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Subject: Traditional Egyptian storytellers heritage and its instruments and tools

Traditional Egyptian storytellers heritage and its instruments and tools

From: Hany Aziz Hanna Hanna <hhnnc>
Date: Monday, June 11, 2007
    **** Moderator's comments: Please respond directly to the

I am in progress on a study on the "Preservation of the endangered
cultural assets of the traditional Egyptian storytellers' heritage
and its instruments and tools" in cooperation with UNISCO Cairo

The collections of the instruments and tools related to the
mentioned heritage include musical instruments such as rababa or
Arab fiddle with bow, smsmiyya or tanpora, salamiyyah, zummarah,
mizmar, arghul, nay, tabl and tambourine, as well as the other
instruments and objects such as storytelling props (puppets, Qaraquz
or Araquz etc) and Sanduk El-Donia  (Please see details below about
such heritage and its instruments and tools).

I am calling for entries from professionals and museums (which have
collections of the mentioned instruments and tools) as we as
individual obtained privet collections or pieces of the mentioned
instruments and tools.

The entries could be in any form and not limited to the following

    1.  Information, documents and published studies or books in the
        mentioned subject

    2.  Information regarding the existing collection in your museum
        or your privet collection (such as the documentation and
        records information, the pieces state of conservation and
        photos) with permission (in any form) to include the
        material within the study

    3.  Information about the related material available on your
        website and permission (in any form) to include such
        material within the study and to link the related mentioned
        pages to the study's web pages being designed and
        established to be linked to UNISCO Website as well as to
        some other related sites

    4.  Information, studies and other material regarding similar
        instruments and tools other than Egyptian for comparative
        study (as well as Information regarding the existing
        collection of such similar instruments and tools in your
        museum or your privet collection with permission (in any
        form) to include the material within the study)

    5.  Recommendations and studies in preservation and conservation
        of the mentioned instruments and tools as well as the
        preservation and conservation methods, materials and

    6.  Recommendations and studies in Documentation, Storage and
        Displaying methods and techniques

I will be so grateful to receive your entries as soon as possible
and before the deadline of August 31, 2007. Please send your entries
with the subject marked "Traditional Egyptian storytellers'

The traditional Egyptian storytellers' heritage is a very important
art in its musical, theatrical and cinematic forms. In its
expressive singing, stylized speech, motion, repertoire of
narratives and mimetic gesture, it is one of the most unique
expressions of Egypt's rich performing arts tradition and folk
culture. In addition to its significance as a foremost literary and
musical expression, this heritage represents a repository for the
rich spectrum of Egyptian folk history, customs, beliefs, symbolism
and traditions not only in its intangible form but also in its
instruments and movable assets.

The traditional Egyptian storytellers' heritage consists of many
stories and epic poems such as al-Sirah al-Hilaliyyah and its
characters such as Abu zed al-Hilaliy, El-Zenaty Kalepha and Zayab
Ibn Ganem.

Al-Sirah al-Hilaliyyah, recorded within the second proclamation of
Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, is
just one of the major oral epic poems to develop within the Egyptian
and Arabic folk tradition from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth
century. Al-Sirah al-Hilaliyyah is the last of these epics to remain
alive in oral tradition and continues to be performed in its
integral musical form until today and has survived to the present
day in Egypt.

There were other stories such as the story of Sayf Ibn Ze El-Yazen,
the story of Antra Ibn Sadad and Abla and Antra's partner Shaybob
and a lot of Political and emotional stories.

In its musical form there are different forms of storytelling
performed by vocalists or poets with musical instruments

Several traditional musical instruments traditionally used to
accompany the traditional storytellers, poetries and singers. Those
instruments are mostly wooden instruments. There are several sorts
of instruments include string instruments such as rababa and
smsmiyya, wind instrument such as salamiyyah, zummarah, mizmar,
arghul and nay and percussion instruments such as tablah and

