Dedicated to the Memory of Alan Lomax
by Geoffrey Clarfield (March 2010)
History does not repeat itself. We cannot return and we shall never return to ancient Rome. We will never witness a meeting of the Roman Senate. We shall never witness the gladiatorial games, we shall never meet an emperor and no matter how hard we try, we cannot get modern science out of our world view or the history of the twentieth century out of our consciousness, although given the state of University education these days, the latter may be possible within the next few decades. No, for all intents and purposes, the ancient world is dead to us.
One of the few surviving vestiges of that bygone era are two religions that were almost completely marginal to Imperial Rome, Judaism and Christianity. Even then, if Rabbis Hillel or Shammai, or the Apostles Mathew, Luke, John or Mark would somehow reappear in the 21st century, they would have great difficulty identifying the religions that they once practiced in today’s Judaism and Christianity. Even these two traditions of belief and worship have changed dramatically from their once simple origins and they have become complex congeries of sects and texts.
I am in the Golan Heights, a group of hills and plateaus above the Sea of Galilee. The Golan is a territory of plains filled with oak trees and barren hillsides at the foot of Mount Hermon whose rivers and springs feed the Jordan River to the south. One of the springs feeds the pools of an ancient sanctuary where during Hellenistic and Roman times worshippers sacrificed to the God Pan.
Here in the southern Golan as I face the alcove where once stood a statue of the God Pan, I can hear the sound of the nearby waterfall which provides the pools in front of the alcove with its near steady source of fresh water. Above this once sacred place are sheer limestone cliffs with tufts of green vegetation clinging to the sides.
Just above the cliffs is the white domed grave of a Druze holy man, El Khader, the green one, to whom a group of Druze has come to make a pilgrimage. No doubt they have prayed at the tomb, each supplicant asking for health, wealth or success as is often the case with the worship of Mediterranean saints whether their worshippers are Christian, Muslim, Jewish or Druze.
I can see them after their visit in the picnic area. The men wear old fashioned baggy Turkish pants bundled up at the ankle and sport white headdresses. The women wear black outfits, but unlike Muslims they do not veil their faces. Instead of the sacred burnt offerings that may here have once been offered to the God Pan, I can smell the roast meat of their bar b q wafting through the air and making me hungry.
The God Pan was associated with forests, water and the wild, all that is green and fertile and I wonder how it is that the Druze saint is called the green one. Is there a hint of continuity even in this late medieval transformation of the meaning of the site?
It is not surprising that a new religion (the secret religion of the Druze began sometime in the eleventh century) has chosen to make a sacred place, a few feet above the grotto that once served Pan, as in the Mediterranean so many churches and mosques have taken over the sacred space of earlier pagan religions.
In Roman Judea and the eastern Mediterranean the early Christians preached that the gods and spirits of the Roman and Greek pantheon were actually devils. They did as much as they could to dismantle or take over their places of worship, destroying what they took to be idols, the statues of the myriads of spirits that the religiously tolerant Romans worshipped throughout their multicultural empire.
Classicists can now tell us much about how the old Greek and Roman gods and spirits were worshipped. We know more about ancient Roman and Greek religion now than we did since the time of its decline during the Roman triumph of Christianity and the persecution of paganism, which began with the Emperor Constantine the Great. As so many Britons and Europeans lose interest in the Judeo Christian tradition, pagans are psychologically a tad closer to us once again, but I have yet to hear of New Age worshippers setting up a shrine to Zeus. Perhaps it is just a matter of time.
One thing these classical scholars have been unable to excavate for us is the music that was used during these old pagan ceremonies. Being largely of oral tradition it is lost to us. Only a few fragments of ancient Roman and Greek music have survived until today and none from the worship of Pan.
Today most ethnomusicologists will say it is far fetched, but some people say that the Pipes of Pan survive to this day, hidden in a mountain village in Northern Morocco. Throughout parts of rural Morocco, once a year after the major religious sacrifice that begins the Islamic New Year, Moroccan peasants and tribesmen act out a bizarre ritual with extensive musical accompaniment. It often takes days to complete, whereas the more formal sacrifice is over within a day.
This secondary ritual is a kind of carnival like opposite of the serious ritual of sacrifice which heralds in the Islamic New Year according to the lunar calendar. Like other Mediterranean carnivals, it is a time of role reversal, of satire and comedy, of biting social comment, of what anthropologists often call “the world turned upside down.” Its topics are quite contemporary but its form and some of its implicit symbolism may be very ancient. It is filled with explicitly sexual banter, burlesque and acting out that in some instances suggest the consummation of illicit desires by the young men at the centre of the carnival while older husbands leave their women in their houses.
Contemporary Moroccan ethnologists, who have studied the ritual and its variations throughout rural Morocco, focus on its contemporary meanings and satirical themes which are ribald enough, and whose sexual themes are in startling contrast with the formal Islamic sacrifice that it follows. The French (and Finnish) anthropologists who studied these same rituals during colonial times believed that they maintained aspects of a ritual that goes back to the Saturnalia or the Feast of Lupercalia of the ancient Romans, who we must remember were the masters of North Africa until the Byzantines and Vandals, conquered the area and who in turn later lost it to the Arab conquerors.
