Seven Saints of St Pauls

Seven Saints of St Pauls

In 1948 the Empire Windrush docked in Kingston, Jamaica, to pick up Carribean servicemen who were on leave. The recently introduced British Nationality Act 1948 gave British citizenship to all people living in Commonwealth countries, and full rights of entry and settlement in Britain.

An advertisement was placed in a Jamaican newspaper offering cheap transport on the ship for anybody who wanted to come and work in the UK and many former servicemen took this opportunity to return to Britain with the hopes of rejoining the RAF: others decided to make the journey just to see what England was like. The resulting group of 492 immigrants famously began a wave of migration from the Caribbean to the UK, and as a result the name Windrush has come to be used as shorthand for that migration, and by extension for the beginning of modern British multicultural society. (more…)

Midsummer’s Eve Bonfire Chapel Carn Brea

Midsummer’s Eve Bonfire Chapel Carn Brea

Midsummer, also known as St John’s Day, is recognised on June 24th by the Christian Church June as the feast day of the early Christian martyr St John the Baptist, and the observance of St John’s Day begins the evening before, known as St John’s Eve.

Traditional Midsummer bonfires are still lit on some high hills in Cornwall.  This tradition was revived by the Old Cornwall Society in the early 20th century.

The ancient festival was first described by Dr William Borlase in 1754 in his book Antiquities of Cornwall.

“In Cornwall, the festival Fires, called Bonfires, are kindled on the Eve of St. John the Baptist and St. Peter’s Day; and Midsummer is thence, in the Cornish tongue, called ‘Goluan,’ which signifies both light and rejoicing. At these Fires the Cornish attend with lighted torches, tarr’d and pitch’d at the end, and make their perambulations round their Fires, and go from village to village carrying their torches before them; and this is certainly the remains of the Druid superstition, for ‘faces praeferre,’ to carry lighted torches, was reckoned a kind of Gentilism, and as such particularly prohibited by the Gallick Councils: they were in the eye of the law ‘accensores facularum,’ and thought to sacrifice to the devil, and to deserve capital punishment.” (more…)

Moons Reflecting Light

Moons Reflecting Light

The photographs here and on the associated Gallery were taken over the Summer Solstice recently in West Penwith, Cornwall. The title of this blog post is taken from the Martha Tilston song Who Turns, found on her Lucy and the Wolves cd.

The song is a meditation on the meaning of life and everything, using the metaphor of moonlight to suggest that we are more than just hapless creatures on the treadmill of life.   Martha suggests that we all have a freedom and glory to our existence we may not currently realise.

The song’s refrain summarises this struggle :

How long, how many more will come
How long before we get it right
Who turns the wheel,
Are we all moons reflecting light? (more…)

Chefchaouen Blue City : New Book

Chefchaouen Blue City : New Book

Following considerable time spent in Morocco, and the accumulation of many images, it became compelling to try to undertake a more permanent presentation of some of the photographs taken. The most moving experience for me was the time spent in Chefchaouen, in the Rif mountains, where the city is predominently painted in variants of the colour blue. It is thought that this application of blue was started by Jewish inhabitants who considered blue to be closer to heaven, and the colour was applied liberally throughout the city. There is also considerable parts of the nearby coastal city Essaouira painted blue, and this is a city recognised as the site of primary occupation of Jewish communities throughout Morocco. Perhaps there is a correlation.

My time in Chefchaouen was made infinitely more cheerful by staying within a traditional Moroccan building called the Small White Palace. (more…)

Seven Saints of Marrakesh

Seven Saints of Marrakesh

‘Saints’ in Morocco have a very different interpretation than those in Europe.  In Morocco saints can be ordinary people who had a lifetime of ‘doing good’.  Saints can be either rich or poor,  educated or uneducated, employed or unemployed,  living within a home or homeless.  They are considered to have ‘ lights of guidance because of the blessings that Allah showered upon them’.

