Some 20 kilometers north of Essaouira is the small village of Moulay Bouzerktoun
“You will fly over the ocean,” he continued, “by the power of baraka, the blessing of Sidi Moulay Brahim, tair lajbal, indicating the spirit bird that flies over the Atlas Mountains”
Memoir of a Berber by Hassan Ouakrim
These examples of graffiti were photographed around the medina and harbour in Essaouira.
Souks and markets are common in Morocco. Here are some photographs taken late in the day from Jotiya flea market, north of the Madina at Essaouira, and next to the Atlantic ocean.
The artist’s studio overlooking the swell of the Atlantic ocean one mile north of Bab Doukalla, Essaouira, is just one part of an idiosyncratic and quietly eccentric art installation which stretches across the world. The installation has been gradually developed and nurtured over the last 15 years and, although now international, its central heartland resolutely remains in France, its other locations co-connected for long periods by the modernity of video and internet.
The installation is quite unique; it is an imaginary and borderless city.
Green is the colour of Islam and olives; Ouezzane has both in abundance. Its ancient medina, painted green throughout, is testament to both its Sufi heritage, and associated Quranic link with olive trees, and its cultivation of olive trees locally. In the Quran green is associated with paradise.
Last light of day at Essaouira harbour, when colours change and the world becomes a slightly different place.
Below are extracts from ‘My Life Story, Emily the Shareefa of Wazan’, the remarkable account of Emily Keene’s marriage to the Sharif of Wazzan, Hadj Ahmed Ben Abdeslam, an exalted and powerful religious leader in Morocco directly descended from the Prophet Mohammad, published in 1912.
Arriving in Tangiers aged 21 in 1871, she married the Sharif 2 years later, bore him 2 sons and they divorced 14 years later. They lived mostly in the Dâr Damânah, the zaouia and her own house in Tangiers, as well as occasionally in zaouias in Algeria. His former wives and children from those earlier marriages lived in Ouezzane.
The Sharif of Wazzan, Hadj Ahmed Ben Abdeslam, died in 1891 at the zaouia Wazzâniyyah in Tangiers with Emily by his side.
These extracts provide fascinating insights into both their lives together and society in Morocco at that time, including the beginning of their relationship, the birth of their first born son Moulay Ali ben Abdeslam, who was to succeed his father as the Sharif in 1891, the death and funeral of Lalla Heba, the Sharif’s daughter from a former marriage, their own marital decline, separation and eventual divorce. The unique spiritual and secular role of the Sharif, his relationship with his followers and provision for the poor is described. The Sharifian dynasty and the origins of the town of Ouezzane is explained. Information regarding the creation of the concept of Dâr Damânah, the House of Surety, is also provided. Also some of the common superstitions and cures of the day are considered.
Finally the Sharif’s death and burial, and Emily’s experience of that, is movingly documented.
Emily Keene died in 1944 in Tangiers. A commemoration plate can be found in St Andrews church in Tangiers and she is interred in the cemetery of the Dâr Damânah in the Marshan.
The photographs in between the quotations are of the courtyard garden of Dâr Damânah in Ouezzane, taken in September 2019.
Walter Harris, the adventurer and author, in his 19th century travelogue ‘The Land of an African Sultan: Travels in Morocco’, described Ouezzane as “the most fanatical town that Europeans may visit”. Things may have become less frenetic since his comments, though there is no doubting the Sufi heritage and spiritual sufferance that continues to exist there.
Sufism is a form of mystical and aesthetic Islam, where adherents strive to become close to god through a series of rituals, practices and experiences which slightly differ according to the brotherhood or Sufi order belonged to. It is considered to encourage a more personalised and intimate relationship with Allah. Some brotherhoods have a traditional healing role. The Sharifs of Ouezzane are one of the most prestigious and influential of all the brotherhoods; they are considered direct descendants of Mohamed. The town, its many saints and shrines, has long been one of the most important centres of pilgrimage in Morocco both for Muslims and for Jews.
The taxi driver in the transport hub city of Ksar el-Kebir said he knew the way to Bachir’s house in the village of Joujouka/Jajouka.
Liesbeth van Roij and I had decided to see what remains of the legend of the Master Musicians of Joujouka/Jajouka, and had travelled, via Tetouan and Larache, to Ksar el-Kebir by bus from Chefchaouen. The remaining part of the journey was undertaken by grand taxi, from the taxi rank at the edge of the city, and along the small R410 past olive trees and small villages into the hills of the Ahl-Serif southern Rif mountains. The mountains are named after the local tribe of the same name.