On 38-29-30 July 2016 I was invited to attend the Festival of Hamadshi Heritage. It is held annually in the village of Sidi Ali, which harbors the tomb of Sîdî ‘Alî ben Hamdûsh. This 17th century saint is the patron founder of the Hamadsha (or Hamadcha in common French transliteration) Sufi tarîqa.
The village of Sidi Ali sits on the southern slope of Zerhoun Mountain, northeast of the city of Meknes. Jebel Zerhoun is home to a number of shrines, the most important of which is the shrine town of Moulay Idriss Zerhoun. The zâwiyya of Sîdî ‘Alî b. Hamdûsh, which contains the saint’s tomb, is built above a narrow ravine.
Hamadsha groups can be found in every Moroccan city and across North Africa. The main pilgrimage to the zâwiyya of Sîdî ‘Alî b. Hamdûsh, where they assemble each year, occurs seven days after the ‘Ayd al-Mawlid (the Prophet Mohammad’s birthday). This will fall in December this year. The cultural festival, however, is held in summer to coincide with school holidays and family vacations. Moroccans living in Europe will also visit Sidi Ali when they come to Morocco on holiday.
The festival is organized by a local association called the Friends of Sidi Ali for Culture and Development. The theme of this year’s festival, the second it has organized, was “Rhythm and Peace in Hamadsha Art.” Like other Sufi groups, the Hamadsha promote peace, brotherhood and tolerance through their religious teachings and cultural activities.
Like the Gnawa and the Aïsawa, the Hamadsha use percussion, rhythm and trance to communicate with the jinn, powerful entities in the spirit world which can interfere, for better or for worse, in the lives of people.
One of the most potent of jinn, and something of a trickster in the manner in which she creates and solves problems, is Lalla Aïsha Qandisha. The Hamadsha have specialized in channeling her fierce energy. In the ravine just below the zâwiyya lies her grotto.
Attendants in the grotto will assist those who are troubled by Aïsha Qandisha by burning candles, incense and aromatic herbs, hanging colored kerchiefs and sprinkling rose-water about the grotto. These goods are sold to pilgrims in numerous stalls in and about the shrine.
Legendary ’70s folk-rock group Jil Jilala gave an evening concert on the village square. Jil Jilala has drawn heavily from Hamadsha musical tradition, among others.
This year’s festival also included the screening of a film about the pilgrimage by Frédérick Calmès. He has promised to upload it to Vimeo, but in the meantime here is an excerpt of a CNN program about the Hamdasha of Fez:
Similar Hamadshi groups are active in Essaouira, Meknes, Sidi Slimane, Taroudannt, Tangier, Beni Ammar and many other towns.
Finally, what would a festival be without a parade, or a pilgrimage without a procession?
This is a foretaste of the real deal, the annual moussem (pilgrimage) of Sîdî ‘Alî ben Hamdûsh, held seven days after the ‘Ayd al-Mawlid. It looks like this:
By far the best book on the Hamadsha (though I believe it is out of print) is:
- Vincent Crapanzano (1981). The Hamadsha: A Study in Moroccan Ethnopsychiatry. University of California Press.