Photos: Tunisia’s coppersmiths put a shine on Ramadan
Getting a professional polishing of family copper before the Islamic holy fasting month is a long-held custom in Tunisia.
The eve of Ramadan is a frantic time for Tunisian coppersmith Chedli Maghraoui, who skilfully puts a new shine on families’ favourite kitchenware before the Muslim holy month starts.
From couscous pots to beloved tea sets, the metalware gets a polish from the 69-year-old craftsman who labours away on his own at his workshop in the Medina (old city) of Tunis.
The pre-Ramadan rush is busy, so much so that he has to politely decline some customers: “I can’t do it – I still have other orders and, as you can see, I’m working alone.”
Maghraoui scrubs items and uses a method known as hot-dip tinning where he coats the copper with a thin layer of tin to stop metal oxidation, after which the pots gleam like new.
As he reconditions a well-loved pewter piece, he fans an oven fire that heats a pot with the object inside, before brushing it and plunging it into a large bucket of water.
Tunisian women often receive copper or white copper gifts when they get married, or inherit the items from their mothers. Many bring their beloved heirlooms to Maghraoui to protect them a little longer.
“The tradition reminds me of good times as a child when my mother would prepare for the holy month,” said Sana Boukhris, 49, an accountant.
“There is blessing in these things I inherited from my mother.”
Dalila Boubaker, a housewife, said she could only afford to get two pots polished up for Ramadan this year as households across Tunisia struggle with inflation and high unemployment.
“Everything has become so expensive,” sighed Boubaker.
Abdejlil Ayari, who has worked as a coppersmith in the Medina for 48 of his 60 years, said the run-up to Ramadan is always intense.
“People prepare to have their kitchenware treated before Ramadan so … the kitchen looks good and women enjoy their pots,” he said.
Trade is also brisk for beautiful old pieces in the Souk En-Nahhas (copper market), where some 50 shops sell reconditioned coffee makers, teapots, incense burners and cups.
Demand is so high that “we’re not taking orders anymore”, said Mabrouk Romdhane, 82, who owns three shops in the market in the heart of the Medina.
Ayari said he learned the trade from his father before he was even a teenager, but he now worries that few young people want to follow in his footsteps.
Maghraoui, who bought his workshop 20 years ago from someone who had inherited it but didn’t want it, agreed.
“Each death among my colleagues is a loss for this profession and a step towards its disappearance,” he said.
Maghraoui held out the palms of his hands, the skin cracked and blackened from his trade, and said: “This generation wants an easy job and doesn’t like having this.”