Once a year, the people of Luxor, Egypt enjoy a 3-day party celebrating the moulid (birth date) of the 13th century Sufi leader Sheikh Yusuf al-Haggag, who was also known as “Abu al-Haggag”, “father of the pilgrims”.
Once a year, Cairo hosts the Moulid al-Hussein, which is a major Sufi religious festival. It’s a mixture of sacred religious observation and joyous celebration. Many Egyptians from throughout the country come to Cairo for it. A moulid observes a holy person’s birth date, and this particular one honors the grandson of the Prophet Mohamed, whose name was Hussein.
Once a year, the city of Luxor, Egypt throws a 3-day party celebrating the moulid (birth date) of the 13th century Sufi leader Sheikh Yusuf al-Haggag, who was also known as “Abu al-Haggag”, “father of the pilgrims”. Tourists from other parts of Egypt often come to Luxor to join the party. I’ve been to the moulid twice: once in 2018, and again in 2019.
I grew up on a farm, and even though my life took me in a different direction, I still appreciate animals of all sizes. Therefore, whenever I go to Egypt, I enjoy seeing the camels. Here’s a gallery of my favorite photos that I have taken of camels over the years!
At Saqqara, Egypt
When I went to Saqqara, Egypt to tour the ancient tombs, I saw this playful rascal. At first, he looked bored, but when he realized I was looking at him, he started making faces for the camera. It seemed to be fun for both of us!
Later, when I came back, the camel was still there, but now he was lying down. Once again, he made faces for me.
It looks to me as though the camel is laughing in this photo. So I created a meme from it to post on social media which said, “Jewel just stepped in a pile of my poop!”
After I snapped the above photo, the camel continued to clown around for the camera, so I took another photo as well.
At the Pyramids of Giza
It’s fun to go for a camel ride at the pyramids of Giza. This camel enjoyed resting after carrying me to the pyramids, while I ran around with my camera taking photos.
Going for a camel ride is a half-day commitment. It’s a good idea to allow about 2 hours for the ride itself, and then afterward you might want to take a shower to wash off the camel smell and rest a bit. It can be very tiring to be out in the hot sun for that long. I strongly recommend wearing sunscreen for the ride.
It isn’t easy getting on a camel. The handlers make the camel kneel, but the hump is so high that you need to lift your leg high to swing it up and over. Once you’re settled in the saddle, the camel gets to its feet. The first time I experienced this, I nearly fell off! First the camel raises its back legs, causing you to pitch forward, and then it raises its front legs. Be prepared to squeeze the camel tightly with your thighs to stabilize yourself.
The last time I went for a camel ride, my camel’s saddle wasn’t cinched very well, and it kept slipping from side to side as the camel walked along. The handlers noticed, so they had the camel kneel down so I could get off, and they then tightened the saddle straps. That same day, there were several additional times that they had the camel kneel down, and then get back up, so by the end of the day I had gotten quite a bit of practice keeping my balance for all of that!
One time, after I had been to Egypt a few times, one of my brothers asked me whether I perhaps had a photo of camel poop I could send him. I was surprised by his question – partly because I didn’t know why he would want a photo of camel poop, and partly because I didn’t know why he would think I would have taken one. Therefore, the next time I went to Egypt, I remembered his request, and I took this photo for him:
In Egypt, it is common for people to decorate their camels’ harnesses and saddle blankets with tassels. This camel’s halter is plain, but his saddle blanket is quite stylish.
The camels had an opportunity to rest a bit while all of us explored the pyramids and took photos of each other.
In parts of Giza (the part of the Cairo metropolitan area where the pyramids are), you can find cars parked on one side of the street and camels parked on the other side of the street.
In the Dora at Luxor
Once a year, the residents of Luxor, Egypt celebrate the moulid (festival) of Abu el-Haggag. On the final day, the festival ends with a parade known as the Dora. One aspect of the Dora is that people dress their camels up in brightly colored scarves, flags, and other pieces of fabric. Here are two of the camels that caught my eye in the Dora on April 20, 2019.
This camel dressed up in a Bob Marley hat for the Dora in the Abu Haggag moulid on April 20, 2019.
This camel dressed up for the Dora at the Abu Haggag moulid in Luxor, Egypt on April 20, 2019.
Camels In Other Parts of Upper Egypt
On the west bank of the Nile at Aswan, one of the tourist attractions is the Valley of the Nobles. Tourists who want to visit it have a choice – they can either go for a camel ride up to where the tombs are, or they can walk up the steep hillside for about 30 minutes.
When riding via bus from Luxor to Aswan, the road runs parallel to the railroad tracks. Somewhere between the towns of Edfu and Kom Ombo, I saw these camels traveling alongside the tracks.
