The Celebration of Fire and Water – Ashura in Morocco

The Celebration of Fire and Water – Ashura in Morocco

If you’re in Morocco on the 10th day of the Islamic month of Muharram, you are sure to hear drums banging and see gangs of happy children rushing through the streets and alleyways with new toys generally used to make music and noise. This is just a part of the celebration of Ashura (which comes from the word ‘ten’ in Arabic since it’s the 10th day of the first month on the Muslim calendar. Some call it the Islamic New Year, but it’s more than that. It’s a celebration of light and life, death and renewal, light and dark. For the past few years, it has been celebrated in November and December but since the Islamic calendar is lunar, each year it is ten or eleven days earlier (on the Gregorian calendar) than the year before.

In most of the Arab world, Ashura is a time to remember the death of Hussein for the Shi’a and a day for celebrating the liberation of Moses from Egypt for the Sunni. For both it is a day of solemn fasting and prayers. The same is true in Morocco, but the shamanism and Judaism that Moroccan Islam was born in have reshaped the holiday into something more.

In Morocco, Ashura is a day that celebrates life. It is a day when people throw water on one another after a night of bonfires and singing. Ashura is the day when the myth of Baba Aichour is celebrated. Baba Aichour is the Moroccan Santa Claus, and so, Ashura is almost like Christmas for children in Morocco. For days before and after the holy day, kids form makeshift bands that play celebratory songs on drums made of wood, pottery, and sheepskin. They travel through the streets performing for candy and coins. The noise reaches a crescendo on the night of the ninth day of Muharram when bonfires are lit in vacant lots and neighbors gather to share food and tea.

In the poorer areas, people will light branches and wander through the streets chanting songs reserved for this holiday and at the neighborhood bonfires, you will often see people jumping over the flames in an effort to burn away evil spirits or free themselves of curses.

This is considered to be the most auspicious time of the year to say your prayers. Fortune tellers called ‘shawaafa’ do a booming business during this time as young people try to understand their destiny and capture the love of their lives. Some go further and engage the help of witch doctors ‘afikih’ that work with djinn and magic. Some seek to cast spells and others to be free of them. The ‘afikih’ can help with both.

morocco celebration The morning of Ashura is often begun with a cold bath or shower which some say is the origin of the water throwing. Other’s hold that it is a celebration of the parting of the Red Sea. Either way, in desert areas it is common for men and women to sprinkle water on tents, plants, and each other whilst saying their prayers. In some areas, Ashura is called ZamZam day. ZamZam is the name of the well in Mecca that Muslims believe God created for Hagar and Ismael, the wife and son whom Abraham abandoned in the desert.

While the adults fast, the children are given chocolates or small toys, and as the sun goes down, the entire family will gather to break the fast together. There are some traditional meals for Ashura – among them sheep’s tail, liver, dried meat, and couscous.

The holiday extends into the next day, since tradition says that any profit made during the 11th day of Muharram will not be blessed by God. The 11th day is called the day of waste and usury and with all of the businesses closed, it’s a handy way to extend the celebration for one more day..

In the Moroccan city of Goulmima there is a large street festival where  people celebrate Ashura by wearing costumes, different skins of sheep and goats, and scary looking animal masks.  In the Berber tradition, the costumed people are referred to as “Udayen n Ashur,” the Jews of Ashura.  With only tambourines and handclaps, “Udayen n Ashur” creates lively music, performances of acrobatic dancers.  Everyone sings and dances with amusing variations on the songs, until very late into the night.

The Berbers have a different name for each of the three days of Zamzam:  The first day is “Bou Isnayen” the second, “Bou Imerwasen” and the third is, “Bou Imrazen.” These are translated as “the day of throwing water,” “the day of repayment,” and finally “the day of fight.” On any one of these days, if water is thrown at a person, they have the right to throw stones back

MoroccoOne of the songs children sing as they travel through neighborhoods asking for coins tells about how Baba Aichour came outside to pray, gave the children coins and sweets, but then was swept away by the river.

Traditionally, the morning of Ashura begins with a cold bath. Some say this is the origin of the water throwing that takes place through the day, but for others it is a celebration of the parting of the Red Sea or of Baba Aichour being swept away. In the Sahara, the Tuareg sprinkle water on tents, plants, and each other whilst saying their prayers.

 

 

 

Kukuri, Torbalan, Baba Marta and The Water Bull of Rabisha

This was originally posted in August of 2011 – as Halloween approaches, it seems appropriate to repost.

