Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1439, (18 - 24 April 2019)
Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Issue 1439, (18 - 24 April 2019)

Ahram Weekly

The Pharaohs in Brazil, II

Zahi Hawass continues his account of a recent visit to Brazil


When I met our Ambassador to Brazil Alaa Roushdi, he reminded me that we import about $2.8 billion worth of produce from Brazil. The private sector is the most active, bringing to Egypt an array of produce including chickens, sugar, meat and coffee.
A conference of Brazilian businesspeople will also be held in Cairo in June, and they have invited Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to inaugurate it.

On my recent trip to Brazil, Roushdi told me that they had a surprise in store for me. Mohamed Al-Khatib, the trade representative in São Paulo, told me that I would really be able to see the Pharaohs in Brazil. We went to where he guided me, and it was indeed a great surprise — a big store full of statues, clothes, chariots and representations of the kings and queens of ancient Egypt.

When I was in Brazil, people were preparing for their great Carnival in March, just before the Easter holidays. The whole country celebrates the Carnival, and people enjoy a spectacular week. Each main city holds its own Carnival celebration in all the 27 states of Brazil. However, in São Paulo, the black Brazilians like to emphasise their African origins and how they could have been ruling powers. This reminded me of the ancient Egyptian 25th Dynasty when the Nubians of Kush had their own period of rule over Egypt.

The items that were shown to me in the store were intended for use during the Carnival. Their creators had made drawings of everything they could think of from ancient Egypt, always using the black colour. They had made large chariots and ships with pictures of dancers on them. Many of the Africans who came to this part of the world originally came as slaves, and this part of history was shown as well. Such people wanted freedom in Brazil, and they did not want to go back to Africa.
They also stressed the idea that the Pharaohs were black. I agree that the Nubian Kushites once ruled ancient Egypt, but I do not agree that the Pharaohs were black. In a radio interview I gave in Brazil, I said that if you look at the scenes of the Pharaohs on the surviving ancient Egyptian temples, the Pharaoh is often pictured with a throng of people in front of him from Syria, Palestine, Africa and Mesopotamia and he is not shown as black.

If one of the boy-king Tutankhamun’s statues was coloured black, it did not mean that the Pharaohs were black, I said. This theory, first put forward by Sheikh Anta Diop from Senegal, alleges that all the Pharaohs were black. But I said in my interview that although in Egypt most of us are Muslims and speak Arabic, we are not Arabs. In the same way, we are in Africa, but we are not Africans. The Egyptians are unique.

The Brazilian Carnival parades include huge statues and coffins containing mummies. The mummies then come out of the coffins and dance. I was told that 3,000 people would take part in the parade fronted by a statue of the Apis bull.

Millions of people would watch the procession and see the voyage of slavery from its beginnings. I was told that people want the 2020 Carnival in São Paolo to be completely about ancient Egypt and the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism to participate in it. I think it is important that we contribute funds to this event, as well as experts who can make clear that ancient Egypt’s black Pharaohs were not Egyptians but were from Kush in Sudan.

This is especially important as Brazil has a population of more than 200 million, and many of them will want to visit Egypt.  

The second surprise for me in Brazil was tourist expert Seddik Faragallah’s suggestion that we visit a unique museum about football. No one can forget the great Brazilian football player Pelé, considered the greatest player of all time. Football is immensely popular in Brazil, and almost anything can be used as a ball to play the game.

There was a law in Brazil in the past that players could not play on foreign teams, making the Brazilian teams stronger. Today, however, local players can be sold to clubs in Europe. It is the hope of many families of modest means that their sons will succeed in football and become great players because this means they will be able to play in clubs abroad. People in Brazil say that if Pelé were an active player today, he would not be as highly praised as he was as a showy performance is no longer enough to get to the very top of the game.

The Brazilian museum is one of the few museums in the world dedicated to football. A ticket costs $2.50, and it is free on Tuesdays. On the lower floor, there are photographs of famous Brazilian players and copies of a stamp Brazil issued with the name of Pelé after he had scored 1,000 goals. There are also photographs of women football players in Brazil.

Much of the fame of this country has come about because of football. It has won the World Cup championship five times, and three times with Pelé, the last time in 1970 when the team was considered to be the best in the history of Brazil. One sad day that the Brazilians cannot forget was in 1958 when they played the final against Uruguay. There were 183,000 people in the stadium, and Brazil lost 1-2.

On the lower floor of the museum, visitors can hear the sound of victory. Many famous players come to visit it, and it also contains a hall of fame recording the history of Brazilian football since the 19th century. It has a board that visitors can click the name of any famous player to see his scores. I clicked on Pelé. The Brazilians also honour Charles Miller, considered the father of football in Brazil, who was the son of a Scottish father and a Brazilian mother. In São Paulo, there is a square named after him.

That evening, I had to give my first lecture with tickets costing $100. About 200 people came to the first lecture, and because the hall could not take more, I gave another lecture the next day. From the questions people asked, I could see the fascination that many Brazilians had with the Pharaohs. I found that two of my books had been translated into Portuguese, the language of Brazil. The first was a book originally published by National Geographic called The Curse of the Pharaohs, while the second was published by Thames and Hudson and called King Tutankhamun: The Treasures of the Tomb.

The last of my lectures in São Paulo was attended by Ambassador Roushdi and Al-Khatib, the trade attaché. We stressed that Egypt was safe and asked people to come to Egypt because the ticket prices charged for admission to monuments are used to pay for restoration work. We believe that Egypt’s monuments do not belong to Egypt alone, but to everyone all over the world. It is therefore appropriate that tourism revenues are used to help conserve them.

I had to take a photograph with everyone attending my lectures, and there were 300 people. It was difficult to do, but it was good to feel that I was doing something for my country.

On our last night in Brazil we had dinner at a restaurant covered by a tree that was 130 years old. The Brazilians are nice and friendly people. If you ever crave a wonderful adventure to Brazil, do contact Ruy Pacheco de Azevedo, the Brazilian ambassador in Egypt.

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