “The site is an attempt to harness the power of the people in an effort to transcribe as-yet unpublished Greek papyri fragments from Oxyrhynchus, Egypt: Ancient Lives is a collaboration between a diverse collection of Oxford Papyrologists and Researchers, The Imaging Papyri Project, The Oxyrhynchus Papyri Project, the Egypt Exploration Society and the following institutions.

The papyri belong to the Egypt Exploration Society and their texts will eventually be published and numbered in Society’s Greco-Roman Memoirs series in the volumes entitled The Oxyrhynchus Papyri. The best part, though, is that you don’t need to be a papyrologist to get in on the fun. You don’t even need to know Greek! (Although it doesn’t hurt…)

Source - Ancient lives

The interface for the transcription project is incredibly user-friendly, even for non-specialists. I watched an entire classroom of NT Intro students (most of whom had never taken a day of Greek) spend an hour exploring the site and transcribing fragments. They were into it.

The site loads for you a papyrus fragment. You look at the letters on the papyrus (even for people who know Greek, that’s all they are at first) and try to match each one up with a letter or special character in the ancient Greek alphabet. Here [above is] a screenshot of a fragment I’m currently working on to give you an idea: transcribe The blue circles are letters that I have, or think I have, identified so far. The red circle is the current letter I am deciphering…

Let the Reader Understand

A few months ago I was introduced to the University of of Oxford’s Ancient Lives papyri transcription project while TAing a class for Eric Smith. This morning I rediscovered it and have been having some fun transcribing ancient Greek fragments.

The site is an attempt to harness the power of the people in an effort to transcribe as-yet unpublished Greek papyri fragments from Oxyrhynchus, Egypt:

Ancient Lives is a collaboration between a diverse collection of Oxford Papyrologists and Researchers, The Imaging Papyri Project, The Oxyrhynchus Papyri Project, the Egypt Exploration Society and the following institutions.

The papyri belong to the Egypt Exploration Society and their texts will eventually be published and numbered in Society’s Greco-Roman Memoirs series in the volumes entitled The Oxyrhynchus Papyri.

The best part, though, is that you don’t need to be a papyrologist to get in on the fun. You don’t even need to know Greek! (Although it…

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Antiquity Imagined: The Remarkable Legacy of Egypt and the Ancient Near East

New Book –

“‘Knowledge is the ultimate addiction. What we cannot find in the directly observable world, we invent. With patience and erudition Robin Derricourt explores a prominent field of alternative knowledge, ‘the remarkable legacy of Egypt and the ancient Near East’, where theories proliferate which mainstream researchers either reject or ignore. Pyramid theorists, Egypt as part of a pan-African black civilisation, the search for the ten lost tribes of Israel: the author’s range is remarkable…

HARN Weblog

HARN member, Robin Derricourt, has sent us notification of his latest publication:

Antiquity Imagined front cover

Antiquity Imagined: the remarkable legacy of Egypt and the ancient Near East (London: I.B. Tauris, 2015)

 Outsiders have long attributed to the Middle East, and especially to ancient Egypt, meanings that go way beyond the rational and observable. The region has been seen as the source of civilization, religion, the sciences and the arts; but also of mystical knowledge and outlandish theories, whether about the Lost City of Atlantis or visits by alien beings. In his exploration of how its past has been creatively interpreted by later ages, Robin Derricourt surveys the various claims that have been made for Egypt – particularly the idea that it harbours an esoteric wisdom vital to the world’s survival. He looks at ‘alternative’ interpretations of the pyramids, from maps of space and time to landing markers for UFOs; at images of the…

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On the origin of Roman concrete

Interesting, from Per Storem

Per Storemyr Archaeology & Conservation

The Pantheon cupola in Rome, made by Roman concrete some 2000 years ago. Source: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0 The Pantheon cupola in Rome, made by Roman concrete some 2000 years ago. Source: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

You mix burnt lime, volcanic ash and sand/gravel. Then you have the famed concrete that made the Romans able to build the Pantheon cupola, or to make underwater constructions, like big harbours. And without Roman concrete, we may not have had our modern concrete, based on Portland cement, enabling us to build ever bigger, higher and deeper. But how was Roman concrete discovered?

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