Bulgarian MONSTERSI’m not sure why, but I’m fascinated by ethnographic monsters. I visit a country and I ask “What kind of monsters do they have?” I’m a big fan of legendary monster stories. In Turkey, I heard about the story of the Lake Van monster and in Morocco, I revel in the stories of jin and Aisha Kandisha. In Bulgaria, I heard about a few new ones. One old guy I asked simply replied “The only monsters we have here are the criminals” – fair enough, but that wasn’t what I was looking for. Another old man on the bus told me about the Loch Ness Monster of Bulgaria which is known as the ‘Water Bull’.

The water bull lives in a Lake Rabisha near Belogradchik, a small picturesque town in the Bulgarian Northwest. You might have actually heard of the town since the now famous Belogradchik Rocks did pretty well in the competition for the New Seven Wonders of the World or because of the Magurata Cave with its prehistoric paintings.

The legend says that a bull-man lives in the lake which was once thought to be bottomless but now is known to be about 40 meters deep. The head of a bull, the body of a man – yes D &D friends – it’s a Minotaur. The story goes that they used to kill off the most beautiful girl to keep the monster at bay. They would row her out in a boat and throw her off of it. Eventually, the most beautiful girl in the world was born there and taken out in the lake where the water bull fell in love with her and they lived happily ever after. It’s a crap ending to a story that includes Bull and a word that sounds a lot like Rubbish, but at least it’s a monster story.

BABA MARTA RIBBONSMy friends Tim and Peppy in Sofia,  told me about Baba Marta. Baba Marta, an old lady with the touch of death. She is like Jack Frost but an angry old woman and if she doesn’t get treated right, the cold Bulgarian winter just keeps on. The sun only comes out when she is happy. Snow is sometimes referred to as the feathers from her mattress.

Each spring Bulgarian girls make ribbons and when they see the first signs of spring they put them on trees or under rocks. This is all to make Baba Marta happy and bring a nice year.
karankolos Bulgarian monster
The monster which sounded the most interesting to me was a tribe of ghouls called Karakoncolos or Kurkeri who stalk people in the dark and then they jump on the victim’s back, causing them to lose their way home. There are annual festivals where people dress up as these monsters and dance.

Bulgarian boogeymanAnd finally there was Torbalan who carries kids away in his pack if they don’t do what their parents tell them to.

 

Do you know of any Bulgarian monsters?

Happy New Year from Vagobond! 2019 is the YEAR OF CHANGE

VagobondAloha My Friends!

Happy New Year! 2019 is going to be an amazing year where the only constant is going to be change!  I have declared this theme both to prepare you for the unbridled pace of innovation and global change – as well as to prime the pump for all of us to make the most healthy and beneficial changes we can in this brand new year.

My Hat’s Off to You in 2019! I’ve freshly shaved my head for 2019 so the answer to the question that no one is asking “What does a vagobond keep under his hat?” Is now revealed – “Nothing!”

I am making a number of personal and professional changes this year. As a part of that, I will be making some changes to Vagobond too. I will be keeping my focus on my home island of Oahu and the State of Hawaii but will be easing my editorial schedule a bit. There will be new articles and blog posts on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Fridays will continue to be ‘Flashback Friday‘ and Saturday will continue to be the Saturday Slideshow. Flashback Fridays will be looking back at my  past global travel adventures and Slideshow Saturday will be a mostly visual post focusing on pictures I have taken or will take in my travels. Friday and Saturday posts will be all over the globe. Monday and Wednesday posts will be focused closer to home.

Also, even though I have mixed feelings about social media – in 2019 I will be putting a renewed focus on Vagobond’s social media. I’ve neglected creating a decent YouTube channel for over a decade now and I’d like to correct that this year. My podcast Vagobond Podcast Adventures will continue with more of a travel focused theme. I will also try my hardest to give some energy to Facebook, Pinterest, and whatever the newest social media might be. My Instagram (@vagobond) and Twitter (@vagobond) accounts are way too far gone as personal accounts for me to be able to reign them into a tight niche – so you’re stuck on those with my art posts, political commentary, and whatever else I might want to throw up there. I will also be making some aesthetic changes to the way Vagobond.com looks – so don’t be surprised if the site looks different from time to time.

One more note about the year of change – this year, I am going to be taking all of my spare change and putting it in my daughter’s ‘share’ bank. When the bank is full, she and I will be deciding how to donate it or use it to help others. This is a bit of an experiment on my part because I want to see just how much a little change can actually add up to over the course of a year and whether it is enough to do some serious good. Welcome to the  YEAR OF CHANGE and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

 

Sincerely and wishing you happiness and joy in 2019,

Christopher ‘Vago’ Damitio
Founder and Chief Balderdasher, Vagobond.com
1/1/19 5:00 a.m.
Honolulu, Hawaii

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