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Women and Artas

Contributed by Artas Folklore Center on 11.04.2012:

Women, both local and foreign, play a vital role in the history and heritage of Artas, as researcher informants, story tellers and researchers themselves. As well as being a meeting place of ecosystems and civilizations, Artas has long been a place of women’s encounters. In ancient times, the valley was said to be filled with thousands of King Solomon’s concubines, while for the last 150 years it has played host to at least 10 women of varying backgrounds, some of whom have entered village legend. Come visit us to know more about the guest list of remarkable women coming to Artas.

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A Century and a Half of Women’s Encounters in Artas

submitted by Artas Folklore Center


On March 8, 2007 the Artas Women’s Group hosted members of Palestinian and foreign women’s’ groups in their village. If at first, this village doesn’t seem like the most obvious venue for such an encounter, you might change your mind after reading about some of the other women who visited, lived, worked or studied in Artas.

#1. Clorinda Minor When the world didn’t end in 1844 as predicted, this American woman, like other followers of the Millennialist William Miller, bore the scorn of her fellows and wallowed in despondence. But salvation beckoned from the Holy Land, where she felt called to prepare for Christ’s Second Coming. Abandoning her husband, she was eventually led by John Meshullam, a Jewish convert, to Artas, finding the fertile valley an ideal spot for her project.

#2 Elisabeth Ann Finn The three words “Went to Artas” appeared regularly in Stirring Times or Records from Jerusalem Consular Chronicles 1853- 1856, which she edited and compiled in the name of her husband, James Finn, the British Consul. Although she and her husband, shared Clorinda’s vision of “redeeming the land,” the Artas villagers must have watched in bewilderment as the tense drama played out between the Finns, Clorinda and Meshullam. This is covered in depth in Divine Expectations: An American Woman in 19th Century Palestine by Barbara Kreiger with Shalom Goldman (1999).

#3 Mary Eliza Rogers The sister of a British consular official during Finn’s tenure, Mary Eliza was particularly interested in the women of Palestine, as the title of her book Domestic Life in Palestine (1892) suggests. Though the pages in the book dedicated to Artas are few, they include vivid vignettes of an 1856 sale of land to Mrs. Finn, preparations made in the village for the Finn’s guests and descriptions of scenery and nature.

#4 The Sisters of the Convent of the Enclosed Garden–Since 1901, unknown women from all over the world have come to live in this beautiful convent, now perhaps the most recognizable site in Artas, run by an Italian order of nuns which came here via Argentina.

#5 Louisa- Baldensperger Louisa’s family had come to Artas from Alsace as missionaries in 1848, playing an important role in developing agriculture and recording village folklore. But when they tread the well-worn missionary path from Artas to Jaffa, she elected to stay behind, making her living by producing collections of biblical plants, herbariums and souvenir cards. Her home, an intriguing collection of rooms around a staircase on the hill facing the convent, still exists, now in urgent need of restoration. Although “Sitt Louisa,” as she was affectionately referred to by the villagers, developed a rich knowledge of folklore, customs and herbal medicine, serving as a resource for many researchers in the twenties, she did not write herself; it is thanks to other women that we have glimpses of her knowledge and character.

# 6 Grace Crowfoot, whose husband was Director of the British School of Archeology, was one of these women. Having written books on the flora of Egypt and Sudan, she wanted to preserve Louisa’s knowledge of folklore and customs as well as to capture her personality. Their collaboration resulted in the book From Cedar to Hyssop A Study in the Folklore of Plants in Palestine (1932), which the Bethlehem Arab Women’s Union had translated into Arabic, and now would like to have reprinted in English. Cross your fingers that they succeed, for a delightful book it is.

#7 Hilma Grandvist Louisa’s presence provided an immediate entrĂ©e into Artas for this Finnish Anthropologist. Luckily for us, she soon jettisoned her original project of studying women of the Old Testament and studied instead all the customs, habits, and ways of thinking of the village, using two old blind women as informants. This resulted in five large volumes of ethnography dealing with marriage, birth, childhood and finally, death and burial, and written with such a refreshing immediacy that we are transported to the Artas of the 1920’s. “Sitt Halima” also took many photographs to accompany her fieldwork, now housed in England’s Palestine Exploration Fund, some of which will be exhibited during the Lettuce Festival.

#8 Mystery Woman When this woman appeared in the village in 1972 and asked a schoolteacher named Musa Sanad about his ancestors and sites of interest in the village, he couldn’t answer, so she whipped out one of Hilma’s books to answer her own questions. The shame he felt over this incident was the starting point of Musa Sanad’s mission to preserve and promote the heritage of his village through the Artas Folklore Center, a mission passed on to his son, Fadi Sanad, current director of the Center.

# 9 Karen Seger- In the ‘eighties, she collected the photos of Hilma Granqvist and organized them by theme, writing a summary of the information from Granqvist’s works for the modern lay reader in Portrait of a Palestinian Village: the photographs of Hilma Granqvist, with a foreword by Shelagh Weir, a valuable and evocative book.

#10 Celia Rothenberg A Canadian doctoral student, Celia came to Artas in 1995 intending to determine the extent to which marriage patterns had changed since Granqvist’s day, when a chance conversation overheard while sleeping on the roof of the Sanad residence caused her to change her focus to Jinn, or spirit possession. Her study of the social, political and economic factors involved in this phenomenon, adds a new dimension to this “village of jinn,” and although her book, Spirits of Palestine (2000) is an anthropological study, the occasional academic jargon in this interesting book is but a speedbump for the educated reader.

#11 Mia Grondahl- Photographing Artas was the focus of Swedish photographer and journalist Mia Grondahl who visited Artas in 1997. This time it was Musa Sanad who introduced the foreign woman to the books of Hilma Granqvist. Mia decided to follow in her footsteps by tracing the people and families Granqvist had photographed over 70 years before, resulting in an exhibition entitled Artas: Portrait of a Palestinian Village. Then and Now, in which her color photographs were juxtaposed with Hilma’s black and white ones of the same people. One of these is of Musa Sanad’s Mother, Fatma and her brother, Khalil, whom Granqvist had photographed as children.

Recently, women of Palestinian background have become engaged in research in Artas: Uhud al Asmar from Annajah University conducted a study on the tourist trail established by Musa Sanad, Falestine al-Naili, is working on a dissertation on the Collective Memory of Artas in France, while Samar Nazar based at Birzeit University/Norway is studying changes in the Cultural Landscape of Artas.

Palestinian and Foreign, Muslim and Christian– what better venue for an encounter between women in honor of International Women’s Day than Artas?

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