National Geographic : 1941 Oct
A Family Outing in the Papyrus Pools THE courtier Menena, like most other Egyptian husbands and fathers, was an indulgent man, and, when his job as "Scribe of the Fields of the Lord of the Two Lands" per mitted him a little time off for duck hunting, he took his whole family with him. His making a family outing of the hunt was perhaps because the joy of merely being out on the cool water in his skiff of bundled papyrus reeds outweighed either the desire or the necessity of bringing in a large bag of ducks. Menena is, however, tending strictly to business, his two decoy birds-small herons-held high in his left hand above the towering papyrus, into which the skiff has been nosed, his boomerang poised in his right hand for the throw. The boomerang, or throw stick, was a favorite sport ing weapon in Egypt from the earliest times, and so ex pert did its users become that they were capable at close range of knocking down a bird as it was rising in flight. The pintail ducks, seen rising to the right, will be one fewer when this expert marksman has made his cast. Promptly the stunned bird will be retrieved by the light footed cat which stands in the bow of the skiff beside Menena's son. The two daughters are less interested in their father's sport than in the gathering of lotus flowers for decorating either themselves or their home; but Menena's wife, in addition to holding his spare boomerangs, isshowing the proper zeal. The family, with the exception ofthe younger daughter, may seem a bit over-dressed for apicnic inthe papyrus thickets, but this is the way they are all represented inthe famous painting in Menena's tomb atThebes. The papyrus plant, hereshown serving as anatural blind for an amateur duck hunter, played adominant role in ancient Egyptian life, art,and industry. Bound together, its sturdy seven-foot stalksformed supports for the roofs of the Egyptians' earliest houses, and from these primitive up rights developed the graceful papyrus column ofthe type, which, carved in stone at acolossal scale, upholds the roofs of the great temples of theNew Kingdom. From roped bundles ofpapyrus the Egyptian built his first boats, similar to the skiff shown here. The fibres of the pith of the reed provided him with the material for his writing paper, and from thetough outer bark hemade bas kets, hampers, crates, andfurniture of all sorts. As the emblem of Lower Egypt, where itgrows thickest, and as a constantly employed heraldic and decorative motif the plant is well known in its conventionalized form toanyone ac quainted with Egyptian art. Few plants have played so outstanding a part in the life of anation asdid the papyrus in the ancient land of the Nile.