The Story of Shutb: New children’s book brings Egypt’s layers of history to life

Amira El-Noshokaty, Friday 6 Mar 2020

The Story of Shutb
a discussion of the story of shutb, (Photo: Amira el noshokaty)

Whoever said Egyptian children were not interested in their own heritage? This question was thoroughly addressed through an event to discuss Hekayet Shutb (“The Story of Shutb”), a new book written by Egyptologist/archaeologist Fatma Keshk and produced by the British Museum.

Last week, at a cosy reception, heritage was addressed with the younger generation in the most interesting of ways.

“The idea of the book was inspired by the revisiting of the excavation sites of the British Museum in Assiut governorate that date back to 1907,” explained Ilona Regulski, curator at the British Museum.

She said that, at that time, the laws allowed excavators to keep a lot of the relics and take them home to be exhibited in museums. But there was so much missing data that called them to revisit the excavation sites, answering so many questions regarding intangible heritage.

“Assiut was a cultural hub and ancient Egyptian religious texts were copied from Assiut,” explained Regulski, pointing out how rich the findings were.

One of the most interesting findings was the origin of the terms “tal and “kom,” the first of which means “heap” in Arabic, and the second of which is a popular name for small villages and hamlets in Egypt.

“Whenever the site is named ‘tal’ or ‘kom,’ this literally means a heap of layers of civilisation relics on top of each other,” she said.

Challenging the false popular opinion that the locals of the villages are busy making a living and not interested in knowing more about their heritage, the British Museum documented old houses, engaged the local communities to document the oral history of the village of Shutb, and partnered with Cairo Sketchers and Takween organisation in these activities.

They topped it all by producing this first-of-a-kind fictional story addressing the locals and explaining their heritage.

Written by Egyptologist Keshk and illustrated by Assiut artist and professor of fine arts Inas Dahi, the book takes the reader on an amazing journey with curious 12-year-old Nadya, who lives in Shutb village and watches the excavations next to her house and decides to find out more.

The book follows her journey as she converses with ancient Egyptian ancestors and gets to relive the glory of her village. The multicultural layers of Shutb are cleverly revealed in the book, which talks about folk history, Coptic and ancient Egyptian relics, as well as the intangible stories behind the kind of buildings in the village.

This book is unique in content and can also be found for free on the internet.

The idea behind it is to safeguard intangible heritage and pass on such valuable gems to the new generation, and the message seems to be an effective one.  

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