Sunday, 1 April 2012

Sugar Dreams

Come one come all it's Moulid night
Prayers, swings and festive light
Here's a doll and there's a knight
Sugar crunch and sweet delight
are children dreams of this night

Al-Moulid’s Doll (Arousit almoulid) is a distinctive feature of Prophet Mohamed’s Birthday ceremonies in Egypt. 

It is thought to be related to ancient Egyptian and also possibly to Coptic backgrounds  

 ivory dolls close in resemblance were found in Pharaonic tombs, and similar dolls and figurines can be seen in the Coptic museum. 

The origin of the dolls has many interpretations. One interpretation is that soldiers were promised the most beautiful women on earth as a reward for their bravery in war. Another is that El Hakim Ba'amr Ellah, one of the kings of the Fatimid Era, loved one of his wifes dearly that he allowed her to accompany him in El Moulid parade. The queen appeared with her white gown wearing a garment crown of jasmine, inspired by the occasion the candy makers carved two candy molds, one  for the queen and another for the king riding his horse.

Starting with the moulid doll’s attire, one can see that it reflects the costumes of women during the Fatimid era in Egypt. Since the Fatimids and Abbasids were influenced by the Persians, you can also detect a distinct Persian influence in the design.

The head-turban, narrow waistline, layers of clothes and an excess of frills are typical Fatimid clothes. The tight vest that fans out into a generous A-shaped dress that covers the doll’s ivory body is a typical Mamluk costume. The colourful paper fans clasped to her back are derived from the feathered fans used by the caliphate -The number of fans adds to the value of the doll- The corsage reflects typical peasants’ clothes and the shimmering golden and silver paper necklaces echo the traditional peasant gold necklace, known as kerdan.

The generous black kohl (eye liner) that outlines her eyes and brows is a typical ancient Egyptian trend. Also the excess pink blush is attributed to the makeup style of the ancient Egyptians. 

On a corresponding note, the moulding of the candy  figurines is equally fascinating. Significantly, similar wooden moulds were used by the Ancient Egyptians for shaping their amulets.

First the indigenous artists would engrave the shape of the doll on a wooden mould that splits into two sides. Then they’d add large amounts of sugar, mix it with water and lemon and leave on the stove to boil. The mixture is poured into the wooden mold and left to dry.

The end result is an ivory figurine with a cylinder hollow body to ensure stability. 

 The figurine is then ready for decoration. 

Unfortunately for this time-honored tradition of craftsmanship that was passed down from generation to generation, 

the authentic sugar dolls and figurines made in this celebration have long become obsolete, replaced by modern-day plastic alternatives.  

Only one sugar-making factory continues to mould the traditional sugar  figurines. Boulaq's "Imam and Refai" Factory, founded in 1920, boasts doll-makers who have inherited the craft from generations before them -- some of them in their 40th year at the factory. 

I found this old Egyptian musical sket that take place inside a real sugar figurine's workshop. Watch them work and hum their song.

Inspired by the joyful season I created this drawing of the sugar doll...

proudly standing in a meditative state and

in her fan she's holding all the magic and mysteries of El Moulid and it's folks.

I deliberately avoided the frills and fans and all  the rest of the taboo most common distintcivte features of the sugar dolls.. perhaps it's a dislike to all the insubstantial glitter about it. I was more interested in the essence of the subject which is usually lost in the process of portraying all the flimsiness that  covers the beautiful ivory figure of the sugar doll in most drawings.

I made this drawing when I was a teen, in comparison to my work of today, I see how my lines has changed.. my first drawing with all it's simplicity and imperfections and my recent drawing with all it's yearning to become... I love both drawings and both are part of me, it's almost like regarding a childhood photo in comparison to my own mirror reflection of this morning.

Far away from our oasis and our favorite hill..  far away from home, today I enter a third decade of my life with a heart aching for my amber companion, I learned yesterday that he's suffering from a seriouse sever illness and we're both in Cairo for his medical treatment. I had to leave my pup at the hospital, and for the first time in Seven years we're apart!
 This morning of my birthday it rained, quite unusual for this time of year, but when it rains in Egypt we say: " make a prayer when rain falls for the doors of  heavens are wide open to receive all calls" and so I pray that my pup will be, soon home with me, where once again we can leap and race, together through the green haze.


  1. My thoughts first go to you and your sweet amber pup and I hold you in silent vigil.

    Your drawings are full of mystery and delight. I am quite taken with your recent one with its smudges of sugary color!!

    Amazing story of the sugar doll. I love it!

  2. Love everything about this post! Except that it is sad that the traditional dolls are being replaced by cheap plastic stuff :(
    Love reading about other people's traditions, and love your sketches :)
    Hope your pup comes home to you soon!

  3. The photographs on this post are wonderful, the sugar dolls are so beautiful, Thank you

    Belated Birthday Wishes too Hussam X

  4. The film is amazing too Freya and I have just watched it twice.

  5. Wonderful post Hussam! I love your description of the history and connection between the sugar dolls and ancient Egyptian culture. I will tweet this.
    How is your pup now? I do hope he is doing better.I bet he is so happy to be back home with you :)

  6. I was talking to my children about arrousset el mouled and decided to search it on the web hoping to find a photo of them. It is so sad they are obsolete, but unfortunately , this is the case for a lot of our beautiful traditions. and while i see here how the people embrace and continue to celebrate old traditions such as Halloween . we easily gave up ours. I wish that , when things settle down in Egypt that we revive our old traditions in a modern way. why not? thank you very much for this beautiful post and hope that your beautiful dog is back with you again. great work.