Rather than portraying each zaouia as a separate blog entry I have decided to present them in groups. Here are zaouias I have visited over the last week or so. They are located in the vicinity of Akermoud and Telmest, almost the furthest that the bus travels north of Morocco. I am quite restricted by the bus times and must take the lighting conditions as I find them.
These are traditionally near the beginning of the Regraga pilgrimage; Sidi Bou Ali is the second zaouia to be visited in the Daour.
At dawn, the spirits are lit.
Listen to the whispers of the waves
Beautiful music, beautiful banner
To Sidi Mogdoul I’m heading
Great is the joy of Essaouira;
Beautiful girls, venerable old men,
All are hurrying in the middle of the paths …
The first and starting zaouia of the annual Regraga pilgrimage ( Daour ) is found at Akermoud, a small town to the north of Essaouira. The zaouia contains the catafalque of Sidi Abdellah ou Hmad, a Marabout saint.
The Regrega tribe leaders are the descendants of the saint apostles of Islam who, legend suggest, learnt the new religion of Islam on a visit to Mecca. Here they were told by the Prophet to spread Islam to the Maghreb. Every spring (March-April) the descendants carry out a pilgrimage which lasts 39 days and visits 44 sacred places in the region. Pilgrims visit a series of local shrines, from the mouth of the Tensift river south of Safi to the northern outskirts of the High Atlas, including the city of Essaouira .
It traditionally begins from the zaouia at Akermoud.
For the first time whilst visiting shrines in the Chiadme region I had come across stalls selling items either as souvenirs or for consumption at the shrine as part of a ritual. The shrine was in a small village called Sidi Abdeljalil some 3 kilometres from Talmest where the bus had dropped me. I then travelled to Sidi Abdeljalil by calèche, where the driver of the horse drawn cart allowed me to take the reins whilst he smoked a pipe of kiff.
The road was bumpy and twisty and the horse had a mind of its own. The minimal instructions I had received were woefully inadequate and I was relieved to pass the reins back following his smoke.
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.