Subverting the “Master”–“Native” Relationship: Dragomans and Their Clients in the Fin-de-Siècle Middle East

in “Masters” and “Natives”


In the second half of the nineteenth century, Mohammed Hassan Attwa, a dragoman and a guide, was just one among an army of people involved in the thriving tourist industry in Egypt. Affiliated with the Shepheard’s and Savoy Hotels - two high-end rival establishments located next to each other in central Cairo - Attwa had the opportunity to work for many distinguished guests. All that remains of his legacy nowadays is his carte de visite - boasting of “highest references” and “many years experience”. In addition, Attwa presents himself as a dahabeah conductor - promising his clients “excellent accommodations” and “special arrangements” for the tours along the Nile “by first class dahabeahs”. The antiquities of the Nile valley were naturally of great interest to his clients, and, like all dragomans, he will have had to assume some expertise. The inner side of this rather large and elaborate folding card contains a list of thirtyfive clients - all Anglophone, mostly from the United Kingdom and America - whose names (many of them were well known at the time) undoubtedly served as a further professional advertisement for Attwa. This card is published here for the first time. The tourist industry and archaeology in the nineteenth-century Middle East were intimately linked. Our study builds on recent work which restores a voice and agency to the locals who worked with archaeologists in the field. Using unpublished archival materials, we explore how dragomans and archaeologists both collaborated and clashed. Flinders Petrie banned visiting tourists from bringing their dragomans to his excavations, concerned about looting. Two individuals whose lives we have explored in our current research, the Syrian Solomon N. Negima and the Armenian Daniel Z. Noorian, had more complex relationships with their archaeological employers and colleagues. Negima conducted tourists to visit excavations and was acquainted with several foreign archaeologists. Noorian, who began his career working for Leonard Woolley, eventually became an antiquities dealer in New York.

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