Tellingly, no Muslim Arab scribe or historian has ever made mention of these ceremonies in any historical documents of the last few centuries and that are now providing historians of North Africa with growing amounts of primary sources to decipher. This signifies that these scholars did not see the masquerade as representative of the ideal, literate and predominantly urban Islam of the conquerors and later scholars. No doubt this cultural elite tolerated these customs of the peasants and tribesmen as surviving from the time of the great ignorance before the coming of Islam, what Islamic theologians call the Jahiliyya.
This concept of a great pre Islamic ignorance makes sense from an anthropological point of view and oddly enough fits rather nicely with the theories of the colonial French ethnologists of Morocco, fixated as they were on survivals from earlier stages of civilization in North Africa. They are partially confirmed by an informant of a contemporary Moroccan ethnologist who has written a full length study of these rural masquerades. Here is a quote from one of his informants collected in 1981:
We follow the King’s advice. We didn’t sacrifice this year. We didn’t want to disobey the king who is God’s lieutenant on earth. Therefore we didn’t play Bujlud that year. It belongs to the jahiliya. Now you’re not supposed to do it. It was from before: these are customs from before. Bujlud, these are the jahiliya.
Contemporary ethnomusicologists won’t touch this topic. But what precisely is the topic? It is quite simple. If as can be demonstrated, the Bou Jeloud ritual seems to be a ceremony from pre Islamic times, having echoes in ancient Roman religious practice, then perhaps the musical accompaniment retains some of the melodies, rhythms, song style or sprit of the old North African interpretations of Roman rituals. Why not? But if this is indeed the case then we need to find an ethnomusicological theory that can legitimately accommodate such an assumption. I will do so within the confines of this article.
Common sense suggests that such a hypothesis could be true in and of itself, based on the fact that musics of oral tradition must, by their very nature, have a history. Most contemporary ethnomusicologists assume that if there are no written musical documents, then we must assume that there is no proven musical history and they dismiss any attempt to do so as speculative. Complementing this rather timid approach is their fear of being labeled colonialist or neo colonialist by their colleagues in the academy or the developing world.
This is the worse thing that can happen to you in an anthropology or musicology department in today’s Universities. If you are so labeled, you can be denied tenure for exploring such immoral ideas. Part of this is a generational phenomena, as a slew of post WWII baby boomer scholars have needed a good ideological reason to reject the anthropological speculation of the early twentieth century by those bygone scholars who did try and create a framework for a universal history of music. It is a kind of intellectual/mythical revolt against the father.
As these intellectual essays were done when Europe had colonies in Asia and Africa, it is now dubbed colonial anthropology or ethnomusicology and in the academy these writings are declared to be inherently immoral. This is the acme of politically correct practice as most of these scholars are dead and not available to defend themselves at conferences.
In correspondence with the most accomplished American academic expert on Moroccan music he wrote me saying that he would not get involved in this topic as it was too hot to handle. Unlike him I have none of these qualms. I was trained in ethnomusicology at the graduate level. I have done ethnomusicological fieldwork in Morocco and other developing countries. So, I would like to invite the reader on a historical, anthropological and intellectual a journey of exploration to see if we can indeed find the Pipes of Pan in the hills of North Africa. But first we need to make a bit of a detour as I would like to tell you how I got there.
In 1965 when I was twelve years old I saw the Rolling Stones perform live at a hockey arena in Toronto. I was twelve seats away from the stage and I could almost see the chords that guitarist Brian Jones and Keith Richards used to belt out their unique mixture of Black American rhythm and blues and Anglo Saxon rock and roll.
Brian Jones played a white semi acoustic Gretch guitar with gold fittings. Somehow, that gold and white guitar looked like the kind of treasure that you would find in a Viking burial or in the Hall of the Mountain King. There was something entirely pagan about the whole affair. It was as close to Pan as I could get as a young teenager.
My emotional reaction to Brian Jones and the concert was so strong that even at the age of twelve I had to find some way of expressing it. I came home from the concert and tried to explain to my older sister, who was an aspiring painter, that what had amazed me about the concert was the energy, excitement and raw power that the Rolling Stones expressed on stage. It could only be equaled by those Hollywood action films about WWII (I think what I actually said was” Wow it was like a war film, but the bombs were chords!”)
These good old films captured your imagination from the first scene and kept your adrenaline at a fever pitch for a full hour and a half. I left the concert saying to myself that Brian Jones had produced this affect with guitars and drums, not tanks and guns. It was my first taste of sympathy for the devil and let us not forget that the early Christians believed that Pan was the devil or at least, a devil and in those days so many moralists believed that rock and roll was the work of the devil.
More than ten years later I went to live in Morocco. I had spent my teenage years playing every form of folk and pop music that North America could produce-Delta Blues, Ragtime, Jugband, Blue Grass, Child ballads, Rhythm and Blues and Rock and Roll. But the music of the Americas did not quench my thirst for melodic and rhythmic diversity. As an undergraduate I studied world music (in those days it was an esoteric subject called comparative musicology).
When I finished my degree I took my Arabian lute (oud) in my hand and headed for Casablanca, Morocco. I found and continue to find the music of Morocco remarkable in its diversity, both sophisticated and primitive, hard to imitate and totally engaging. Morocco is a musician’s paradise as Moroccans are among the most musical people I have ever had occasion to live among.
