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Intangible Cultural Heritage of Egypt - Tahteeb

Tahteeb, stick game or traditional stick-fighting martial arts was inscribed in 2016 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO.

The original martial version of tahtib later evolved into an Egyptian folk dance with a wooden stick. It is commonly described in English as a "stick dance", "cane dance", "stick-dancing game", or as ritual mock combat accompanied by music. Nowadays, the word tahteeb encompasses both martial practice and performance art. It is mainly practiced today in Upper Egypt.

Performed in front of an audience, it involves a brief, non-violent interchange between two adversaries, each wielding a long stick while folk music plays in the background. Complete control must be exercised as no striking is allowed. Practitioners are male both young and old, mostly from Saeedy populations in upper Egypt, particularly rural areas where the tahteeb stick has been used by inhabitants as part of their daily lives and considered a sign of manhood. The rules of the game are based on values such as mutual respect, friendship, courage, strength, chivalry and pride. Tahteeb is practised in public and private social settings. Sometimes competitions are held to encourage new players and special tahteeb evenings involving different governorates that can last almost a week. Transmission occurs within families, neighbourhoods and to anyone who wishes to learn. The game gives participants confidence from skills acquired and a sense of pride performing before their community. It also helps to strengthen family ties and foster good communal relations.

History of Tahteeb (Tahtib)

The oldest traces of tahtib were found on engravings from the archaeological site of Abusir, an extensive necropolis of the Old Kingdom period, located in the south-western suburbs of Cairo. On some of the reliefs of the Pyramid of Sahure (V dynasty, c. 2500 BC);[9] the images and explanatory captions are particularly precise and accurate in their depiction of what seems to be military training using sticks. Tahtib, with archery and wrestling, was then among the three disciplines of warfare taught to soldiers.

Three of the 35 tombs of the Beni Hassan necropolis (XI-XII Dynasties, 1900 – 1700 BC) near the town of Minya, contain engravings showing scenes of tahtib. Similar engravings can be seen in the archaeological site of Tell el Amarna (XVIII Dynasty, 1350 BC), some 60 km south of Minya. In addition to its role as military training, tahtib matches were also popular among peasants and farmers. The first evidence of the festive representation of tahtib can only be seen in the New Empire (1500 – 1000 BC), as shown by the engravings on the walls of Luxor and Saqqâra Early Christian writings mention tahtib as a leisure activity and a popular art performed by men during weddings and celebrations. It is believed that tahtib developed as a game or performance art in this civilian context.

Modern tahteeb

Modern tahteeb is an attempt to re-explore the sources of tahtib as a fighting art, and to enrich them as a martial practice by codifying the techniques and teaching them structurally. As in traditional tahteeb, the main target is the opponent's head, as it is considered the most fragile and vulnerable part of the body. Consequently, techniques revolve around protecting one's own head while reaching the head of the opponent. Victory can be attained either by a single clean touch to the head, or three touches to the body. Unlike its traditional counterpart, modern tahteeb allows both women and men to practice in mixed groups.

The centre dedicated to reviving traditional Tahteeb was founded by El-Warsha Troupe in Malawi, Minya. Medhat Fawzi, the sticks dance artist has been training young men and showcasing their talents around the world since 1996.



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