Monday, 17 August 2015


Luise Mühlbach continues her report about her visit to the Khedive's harem:

Soon the slaves came with long chibuk smoking pipes and gave one to each of us. I had already learned to smoke a chibuk and took great pleasure in drawing up smoke through a long pipe of linden wood, decorated with a fat knob of amber, but I had never seen one like this. It was two feet long and covered with a net of golden threads, interspersed with rubies and sparkling diamonds set in golden rings. The mouthpiece was made of amber and bore a wide strip of diamonds. The small golden head piece encrusted with diamonds rested on a golden plate on the carpet. The rim of the plate was also decorated with diamonds.  We smoked with serious, philosophical faces…but when you smoke there is no need to talk. The little clouds of smoke take the place of words.

After the third chibuk, six slaves, all in white dresses with pink ribbons, came carrying a large golden tray covered with a red velvet cloth embroidered with gold and pearls. Two of them took off the cloth, bowed, and retreated. Two others held out the tray, and two served us sugared fruit.They also offered  water, so that I could get the cloyingly sweet mass down my throat. Then they handed me a small gold-embroidered napkin to dab my lips.

After another round of chibuk smoking, the slaves brought Turkish coffee served in fine transparent porcelain cups, and the entertainment began.
Accompanied by clapping castanets, twirling tambourines, shrilling flutes, a long train of slaves came up the stairs into the large hall and paraded once around, first the dancers, then the musicians, and finally the singers. There were twelve dancers, dressed in wide trousers of red velvet, gathered at the ankles.
They wore gold embroidered shoes of red velvet. Their upper body was covered with a transparent silk blouse, topped by a short jacket of red velvet. Their hair, long and straight, was held together by a golden ribbon ending in a bow.

The music began, and the dancers swung forward with wondrous movements, then threw back their head and their whole upper body. A luscious, blissful smile hovered on their lips, their fiery eyes gleamed, and ecstasy showed on their faces. Their movements turned more intense, their arms flailed, and they shuddered in individual parts of their body. For the Egyptian dancers do not dance with their whole body, but only move their arms, while the remaining body rests, then they move their feet or only their upper body, and then there is this wonderful swinging and trembling in their whole body… Then finally, breathing hard, not with exhaustion but with ecstasy, the dancers sank to the floor in picturesque positions, with their head back, their mouth half open in a blissful smile.
To be continued.

(Source: Reisebriefe aus Aegypten. My translation; image:

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