Rababa (Arabic fiddle), or Oriental rebec, or (Spike fiddle) The
Egyptian rababa or Arab fiddle is the earliest known bowed
instrument. The instrument was first mentioned in the 10th century,
became prominent in medieval and later in Arab art music. In
medieval times the word Rababa was used for any bowed instrument.
The Rababa has a membrane belly made mainly of wood, two or three
strings. There is normally no fingerboard, the strings being stopped
by the player's fingers. The Rababa's body shapes vary: pear-and
boat-shaped Rababa was particularly common; Bedouin musicians mainly
play rectangular bodies; and flat round and trapezoidal are also
found. Throughout the Middle East and Egypt, the word "rababa" or a
derivative name refers to a spike fiddle, one that has a small round
or cylindrical body and a narrow neck. It has an easily recognizable
rich thick sound--a combination of high and low tones.

Smsmiyya (tanpora) is a musical instrument made of wood and has five
strings. Known as tanpora, the Smsmiyya was used in Nubia where from
it moved to the Sues canal area where it became the common popular
musical instrument especially in Port Said, Ismailiya and Sues

Salamiyyah is an open-ended reed-flute, characteristically breathy
in tone and commonly seen in folk-oriented Sufi performances.

Zummarah (Oriental salamia), or kawla, has a two identical reed
tubes, each tube having five or six holes and a smaller tube inside
which vibrates to produce the sound. It is played using a circular
breathing technique, which produces a continuous sound.

Mizmar (or reed pipe) is a double reed appearing characteristically
with a large double-sided drum called tabl baladi. Typically, three
mizmars play together. Not too long ago, a 3,000-year-old tomb of
Egypt was uncovered on an archeological dig sponsored by the
University of Cairo. During the excavation, an ancient reed mizmar
was discovered in the ruins. Although pictures of such musical
instruments were depicted on the walls of other previously excavated
tombs, this was the first incidence in history of actually
uncovering the real object.

Arghul is a reed flute, open-ended and end-blown. It has a limited
range and a breathy sound, which the player sometimes accompanies by
humming, and is associated with weddings and dances, and it is also
played by shepherds. Arghul resembles the Palestinian yarghul.

Nay (Oriental flute) is an open-ended, usually 60 to 70 cm long,
with 5 to 7 finger holes, obliquely blown flute made from reed or
wood. Exhibiting a breathy tone, it has a wide range of almost two
and a half octaves. It is also extremely expressive and capable of
producing dynamic and tonal inflections. The development and use of
the Nay has been attributed to shepherds, but it is, in fact, an
urban instrument. The Nay also appears in some Sufi musical

Tabl (or tablah, or darbuka) is a cylindrical double-sided wooden
drum, covered with goatskin played with the hand on one side and
with a wooden beater on the other. The name is widely used, though
the instrument itself has regional variations.

Tambourine (tar) is a one of the musical instruments which has its
origins in the middle ages. It is also known in Egypt as riqq (rikk,
reqq or rek), this Egyptian tambourine is a cylindrical drum with
sets of double cymbals, which can create many distinct tones and

In the theatrical form another sort of the storytellers' tool been

Qaraquz or Araquz is the famous name for this tool, which form
features handcrafted puppets and complex musical styles. Qaraquz is
a sort of glove puppet, which made of wood and textile. The
storyteller or puppeteer, who used to be hidden behind a textile and
wooden screen, tells or sings his story, and moves the puppets in
the front of the attendance.

In its cinematic form another sort of the storytellers' tools been

Sanduk El-Donia (= box of the world, or peep-show box) is the name
for this tool ("sanduk" is an Arabic word means box and "el-donia"
is an Arabic word means the world), which is a wooden box used by
the storytellers for telling the stories accompanied by pictures and
music. People used to look to the picture inside the box through
some holes while the artist tells the stories and changes the

Dr. Hany Hanna (PH.D)
Senior Conservator,
Elected Coordinator, ICOM-CC-Wood, Furniture and Lacquer
General Director
Department of conservation
Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), EGYPT.
Mobil No.: +20 12 4176742
8 Sayed Darwish St.
El-Kousaiareen, Cairo 11291

                  Conservation DistList Instance 21:11
                   Distributed: Sunday, June 17, 2007
                       Message Id: cdl-21-11-022
Received on Monday, 11 June, 2007

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