I rented a room in a Moorish house in the old city of Marrakech from an American Jazz musician who had made Morocco his home and who later wrote the background music for Bertolucci’s setting of Paul Bowle’s novel, The Sheltering Sky, starring the gifted American actor, John Malkovitch. Bowles had started his life as a talented and rising American composer and was one of the first musicologists to collect traditional Moroccan music. The house that I had rented was an Andalucian delight with a large fountain in the courtyard, mosaic tiles and a roof from which you could see the Atlas Mountains when the air was clear.
The cook, an elderly woman named Zubeida prepared a feast each afternoon, taking us on a culinary tour of traditional Moroccan cuisine, feeding us with various kinds of meat cooked in olive oil mixed with fruits like prunes or apricots, eaten with fresh round Berber bread brought from the bakery down the alley and topped off with sweet green mint tea served in silver pots with ornate filigree.
I spent my time going back and forth between two overlapping worlds: that of expatriates abroad (and who in the seventies continued to provide the material that Paul Bowles used to fashion his novels about expatriates in Morocco and Africa who, consistently lose their way in life) and that of local Moroccan musicians.
These musicians were Muslim, Arabic and Berber speaking and were living in a world whose traditions and beliefs had not changed for centuries. In addition to the strict Islamic values that they adhered to in public, in private they maintained beliefs and practices that entered the worlds of spirit possession, witchcraft, sorcery and the world of angels, what we call “genies” and what they call “jnuun.” This included the worship of local saints and who have the mystic power or Baraka to grant requests and whose tombs dot the cities and rural landscape of North Africa.
This world of magic, witchcraft, genies, spirit possession, holy men and ambiguous ceremonies comprise what anthropologists call “folk Islam.” It is possible that many ancient, Mediterranean pre-Islamic practices live on in this world of oral traditions. Even the late great scholar of comparative religion, Mircea Eliade maintained that this must be the case. The proponents of radical Islam want these practices to stop almost as much as they want the rest of the world to embrace their form of unitary Islam.
I spent my time in North Africa playing oud with Moroccan musicians, listening to the music of the Sultan’s courts of Arab Andalucia (which has been handed down from father to son since their expulsion from Granada in 1492) joining the annual pilgrimage to the tomb of the Saint Setti Fatma, south of Marrakech in the Atlas mountains, and squatting on my haunches taking pictures and recording the music of the snake charmers and Berber men from the south in the open air “Jmalfna” in the central square of the city of Marrakech.
It was in the Jmalfna, surrounded by snake charmers and Sufis who demonstrated their Baraka or sacred power, through their ability to drink boiling water in front of a curious public, where an Italian musician told me that Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones had discovered that the God Pan was still worshipped in the Rif Mountains of northern Morocco. He suggested that one day we could go and hear his pipers. The whole thing reminded me of Chariots of the Gods and I put in out of my mind as one more example of pop culture gone wild.
I now believe that I was wrong. However, by the year 2010, so much hype has obscured what was going on in the Rif Mountains that it is hard to pry anthropological fact from pop culture fantasy. The musicians who some claim play the Pipes of Pan now tour the world music circuit and they have put out many discs. They have toured the British Isles many times. Their concerts are usual sold out. But let us take a crack at it
We do know for a fact that Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones and his friends never formally studied anthropology or ethnomusicology and so it is easy to dismiss the Italian and his friends’ speculations as groundless. But this, as the philosophers would remind us, is an argument based on authority or the lack of it, suggesting that no one without a degree has anything new to say about culture and history.
So, let us take a look at the writings about and the recordings of Pan’s Pipers and start our journey of re”disk”overy, if you will pardon the pun, from the jacket of an LP that came out in 1968. I call it Pan’s first album.
On my desk is an album called “Brian Jones presents the Pipes of Pan” at Joujouka. Inside it is a 33 r.p.m. record and a two page insert. On the front page of the insert is a photographic portrait of Brian Jones (with just the hint of a psychedelic halo). Jones has written two paragraphs about what we are about to hear.
He starts out by telling us that he has never seen the Rites of Pan Festival but that his friend (the Canadian painter) Brion Gysin has. He adds that he has little to offer that would improve upon Gysin’s description. And so the curious teenager opens the brochure and sees two full pages of Gysin’s writings.
Jones does tell us that the ceremony lasts for a week but he doesn’t know if he possesses the stamina “to endure the incredible, constant strain of the festival.” Why? Because in good sixties style he believes that, “Such psychic weaklings has Western civilization made of so many of us.”
He then points out that in the village of Joujouka (which the gentle reader will later find out is in northern Morocco) all culture is passed down orally, first from mother to son and then at the age of twelve from father to son,” altogether not a bad description of the indigenous cultural and historical tensions that are reflected in the dynamics of traditional Islamic families.
We do not know if Jones is implying that perhaps this was how and why the Pipes of Pan survive, subliminally passed down from one generation to another for two thousand years, but let us give him the benefit of the doubt.
So Brian with an a, passes us over to the authority of Brion the painter with an o, his friend who has seen the festival of Pan and heard his pipers. Let us find out what he has discovered.
Gysin comes to the heart of the matter. He tells us about his friend the Moroccan painter Hamri, whose mother comes from the hill tribe called the Ahl Serif. He tells us “The secret of his mother’s tribe, guarded even from themselves was that they were still performing the Rites of Pan under their ragged cloak of Islam.”
