Yadaweya.com, Where Egyptian Handicrafts Portray and Recount Our Ancestors’ Stories…
Whether you are a devoted Cairene or an outsider who just wants to rediscover Egypt, then you should check out Yadaweya website, the new Egyptian heritage hub.
Yadaweya is an online, storytelling, sightseeing marketplace for Egyptian handicrafts. It’s a platform for sharing stories of our rich heritage and splendid, unconventional places in Egypt. Yadaweya aims to sustain authentic craftsmanship and reveal Egypt’s true beauty in the form of tasteful, unadulterated Egyptian legacies. Yadaweya is your merchant, your ranger, your tour guide, and the voice of your favorite artist/artisan telling you the ancestral story behind every piece!
I will take you on a two-dimensional trip to Yadaweya, right now! You can stay in your pajamas if you like and no packing required, yet. Because after that, and mind you it’s only a glimpse, you might get an idea of where your next vacation will be.
Starting at its large souq of unique handmades, you amble past the stalls, impressed by the beaded leather bags, Bedouin kilims, flamboyant embroidered tulle shawls, colorful pottery, carved wooden arts, and most important, the prices! They’re inexpensive and there’s no haggling. Exhale! As you look around, a multi-colored beaded band surrounding what looks like a leather cup-holder catches your eye. The chatty merchant tells you that this is a Japana Laway. A what?! Noticing your bamboozled look, he elaborates that this is a specially designed carrier of coffee pot or ‘Japana’ made by the Bedouins in Shalateen who’re just a few seconds away from here; he points to their direction…
JABAL ELBA, HALAYEB
Completely bedazzled, you meander down the page where the merchant pointed his finger and there you find them in the mountainous area of Halayeb among the Acacia trees in the southern stretch of the Red Sea, in Bedouin tents made from branches of the local Acacia and furnished with colorful patterned kilims, the Ababda tribe or Jabal Elba community. You marvel at a group of Bedouin women deftly weaving their palm frond baskets and containers. One of the women shows you the Kabota; she says it’s a specially designed container used during desert excursions to preserve and tastefully present their daily drink, coffee or ‘Al Jebna’. You love how it’s decorated with interwoven goat leather. She tells you that this traditional kit is kept in every household since coffee drinking is a festive daily event.
Excited by what you’ve learned of their tribal culture, you take a quick tour in Jabal Elba national park, known for its unparalleled biological diversity. Accompanied by a ranger, he explains that this splendid protectorate is an extensive and complex area comprising of a number of ecosystems: the mangroves of the Red Sea, the Red Sea 22 islands, coral reefs, coastal sand dunes, coastal salt marshes, coastal desert plains, and a cluster of coastal mountains (Jabal Elba, Jabal Ebruq, and Al Daeeb). Jabal Elba is the single igneous mountain rising up to 1437m.
Our next stop…
And then the orange and aquamarine embroidered tulle shawls flash through your mind, making you run back to the souq. You spread out the shawl and notice the same beautiful embroidery on its front and back. In a click, you go to Shandweel Island in Sohag to pay compliments to Um Alia, the enduring artisan, and hear her story: Um Alia handcrafted traditional wedding clothes for the girls in the village. She would thread a tiny needle with silver and gold threads and weave them through Tilly cloth into shapes and symbols representing the heritage of her forefathers. The camels portray the wedding caravans, waves show the waters of the Nile, trees portray rural village life, stars represent the wedding ceremony’s nights, and finally triangles represent mountains and protect the bride from envy. But then modern fashion replaced Um Alia’s handmade clothes; people were no longer interested in traditional clothes. And in 1990, Dr. Shahira Fawzy, an Egyptian researcher, visited Shandweel in search for Um Alia and together they established a small Tilly handicrafts workshop. Ten girls received training and each girl trained another ten. Today, more than 1000 craftswomen work from their homes. They work one stitch at a time to give the exact pattern on the front and back. The women of Shandweel have collectively revived the heritage of their grandmothers, a 19th century Upper Egyptian tradition.
After Sohag, you scroll down to the Botanical Garden of Karnak, Luxor. The name ignites your curiosity. You wander through the Botanical Chamber of Thutmose III inside the Temple of Karnak, looking at the remarkable drawings on the walls of birds, animals, exotic flowers, and trees. Your tour guide explains that Thutmose III was the great warrior Pharaoh who expanded the boundaries of Egypt in the north and the south; he collected considerable collections of rare species of animals and lush plants that are found engraved on the walls of the sanctuary.
Being tantalized enough; you dash back to souq to look for their handicrafts and there; colorful, storytelling Nubian rugs. You meet the artisan Fatma, a Nubian girl who wholeheartedly maintains her forefathers’ heritage by weaving wool rugs. You hear her story, how she’s one of many girls born in the Nubian migrant villages in Luxor, built after the forced migration of Nubians in the 1960s from Aswan to new villages more than 700 km away. She’s never lived on the land of her ancestors, but heard a lot about Nubian heritage from her grandmothers, as well as through the stories and songs performed in marriage and death ceremonies in her village—the stories of generation after generation living on the shores of the Upper Nile. Each rug presents a scene of traditional Nubian life. Fatma works on the traditional machinery, intricately weaving wool to create colorful houses, palm trees swaying on the banks of the Nile, boats crossing the river, women baking bread in traditional Nubian ovens, and old Nubian games.
