Egyptian Rag

from by David Rovics



It was a shocking discovery for me a few months ago that most paper made during the latter half of the nineteenth century in the US was derived from what they called Egyptian Rag. Which consisted of the cloth that hundreds of millions of dead Egyptians were wrapped in for burial over the course of four thousand years. Digging up their bodies was, for decades, an industry in Egypt, fuelled by the paper industry in the state of Maine.


People are mysterious, they have many mysterious ways
For four thousand years in Egypt, when someone reached the end of their days
They'd be carried out to the desert, preserved in an oily broth
And they'd be buried beneath the ground wrapped in twenty pounds of cloth
And they called it Egyptian Rag

People are mysterious, some mysteries last a while
With half a billion people buried in the sands beyond the Nile
So when the British came to build a railway connecting west to east
With every trench they dug, they unearthed the deceased
Wrapped up in Egyptian Rag

People are mysterious, like one wealthy man in Maine
Who heard about these mummies discovered as the British built their train
He formed a corporation to make good use of this find
He sent steam ships across the water where there were graveyards to be mined
Filled with Egyptian Rag

People are mysterious, where there is money to be made
By turning linen into paper in the body-snatching trade
The boats were sent across the sea for fifty years or more
Shipping cargo over to the New England shore
Filled with Egyptian Rag

People are mysterious, and in the paper mills they thought
There was something strange about these tons of cloth they were brought
For they'd throw it on the floor and wonder at what they were seeing
As the linen sprang into the shape of a human being
And they called it Egyptian Rag

People are mysterious, and we may never know
All the many consequences of what we reap and what we sow
But next time you hold a book printed in the nineteenth century
If you believe there is a God, perhaps you want to pray for mercy
For what they once called Egyptian Rag


from Into A Prism, released July 2, 2013




David Rovics Portland, Oregon

"Absolutely brilliant. David Rovics says exactly what needs to be said."
Ian McMillan, BBC


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