He then tells us that “Westermark in his book on pagan survivals in Morocco forty years ago, recognized their patron: Bou Jeloud, the Father of Skins, to be Pan, the little goat god with the pipes.”(Westermark spelled his own name “Westermarck”).
An account of their dances led him to conclude that the villagers of Jajouka must be celebrating “Roman Lupercalia which once occurred in the first two weeks of February, but attached itself to the principal Moslem Feast when the Arab invaders turned the clock back to the lunar year. Westermarck never saw the dances and believed they no longer took place.” By the way, he did witness the dances first hand as his field notes show.
The rest of the liner notes are Gyson’s non-linear narrative or better still, evocation of this weeklong folk ceremony. It makes good reading but gives the reader little idea of how the ceremony unfolds, who does what, when the pipers pipe and the musicians play.
Here are quotes from his evocation, meant no doubt to persuade the reader by their fragmentary nature that we are second hand witnesses to something ancient and mysterious, and that only the superhip friends of Brian Jones have so far had the privilege to witness.
“You come through their maze to the broad village green where the pipers are piping…Fifty wild flutes blow up a storm in front of them… Bou Jeloud leaps high in the air on the music, races after the women again and again…Who is Bou Jeloud ?…Bou Jeloud is after you. Running…Bou Jeloud is on you, butting you, beating you…He is the father of fear. He is, too the Father of Flocks…On the third night he meets Aisha Homolka who drifts around after dark, cool and casual, near springs and running water. She unveils her beautiful blue-glittering face and breasts and coos…Then Aisha Homolka, Aisha Kandisha, alias Asherat, Astarte, Diana in the Leaves Greene, Blest Virgin Miriam bar Levy, the White Goddess, in short will be his.”
Gyson rhapsodizes that in Jajouka, ” Musicians loll about sipping mint tea… kif pipes and flutes…Blue kif smokes drops in veils from Joujouka at nightfall.” Kif is the Moroccan Arabic euphemism for marijuana. The Arabic word actually means joy and satisfaction. In short Gyson makes Joujouka sound like a combination of Shangra La, Haight Ashbury and a Roman Brothel.
Gyson keeps telling us that Westermark never saw any of the ceremonies that he described (but he did!). It is clear from the liner notes that Gysin has, since he tells us, “I ran several times in the panic of the Lupercalia.”
As for the musicians on the album we do not know what their names are, or the sequencing of the pieces. Brian Jones tells us, “What exists here is a specially chosen representation of the type of music which is played and chanted at the festival. The pieces and therefore the climaxes are necessarily shortened and when one considers that many of these chants continue for hours and hours, one will realize this necessity.”
The seventies brought much progress. In 1974 a new album with better liner notes came out. It was called The Master Musicians of Jajouka, subtitled in almost 17th century detail, “The Primal Energy That is The Music and Ritual of Jajouka, Morocco.”
As I look at the record jacket the front is covered with a color photo portrait of a Jajoukan musician blowing on his double reed pipe, what the Moroccans call Ghaita and what Western musicologists call the shawm. [It is a single album with a double jacket.]
Inside there is a collection of color pictures that depict the musicians and people of Jajouka – an old man smoking kif, Bou Jeloud dressed in skins and prancing in front of a row of seated men, women villagers and children gathered by the wall of a house, a shepherdess tending her flock, men playing the frame drum (bendir), the ghaita, and the long necked lute (guinbri).
Barely noticeable, in a photo of a young man playing an upright violin, we see on the back wall a framed portrait of Brian Jones, who died in a mysterious swimming pool accident (the intervention of Pan?), common to so many rock stars and it is identical to the one on the liner notes of the previous album.
Once again, open the album and there are four pages of notes and pictures. The first page tells us about “The Legend of Boujeloud.”
After having read it we find out that the Moroccan painter Hamri, whose pictures grace the front cover of the earlier album, told it to the author. This is the gist of the story that he tells us.
The villagers of Jajouka had an ancestor named Attar. Near their village was a remote forest cave that they feared to enter. Attar entered it and found it lush. His goats loved it. He fell asleep and dreamed that he heard a mysterious sound. It was the first time that he had heard music. Attar returned and slept in the cave many times until he finally told the villagers about the music and the lushness of the cave.
During one of his naps there he awoke and saw a creature that was half man and half goat. He told Attar that he was “Boujeloud” master of the skins. Boujeloud swore Attar to secrecy. Boujeloud gave Attar his magic flute if Attar would find him a wife. Attar learned to copy and play Boujeloud’s magic flute. He brought it to the village and the villagers loved the music. He then made copies of the flute for the villagers.
Boujeloud heard them in his cave, He was excited by the music and angry with Attar who had broken his word. Boujeloud came to the village to seek his wife, but the noise of the music drove him back. He destroyed the goat pens and slaughtered a third of the goats. Boujeloud found Attar and captured him.
Attar outwitted Boujeloud by saying that the music was for his marriage the next day. The next day the villagers played and Boujeloud returned to their village. He danced wildly among them. The women produced a madwoman called Homulka to dance with him as though she was to be his wife. But she eluded him and Boujeloud having become content just to dance returned to his cave. From that day on the flocks of Attar’s village were fertile and women gave birth to many strong children.