The whole notion of wandering saints in Morocco fascinated me when I first visited Morocco.  A vision of marabouts walking the countryside,  giving solace to the poor and medicinal aid to the unwell,  and then eventually dying and having a tomb built over their resting place was intriguing.  Further reading,  predominantly Realm of the Saint : Power and Authority in Moroccan Sufism by Vincent J Cornell has replaced that idea with a more accurate picture of what the evidence suggests;  Moroccan ‘saints’ had a spiritual role,  that of “substitute of the prophets” (known as walaya),  though not entirely representative of traditional Islamic interpretation .  Their other role comprised that of political and local ‘fixers’ (wilaya),  settling disputes and often representing the poor against rapacious Shas and tribal chiefs,  treading a delicate line between influencing powerful landowners and doing what was possible for the disadvantaged.

Many were fortunate enough to travel and enjoy a good education,  spending time either in el Andalus or the wider Islamic community, before returning and living a life of relative isolation, though often within a Sufi social and spiritual framework of a specific community.  Rarely did they ‘wander’ across Morocco. (more…)

The Sacred and the Profane : Gnaoua and World Music Festival, Essaouira, 2016

The Sacred and the Profane : Gnaoua and World Music Festival, Essaouira, 2016

Choosing between the sacred and the profane has always been problematic; making that choice at an African music festival is a particularly difficult decision.

The Gnaoua and World Music Festival at Essaouira, Morocco, is a unique opportunity to see and enjoy animist African culture embedded within an Islamic country. Gnaoua music is widely considered to have been introduced to Morocco from sub-saharan Africa when Sultan Moulay Ismail  introduced thousands of slaves to form his Black Guard armies. (more…)

Mellah Essaouira

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A mellah  is a walled Jewish quarter of a city in Morocco,  analogous to the European ghetto.  Jewish population were confined to mellahs in Morocco beginning from the 15th century and especially since the early 19th century. It first was seen as a privilege and a protection against the Arabs’ attacks in the region, but with the growing of the population, it then became a poor and miserable place.

In cities, a mellah was surrounded by a wall with a fortified gateway. Usually, the Jewish quarter was situated near the royal palace or the residence of the governor, in order to protect its inhabitants from recurring riots due to its inhabitants playing a vital role in the local economy. In contrast, rural mellahs were separate villages inhabited solely by the Jews.

The mellah is now one of the poorest neighborhoods in Essaouira, located within the walls in the northern part of the medina.  Jews came to Essaouira for the wealth of the port and the trade opportunities it offered,  taking advantage of attractive incentives to handle the trade with Europe by Mohammed 111 in the 18th century.  Jews once comprised 40% of the population, and the mellah contains many old synagogues.  The city flourished until the caravan trade died, supplanted by direct European trade with sub-Saharan Africa.

 

Zaouia Aïssaoua,  Essaouira

Zaouia Aïssaoua, Essaouira

Despite its less traditional interpretation of Muslim faith, Morocco remains a devout country. Mosques remain the centres where Islam is worshipped, but a series of other religious institutions, called Zaouias, have an immersive spiritual and civic role. These are often formed around a particular saint or Sidi and maintained by that person’s family.

A variety of spiritual, cultural and civic activities occur at these centres. Reflecting the spiritual nature of traditional Gnawa music, two Zawiyas hosted a number of concerts over the Gnawa festival.  These events started at 11pm and lasted about 3 hours. They took the form of shorter ‘lilas’, where music, incense, dance and trance encourages personal transformation and relief from either illness or spirit-possession. Possession by djinns ( bad spirits ) remains a commonly held belief today.

These photographs depict members of the Zaouia Aïssaoua preparing for the procession and opening of the 19th Gnaoua and World Music Festivalcommencing 12th May 2016 at Essaouira.  I had visited most of the zouias in Essaouri several days earlier and this particular brotherhood was the most welcoming of all,  inviting me back to watch their preparations.
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Maalem Mokhtar Guinea

Maalem Mokhtar Guinea

Mokhtar Guinea is the youngest member of a Gnawa dynesty. Son of great maalem Boubker–an iconic figure of Gnaoui music, brother of Mahmoud and grandson of Gnaoui Ba Massoud, maalem Mokhtar Guinea performs across the globe.

Here are photographs of him performing at the hotel Cap Sim in Essaouira as part of the 2016 Gnawa and World Music Festival.

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