Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions

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The Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions is in one of the traditional 14thC houses in Oueld el Hadef, the old part of Tozeur. The guide books are very complementary about this. There is a 2TD entry. We handed over a 5TD note to Souad but no effort was made to give change, something we had noticed elsewhere in Tunisia.

A passageway leads from the door into a delightful small courtyard with a large palm tree. Rooms off contain different exhibits. The kitchen has a small wood fired oven with storage area next to it. There are copper steamers for couscous, large glazed serving plates with traditional green (dates) and yellow (sand) decoration and examples of small cups used for drinking palm juice, wooden olive bowls, quern, pestle and mortar made from apricot wood. Pottery made by the household was fired in the bread oven.

The next room is garishly painted in yellows and oranges. It has a Koran and a copy of the book explaining Ibn Chabbat’s system of irrigating the oasis and a kadouss. He was a 13thC mathematician who devised a system distributing water to all the plots along a complex system of dykes and sluices designed to avoid wastage of water. Water was channeled along hollowed out palm trunks with a series of holes which were blocked when the allocated time was over. Time was calculated by means of a Kadouss; a water container with a hole in it which took just over an hour to empty. Each landowner was allocated a set number of kadouss units.

There is a display of old money. Hanging on the wall are boards of apricot wood which were used in school. Ink was made from burnt sheep’s blood and could be cleaned off using white clay.

The next room is a bedroom with a chest containing examples of wedding dresses. Souad dressed Michael up in a long white robe and a turban. I was given a red dress with golden head dress. There was much hilarity as we had our pictures taken and Michael wondering if he had gained a second wife….

Upstairs is a room for weaving blankets. Souad demonstrated carding, spinning and weaving. Wool is threaded through by hand and then pushed down using a wooden comb. It could take one person 2-3 months to make a blanket. Larger blankets were usually made by three women sitting side by side working together.

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