El Sebou' - Egyptian Birth Ritual
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From the Egypt series
by Fadwa El Guindi
color, 27 min, 1986
16mm print available for rental
In Egypt, a birth ritual called el-sebou', meaning "the seventh", happens on the seventh day following the physical birth of a child of either sex and is celebrated by Coptic and Muslim families of all status groups, rural and urban. Characteristic of this ritual is the gender-linked imagery also manifest in the ritual clay pot. The ceremony celebrates the newborn's crossing a threshold from a neutral gender and status into a world of gender differentiation and family hierarchy. This particular sebou' is celebrated for twins, a boy and a girl, in a rising middle class Muslim family in urban Egypt. Anthropologist Fadwa El Guindi portrays the sebou' ritual as a rite of passage with the universal three phases of transition (separation, liminality, incorporation) and as the key ceremony in an individual's life cycle until marriage. Focusing on – and showing the proveniences of – the variety of objects and materials, the film’s perspective highlights the central role of the female ritual leader and provides a kinesthetic spatial sense of the ceremony. The editing combines both an analytic and an emic approach, allowing the participants to speak for themselves without losing a broader anthropological perspective.
"Unique. There's nothing like it dealing with rites of passage, particularly in an urban setting, in the Middle East. It fills an important gap and tells the story very well…very well-done." — Professor Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban, Rhode Island College
"This is an ethnographic film in the best tradition of art and anthropology. It breathes life into Van Gennep's classic model of rites-of-passage." — Professor André Simic, University of Southern California
"A powerful bonding ceremony…watching this extraordinary film one has the feeling to be in their midst…a truly fascinating document in the best tradition of ethnographic filmmaking…a very balanced blend of emic and etic approaches." — Privadozent Dr. Wulf Schiefenhövel
About Egypt series
Fadwa El Guindi is currently Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the Department of Social Sciences, University of Qatar; founding director and research anthropologist at El Nil Research in Los Angeles; and Co-Editor of the new social science journal Contemporary Islam: Dynamics of Muslim Life. In addition to her innovative, award-winning films, she is widely published and gives lectures and workshops internationally on Arab and Muslim Americans. Her renowned expertise on the Middle East has been sought by the media, the UN, and the US government. Her most recent book, Visual Anthropology: Essential Method and Theory, is available from AltaMira Press.
Recommended for use in courses on archaeology, general anthropology, material culture, rural Arab culture, and rural arts and crafts.
Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Award for Excellence, Society for Visual Anthropology, 1987
Special Commendation, Royal Anthropological Institute, 1988
Grand Prize - Best Ethnographic Film on Arab Culture, Palermo, 1989