Moulay Bouzerktoun

Moulay Bouzerktoun

Some 20 kilometres north of Essaouira is the small village of Moulay Bouzerktoun,  named after the Marabout of the same name.  His mausoleum/zaouia is part of a mosque complex founded on the top of a cliff looking over the Atlantic ocean.

Little seems to be known about his life.  His tomb is included in the annual Regraga,  a month long pilgrimage around the Sufi tombs of the local tribes.

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Pilgrimage : Moulay Brahim and the Gnaoua

Pilgrimage : Moulay Brahim and the Gnaoua

“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

The young girl got up from the cushion and stood beside the figure in colourful, flowing robes already dancing directly in front of the line of musicians. The low monotone of the hajhuj and the rhythmic clacking of the qraqebs crackled through the cold November air.  She imbibed heavily from a white cloud of burning incense and a cloth of colour was placed over her head. Blind, her own dance joined that of the dancing figure beside her.

The girl was endeavouring to cure or treat a ‘malady’ of some description,  either by invoking or pleasing benevolent spirits or by propitiating malicious ones.  She was entering trance,  a dissociative state which permits the fording of dimensions between this world and the world of the troublesome, mischievous jinn.

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Flateurville : A Quietly Gallic Revolution

Flateurville : A Quietly Gallic Revolution

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.

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Dâr Damânah  :  Residence of the Shareefa of Ouezzane

Dâr Damânah : Residence of the Shareefa of Ouezzane

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.

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The Sufi Shrines of Ouezzane

The Sufi Shrines of Ouezzane

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.

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