The Spider’s House : Betrayal in Quarter Andalus

The Spider’s House : Betrayal in Quarter Andalus

“The likeness of those who choose other patrons than Allah is as the likeness of the spider when she taketh unto herself a house, and lo! the frailest of all houses is the spider’s house, if they but knew.”
Qu’ran.

Paul Bowles’ novel, The Spider’s House,  describes the political situation in Fes during 1954.  Tensions had been mounting in Morocco during the 1950s and, as the French in Morocco attacked the Sultan, his popularity grew. The French, allied with traditionalist leaders hostile to the reformist and nationalistic elites of the Istiqlal party, tried to play off one side against the other. Riots in Casablanca at the end of 1952 ushered in the era of mass politics, and the Sultan was accused of being one of the main causes for the deteriorating situation. By Aug. 20, 1953, despite the opposition of Paris, the French in Morocco deposed the Sultan, who refused to abdicate his throne. He and his family were exiled to Madagascar, where they remained for 3 years.

In Morocco the failure of the royal deposition became quickly clear. The Moroccans considered the new puppet sultan, Moulay Arafa, a usurper. Acts of terrorism multiplied, and insecurity spread throughout the country. The French in Morocco retaliated with repression and violence, while liberal politicians in Paris actively worked for a solution. When the Glaoui rallied to the cause of Mohammed V, all opposition to the exile’s return melted away, and on Nov. 16, 1955, the Sultan regained Morocco and was greeted by delirious crowds. On March 2, 1956, Morocco received its independence. Mohammed V became the chief of state, and his son Moulay Hassan took command of the army.

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Become Nothing and He’ll Turn You Into Everything

Become Nothing and He’ll Turn You Into Everything

There are only three religious buildings in Fes and Meknes which can legitimately be visited by non-Muslims.  These are the Al-Attarine and the Bounania in Fes,  and the Bounania in Meknes.  All three buildings are Madrasa,  or religious educational buildings,  and were built in the 14th century.  The Bounania in Fes has a double role as a functioning mosque,  and a part of the complex is off-limits to non-Muslims.

Rather than providing a monologue about each building and its history,  which can easily be found online,  I have provided a selection of random quotes covering a wide range of perspectives relating to Islam to accompany the images.  Some are more controversial than others and most apply to Islam generally rather than specifically Morocco..

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Art in the Streets of Essaouira

Art in the Streets of Essaouira

These are photographs taken on my perambulations around Essaouira in between projects I had set myself. This was the end of my trip and I was feeling quite jaded, so there are not as many images as I would have liked. The colours of Essaouira are quite beautiful so I am sure I will return and enjoy myself further.  I briefly explain where in the city these were taken and any other brief relevant information.

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Historic Catastrophe : the Agony of Essaouira

Historic Catastrophe : the Agony of Essaouira

Much of the available online literature provides a positive description of Jewish/Arabic settlement in Morocco,  suggesting a substantial legacy of intra-racial tolerance,  accord and cultural harmony.  Indeed,  Morocco seems to be advertising this positive relationship in its marketing and promotional campaigns to attract tourists from Arab, Christian and Jewish diasporas.  The specific qualities that a Jewish workforce brought to Morocco ( including banking,  usery,  jewel-making and contacts with the West ) were considered invaluable to Morocco’s economic expansion and world trade by former sultans.

But is this portrayal true?  What really was the relationship between the originally settled Jewish communities across the Mahgreb and Arab invaders?   What agreements and covenants were agreed and signed to facilitate peace and ordered co-habitiation?   What socio/economic/political factors influenced that relationship and the lifestyle of Jews under Arab rule?  Does a better understanding of the experiences of Jews living in Arab controlled countries and under Arab dominion for almost a thousand years contribute to a broader understanding of the Arabic-Jewish debate?

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A Tale of Harira in Meknes

A Tale of Harira in Meknes

Link to a full Gallery of images here.

The low concrete dwelling was as white as the line of old tombs to its right, sepulchres built into the tall medina wall which formed one boundary of the old cemetery. A young boy emerged from the dwelling and approached me, his  body appearing to lope rather than walk,  his eyes cast mostly downwards.  Another child emerged from the white dwelling and made her way towards us.  In contrast she walked straight up to me, looked me in the eye, and in a moment of young feminine purpose extended her arm palm open, smiled disarmingly and asked me without any shame whatsoever for ‘l’argent’.

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Ethno-Psychiatry and the Hamadcha

Ethno-Psychiatry and the Hamadcha

The man laying on the rich carpet welcomed me into the the Hamadcha Zaouia in Essaouira.   After determining my nationalty he proceeded to tell me in English about the psychological and spiritual healing role the Hamadcha confrere traditionally enjoys within Moroccon folk ethnology.

Just several hours before he had been one member of a collective of musicians and dancers performing in the Place de l’Horlage as part of the 2019 Gnaoua Musiques de Monde festival in Essaouira, Morocco.  In the small square under the old clock tower the ensemble performed for forty minutes in front of a enthralled mostly Moroccan audience.  Approximately 2 minutes of the early part of the performance is captured below.

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Kadisha,  Amazigh Artist of Essaouira

Kadisha, Amazigh Artist of Essaouira

The woman in the worn green jellaba and distinct Amazigh features is in her early forties. She cuts a striking figure as she moves from person to person in the cafes around Place Moulay Hassan clutching a bunch of curling papers in her right hand. She insists that everybody view these papers; they are her art works and her raison d’etre.

Kadisha, born locally in El Hanchane,  says she has always lived in Essaouira. She tells me that she paints most days, buying paint and paper for 2 dirhams from the local stationers. Her art is always on A3 paper, is always portraits and often from her imagination.

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Sidi Magdoul,  the Scottish Saint of Essaouira

Sidi Magdoul, the Scottish Saint of Essaouira

At the furthest southern edge of Essaouira a large marabout tomb is becoming increasingly suffocated by creeping modernity. Once isolated it is now hemmed in by a sewage works, a complex of roads, industrial buildings and several large modern houses. This cacophony of progress diminishes much of the visual sanctity of the shrine.

I have visited previously on several occasions, walking firstly alongside Essaouira’s modern concrete beach promenade towards the small lighthouse before cutting a little inland where the shrine is found. Its green dome and grey crenellated walls, suggestive of a fortress rather than a shrine, manage to still be seen within the urban chaos around it. On the two occasions I have visited previously I had not managed to gain entry to the building from the family living at the site; this time I resolved to be a little more assertive.

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