Egypt: Craftsmen keep seashell mosaic tradition alive

Egypt: Craftsmen keep seashell mosaic tradition alive

Small shards of seashells are turned turned into works of art in Egypt’s village of Sakiet Al-Mankadi.

A group of men are bent over a table collecting small shards of seasheels. The shells will soon adorn boards that will decorate walls.

The town of Sakiet Al-Mankadi is renowned for its seashell industry. Items produced here will fill the shops in the Khan Khalili bazaar in Cairo.

Beyond skill another quality is essential.

“You have to be patient so that you can create the design, a design can take an hour while another can take a day or even a month,” Kareem Said said.

The workshop is one of 40 in the village where the craft is passed from one generation to the next.

“You could say I was born here; I grew up here in my father’s workshop, in here I learnt all from A to Z,” the seashell crasftman reveals**.**

Call for a wider recognition of the craftThe design behind this craft has many stages and requires skills of cutting, designing and making the shell products. The shells are brought from countries including Australia, Oman and sometimes Japan. The wood is from Domyat (Damietta) in Egypt.

Ahmed Ali’s cuts the shells into usable pieces for the designers using machinery.

“I am an expert here on this machine, I cut the seashells for the workers in all the different sizes and shapes we need,” explains Ali.

Furniture, tables, chess boards and gift boxes are just some of the products that can be made.

Tools and producers used to make this traditional craft are expensive. 

Said Ammar, a craftsman who’s worked in the industry for over 40 years, hopes for a wider recognition of the craft as things have been harder since COVID-19 and a lull in tourism.

“This craft is beautiful, I wish that the government and even the governorate would take more interest in it – especially the Menoufia governorate, because this industry here is considered a treasure in this governorate,” he confesses.

Pearly shell creations will be sold in Cairo.

The craftsmen also sell goods made-to-order and have previously sent their designs to people in Saudi Arabia, Dubai, France and Germany.

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