When I was small, Mouild Al-Nabi (the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday) meant only one thing: a large sugar doll along with the sugar rush that follows.
Sadly, as the years rushed by, the traditional moulid doll melted away, giving room to poor imported plastic imitations of the colourful sugar diva and her shimmering paper fans. Now the sugar doll, if seen at all, is only found in popular districts and in limited quantities.
What’s so special about the moulid doll is the way it reflects the layers of Egyptian history through its simple existence.
The sugar doll was the brain child of the Fatimids who ruled Egypt in 969 AD. Known for their lavish lifestyle and high sense of occasion, the Fatimids are said to be the first to celebrate the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, officially speaking. Such state celebrations included numerous sugar dolls, sugar horses and other candy figurines, as well as a variety of traditional sweets.
According to Abdel Ghany Al-Nabawi Al-Shal in Moulid Doll (Dar Al-Kateb Al-Arabi Publishing House, 1967), at Dar Al-Fetra, which was the state’s official sugar supply, 20 tons of candy would be wrapped and set in 300 copper trays to be given away in the official state celebration of the event. Since such celebrations only flourished in Egypt, Al-Nabawi Al-Shal believes that they had their roots in ancient Egypt, "where temples and papyruses reflect similar ancient Egyptian traditions; hence the Fatimid simply revived such ancient trends."
After adding water and lemon to the sugar, the mixture is poured into a wooden mold with the main contours of the doll engraved. After the mixture cools, the mold, which opens from the middle, is unlocked and an ivory smooth sugar doll is created.
Then comes the decoration phase. The big dark eyes and brows echoes the ancient Egyptian tradition of using "Khul"(Traditional eye liner). The vivid pink blusher on her cheeks is also an ancient Egyptian flair.
However, the veil, the dress with long and wide sleeves, the narrow waist line and generous, long ‘A’ shaped skirt, along with an excess of frills, is typical Fatimid costume. The design of the corsage and the golden paper necklace (Kirdan) is typical Egyptian peasant style.
As for the shimmering paper fans placed behind her head, these could be borrowed from the Khalifa’s fans that were part of the lavish lifestyle. However, in the 19th century the sugar doll used to be shaded by a tent-like see-through umbrella that would cover her from head to toe.
Unfortunately, modernity hit the doll hard. The tradition barely survived. It’s a pity.