One day Boujeloud and Homulka disappeared. Attar took his flocks and searched for them. He killed his last four goats and made himself a costume from the skins. He put it on and went back to his village pretending to be Boujeloud. The villagers played for him and danced with him. From then on, he returned to the forest cave to live and no longer lived in the village. Before his death he passed down the tradition to one of the men of the village who passed it down until today.
If these oral traditions are authentic, and they very well may be, I think that once we put two and two together we can, without having seen it ourselves, conclude that the week long festival is a dramatic reenactment of this story, or what anthropologists following the late Bronislaw Malinowski of the University of London would have called “a charter myth.”
For those unfamiliar with comparative mythology the half man, half goat would remind anyone with the vestiges of a classical education of the God Pan. And indeed it is hard to suggest that this is not the case.
There are however three important points to realize so far: The first is that the Boujeloud myth and festival is almost diametrically opposed to “classical” Islam. There is no mention of God or the prophet Mohamed. The whole story takes place in a timeless past and deals with values that are prohibited or at best frowned upon in Islamic law: consorting with spirits in out of the way places, dancing lasciviously, playing musical instruments, which have claims to magical power, along with lying and deception.
Boujeloud says that he is the “master of skins” which is a short semantic jump from saying that he is the “master of the animals” and in direct mythic descent from the shamans of the late Paleolithic who, through magic and religion, ensured that the band was successful in the hunt for wild animals. Boujeloud seems to be the agro/pastoral version of this “ur Shaman.”
There is therefore more than a hint that the fertility of the flocks and women of the village depend upon maintaining and reenacting the secret and somewhat frowned up traditions of Boujeloud. This is a pattern of folk life that is well-described in Frazer’s monumental study of religion and folklore, The Golden Bough.
(By the way it was Frazer’s rather ungrateful student, Bronislaw Malinowski who reacting against Frazer’s teaching coined the concept of “charter myth” and at the same time invented a new school of anthropological practice called, functionalism. In the year 2009 more people believe in Boujeloud than anthropologists do in functionalism.)
Secondly the adventure of the ancestor, Attar, as in all charter myths confirms the special status of the descendants of Attar, their musical rights, the magical power of their music, their previous right to tithe villagers to support their ritually sanctioned indolence and their incorporation of Boujeloud’s wild fertility (and by implication sexual potency) through participation in the ritual.
Finally the story follows an early 20th century Belgian anthropologist, Van Gennep’s universal ritual formula: separation, transformation, followed by reintegration at a higher level, a pattern that characterizes all shamanic stories and journeys.
In this case Attar cuts himself off from society and has a vision in a cave. He then confronts Boujeloud “the master of the skins” and wins mastery over his magic. Finally he becomes Boujeloud through imitation and deception. In this story the five pillars of Islam are conspicuous by their absence.
In short what we are witnessing here is the myth of shamanistic empowerment. Attar is the Shaman and Boujeloud is the powerful spirit. Or, to take a Greco Roman analogy, Attar is the “priest” of the spirit or God and the God or spirit is Boujeloud (Pan).
Whether the yearly ritual acted out in a village in Morocco is the Feast of Lupercalia as Brian Jones and Brion Gysin and others attest, is another story. What it is clearly, is the archetypal story that characterizes an ancestor who bestows mystic power and fertility upon all his descendants. If they are not to lose that “primal energy” then the logic of ritual impels them to reenact the story each year in accordance with the cycle of the sun, the moon, the stars and the agricultural seasons.
The Moroccans call this primal energy “Baraka.” A literal translation would render it blessing, but this would be an ethnocentric interpretation from the viewpoint of the Judeo Christian ethic or from formal as opposed to folk Islam. The Finnish anthropologist Westermarck spent more than 200 pages documenting its varieties and effects in turn of the century Moroccan society. In short he shows that Baraka covers both the sacred tenets of formal Islam as well as the North African cult of the saints and, a host of phenomena that urban trained Muslim scholars would no doubt judge to be outside of “proper Islamic practice” including a whole range of what anthropologists would call magical beliefs and practices.
The world of the peasants and musicians of Jajouka is not the linear worldview of Islam with its creation by the one and only God, its Biblical and New Testament prologues, its Prophet, its holy scripture-the Quran, the day of judgement and resurrection. It is, on the contrary, the mythic, cyclical drama of the ancient world that characterized the Mediterranean and the ancient Near East long before the rise of the Biblical religions.
So who exactly are the Master Musicians of Jajouka?
Let us return to the liner notes. Once again Brion Gysin is on hand to tell us the recent history of the Master Musicians. (By the way nowhere does anyone tell us why they are called the Master Musicians. It would seem that it is a bit of semantic drift. Our pop ethnographers tell us that Boujeloud is “the master of the skins” so why not call the musicians “masters” as well? Let us also not forget that the writers come from the West where technical mastery of a musical instrument is still a high cultural value. For those who play guitar, please remember the refrain from the sixties, “Clapton is God”).
The musicians have papers from the Alaouite Sultans, who came to power about the same time as Louis XIV in France and Charles II in England. The text of these written by a Royal Chamberlain or official scribe, addresses them with extraordinary respect, and acknowledges that they have rights over the Sultan: the right to play him to bed, to play him to the mosque on Fridays, rights for a group to live in the Palace, and so forth. Two musicians who are still alive remember being at the court of Sultan Moulay Hafid, who was sultan in Marrakech when his brother was sultan in Fez.
