Monday, July 11, 2005

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Aswan, the heart of Nubian Egypt

ASWAN--Weather report: "Hot with occasional Damn, it's hot!" I'd dreamed of coming back here, and this lovely, relatively small city (certainly smaller than Cairo's 15 million) is peaceful and on a human scale. There are as many touts (men who drum up business) as in Cairo, but at a higher density. The corniche (road on the east bank of the Nile) is a terrific place for a romantic supper, with a superb view.

The Nubian Museum, new since I was last here in 1993, is a spectacular building housing some of the few antiquities saved when construction of the dam flooded the valley for hundreds of kilometres and destroyed untold millions of archeological objects and treasures.

My wife and I visited Philae Temple today, a chapel for Aset (called by the Greek name "Isis"), the Afrikan deity who when holding her son Heru (Horus) was the icon whom art historians acknowledge as the archetype for the Madonna-and-Child image. Philae is beautiful, no question, although it is a Greek-era temple extremely late in the civilisation of Kemet, and as such is of limited interest from an Africentric perspective. Its aesthetic beauty cannot be denied, though, and its importance as a holdover of respect for women (typical of Kemet in the ancient world, and absolutely not typical of Greece) is fascinating from a feminist perspective.

Earlier we visited Abu Simbel, the great temple of Ramses--here's an image of it prior to its relocation to avoid be swallowed by the rising waters. I was there in 1993; the site has changed somewhat since I visited, with a mud-brick wall more clearly separating the temple of Ramses from that of Nefertare. Also, one can no longer take photos inside either temple, especially sad since many digitial cameras are far, far more light sensitive than ordinary film cameras. If memory serves, the once-sand-choked and almost entirely obscured site was the source for Shelley's "Ozymandias," not to be confused with Alan Moore's Ozymandias, although the two are thematically linked, obviously.

Aswan's back streets form its souk, or old market. You can find some lovely carvings here, and some nice clothes, but also a lot of junk. Here's some advice. If you want an authentic galabeeyah (the long, loose robe worn by men), INSIST on getting one that a) has NO decoration on it, and b) covers your ankles. Anything less is touristy kitsch. The prices should be around 50 - 65 Egyptian pounds, or about $Cdn 10-13. Walking away is the easiest way to bring down the price on anything, but don't be a jerk about it. Your few bucks means much more to these folks than it does to you.

The relaxed atmosphere of Aswan is quite preferable to the NYC-bustle of Cairo; another nice difference from 12 years ago is how much freer public life seems to be for women. Far more women are out, some in hegab, others not, in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. I find fascinating here the seeming absence of colour-tone tension (caste and class difference) so straitjacketing in so many parts of the world; I'm also humbled and delighted by the warm welcome so many people here have given me, telling me that I look like I am Egyptian or Nubian. However, Brothers be warned--if you shave your head, you will throw folks for a loop, here. Apparently no one here does that.

Recommended reading:
Cheikh Anta Diop's The African Origin of Civilisation: Myth or Reality? Read up on Diop here.
Richard Poe's Black Spark, White Fire: Did African Explorers Civilise Ancient Europe? Read my review here.

And on a related/unrelated note, check out this discussion of Live-8.

1 comments:

Graham said...

wow.