She didn't know I was there. That fact, I think, is important to the story. On Sunday Joe and I decided to go over to the museum for an hour or so to catch a new exhibit. It's a terrific way to spend time, enjoyable, relaxing and educational. And, truth be told, they have an awesome cafe for lunch. One always must reinforce oneself with little treats. The cafe has the most incredible applesauce cake, it's aggressively CAKE. But, really, we went to the exhibit called 'Museum Secrets'.
When we arrived a small group was gathered around a display case holding the mummy of an infant child. There were too many people for me to get in on the one side of a museum staff giving a little talk about it, so I had to go around behind. It was more difficult to hear but I struggled and managed pretty well to catch what she was saying. She'd been talking for a little while and when I got there she was using a flashlight to highlight various hieroglyphics on the mummy itself. She explained what they meant in the cultural and religious life of the Egyptian people and most specifically the family of the 6 month old baby.
The, unexpectedly, she began to talk about the Egyptian approach to disability - in the culture of the time of the burial of the wee babe. She said that Egyptians were one of the few people who saw disabled children to be equal in value to typical children. They were not left to the elements, they were not dropped over cliffs, they were welcomed in and loved in the family. She said that there was all sorts of evidence of disability as part of every day life in Egypt. Crutches, canes and walking sticks along with crude prosthetic limbs were found all over Egypt. Disability was clearly not conceptualized in the way that it was in other cultures, or even, she said somewhat archly, today.
When she turned around to point at something else she saw me and as startled by my presence. She apologized for having her back to me and then included me naturally and easily into the question period. I asked a couple of disability related questions and she was fully able to talk about the evidence of people with disabilities such as cerebral palsy being included into Egyptian society. I was astonished that she knew these things, I was even more amazed that this was simply part of her presentation regarding this small child.
What was notable was the fact that those in attendance at her informal discussion were interested in what she had to say about Egyptian life and the incorporation of disability into the fabric of society. I could see people puzzling what they heard and thinking, deeply, about her words.
It seems that disability history is of interest to more than just those of us with disabilities. It seems that we can learn a lot about a culture and its values by looking at attitudes towards those who were born or who became 'different'.
After a lovely history lesson, as one should always do, we wrapped it up with chat over cake.
Thanks for an inspiring history lesson.
It kind of gives one hope doesn't it? I love that there is evidence of a kajillion ways to see the world. Maybe our society can value people with disabilities one day too.
Look up a picture of the statute of Seneb with his family -- he was a fairly high-placed official in the 6th Dynasty. The first time I saw a picture of it, I cried. I still get a bit teary at the sheer [i]normalcy[/i] of it.
Rachel, thanks so much for finding that. I loved seeing it and reading about it. Terrific. Thanks to for the other comments here. I notice that recent blogs seem to be drawing less interest - those of you who comment mean a lot to me.
Yeah my comments are in the basement too. Although that could be because my POSTS are in the basement...not too startling.
Regarding your notes on the disability-positive presentation, I believe it's a fairly common thing in museums - I have heard/read several similar presentations/plaques in my museum travels (such as the "Treasures of the British Museum" exhibit at the RBCM a couple of years ago). I'm actually a little surprised, with your frequent visits to the ROM, that this is the first one you've heard.
But then (she added smugly), museums are little pockets of enlightenment, aren't they? I love 'em.
Truly inspiring it really is.....nice to hear that someone or a whole culture had it right or seemed to way back when.....
I really appreciate this post, and the commenter who directed us to the picture of Seneb and his family. That really did make me tear up. Unexpectedly so.
If anyone has any sources to read/learn more about disability in ancient Egypt, I'd love to know about them. I just got quite a little "high" off seeing "our people" represented in history, and now I'm craving more...
I just love the way the kids were included in the spot where his legs would have gone; so practical and yet so sweet. And it is totally obvious that his wife loved and respected him. Such a nice looking family. If I had a time machine I would love to go back and meet them!
We have a long way to go, but it's possible to live in a society where we get respect. It's really possible. It's been done. It can be done again. :)
I have posted your second to last paragraph on my face book page, just to see what comments come back, its sometimes interesting to see what gets people commenting
what an unexpected delight!
I had looked at that series and read an article about the mummy babies, but alas, didn't have time to go. Glad to hear about it secondhand!
p.s. my comments are way down, too. Thought it was my new crappy commenting system that I can't figure out how to change out of without losing 5 years of comments, but maybe not....
"I notice that recent blogs seem to be drawing less interest - those of you who comment mean a lot to me."
I *always* read with interest (although sometimes a day late). I don't always have anything to say, but truly appreciate what you write.
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