Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1299, (9 - 15 June 2016)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1299, (9 - 15 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Crafting Ramadan lanterns

Traditional Ramadan lanterns, or fawanees, are now once again being made in Egypt after last year’s ban on imports, writes Mai Samih

Al-Ahram Weekly

After the 2015 ban on importing fawanees, the traditional Ramadan lanterns, the craft of making them has been revived in many Egyptian homes after an NGO started to teach women as a way of providing them with a source of income.

Suzanne Attia, manager of the Lord Baden Powell Foundation for Culture and Science, the association in question, explained how the Esnaa Fanousak (make your own lantern) initiative started.

“Our foundation launched the Esnaa Fanousak initiative as part of our larger project to encourage crafts and local artisanal industry. The idea came after former minister of trade and industry Mounir Fakhri Abdel-Nour issued a decision to ban imports of Ramadan lanterns, particularly from China. We thought this would lead to a shortage of lanterns, and that it would be a good idea to revive the Egyptian heritage of lantern-making and at the same time renovate it so that it attracts more young people,” she said.  

The initiative started in April by training 40 girls who had dropped out of school in the craft of lantern-making. “The girls did not just want to train in the craft, and they came up with ideas like making it a source of income. So we helped them to market their lanterns and decided to shift the aim of the initiative to training for work. Such work allows a young woman to work while she is at home and at the same time to develop the skills needed to earn an income,” Attia added.  

Thus far, some 75 women and girls have been trained, and 25 are making lanterns that are sold in outlets in Maadi, Al-Ahram Street, Faisal Street, Masr Al-Qadima, Nasr City and 6 October City. “We are also working in the governorates of Giza, Qena and Sharqiya. The Qena project has been the most successful thus far, as we are working with the Dendara Development Centre which is in charge of providing the girls with the raw materials,” Attia said.

All the financial gains from the project go to the girls and women who make the lanterns. “The idea is that these women can stay at home with their children and find a source of income to support them at the same time,” she added.

The foundation is an NGO under the umbrella of the Ministry of Social Solidarity that was founded in 2015 with the aim of developing society through the grassroots efforts of society members and social groups. It also works in co-ordination with other NGOs and governmental organisations concerned with traditional and oriental crafts as well as training and marketing.

Because the motto of the initiative is “encouraging Egyptian industry,” all the materials used are from Egypt. “We make lanterns from khayameya (ornamented tent material), wood, bamboo, and beads. All the materials the girls need are provided by the Foundation. We have volunteer trainers like Doaa Ramadan who give the girls lessons in the craft of lantern-making. For a lantern made of beads, we use beads and string to shape the lantern on a frame. Then a sound and light unit is added which lights the lantern and produces recorded songs when it is switched on,” Attia said.

Prices depend on the size of the fanous in question. “The bigger the lanterns, the more expensive they are. Prices start from LE30 for a small lantern to LE200 for a large one,” she added.

Haj Ahmed Al-Abyad, a lantern shop and factory owner in the That Al-Rabe district of Cairo, famous for its manufacturing and selling of fawanees, said demand was high for Ramadan lanterns among his customers.

“I have customers who buy all types of traditional fawanees, including the wooden Damietti ones made in villages in the governorate of Damietta in all sizes. They buy ones with pictures of mosques on them, ones with Quranic verses written or inscribed on them, and ones that play Ramadan songs. They look for traditional lamps and modern designs and not just the traditional fanous,” he said.

“We make the Damietti lanterns out of arquette wood and use laser light strings to light them. For the small fawanees we use batteries,” Al-Abyad added. “Some fawanees, the small ones, sell for LE25. The medium ones are sold for LE40 and the large ones are for LE80. They are usually bought as presents for people to put in their living rooms or balconies or in the entrance of a building. The small ones are bought by children, and the large ones are brought for ornamentation. Each fanous has its own use and place.”

“I prefer my fanous to have a nice colour and a nice song and to have coloured lights in it,” said five-year-old Yasmin Mohamed.

“I like the khayameya lanterns as they are new in shape but have the appearance of traditional fawanees. If I bought a fanous for my children, it would be one in the form of a toy or with colourful pictures on it or a traditional glass and metal fanous,” one Cairo housewife said. “I also like the Damietti fanous, as I like the Quranic inscriptions on it and the colour is beautiful. It reminds me of the fanous I used to carry as a child,” she added.

“Our foundation is planning similar initiatives in the future. We started with lanterns because the holy month of Ramadan was approaching.

We intend to help women with disabilities learn similar crafts to provide them with a source of income as well in the near future,” Attia concluded.

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