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Doll faces: from moulid to mosque

According to Abdel Ghani Al-Nabawi Al-Shall’s book:

Arouset Al Mulid ( Mulid Doll), first study of it’s kind to introduce many of Egypt’s famous folk dolls

1: The Moulid Doll
This doll made its first appearance during the Toluene era, during the rule of the Fatimid, back in 973 A.D.
Made from sugar, the doll is affiliated with festivities surrounding the birth of Prophet Mohamed’s festivities.
It is thought to be related to ancient Egyptian and also possibly to Coptic backgrounds, as ivory dolls close in resemblance were found in Pharaonic tombs, and similar dolls can be seen in the Coptic museum.
The dolls are given kohl (black eyeliner) to emphasize their eyes as well as pink powder to highlight their cheekbones.
This Pharaonic makeup is coupled with typical Mamluk attire: a tight vest with long, generous sleeves. The vest fans out into a long, spacious dress covering the doll’s ivory body which weighs the doll down.
The doll poses with her hands at her waist to show off her beauty. Colorful paper fans hug her back like wings, symbolizing feathered fans used to cool the caliphate.
Fransha, or frills, are said to reflect the Fatimid influence, while gold and silver shimmering papers are fashioned in the likeness of the kirdan, a necklace typically known as being worn by Egyptian villagers.

2: The Marriage Doll
Also fashioned out of a sugar mold and dressed like its moulid counterpart, this doll boasts extra fans or wings: a sign of appreciation for the bride-to-be. The doll is a present typically given by the fiancée or husband to his significant other on any religious occasion.

As a ritual adopted mostly by locals or less-privileged classes, the doll comes accompanied by sugar cones and candy and she is kept in the highest place in the home to protect the new couple from any evil.

These dolls are also displayed during Zafet El Gihaz, a festive procession of furniture that accompanies the bride to her new home. It is considered bad luck for the couple if anything happens to the doll.

3: The Evil Eye Doll
Made of paper cut into the shape of a doll, the names of people suspected of envying the owner of the doll are written on it. The doll is then pricked with a needle while the person prays for God’s protection from the evil eye. The paper doll is then burnt and the person seeking protection must stride over its ashes seven times.

4: The Wooden Doll
Egyptian peasants used to hang a wooden doll on the front doors of their houses, as they believed that this ritual would shield them against the evil eye.

5: The Palm Sunday Doll
Fashioned from palm leaves or branches on Coptic Easter Sunday, the doll commemorates the arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem where he was greeted with palm leaves and flowers. Paying tribute to this happy occasion, the dolls are blessed by church elders and then hung on front doors.

6: The Wheat Doll
Marking the wheat festivals, this doll is woven from the first wheat ear, usually during the month of March.

7: The Doll of Khamaseen and Sham El Nessim
Dressed in a galabiyya, this doll is stuffed with rags and straw which children gather on the eve of Khamaseen (the annual 50 days of sand storms that hit Egypt, usually during spring time). The children either burn or drown the doll in the waters of the Nile while singing a special song.

8: The Nile Doll
Ancient Egyptians believed that Nile floods came from the underworld, and from this belief stemmed the granting of sacrifices, holy magic books, as well as the fashioning of two figures representing a man and a woman, symbols of the Nile and his bride respectively.

The Nile male doll resembles a man holding flowers and fruit, with plants popping out of his head. His hands hold the legs of the female doll, which takes the form of a beautiful woman with a graceful figure and which is considered a sign of prosperity. Both dolls are thrown into the Nile during the flood season, which is usually around 15 June.

9: The Mosque Doll
Mosque dolls symbolize the architectural beauty of the mosque. The way in which delicate geometrical patterns frame the top of the mosque gave the dolls their name: the dolls of the mosque, or tarfiyyah or sharfiyya of the mosque. Symmetrical in shape, with their ends meeting as though they are holding hands, mosque dolls are the highest point in the wall of the mosque surrounding its open-air courtyard and were thought to be a good shield against any arrow attacks. Shaping such shields in the form of a doll, combined with their location, is intended to draw vision upwards, thus protecting the mosque against the evil eye. 

Translated and compiled by Amira El-Noshokaty.

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