Usama, the founder of Yadaweya, said “When Fatma finishes a new rug, she reluctantly hands it over! If it wasn’t for livelihood, she would have kept them all for herself or her future children to know their ancestors’ stories.”
Our final stop…
And scrolling down to Qus in Qena, where Sheikh Younis’s oil press is, one of the ancient symbols of the city. It’s not like contemporary oil presses that produce edible or therapeutic oils; it’s a valuable Egyptian artifact. It was founded in 1190 Hijri to produce edible oils from the seeds of lettuce, cotton, sesame, safflower, and cumin. And then it shifted to therapeutic oils, mainly from Nigella sativa (habbat al-barakah), which were used in folk medicine. It still works, not for profit but as part of our heritage, using the old piston and a cow to drag the giant stone wheel that grinds the grains prior to oil extraction. Haj Mahmoud Younis, a descendant of Sheikh Younis, refuses to automate it or change the old and heavy grindstone because of its historical significance; it’s a family heirloom and a silent witness to Egypt’s past two centuries!
About Yadaweya Founder
Qena is the hometown of Yadaweya’s visionary founder, Usama Ghazali, “Gaena!” as he utters it in his delightful Sa’edi Arabic! It’s not just his accent and his Sa’edi looks; Ghazali makes a lasting first impression with his grit, politeness, and humbleness. He grew up among the monuments of Upper Egypt and witnessed their negligence firsthand, as well as the negligence of Upper Egypt and its people. He says “Local craftsmen are gravely neglected and the truly gifted and skilled ones are dying off without passing down their legacies to the next generation.” Most craftsmen come from poverty-stricken villages and they desperately need vocational training and literacy, computer, and sales skills training. They work on a day-to-day basis and the downturn made many of them swap for fixed yet low-income mundane jobs. He says “Sadly, a majority of people know nothing about them or can’t reach them. And this is why we founded Yadaweya; I made it my undertaking to bring those artisans to light. We help them hone their skills through workshops and sell their products directly online. We offer them advice and tell them what’s trendy. We collect feedback from customers and update the artisans with a list of buyers who bought their handiworks; they gain valuable customer insight that helps them expand their skills and market by tailoring their products to customers’ needs.”
Like Ibn Battuta the explorer, Ghazali is always travelling around Egypt to discover true and gifted artisans. Some people are known to be collectors of coins, stamps, etc. Ghazali is an artisan collector, but he doesn’t confine them in a jar or a box! His vision is to create an online archive of Egyptian craftsmen. He says “We treat artisans like artists; they get to decide the price of their artistry. And each handiwork is delivered to the customer along with its literature and the artist/artisan’s signature.”
Ghazali earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 2000 and worked at natural protectorates for many years. He became a researcher of social heritage and wild life and culminated his governmental career as the manager of Jabal Elba protectorate. He attended training programs held by the UNESCO and some NGOs in documentation, cultural heritage conservation, and project planning and management. He earned a postgraduate certificate in environmental management and sustainable development from England. He says “I have varied interests.” Ghazali gained multicultural exposure during his trips abroad. He’s been to Tanzania, Kenya, France, Scotland, USA, Germany, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Yemen, and other countries. He was inspired by the Scottish Natural Heritage, a government funded body, which works closely with the Scottish Government and collaborates with different NGOs and hundreds of volunteers to look after all of Scotland’s nature and landscapes, for everyone.
Yadaweya started with a team of 3 people who were mentored for 3 months by Flat6labs, a firm that provides support services and seed money to aspiring entrepreneurs. Now they’ve sustained a good partnership with a number of local partners and volunteers. Yadaweya is supported by Nahdet El Mahrousa, an Egyptian youth-led NGO that helps new initiatives, and Synergos Arab World Social Innovator program. Yadaweya works with a number of artisan communities. Ghazali says “We have 7 artisan communities on our website right now, 5 out of which are craftswomen. We try to help women, esp. single mothers and breadwinners. So far we’ve managed to gather 35 artisan communities from all around Egypt, about 5000 craft workers, and hopefully by the end of 2013 Yadaweya will display 10,000 genuine craft products on its website, made by thousands of skilled Egyptian hands of 100 artisan communities!”
Ghazali is passionate about maintaining our rich cultural and natural heritage. He told us about Ahmed Wahba, dubbed as the Oasis Artist, who draws breath-taking, scenic paintings by naturally colored sand that truly reflects nature. He was born in Al-Kharga Oasis; naturally he was smitten with its endowed beauty and most of his paintings depict the village lifestyle and the magnificent Sahara deserts and oases. Ahmed Wahba is a recent addition to Yadaweya artisan community.
Simply, Yadaweya connects offline local artisans with online customers worldwide. It provides a more stable market and a consistent income stream esp. to the simple rural and far-off artisans who lack the know-how of e-marketing. Yadaweya takes care of presenting and selling their products online, from photographing, documenting, advertising, dealing with orders, and delivering to customers worldwide. It adopts the fair-trade approach and cuts out the long string of middlemen, allowing both the customers and artisans to build a sustainable relationship.
For the sake of the many flesh and blood hours spent on handcrafted treasures, Yadaweya supports those who are holding fast to their own rich tradition of excellence in detail and quality.
Yadaweya team organizes trips to remote areas around Egypt to discover new artisan communities. Find more info here: http://www.yadaweya.com