In Egypt, one of the forms of entertainment you may encounter in tourist shows is the tannoura. This consists of whirling to music, which originated as a Sufi ritual, and today in Egypt has become an elaborate artistic performance.
How Whirling Started
During the 13th century, the legendary poet Mevlana Jalaleddin Rumi made his way to the town of Konya, Turkey, where he settled. Rumi was a practitioner of Sufism, which is an implementation of Islam that embraces mysticism. He believed in music, poetry, and dance as being paths for connecting with God.
Under Rumi’s leadership, the Mevlevi sect of Sufism arose in Konya, Turkey. Its participants used whirling as their way to let go of their ego and connect with God. The photo below shows the garb that Turkish dervishes wear for their semas (whirling rituals).
After the Ottomans conquered Egypt in 1517, Turkish cultural influence began to make its way south to Egypt, and that included the Mevlevi whirling dervish sect.
The Egyptian Side of Whirling
Egypt’s tannoura performing art owes its origin to the Mevlevi practice sarted by Rumi, but modern-day performances of tannoura are designed to serve as entertainment, and therefore they incorporate showmanship techniques. Some retain the Sufi music and spiritual tone, while others have moved into a more secular direction.
The word “tannoura” means “skirt” in Arabic, and in this context refers to the skirts worn by the men. “Tannoura” has also come to refer to overall performance, and also the men wearing the skirts. The Egyptian tannoura garb is very colorful, to enhance the spectacle.
Although Sufism exists in Egypt, the whirling tradition of the Turkish Mevlevi sect is not strong there. Instead, Egyptian Sufis prefer other movement formats.
In an Egyptian tannoura show, the whirlers manipulate the skirts to produce a variety of visual effects. Typically, the performer wears more than one skirt, which allows for the outer layers to be removed and used in the dancing. One level of skirt is sewn together at the outer edges, creating a cone effect when the top layer is raised above the head.
Another effect that tannoura performers create with their skirts is that of a whirling disk:
The Al-Tannoura Egyptian Heritage Dance Troupe show at Wikala al-Ghouri is sponsored by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture. It begins with a performance of spiritual Sufi music, featuring in turn different musical instruments, including the mizmar (shown below), the nai (a type of flute), the percussion, and the singers.
After the musical introduction to the show, the Sufi dancers take the stage. These men wear white gallabiyat (robes) with a vest over them. Their movement is choreographed for the stage; however, it is based on authentic Sufi ritual movement.
The dance performed by these men in the white gallabiyat is typical of traditional Egyptian Sufi movement such as could be seen at a zikr (ritual) during an Egyptian moulid (saint’s day celebration). As they complete their featured segment, the tannoura enters the stage wearing a more colorful ensemble of multiple skirts over trousers.
The focus turns to the tannoura, as the Egyptian-style Sufi dancers to perform in formations of a line behind him, or a circle moving around him. Often, the tannoura will begin the performance with a group of brightly-painted frame drums in his hands, holding them in a variety of formations while continuously whirling. Eventually, he hands these drums off to one of the other men while still continuing to turn.
He then loosens the ties holding one of his skirts in place, and raises it up off of the ones below. At this point, he may hold it in various formations such as those shown earlier in this article, always while continuing to turn in place.
Eventually, this performance draws to a close, and the tannoura leaves the stage.
Next, a group of three other tannouras enters the stage. They too use their skirts to create a variety of visual effects as they whirl. For example, these two are rotating their skirts around their necks as they turn.
Tannoura performers appear in a variety of shows throughout Egypt, including Nile dinner cruise boats, nightclubs, and other entertainment environments. These shows often create a more secular feeling than those of the Al-Tannoura Egyptian Heritage Dance Troupe.
The tannoura performers in these other environments often use secular music instead of the traditional spiritual Sufi music. They typically appear as soloists, and may use pre-recorded music instead of live musicians.
It has become trendy for many of these performers to have an assistant dim the stage lights part of the way through their shows, at which point they turn on LED lights which have been sewn into their costumes.
I have also seen tannoura dancers pull an Egyptian flag out of their vests and hold it high as they whirl.
I have gone to see the Al-Tannoura Egyptian Heritage Dance Troupe perform about 15 times since the first time I saw them in 1999. Sometimes I’ll go twice during the same trip to Egypt. I have never grown tired of it. I find the spiritual Sufi music to be uplifting, and the dance performances to be mesmerizing. Often, after attending a show, I find myself feeling calmer, less stressed, and peaceful.
I also enjoy the individual tannoura performers that I have seen in Nile dinner cruise shows and “Egyptian party” shows at hotels. The flavor is different because of the more secular tone, but it’s always fun to see the showmanship ideas that the performers add to their whirling.