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 Hamachda 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.

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Sidi Magdoul,  the Scottish Saint of Essaouira

Sidi Magdoul, the Scottish Saint of Essaouira

At the furthest southern edge of Essaouira a large marabout tomb is becoming increasingly suffocated by creeping modernity. Once isolated it is now hemmed in by a sewage works, a complex of roads, industrial buildings and several large modern houses. This cacophony of progress diminishes much of the visual sanctity of the shrine.

I have visited previously on several occasions, walking firstly alongside Essaouira’s modern concrete beach promenade towards the small lighthouse before cutting a little inland where the shrine is found. Its green dome and grey crenellated walls, suggestive of a fortress rather than a shrine, manage to still be seen within the urban chaos around it. On the two occasions I have visited previously I had not managed to gain entry to the building from the family living at the site; this time I resolved to be a little more assertive.

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Sidi Kaouki : A Marabout Shrine on the Atlantic Coast of Morocco

Sidi Kaouki : A Marabout Shrine on the Atlantic Coast of Morocco

Sidi Kaouki is a small town on the windswept Atlantic coast of west Morocco.  Some 25 miles south of Essaouira, its long golden sands and dashing surf make it a favourite for surfers and windsurfers.  There is a collection of stylish hotels, surfing and windsurfing schools,  and lines of drying wetsuits around its environs, which attest to this interest.

Standing at the top of the beach,  close to the coterie of cafes and shops,  is a marabout shrine.  Here the white building  rises from the sandy beach as the largest structure close to the shoreline.  This particular type of building is known as a Koubba,  or Koubbeh,  which is Arabic for dome or cupola.  It specifically refers to a monument erected on the grave of a revered figure,  or in a place where he ( or she ) stayed or lived.

These monuments occur mainly in North Africa and consist of a spherical dome built on a square, cubist building which forms a room,  often decorated, which houses the tomb of a saint.  They are normally quite small buildings,  their size rarely exceeding 4 meters square.

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