A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Speaking of E.W. Lane: Lane on the Ghawazi (Ghawazee) of Cairo

I noted earlier today that it was Edward William Lane's birthday and commented at some length on his master work, The Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians. As an example of his observational skills, and since the work is in the public domain, I thought I'd reproduce the entirety of his Chapter XIX, "Public Dancers." This deals mostly with the ghawazi, which he spells ghawazee, a separate tribelike group who danced professionally in public and who are often considered an important element in the various dance traditions that came together to create the Egyptian belly-dancing tradition, now seemingly a dying art in the country of its birth.

You can find a modern discussion of the history of the ghawazi (singular, ghaziyya) at Wikipedia; that article places their origin among the Dom or gypsies of the Middle East. Some descendants of the 19th century ghawazi are said to still exist in the Qena and Luxor regions of Upper Egypt, and aspects of their costume (particularly the vest) are still echoed by belly-dancers today. I've often thought of discussing the history of the raqs sharqi or belly-dance on this blog, and perhaps this post can serve as an inaugural post in the series.

Lane's description of the ghawazi remains the classic one;  he also illustrated the ghawazi, but was not primarily an artist. Other, better painters also noted the ghawazi, including the great Orientalist painter David Roberts:
David Roberts: Ghawazee of Cairo
And the later French Orientalist artist Jean-Léon Gérôme, fond of harem scenes:

 Also from Gérôme:

But since Lane's account is widely considered  a classic and is now in the public domain, let me reproduce it here in full (click to enlarge the images to make them more readable):

A photo (postcard?) of a ghaziyya, c. 1906:

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