Siwa House Museum #2221
Siwa Oasis Series – May 2019
It had been 22 years since I ﬁrst went to Siwa Oasis in the Western Desert of Egypt. I went with two friends in 1997 who were also interested in Egyptian Dance, Dance Ethnology and History. While we were in Siwa we came upon the Siwa House Museum. It was/is run by Siwa people, not the Egyptian government. The curator was very interested in sharing information about Siwa culture. We were transﬁxed hearing his stories and insights, which started my long fascination with Siwa.
In the meantime I have returned to Siwa, each time having an enjoyable time, but did not ﬁnding the wonderful little museum. With so much extra building, I was afraid the little museum was gone.
In May 2019 I went with a group tour, stayed in two very interesting picturesque lodges, had amazing photos taken by the talented Yasmina of Cairo, and luckily saw a sign for the Siwa House Museum. Our guide from Cairo was not impressed by it and discouraged going, but everyone on the bus raised their hands when the guide asked who wanted to go! He came with us and had a short walk-through of the ﬁve room house. Then three of us stayed and had an amazing interview for two hours while the others went swimming in the salt lakes.
Here is the short beginning walk-through of the museum. The man talking at the beginning was Abu Bakr, the museum curator who is from Siwa. Then we went upstairs and saw more wedding clothes and jewelry, the warm “Winter Room”, and the outside baking oven. The man talking in the other clips was the Cairo guide.
- 0:05 Abu Bakr introduces us to the museum, it was built in the traditional Siwa way of building a home. The building material is called “kersheif” which is large nuggets of salt in mud matrix. It is cut from the edges of the nearby salt lake. The house was made by Siwi people, with help from the Canadian Development Agency. It was opened December 1990.
- 0:13 Siwa people don’t like to be photographed, and especially not videotaped.
- 0:24 While I listened, I photographed the traditional wedding clothing. Unfortunately nowadays most brides wear the international white dress. And the wedding which was 7 days is now only 1-3 days. They continue with some of the ritual visitations, but no longer do they have to wear the prescribed clothing.
- 0:37 Possibly the only traditional clothing that is still worn by women today is the “blue veil” “tarfotet” once she is married.
- 0:49 Dress with stripes; “This is for special occasions, this is for the wedding night. And the fabric is silk.” (It is worn for the ﬁrst day of wedding, with a red silk dress under it. Then afterwards she can wear it for other special occasions.)
- 0:51 White embroidered wedding shirt and white embroidered sharwal pants; “And this is for the third day after wedding when the relatives of the bride come to visit her.”
- 0:55 Black embroidered wedding shirt; “And this is for the seventh night after the wedding when (her) relatives … (and) the Mother of the bride comes to visit her, with other ladies.”
- 1:03 Embroidery threads are “the colors of nature”.
- 1:20 The head shawl and the striped dress of the wedding evening festivities.1:29 The men’s clothing
- 1:42 The wedding striped dress with the square embroidered neckline
- 1:46 The tarfotet that all married women continue to wear
- 1:55 Pink married lady’s dress with the square embroidered neckline, and white third day of marriage shirt.
- 2:04 Display of women’s dress embroidery and jewelry
- 2:14 “Tilakeen” head decoration of crescents over the ears, with long chains ending in bell shape. Usually held with two leather straps over the head.
- 2:26 Adrim disk and agraw bar (torque necklace), worn by the next girl in the family to get married. The girls must get married in sequential order.
- 2:42 The warm room. In cold weather this room is the one that they heat. Here the grandmother tells stories and instructs the children in culture and ethics. The Cairo guide and the Siwa curator had diﬀerent opinions on the source of the wall cracks.
- 3:02 Baskets and agriculture implements
- 3:18 The baking oven is on the roof
Siwa House Museum. May 2019