Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Moroccan Sufi Festival - Sidi Ali (part one)

Thanks to Allah and Sidi Ali
you will receive bread that
is not prepared by the hands
of men - but by the hands of angels.

The View from Fez was privileged to be invited to the tiny rural village of Sidi Ali near Meknes for the musem (festival) of the saint of the Hamadcha Brotherhood - Sidi Ali ben Hamdush. Below is a photo diary of the event with brief descriptions.

The mausoleum of Sidi Ali

We arrived just before three in the afternoon to find the entire village in festival mood. Thousands of people crowded the streets, various different brotherhoods were performing, each followed by throngs of supporters. Sheep, goats and chickens were on sale for sacrificing while other stalls were doing a roaring trade in orange flower water - the reason for which I was soon to discover. Every possible space had been taken up by people selling trinkets or applying henna designs.

A woman walking while her henna dries

There was little time to enjoy the festival as we had to find our lodgings and get dressed for the procession which our brotherhood was to lead. The place allocated to us was a former hammam (bathhouse) with beautiful cavernous rooms.

Our headquarters in an old hammam

Back out in the street, the Hamadcha Brotherhood's flags were attached to poles and the final touches added to our costumes of red djellaba and hats. All that we needed now was for the bull to arrive and we would be off.

The "head-smasher" after the first pot ...

While we waited the crowd gathered around in huge numbers and directly behind us a chant went up and a young man in hal (trance) began throwing a huge pottery urn high in the air - after catching it several times he let it smash on his head - and then repeated it until his face was streaming with blood.

Waiting to begin...

Preparing for the procession

The bull started down through the winding streets of the souq and began what was to be a three and a half hour journey that would normally have taken ten minutes to walk.

Waiting for the bull...

Finally the bull was ready and with the banners unfurled and a security detail of police and army personnel, the music began and we set off making our way very, very slowly.

All along the street we were showered with orange-flower water and joined by women driven to dance by the constant rhythm of the music. It was extraordinary to watch the number of people who went almost directly into hal (trance ) - even some of those standing in shops along the route.

A woman in a robot-like trance joins the procession

A butcher's assistant in deep trance

A butcher showers us with orange-flower water

At one point the crowd was so thick that moving forward was impossible ( even the huge bull was stuck!) and the army moved in and pushed people out of our way. While we were waiting the musicians gave their drums to a stallholder to warm over a fire to make the skins tighter.

Warming a drum over a charcoal fire

A small section of the massive crowd.

Eventually we arrived at the mausoleum of Sidi Ali ben Hamdush and went inside to prepare for the evening lila (ceremony). The report on the lila will follow.

There are also photographs and description of the lilla at Riad Zany - Sufi Night at Riad Zany.

Go here to visit the next part of the lila


RedShoes said...

شكرا جزيل shukr'an bezef for the account. It sound fascinating. We look forward to hearing more.

Anonymous said...

In Allah we believe and in Him we seek help from, not another fellow human being (dead or alive). Whats the world coming to?

Anonymous said...

Fantastic description and photographs Merci!