We Shall Not Cease From Exploration…

We Shall Not Cease From Exploration…

UNFINISHED POST

We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.

Little Gidding T.S. Elliott

It may seem incongruous to entitle a page about Islamic and African culture with a quote originating from the heart of English literature. There are however substantial reasons for doing so which relate mainly to my own cultural orientation and state of mind.  I need to extricate myself a little from affiliation with Morocco.

I have now spent a long time in Morocco,  travelling down from the north and visiting interesting sites along the way.  My main focus has been visiting Sufi shrines and tombs often associated with zaouias as well as exploring the role of healing illness through music.  The two areas are however inter-connected; it is predominantly the Sufi brotherhoods through networks of zaouias which perform traditional healing music.  An important addition to this group is the Gnaoua who have no Sufi heritage.  Instead they bring ritual and belief from middle Africa and transpose their animist culture into the melange which is multi-ethnic Islamic Morocco.  Essentially they perform the same healing role as the Sufi brotherhoods.

The underlying assumption shared across these groups is that invisible spirits range widely throughout society,  mostly replicating the lifestyle of humans in their own dimension.  Some spirits are considered capricious and hostile and are believed to decide to inhabit or occupy humans which can cause illness,  or ‘malady’.  The presence of these spirits are given validity by references regarding their creation in the Qu’ran;  they are formed from ‘smokeless fire’ whereas humans are formed from ‘clay’. The Qu’ran provides further details about hierarchies of spirits which suggest differentials in terms of associated strengths and powers.  Although the more powerful have individual names and significant personality traits, these spirits are collectively called Djinns ( masculine ) and Djnniyya  ( female ); and their presence and capability of possession is found right across the Islamic world.

A further assumption shared across these groups is that music,  ritual,  prayer and animal sacrifice can propitiate the djinn and,  inter alia, bring remedy and peace to the afflicted. These are traditional methods of treating illness within a Moroccan society where educaton, money or access to conventional medicine has largely been historically minimised.  With modernity now in Morocco,  things should have changed.  Have they?

(more…)

Of Love Between Saints and a Jinniyya

Of Love Between Saints and a Jinniyya

You know that you have arrived at the correct destination when the hotel proprietor seriously enquires whether you would like to sacrifice a sheep the following day in  the grotto of Lalla Aisha.  I had arrived at possibly the  strangest place yet on my travels through Morocco.

The small town of Beni Rashid on the Zerhoun mountain is better known as Sidi Ali,  named after the 17th century sufi saint Sidi Ali ben Hamdush.  His tomb lies in his zaouia in a small gulley at the edge of the town looking out over the fertile valley where Meknes can be seen in the distance.   Of more significant interest is that Sidi Ali is bound by legend to another sufi saint,  Sidi Ahmad Dghoughi,  his disciple and servant,  who is buried in the nearby village of Beni Ouarad,  and that they are both bound by legend to a hostile but beautiful female spirit ( jinniya ) called Aisha Qandisha.

It is a love triangle with a difference;  the legend describes how Sidi Ali’s baraka was transferred to Sidi Ahmed upon his death, how the Hamadsha brotherhood obtained its traditional ‘hal’,  that is ecstatic dance,  how music and its healing role of people came into being,  how the Hamadsha acquired its self-harming behaviours once in trance,   and finally how the she-devil Aisha Qandisha became an integrated and indivisible part of the Hamadsha Sufi traditions.

The legend also describes the genesis of the cultural-medico concept of Ethno-Psychiatry where ecstatic dance and spirit expulsion,  sometimes facilitated  by animal sacrifice,  has traditionally been first choice for treating a range of illnesses in Morocco.

(more…)

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.

(more…)