It was almost 2 years ago that I was in Morocco on the occasion of the Muslim celebration of Eid al Adha, more commonly known as the Feast of Sacrifice, a celebration of significant importance in the Arab world which marks the end of the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
I had crossed into Africa by ferry from the Spanish port of Tarifa and completely by accident found myself at the beginning of the preparations for the festival in Tangier. Sheep and goats were herded through the city streets, loaded into cars and busses and chased through the colourful narrow streets of the medina. Adults and children were excited as the animals neared their own homes, children rushed to greet them and local families keenly watched as sheep and goats were tethered outside in the medina. Residential areas became temporary livestock quarters. In the Muslim cemetery adjacent to the strikingly green Marshan Mosque hundreds of feted but fey animals grazed on the grasses between gravestones, shepherds watching and ensuring their short term safety. Walking back into the city, the spinning wheels of grinding machines noisily announced the incipient celebration as men queued with knives at the roadside hardware shops lining the Avenue d’Anglettere.
“It is strange how few people make more than a casual cult of enjoying Nature. And yet the earth is actually and literally the mother of us all. One needs no strange spiritual faith to worship the earth.”
John Cowper Powys, A Glastonbury Romance, published 1933
It is perhaps a truism that disparate faiths sit uneasily together in West Penwith, Cornwall. Evidence of its strong Christian tradition, both Celtic and later, can be seen everywhere in its wild landscapes and its settlements. The latter contains its Methodist heritage, reflecting the impassioned ministry of John and Charles Wesley who undertook journeys of 7 days duration from London to Cornwall on horseback to preach both in natural ampitheatres and selected chapels.
Sit with me here at Porthgwarra
let’s listen to the bell in the buoy
and notice the way whatever we hadn’t noticed
is coming to rest in a greeny-blue interval
between the strike of one sour sea-note and the next.
“Sancreed is a land of stone circles and cave-dwellings, crosses and cromlechs, barrows and menhirs, Holy wells and ancient oratories. In no other part of the country are there so many relics of what is popularly called the prehistoric age. Myth and romance, legend and folklore gather about its grey stones. Where so much is hidden in the mists of antiquity, recourse must, on occasion, be had to conjecture in piecing together the story of the past.” (Anon)
The recent conflagration at Grenfell Tower in London seems destined to be one of those defining moments which socially and unconsciously resonate for generations. At its most simple ( if it can be described as such ) it is an indescribable tragedy where upwards of 80 people lost their lives. At its most complex, it can be seen as a metaphor for the ongoing battleground between political, social and economic groups at different ends of a spectrum, and for the reductionist set of values current political classes have displayed towards the most poor and disadvantaged within our society. That this battleground exists within one of the most affluent areas of the UK creates further almost unbearable tensions.
Although essentially a humanitarian tragedy, there is little chance it will be seen in any terms other than political. Clashes between council and housing organisations portraying extreme conservative ideology and a population group frustrated by continuing austerity and cutting safety corners predate this tragedy. Literally inflamed by resident’s concerns regarding safety being ignored for years by the same organisations, those angers and conflicts are currently visible during meetings between elected local government officials and representatives of the local tenants; early post-tragedy attempts to hold meetings behing closed doors suggested continuing extreme differences of opinion.
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, 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…)
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…)
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…)
‘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…)