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.
The woman in the worn green jellaba and distinct Amazigh features is in her early forties. She cuts a striking figure as she moves from person to person in the cafes around Place Moulay Hassan clutching a bunch of curling papers in her right hand. She insists that everybody view these papers; they are her art works and her raison d’etre.
Kadisha, born locally in El Hanchane, says she has always lived in Essaouira. She tells me that she paints most days, buying paint and paper for 2 dirhams from the local stationers. Her art is always on A3 paper, is always portraits and often from her imagination.
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.
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.
Many cities of any size in Morocco have a Medina ‘quarter’; these are distinct city sections which are often the oldest part of the city, walled, with maze like streets and relatively car free. Many cultural, historical and architecturally interesting features can be found in medinas.
A stimulating and visually interesting aspect of walking Moroccan medinas is viewing the colours and street art used to decorate the many alleys and lanes. More than just brightening up inner city thoroughfares it has been suggested that colours are used intentionally as tourist and cultural branding exercises, and that cities are recognised often internationally due to their colours. Examples of this are Chefchaouen, world famous for its blue walls, and Marrakesh, well known for its red colour. Other reasons and explanations for the adoption of colour schemes include reflecting local natural colours, influences from local or national religious associations, regional cultural influences and influence of colour from sub-saharan African contexts.