This all broke up with the French occupation in 1912. A pirate called Raisouli, who set himself up as a would-be-sultan, treated the musicians of Jajouka royally while he lasted; it was very good for his publicity to have them. In the Twenties he paid them a hundred dollars a month apiece, which was a huge sum of money in those days. But then Raisuli was busted by the Spaniards.
The Spaniards looked after these things in some ways better than the French did; they had much more understanding of it, because it’s so mixed up with their own music, their own cultural history. What the music is in fact, is the popularization of the classical music that was written around the ninth, tenth century in Andalusia, court music in the courts of Cordova and Seville. Around 1492 there was a big expulsion of the Moors from southern Spain, and a great many of those people settled back in the hills at that time. The Spaniards were fairly good to those up in Jajouka, they were allowed to collect a tithe on all of the neighbouring villages, who acknowledged the moral authority of the saint buried in Jajouka. They would simply travel around to the fields at harvest time, and people would give them a measure of whatever it was they were harvesting…
The remains of Saint Sidi Hamid Sherk, who introduced Islam to the region sometime around the year 800, gave Jajouka a moral authority unquestioned, until recently, by the people of the neighbouring villages. This authority is expressed, and sustained by Jajouka’s Master Musicians, the sons of sons of musicians, who play to exorcise the illnesses of pilgrims, to reaffirm the identity of villagers and visitors at a festival and feast times and to entertain and instruct their listeners and themselves, wafting their time-seasoned melodies and handed down rhythms out across the Jebel on clouds of kif smoke.
There are two new things here. First we now find out that the musicians of Jajouka are not just the hidden sons of Pan, living in their village in a Moroccan equivalent of Brigadoon but, they have also doubled as Royal musicians, piping the Sultan to and from the mosque and playing him bed time tunes. (Remember the Sultan usually had a number of women to choose from each night, so the music may have been an early try at Viagra).
Second, the music played by the Master Musicians seems to have multiple origins. One being the imitation of the classical Andalucian court music which survives to this day in North Africa centuries after its expulsion from Granada by Ferdinand and Isabella after the “reconquest” of 1492 and the subsequent expulsion of all Moors and Jews, many who did find refuge in Morocco.
Third there is the music played for the saint by which his power is brought forth and of course the music of the “festival” whose name we have not yet discovered.
From the Moroccan point of view these layers of musical occasion and distinct repertoires merely add up to a whole lot of Baraka attending these musicians in the eyes of their fellow villagers.
The musicians therefore have maintained their solidarity and power on three levels. The first is their associations with Sultans (who in Morocco are the closest thing to Divine Kingship still existing in the modern world) and who have a most powerful national and pan Islamic Baraka. The second is their drawing on the power from their local saint, who has local Baraka and the third once again, is their mythic association with the story of Boujeloud who is associated with ancient, immemorial Baraka.
Contrary to the academic skeptics it would seem that although our pop ethnographers have a lot more data to complicate the matter, the thesis that Boujeloud is Pan (or some major Pre Islamic Mediterranean spirit) is still quite strong.
So perhaps we should ask ourselves who was Pan and what do we know about him and to what degree he resembles Boujeloud? That will be easier once we define the major difference between the myth and ritual of ancient Paganism and that of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
First we must ask ourselves what is the essential nature of Greek and Roman Ritual and Myth. A contemporary encyclopedia article defines Roman mythology as a:
…body of religious and historical beliefs , and attendant rituals and other observances, held or practiced by the ancient Romans from the legendary foundation of Rome in the 8th century BC…until Christianity finally supplanted the native religions of the Roman Empire in the 4th century AD. The original religion of the early Romans was so modified by the addition of numerous and conflicting beliefs in later times, and by the assimilation of a vast amount of Greek mythology, that it cannot be constructed precisely. Because extensive changes in Roman religion had already taken place before the Roman literary tradition began…its origins were in most cases unknown to early Roman writers on religion…
So, we discover that we know less about Roman religion than we think. But at the same time it should be pointed out that ancient Greek and Roman polytheism was much more akin to Hinduism than we think, with its plethora of gods and spirits, overlapping in name, function and jurisdiction. The mythic pantheon of the ancient Greeks and Romans and Hindus is argued by some to be one expression of “Indo European Mythology” whose roots go back thousands of years.
But more important is that the ancient Romans and Greeks were in our opinion “confused about myth,” or let us put it differently. They were not looking for contradictions or consistency in sacred tales as the medieval or modern mind tends to do. They did not care that there may have been hundreds of shrines to Apollo as well as myriads of shrines to other gods and spirits and that the stories people told about the Gods and spirits did not always cohere.
The ancient mind was different. Suffice it to say that in those days when we all wore togas it was simply expected of one to go to the sacrifices and believe in the Gods secondarily. The concept of an exclusive theology with a hierarchy of Gods with fixed attributes and a clear theology was a later, Judeo Christian addition, a kind of cleaning up of the ancient Mediterranean world of belief and ritual using Greek logic to make sense of the sacred.
