Monday, September 13, 2010

Book Review: For the Living and the Dead

Al Masry Al Youm (Review by Sara Elkamel)

In For the Living and the Dead (The American University in Cairo Press, 2010) anthropologist and filmmaker Elizabeth Wickett explores Upper Egyptian funerary laments or idid, in pursuit of a deeper understanding of Egyptian folklore.

Wickett, who has spent 25 years delving into academic research and social development in the Middle East and North Africa, finds that, “lamentation is at the core of social, cultural, and religious customs performed for the dead in Upper Egypt.”

Echoed in the chants of modern-day lamenters is an elaborate history stretching back 5000 years. Through close observation of professional lamenters, Wickett deciphers chants in relation to myth, religion, and ancient Egyptian funerary texts. Evidence of ancient Egyptian lamentation is recorded on tomb walls around the country where paintings depict lamenters in conventional poses on walls, standing, kneeling, or crouched with arms poised overhead. Wickett also inspected ancient Pyramid texts for funerary spells, most of which are reflected in contemporary laments.

But Wickett’s text achieves much more than a mere depiction of surviving funerary laments and the convoluted rapport between life and death; using elaborate diction and sophisticated imagery, the writer provides a unique insight into the intricacies of Upper Egyptian life.

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