We Shall Not Cease From Exploration…

We Shall Not Cease From Exploration…


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?


Medinas  and Colour in Morocco

Medinas and Colour in Morocco

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.