Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Egyptian Family Preserves Craftsmanship of Handmade Lanterns | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A shop full of traditional Ramadan lanterns called “fanous” is pictured ahead of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Cairo June 27, 2014. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Cairo, London- As Cairo’s busy street markets and shops fill up with colorful lanterns for Ramadan, one Egyptian family is working to preserve the tradition of handmade lantern-making. From their small Cairo workshop, Hussein Sayed and his two children make hundreds of traditional steel lanterns with colorful glass panes, which go on sale each year during Ramadan.

The ancient craft was passed down through generations and Sayed hopes to keep it alive for many more generations to come. But, while he believes traditional lanterns will always be included in Ramadan festivities, he fears the trade is dwindling.

Sayed said very few craftsmen still make lanterns, and even fewer craft them with the technique he inherited from his father. Sayed said: “To preserve the continuity of this craft, my father taught my brother. My brother taught me, and I will teach my children.”

Sayed spends most of the year making lanterns with his family, taking a break during Ramadan before resuming work after Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month. The family makes around ten lanterns a day and sells its products to wholesalers for 15-50 Egyptian pounds ($1-$3), depending on their size.

At a local market, shoppers search through the selection of multicolored lanterns put on display, seeking out Ramadan decorations for their homes.

Shopper Naglaa al-Yamamy preferred traditional-shaped lanterns like Sayed’s creations to modern designs, as they brought back good memories of holiday seasons.

Yamany said: “These lanterns are traditional… I brought my children and convinced them to buy from these lanterns, because old traditions have left great memories.”

As long as the demand for traditional lanterns remains, the Sayed family will continue to spend the year perfecting and preserving its craft.