Tawfik Canaan Palestinian Amulet Exhibition opened at Birzeit University

 The Birzeit University community looked back at the past and forward to the future last Friday, with the duel opening of the Tawfik Canaan Collection of Palestinian Amulets, and the University's Ethnographic and Archaeological Gallery.

The display features 200 items from the 1,400-piece collection of Tawfik Canaan (1882-1964), which were gathered by the Palestinian scholar and physician between 1905 and 1947.

The event featured a panel discussion consisting of several speakers, including Birzeit President Hanna Nasir, the Palestinian Minister of Culture, Yasser Abed Rabbo, Birzeit Folklore scholar Dr Sharif Kannaneh , Canaan's grandson Fawzi Mantoura, and others.

Gisela Helmecke, an expert on Palestinian amulets from the Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin. and curator of the exhibit called her involverment in the project "a big joy." Helmecke went out of her way to thank all those involved in putting together the exhibit, especially the Birzeit University students who assisted her.

The collection was donated to the University by Dr. Canaan's daughters, Leila Mantoura, the late Nada Batten, and Yasmin Styring, in accordance with their father's desire to have the collection remain in Palestine.

Fawzi Mantoura, a world-renowned oceanographer, who also happens to be Canaan's grandson, spoke on behalf of the 15 members of the Canaan family--representing four different generations--in attendance. According to Mantoura the family bequeathed the collection to Birzeit, "custodian of our Palestinian heritage," hoping it would be "a source of pride and inspiration for Palestinian researchers." Mantoura spoke as if the crowd of hundreds were a small group of friends; he shared personal anecdotes about his grandfather, for whom he expressed admiration as both a scholar, and a person. The audience was treated to tales explaining how Canaan worked "sweeping the streets" so that he could pay for his education, and the story behind his ill-fated, but "prophetic" 1936 book Conflict in the Land of Peace. Mantoura also conveyed his feelings of great admiration for his mother Leila, who made "five or six trips to Palestine, to retrieve the amulets from a basement."

One panel member, Palestinian Minister of Culture Yasser Abed Rabbo stated: "we have to collect all that was displaced from Palestine--whether they are things, or humans....hopefully, we can continue this effort to strengthen the connection between the generations.

According to Vera Tamari, one of the event's main organizers "Amulets and talismans are to many people merely objects of superstition, fetishes that simple folk reverted to in solving health ailments or as remedies for social or psychological problems. Dr Tawfik Canaan viewed the amulets differently; he probed and asked questions related to their value as a source of knowledge in the interpretation of the traditions and beliefs of his own people."

The Tawfik Canaan Collection, and the Ethnographic and Archaeological Gallery are the products of the hard work and careful planning of the Birzeit University Founding Committee for the Development of Cultural Heritage. The Committee is comprised of members of several Birzeit University faculties, including the Palestinian Institute of Archaeology, the Women's Studies Center, and the University's History, and Fine Arts Departments. The Founding Committee for the Development of Cultural Heritage stresses the academic importance of these projects, which, like the committee, are closely linked to the University's faculties. The Committee hopes that the Gallery will eventually blossom into a full-scale museum.