Female Mourners from the Papyrus of Ani
Ani, held numerous titles including, “True Scribe of the King; His Beloved Scribe”, as well as “Overseer of the Double Granary of the Lord of Tawer”.
Ani’s famous papyrus is one of the best preserved documents from Ancient Egypt, and is known as the Book of the Dead. A Book of the Dead is a scroll full of spells and incantations and prayers, to help Ani on his journey through the Afterlife and toward the Field of Reeds.
Egyptians of enough wealth and status were buried alongside their own personal version, which included images of themselves and their loved ones. The Papyrus of Ani was discovered in Qena, Egypt, and is currently on display at the British Museum (EA10470,6). The papyrus dates from the 19th Dynasty.
This scene in particular, showcases a group of women with streams of tears rolling down their cheeks, displaying an agonizing grief for the deceased Ani at his funeral procession. These were professional mourners, who would join the funeral of the royals and elite. They would pull their hair, hold their hands to their face, and slap their chests in a display of sadness.
It is possible these women lived together, as in the Old Kingdom, a place called The Acacia House in Heliopolis, was believed to be an institution for the female mourners and ritual dancers.
It is possible and thought of by some scholars that Queen Neferu II, the Queen and wife of Mentuhotep II was one of these women, but for now there is no certifiable proof, other than the depiction of an Acacia tree within her tomb (TT319).
“A career in mourning was followed by many ancient Egyptian women. Those who could afford it employed professional mourners to grieve openly about the house while the dead person was being mummified, a process which took seventy days, and to follow the funeral cortège to the tomb. The mourning took the form of casting dust on the head, rending clothes and scratching cheeks while wailing.
Judging from tomb-paintings, the profession of mourner could start at an early age: in the tomb of Ramose at Thebes, for example, a group of mourning women has in its midst a very young girl. All are standing with upraised arms and obviously shrieking as loudly as they can – just as women in Egypt mourn today.”
— Women in Ancient Egypt, by Barbara Watterson (#aff)