Traditional hand puppetry


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Inscribed in 2018 (13.COM) on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding

© The Cultural Development Fund (Montage Unit), Egypt, 2014

Al-Aragoz is an old form of Egyptian theatre using traditional hand puppetry. Performances are highly popular events during which puppeteers remain hidden inside a small portable stage while an assistant interacts with the puppets and crowd. Al-Aragoz takes its name from the main puppet, whose distinctive voice is created with a voice modifier. Performers and the audience interact dynamically throughout the shows, which have a comic and entertaining atmosphere, and practitioners must be skilled in manipulating and maintaining the puppet, as well as in improvisation and music. Shows explore a variety of themes relating to daily life, with a recurring theme being the struggle against corruption. The art used to be presented by groups of travelling performers, who moved from one folk celebration to another. However, when these performances began to dwindle, performers and their assistants settled permanently in fixed places, mostly in Cairo. The viability of the practice is threatened by the changing social, political, legal and cultural circumstances of its enactment, such as laws concerning public gatherings, the rise of religious radicalism, an overall decrease in interest among younger generations, and the advanced age of its active practitioners. The number of surviving practitioners has diminished while many of those who once-performed stories have now disappeared.