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Demography is a term that means the study and description
of people. Who are the true Egyptians? What different races live
in Egypt today? Where do they live and how do their cultures vary?
These are all questions that demographers seek to answer. On the
surface, all of this might seem rather simple, after all, Egyptians
live in Egypt.
It is important that we start by trying to define
our terms. What is race? Race is a term used to define different
human groups that share common linguistic, cultural and genetic
traits.. Please do not define race by physical appearance alone.
What race is a person of African-American descent who is an albino?
Race is so much more complex than what someone looks like. Often
times races live in specific regions of the world. But where someone
lives does not determine race either. Numerous races live in Africa.
So the term African is not a very specific term to describe race.
Language is also an important component of race,
but it can not be taken as the only determining factor. People of
all races speak English, for example. So language in this case does
not relate directly to race. The same can be said of culture. While
each race has certain cultural traits that are unique, many of these
are also shared by other people. It seems as if physical appearance,
geography, language, and culture are all factors which taken together
help define race, a term used and misunderstood frequently.
The ancient Egyptians believed that they as people
defined ideal human existence. When a group of people think that
their race is better than others this becomes the basis of racism.
People who have this view in extreme are called ethnocentric. This
means that they see their race or nation as the only true people.
The ancient Egyptians were highly ethnocentric. This idea had to
do with the Egyptian view of their land and its rule by their gods.
The ancient Egyptians felt very strongly that when people moved
to the land of Egypt they became Egyptians regardless of where they
came from or what they looked like.
This is not to say that the ancient Egyptians did
not have in mind certain standards about the ideal physical appearance
of Egyptian men and women. But in their mind, a common land bound
the people together. The ancient Egyptian language, like the people
who inhabited the land, had similarities to other African and Near
Eastern languages. The Egyptians were people that bridged two worlds.
Today, a number of peoples live in the land of Egypt. Let us introduce
you to some of the larger people groups and sub-groups.
The Copts are the modern descendants of the
ancient Egyptians. The word Copt comes from the later Greek and
Arab pronunciation of the word "Egypt". The consonants
of both words are nearly identical in sound: compare CPT and GPT.
Copt is an unusual word. It describes a group of people or an ethnic
group, the language they spoke (Coptic) and their religion. The
Copts are the living descendants of the pharaohs. Many of these
people converted to Christianity during the Roman period in Egypt.
The number of Copts living in Egypt has steadily declined under
Muslim rule in Egypt.
The Copts make up less than 10% of the total Egyptian
population, but these numbers are debated. There are a number of
villages in Upper Egypt that remain almost entirely Coptic. While
many Copts are well educated professionals others suffer in horrible
poverty. Many of the educated Copts have left Egypt and live in
English-speaking countries around the world. There are growing populations
in the United States, Canada and Australia. There are an estimated
15 million Copts in the world today.
The history of Egypt is in part the story
of her conquest and rule by foreign people. In 641 A.D. Egypt was
conquered by invading forces from Arabia. The Arabian peninsula
had recently been converted to Islam (the Moslem religion), a religion
established by Mohammed around 610 A. D. The crusading armies quickly
conquered the lands of the middle east and swept across north Africa
and pushed into Spain as well.
Many who lived in these lands were forcibly converted
to Islam and the Arab people settled in these areas. Arab is a name
used to describe people from the Arabian peninsula who migrated
as a result of the Arab conquests and the spread of Islam throughout
the middle east and north Africa. Not all Arabs are Moslems. There
are large numbers of Arab Christians in the middle east as well.
The Arabic language is in the Semitic language family, making it
very similar to other Semitic languages like Hebrew, Syriac and
3. The Bedouin (Arab ethnic
The Bedouin are nomadic Arab people who migrate
through the Egyptian deserts in search of grazing for their livestock
and water for their families. Their are a number of Bedouin tribes
that have occupied various regions of Egypt since ancient times.
These tribes are divided into clans or extended family units. The
Bedouins move from location to location in small, compact groups
led by an elder male. They live in temporary straw and twig installations
or tents made of animal skin panels that can be secured to keep
the sand out or opened to let the cooling breezes through the tent.
The men dress for the harsh extremes of the desert,
wearing layered flowing robes that protect them from the sun's intense
rays and yet that allow the air to circulate through their garments
keeping the body temperature cooler. Their heads and neck are covered
to shield them from the sun and wind-blown sand and to reduce the
loss of moisture. The women wear black dresses and embroidered headdresses
or bright and festive colors. Often their faces are veiled with
veils decorated with embroidered designs, shells and coins. The
Bedouin are hearty and resourceful people who live in one of the
most demanding regions of the world. They know and respect the desert.
Bedouins do not die of starvation. They live to survive. Their lives
are not wasteful or greedy and they are always open to hospitality.
As they entertain strangers, they learn of recent news and the availability
of pasturelands and water in other areas.
It is common for Bedouin men and boys to be gone
for many days, tending their flocks, hunting or trading in a nearby
village. The women are left behind to tend the tent and some of
the livestock. It is also not unusual for the women to pick-up camp
and move during their husbands' absence, because of some need. The
husbands will spend a number of days tracking down their families.
In the event of a divorce, the tent belongs to the woman and the
livestock are taken by the man. The women produce beautiful embroidery
that are sold in markets in the oases. A number of pressures are
forcing these people to leave their ancient way of life. They settle
on the outskirts of desert villages and are eventually absorbed
into rural communities often as desert farmers.
4. The Fallahin (Mixed
The Fallahin are the people who inhabit the
rural villages that line the Nile. These people work their small
plots of land harvesting three separate crops each year. They also
often keep some low maintenance livestock like chickens and goats.
The beast of burden is a water buffalo. The Fallahin work hard to
feed themselves and the huge population of Egypt. Everyone in the
family works together in the field. Women thresh the grain and carry
huge loads of alfalfa or hay on their heads and the boys drive donkey
carts filled with fresh fruit and vegetables to market.
Women and small children tend booths and sell their
crops. The Fallahin live in mudbrick homes, sometimes covered with
white plaster, bordered in light blue. The houses are simple, often
with dirt floors and no electricity or plumbing. The house is designed
to provide insulation from the cold winter nights and at the same
time circulation to cool the simple homes during the blistering
summer days. Moslem Fallahin who have made their journey to Mecca,
may decorate the outside of their house with paintings illustrating
the story of their pilgrimage. The local mosque and these so-called
Hajj houses, named after the Arabic word for the mandatory pilgrimage
to Mecca, have pride-of-place in a Fallahin village.
The villages bustle with excitement on religious
festivals or weddings, giving people an excuse to leave their back-breaking
labor and to enjoy the company of family and friends. The streets
of a Fallahin village are congested at these times with singing,
dancing and festivities. Women typically wear a black cover over
brightly colored house clothes. Their head is also covered with
a black vale. On market day the women come to town in bright and
festive colors to buy, to sell and to meet with friends.
The women also wear silver and gold jewelry, necklaces,
and bracelets on their wrists and ankles. This is their dowry, or
the price that their husband had to pay for the right to marry the
woman. Women can be divorced quickly by Islamic law. The women keep
their dowry close at hand for future security in case of a swift