A column by Bles Carmona
For the week of Aug. 26-Sept. 1, 2015
Culture of Life: King Tut Festival 2015 in Hayward
The most that can be said about King Tutankhamun of Egypt, at one point, was that he lived, reigned young, and died. It was the aftermath of his dying, the discovery in November 26, 1922 of his pristine and undisturbed tomb full of treasures by British archaeologist/adventurer Howard Carter and his rich backer, Lord Carnarvon, which reignited worldwide interest in this ancient and proud civilization. Certainly, with all the Egyptian methods of mummification for the preservation of the dead and their pyramid-building to house the earthly remains of their royalty, you would think that Egyptians seem to have this morbid preoccupation about death. Actually, everything that had been done for their dearly departed was a bountiful celebration of life.
And what a celebration of life it continues to be! For three days last week (Aug. 21-23), the secular Coptic Youth Center sponsored the 26th annual King Tut Festival http://kingtutfestival.com/.
It was held on the common ground between the youth center and the St. Antonius Coptic Orthodox Church. I had the delight of enjoying the Egyptian experience. Since I already ate lunch before I got there, I passed on the falafel, kabob, shawarma, kofta, and the other entrees. I wanted to try the hibiscus juice because I’ve never had it before, and like I said in my Facebook post last week, it was mildly sweet and very tangy. I listened to a lady onstage as she played the “oud,” pronounced “ood,” an octavina-like guitar. Later, when I was able to talk with her after her set, I learned that her name was Hayam and that oud-playing is her hobby. Her young daughter’s eyes are big, framed with thick curling lashes, part-blue, part-green; the child looked so beautiful. However, the main draw for a bargain souvenir-hunter like me was “Cleopatra’s Bazaar,” housed in the gym/multipurpose room of the Coptic Youth Center itself. There are dresses, shirts, elaborate jewelry pieces (earrings, bracelets, rings, and necklaces), knick-knacks like miniature glass pyramids, King Tuts, wine bottle openers, keychains, paintings on papyrus-like material… geez, you name it, there really IS something for everyone. I forgot her name, but I’ll call her “Cleopatra,” was an older lady who obviously owned the enterprise. She was so accommodating such that she told me to feel free to look around and ask her any questions. Her assistant was also very helpful to me when I wanted to try on a blue ankle-length dress with prints of Tutankhamun on it. I ended up buying the blue dress, a red beaded bracelet and a 4-inch gold-plated bust of Cleopatra – all for under $30. I didn’t ask for a discount but I noticed that they’re willing to shave off some $3 off the price of a single item once they see you expressing an interest in it. Of course they want to make a sale, but there is also a dignity here that sends the message that with them, buyers do not need to haggle. What a lesson in grace I learned from “Cleopatra” and her bazaar colleagues.
Another thing I noticed about the Egyptian-Americans is that they truly believe in the importance of the family. Of course, you say, everyone values the family. But with them, it’s not just about saying it but also putting it into action. It’s very important during every year of the festival that there be a play and recreation area for the children. I think this is my first time to see a gym climber in any celebration and the artificial boulder was intended for the kids to climb up and down on. In fact, one of the goals of the Coptic Youth Center is to encourage physical activity through sports in order to decrease obesity and type 2 diabetes among their youth.
Additionally, in terms of rites and traditions, they start them young, too. There was a procession of mini-King Tuts and other royal personages, average age of five years old, in ornate headdresses and white gowns as they “walked like an Egyptian,” their arms bent at the elbow with their hands raised as if in offering. If we have our Santacruzan and Flores de Mayo, then our Egyptian-American brethren have this King Tut procession.
I looked at the roster of the Board of Directors of the Coptic Youth Center. Their bios are very impressive: a priest, a cardiologist, engineers (civil, mechanical, etc.), high-ranking information communication, and technology (ICT), sales, and other global leadership positions in reputable companies. When I look back on a community college course I took, RELS 64-“The Nature of Islam,” taught by Prof. Hafiz Siddiqi, I remembered that he made us watch a PBS documentary about the contributions of Islam to the entire civilization of humankind. It’s still relevant in our discussion here because 90% of the Egyptian population is Muslim (2006 census). In Egypt, Muslims and Christians live as neighbors, they share a common history and national identity, and they also share the same ethnicity, race, culture, and language (“Egypt, International Religious Freedom Report 2008, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. September 19, 2008). My point is that regardless of religion, the seeds of greatness, above-average intelligence, and kindness seem to be inherent in those of Egyptian descent, honing most of them to be benevolent achievers who have the drive to give back unselfishly to their community.
I remember several years ago when I visited the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, CA. The dimly lit hallways, mummies, artifacts, and a mock-up burial chamber inspired a hushed awe in me at the seeming “familiarity” of it all. The eerie quietness did not unnerve me; it soothed me. It was not that Egyptians were so hung up on death – it’s that they fervently believed in the afterlife and so believed that the best way for a mortal to cross over is for the living to prepare the deceased for embalming/mummification. Nefertiti, Cleopatra, Bast, Isis, Hathor, all these powerful women-goddesses… and of course Sekhmet, the Egyptian lion-goddess that started the museum, were all represented in my favorite part of the museum, the gift shop. In short, whatever Egyptian-inspired dreams I may have had when I was still in the Philippines were given life when I visited this museum ten years ago now. I think I am overdue for a revisit. I was thinking these thoughts as I sat under a tent with tables and chairs for those who need a spot for eating their late lunch.
I was quietly observing the people around the tent area when I saw an older lady wearing a long orange dress accidentally spill her drink on herself. The teenagers on the other table, four or five of them, jumped up so quickly like lightning to start helping the lady by mopping up the mess with paper napkins and bigger paper towels. They didn’t need to be told what to do. They used their common sense and willingness to help and acted swiftly as soon as the situation required it. This scene touched my heart because I look at it as the youth’s sensitivity to the needs of the elderly, a caring attitude that seems sadly on the wane nowadays.
Next week, following through on this train of thought, I would like to offer for your perusal a piece that I would like to call, “pagtanaw ng utang na loob,” or gratefulness. For what should we be grateful? To whom shall we be grateful? Can we connect the dots so that we can persuade the younger generation to be grateful to the older generation and to act on that gratitude in simple yet sustained ways? Abangan.