The entire Golden Bough appears to be an argument that says that underneath or beside the urban theology of the great religions, especially in the Mediterranean, the ancient myths and rituals of the Greeks and Romans survived in the beliefs and practices of peasants and tribal peoples up until the early 20th century.
As most of modern anthropology during the last one hundred years has been an intellectual reaction against the Golden Bough, let us not be in too much of a hurry to dismiss the theories of its author, the great Scottish classicist, Sir James Frazer. When I was a graduate student in anthropology Frazer was no longer on the reading list and my professors were hard put to know what his major arguments were. One professor simply said “We don’t read him anymore; we are all ‘functionalists’ now!” Let us follow in Frazer’s footsteps and see where this takes us.
As the ancients seemed to be somewhat promiscuous with regards to the object and variety of their sexual practices, we can also conclude that they were ritually and mythically promiscuous as well. Yet they did make some basic classificatory distinctions as to kinds of spirits. There was some order to their legions of spirits. Here is a quote from one encyclopedia:
Roman mythology clearly distinguishes two classes of gods, the indigetes and the novensides, or novensiles. The indigetes were the original gods of the Roman state…30 such gods were honored with special festivals…The novensides were later divinities whose cults were introduced in the historical period. Early Roman divinities included a host of so-called specialist gods whose names were invoked when various activities, such as harvesting, were carried out…such divinities may be grouped under the general term of attendant, or auxiliary gods…
We read here that the god Saturn was an indegete. Frazer argues that his festival the Saturnalia has survived to this day in the Carnivals of the Catholic countries where once again we know that pagan sexuality is often let loose and goes unpunished by the local religious authorities. If the Catholics absorbed Saturn and earlier on the Romans had adopted the ecstatic cult of Dionysius, can we not argue that other Gods and their festivals have similarly survived in the traditions of folk Islam, in once formerly Roman (and for a while Christian) countries such as Morocco? If that is the case, we can suggest that Faunus and Pan are Satyrs, attendants of Dionysius.
The friends of Brian Jones would have us believe that the ritual of Boujeolud is at the historical and unconscious level about Pan and, that his evocation through masquerade at the time of the great Islamic New Year’s sacrifice is a survival of the Feast of Lupercalia. Can one make an argument to support this assumption based on pagan Greco Roman mythic associations? It would seem so.
The first step is to see if there is a connection between the Lupercalia and the Greek god Pan. We discover that the Lupercalia was the festival dedicated to the Roman god Faunus who would appear to be either Pan by another name for this same kind of “spirit of the wood” common to Greek and Roman culture and society.
Going back to our encyclopedia we find that:
Faunus was a fertility and woodland god. An agricultural deity , Faunus protected crops, fields, flocks and shepherds and invested a rustic musical instrument, the shawm. The Roman festival known as the Lupercalia was closely identified with Faunus, who as Lupercus, was worshipped in a temple on the Palatine Hill.
Let us see what the scholars say about Pan and while doing so look to see if he is similar in nature to Faunus.
Pan, in Greek mythology, god of woods, fields and fertility, the son of Hermes, messenger of the gods…Part animal, with the horns, hoofs and ears of a goat, he was a lusty deity, the god of shepherds and the goatherds. A wonderful musician, he accompanied , with his pipe of reeds, the woodland nymphs when they danced. He invented the pipe when the nymph Syrinx, whom he was pursuing, was transformed into a bed of reeds, enabling her to escape him; Pan then took reeds of unequal length and played on them. The god was always wooing one of the nymphs by playing on his pipes, but was always rejected because of his ugliness. Pan’s haunts were the mountains and caves and all wild places…the word panic is supposed to have been derived from the fears of travelers who heard the sound of his pipes at night in the wilderness.
Another scholar adds:
Pan…was playfully lecherous and continually chased the nymphs. When he was pursuing the nymph Syrinx, he reached out to embrace her and she vanished, leaving in her place a bed of reeds. Pan fashioned these into a shepherd’s pipe, or syrinx, which he often played.
We can safely characterize Boujeloud as similar in mythic stature and function to both Pan and Faunus if, taking on the flexible classification of the ancients we think of them all as “kinds of satyrs who liked to chase nymphs.” And that is just what Boujeloud does in his rampage in the village. As well as making fun of former ethnic groups found in rural Morocco such as Jews, he chases after the women of the village and allows himself to use the most foul and sexually explicit language. And thus even the nymph like identity of the Aisha Homulka character in the myth of Boujeloud begins to become clearer like an image that creeps on to the paper in a photographer’s dark room. Let me also point out that the shawm is the English word for the double reed oboe that the Moroccans call ghaita and is a central instrument played by the musicians of Jajouka during the Boujeloud masquerade.
Let us go back to the encyclopedia once more. It says:
In Greek mythology satyrs were immortal creatures of the forest and hills and symbols of nature’s wealth. Usually identified with the sileni…the satyrs were attendants of Dionysus. They had the head, arms, and torso of a man and the horns, ears, and hind legs of a goat (in Attic art, satyr had horses’ tails). Satyrs loved to frolic, drink, chase nymphs and play reed instruments. Their Latin counterparts were fauns.
