Basra’s traditional copper industry is in decline

Basra's Safafeer market supplied households with kitchen utensils, and household and decorative items. (Reuters)

Inside Basra’s Safafeer market, once famous for its supplied households with kitchen utensils, as well as decorative items made of copper, now holds only one copper store.

Basra’s Safafeer market was famous regionally during the 1950s and 60s.
The name “Safafeer,” local Arabic for copper, remains, but today the traditional local copper industry is in decline and the market is dominated by shops selling nuts, spices and other foods and groceries.

Jassim Abdul Wahid, a coppersmith, owns the only coppersmith shop left in the market. He explains that copper pots, plates and lamps are being used less and less in Iraq.

“There were about six shops in al-Safafeer market. In the past, the copper market was very important because all the kitchen tools were made from copper including cooking pots and trays. But copper utensils started to disappear in the 60s. Imported utensils have eliminated them.”

Copper utensils are being used less frequently in Iraqi households and are now being replaced by cheaper materials like steel, aluminum and plastic.

Coppersmiths say that to make a living they have started to sell souvenirs or decorative items with scenic views of Iraq’s history or religious sites.

Some depict engravings of the Babylonian and Sumerian civilizations as well as Islamic inscriptions.

“We are proud of this profession. It is an original profession. But now, as you can see, all the copper wares are being turned into antiques - including wash basin, mashraba jugs, cooking pots and trays. They have turned into antiques. However, we keep this small shop. It is an old shop that dates back to 1922. As you see, all the shops in the market are now selling nuts, except for this shop because we take pride in this profession that was passed down from earlier generations,” Abu Wahid said.

Abbod Abbas, who runs a food shop, said he remembers the time when the copper industry was popular.

“All the kitchen utensils used in Basra in 1900, 1920, 1930 up to 1950 were made from copper. In the past, all the household utensils were made from copper. This market used to supply Basra with these utensils, but now all the shops in this market are selling nuts, children’s toys and other goods instead.”

There are three important copper markets left in Iraq - in Baghdad, Basra and Kerbala. However, the demand for copper has decline in all the markets.

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