Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Moroccan Sufi Festival - Sidi Ali (part two)

O 'Aisha! Rise and place yourself
in the service of Allah and the Prophet.

O Sire! Greetings to the Prophet.
Welcome O Lalla 'Aisha.

The altar is prepared.
O Lalla 'Aisha! O Gnawiyya!

Welcome, O Daughter of the river.
Allah! Allah! Lalla 'Aisha!

She has come! She has come!
She has come! Lalla 'Aisha!

Hahiya jat! Hahiya jat! Hahiya jat! Lalla 'Aisha
Preparing to enter the mausoleum

This is the second part of our account of the amazing ceremony held at the mountain village of Sidi Ali - where the faithful pay their respects at the mausoleum of the Sufi saint Sidi Ali ben Hamdush. Part one is a report on the daytime activities and can be found here: Sidi Ali part one.

A Hamadcha Lila

The Lila (ceremony) was scheduled to begin around nine in the evening, but at the last moment the musicians were summoned to a banquet given in their honour by the head of the guards at the Royal palace.

Fred Calmes (Yousef) the only other European at the hadra.

After a feast of whole chickens and a strange vermicelli spiced with cinnamon and sugar - we headed to the mausoleum of Sidi Ali where a huge crowd had gathered. It was now almost 11pm and I had to fight to stay awake as I had arrived in Morocco from Luton in the UK after rising at 3.30 am... it was turning into a very long day - and it was to get longer.

Warming the drums

After assembling in the street, the drummers warmed their drums on a charcoal fire while the army tried to sort out who were the invited guests and who was not. The desperation to get into the mausoleum was extraordinary and several women had to be ejected by force.

The ghiyyata players blast out the welcome..

Finally everything was in place and with a great blast of music we climbed the stairs and went inside where enormous carpets had been laid between the pillars at the entrance to the sanctuary where Sidi Ali Hamdush is buried.

The Hamadcha begin the lila

Outside those who could not get in were being entertained by smaller groups of musicians inducing trance in their dancers who swayed back and forth with small copies of the Koran in their mouths. A man, stripped to the waist and pierced with cactus thorns and pins offered his hand for alms and in the distance we could hear a Gnaoua Brotherhood beating out their familiar rhythms.

Opening prayers.

On arriving inside, we were greeted with the traditional dates and a glass of milk. Prayers and invocations (fatha and dikr) were chanted and then the main part of the ceremony began.

Woman in full trance.

As we have described in the earlier post about the lila held at Riad Zany ( see Sufi Night in Fez ) - the hadra (ecstatic dance) is divided into various sections called "hot" hadra or "cold" hadra and different people appear to react to totally different parts of the lila.

A woman in trance tries to free herself from a veil someone has thrown over her

Early on the night a number of women entered the hal state of trance and rabidly progressed to jidba where they no longer seem to be aware of the music. Some seem to be able to maintain this state for a long time, others collapse and are taken away to be splashed with orange-flower water to assist in the "cool down".

Two women in full jidba trance

Several times during the evening there was a short break during which the musicians drank mint tea and gathered their strength for the next section. By now some of the drummers hands were bleeding... but the exhilaration was such that nobody appeared to care.

Mint tea break (2 am)

Much later, at around 3 am, following the "cold" hadra, the lights were suddenly turned off leaving the room bathed in golden candle light. Then, with the ghiyyata at full volume, the chant went up calling the female djinn, (djinnyya) 'Aisha Qandisha, also known as Lalla 'Aisha.

Hahiya jat! Hahiya jat! Hahiya jat! Lalla 'Aisha
Two young girls at the point of collapse front of stage.

The transformation of the audience was instant and intense. Women rushed to sprinkle the floor with orange-flower water, then fell to their knees and crawled and swayed until they passed out. Others simply danced until they fell. The atmosphere in the room was electric with the presence of Lalla 'Aisha.

At around 4 am the lights came back on, the closing prayers were chanted and we trooped out into the night - the lila was over. When dawn came up we completed the pilgrimage to Lalla Aisha's grotto and her spring... but that is a story for another day.

To see part one of this extraordinary festival visit: Hamadcha Festival Part One

All pictures: Sandy McCutcheon.


BO18 said...

And again a wonderful post.
The pictures are just magnificent!

What amazes me most, is the ethnic diversity in the pictures. Ethnic as in "skin-colour" and appearance.

Anonymous said...

Hi, a great photo reportage!
I've seen that this blog is under a CC license, but nevertheless I'd like to ask the permission to re-post this reportage, photos included, and other reportage of yours on "www.theViewPoint.org" and, translated in Italian, on "www.dalMondo.info"? As usual, I'll cite the author of text and photos, linking also your site. Please give a look at theViewPoint.org, and contact me at: the.ViewPoint (at) gmail.com. Thanks a lot Giovanni B.