This is a pretty good description of the character of Boujeloud as described by modern post colonial Moroccan Arab anthropologists. So if we clearly see Satyrs, Pan, Faunus and Boujeloud as spirits of the forest then Aisha Homulka would appear to be their mythological counterpart, one of the nymphs of the ancient world who:
In Greek and Roman mythology …were female nature spirits who were associated with such natural phenomena as seas, rivers, mountains, woods, meadows and caves, as well as with specific localities
Another scholar adds that they were also:
…lesser divinities or spirits of nature, dwelling in groves and fountains, forests, meadows and streams…represented as young and beautiful maidens, fond of music and dancing…and included the Oreads, nymphs of mountains and grottoes.
Finally we are reminded that:
…One of the most famous Oreads was Echo, who was deprived by the Goddess Hera of the power of speech and could only repeat the last words that were said to her.
So if we take Brion Gysin and his friend Hamri at their word, we can show a fair and coherent symbolic correspondence between the festival that worshipped Pan in pre Islamic times and the carnival-like ritual which follows the great Islamic sacrifice each year in rural Morocco and which completely inverts its meaning and content. The great British classicist Robin Lane Fox in his book from Pagan to Christian has shown clearly that pagan religion was focused on fertility, sexuality and the celebration of the body as reflected in similar escapades of the Gods. Judaism, Christianity and later Islam moved against this libidinal theme in Greco Roman religion.
Let us give a Freudian twist to all of this and suggest that the anti libidinal nature of Jewish Christian and Muslim ritual and its linear theology, tried but never quite wiped out the pagan, libidinous and cyclical nature of pagan Mediterranean religion. All of these pre Islamic themes emerge in the Boujeloud masquerade.
So we can suggest the mild hypothesis that the festival of Boujeloud is similar in type, and probably a garbled lineal descendant of a ritual that worshipped Pan, but denigrated to a kind of afterthought of a great Islamic sacrifice. As Pan and Boujeloud are clearly mythologically types of the archetypical great trickster, it is not surprising that one of the members of the greatest group of modern musical tricksters, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones had this intuition before he died in his swimming pool which in a weird way resembles the pool that I saw in the grotto of Pan in the Golan.
I know that some readers may accept the argument this far but you are now probably asking, what about the music? The Holy grail of historical musicology is to somehow conjure up the melodies and rhythms of the past. We do have a few fragments of ancient Roman and Greek music but they are so far from our present experience that even their interpretation is disputed by experts in this field. Musical archaeology is still in its infancy.
One scholar who believed that in order to understand how ancient music sounded suggested that we must ask a different question. He argued that we must not ask about specific melodies and rhythms but that we must look at the entire song style of a culture, and in some cases groups of cultures that form what historians call civilizations like that of China and the Far East.
Alan Lomax was that man. He became world famous for his early folk song collecting among the poor whites and blacks of the deep south before World War II, for his ground breaking work with FDR in publicizing the New Deal through rural folk music and through his discovery of seminal performers like Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie. The blues revival and the modern folk song revival of the sixties is largely the result of the work of his life time of collecting and promoting America’s rich rural musical traditions. During the 1950s he lived in London and worked for the BBC. His recordings of traditional music of Ireland and the British Isles sparked the British folk revival of the 1960s.
But like many men of genius this was not enough. In the nineteen sixties Lomax put together a multidisciplinary team of scientists, social scientists, musicologists, anthropologists and statisticians in order to classify the different kinds of music of the world according to a grid of 37 categories, to link these styles of music to ethnic groups in geographic areas and to speculate on their historical origins though controlled comparison. He called this system Cantometrics, the measure of song.
Suffice it to say that the music of the musicians of Jajouka falls into the Cantometric musical category of Old High Culture. In Lomax’ ground breaking and still controversial study Folk Song Style and Culture he wrote:
The most remarkable discovery of the cantometric coding system is the stylistic homogeneity of the vast Afro-Eurasian heartlands…given the approximate reaches of this great tradition, from Marrakech to Manila, it is impressive that the least typical areas show high similarity…Mediterranean Europe, the ancient center of the Greco-Roman metropolis, and later for many centuries widely Islamized…is compelling evidence for the unity of the tradition…occasional marches of troops and missionaries …brought the Turks to the Mediterranean and Islam to Morocco…
In simple cantometric terminology the music of the musicians of Jajouka is typical of the music of the Old High Culture. It has tendencies towards textual, metrical and melodic complexity; it is ornamented, precisely enunciated and nasal. It is a musical tradition that highlights solo singing and instrumental playing.
And so dear reader we come to the end of our quest. We have found out that the modern musicologists may be wrong, that the colonial anthropologists may have been right, that the mythology of Pan is similar to the masquerade of Boujeloud, that what once was a central pagan ritual has been subsumed in pantomime that follows an Islamic sacrifice but at the same time, the new year. And although we cannot reproduce the precise rhythms, melodies and words that were once sung to praise Pan in North Africa, we know that the style of music in which it is carried out in the hills of Northern Morocco has probably not changed for two thousand years.
It is an odd thing to see the proponents of a politically correct anthropology and ethnomusicology as fellow travelers of radical Islam when it comes to explaining or ignoring the Greco Roman symbolism that survives in the Boujeloud masquerade. The puritans among us would like to declare that the great God Pan is dead but he is not and his music lives on. You can buy his CDs from that other company named after a Greek myth, Amazon.com.
Geoffrey Clarfield is an Anthropologist at large.
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