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Thread: Zar

  1. #1
    V.I.P. Mya's Avatar
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    Default Zar

    Hello All,

    I just read this article on Zar :

    egyptian_zar_belly_dance_costumes_bellydance_dvds

    I thought it was an interesting insight into the culture. My question then is, is it kind of disrespectful for bellydancers in performing to imitate some of the things described there? When I was studying drum rhythms with Jenna's Heartbeat of Bellydance dvd, Raquy was saying that to a zar rhythm you could toss your head or do "any trance-like movements".

    Now i know the article says that the middle and upper class of Egypt don't really ascribe to zar so it mightn't actually matter much to them, but what do you think?

    Where i'm from in Trinidad there's alot of rich cultural history and there's certainly some of it that my family doesn't ascribe to, but my mother always says "don't interfere in things you don't know about". For example, obeah - which has its roots in african mysticism but tends to have alot of negative connotations. My mother doesn't believe in obeah, but she wouldn't mess with it either - it's like a kind of respect in a way for what could be.

    Does anyone feel the same way about Zar? Or am i just silly and superstitous?

  2. #2
    V.I.P. Aisha Azar's Avatar
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    Dear Mya,
    I was the Zarr ritualist in a dance company that I used to belong to many moons ago. It really is a trance ritual and it works....

    Quote Originally Posted by Mya View Post
    Hello All,

    I just read this article on Zar :

    egyptian_zar_belly_dance_costumes_bellydance_dvds

    I thought it was an interesting insight into the culture. My question then is, is it kind of disrespectful for bellydancers in performing to imitate some of the things described there? When I was studying drum rhythms with Jenna's Heartbeat of Bellydance dvd, Raquy was saying that to a zar rhythm you could toss your head or do "any trance-like movements".
    NO. it is not disrespectful. In fact, I have video of both Lucy and Heyertum doing Zarr type movements to Ayoub rhythm, in belly dance costume. (In fact, Heyertum is on the verge of losing part of her's).

    Now i know the article says that the middle and upper class of Egypt don't really ascribe to zar so it mightn't actually matter much to them, but what do you think?
    Can I get back to you on this and tell you alter about my freind's uncle in Alexandria, who happens to be a Coptic priest, who has performed Zarr rituals?

    Where i'm from in Trinidad there's alot of rich cultural history and there's certainly some of it that my family doesn't ascribe to, but my mother always says "don't interfere in things you don't know about". For example, obeah - which has its roots in african mysticism but tends to have alot of negative connotations. My mother doesn't believe in obeah, but she wouldn't mess with it either - it's like a kind of respect in a way for what could be.
    When I get back here later, I will try to tell you what a people, have told me about Zarr ritual, both dancers and on-dancers. I will also try to relate my own experiences with Zarr since I got really, and I mean REALLY into it when I was much younger dancer. Nothing scary ever happened.

    Does anyone feel the same way about Zar? Or am i just silly and superstitous?
    I think that there is nothing silly or superstitious about being careful about other people's rituals and rites.

    Regards,
    A'isha

  3. #3
    V.I.P. Tarik Sultan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mya View Post
    Hello All,

    I just read this article on Zar :

    egyptian_zar_belly_dance_costumes_bellydance_dvds

    I thought it was an interesting insight into the culture. My question then is, is it kind of disrespectful for bellydancers in performing to imitate some of the things described there? When I was studying drum rhythms with Jenna's Heartbeat of Bellydance dvd, Raquy was saying that to a zar rhythm you could toss your head or do "any trance-like movements".

    Now i know the article says that the middle and upper class of Egypt don't really ascribe to zar so it mightn't actually matter much to them, but what do you think?

    Where i'm from in Trinidad there's alot of rich cultural history and there's certainly some of it that my family doesn't ascribe to, but my mother always says "don't interfere in things you don't know about". For example, obeah - which has its roots in african mysticism but tends to have alot of negative connotations. My mother doesn't believe in obeah, but she wouldn't mess with it either - it's like a kind of respect in a way for what could be.

    Does anyone feel the same way about Zar? Or am i just silly and superstitous?
    Just read the article. Its not really as simple as the article leads to believe. Its a whole religious system, its not a dance or a "ritual" but rather, rituals and ceremonies are part of the larger system. Its similar to our traditional systems in the Caribbean like Santeria, or Chango Baptist in Trinidad, or other systems derived from Orisha devotion. What is actually done depends on the circumstances of the person involved. In some cases it could be that the person is being harmed by negative forces sent by someone or attracted to the person because of something they did. That would require one type of ceremony. It could be the case that the spirit is what we would call a guardian angel, protector, who for whatever reason needs to establish a closer relationship with the person and therefore, does things to get attention so that they are aware of the situation. It could be that the person is meant to be a sheikha or shaman herself and once again, their guardian spirits are trying to get their attention so the process of apprenticeship can begin. In the latter two cases, this is a life long relationship which will require annual parties to honor the guardian spirit.

    However, unlike what the article leads to believe, Zar is looked down on by the orthodox Islamic community, just the same way that the official Christian clergy looks down on Shango Baptist, Pocominio, Obeah etc. Its also considered to be a very low class thing, but you know how it goes. Just like in the West Indies, people say one thing, but when they need help, they tend to visit the most strangest neighborhoods, of course without telling their friends where they're going.

    There is no problem going through the motions in a staged show though. You'd only be doing a theatrical tableau, not an attempt to conduct an actual ceremony.
    Last edited by Tarik Sultan; 09-23-2008 at 05:47 PM.

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    V.I.P. Mya's Avatar
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    Thanks Tarik for the additional information and the examples that i can relate to.

    A'isha, i look forward to what your sources have to share as well!

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    V.I.P. Yasmine Bint Al Nubia's Avatar
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    Mya, I congratulate you on your inquistive nature and the sincere desire to research the dance culture.It is evident that your respect it!! I, too, had such reservations, but have since learned otherwise.
    Even if you choose not to perform Zaar in a theatrical presentation..you will have a wealth of knowledge about..what, where, who, why and how!
    Peace Sister
    Yasmine

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    V.I.P. Sita's Avatar
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    Hi Mya,
    It's funny you posted this as I have started seeking information on Zar rituals I'm quite interested in spiritual dances and researching them but I come from a very how shall I put it fay.. spiritually.. ...sensitive/respectfully aware family (e.g halloween is not celebrated in our house at all, going out in the evening on the day in case of the shee and bad spirits) ... not to mention my religion is not so keen on such matters .. So I tend to act tentatively on such matters... ( as my mama tends to quote 'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,Than are dreamt of in your philosophy')
    So I do understand how you feel and the desire for caution.
    However I think you are approaching it in the right way by seeking guidance and being cautious and respectul to the... otherworld these acts inhibit... I think respect is the key here.. you shouldn't offend anything/one if you are respectful in your actions or thoughts
    Not sure if this will help but I found this clip on youtube


    I'm also really interested in your experiences A'isha and look fwd to reading them

    Sita
    Last edited by Sita; 09-24-2008 at 03:05 AM.

  7. #7
    V.I.P. Aisha Azar's Avatar
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    Dear Mya and Sita,
    I am so sorry that it took me so long to get back to this. I have been working night and day on getting these huge Nejdi style dresses built for a performance on Saturday and it just did not leave much time for anything else..... like combing my hair for example... I hope to do that today, too!! ( Mahmoud, if you are reading this, they are FINALLY done!! Well, three of them... I will put the other dancer in a regular Hindi style thobe with 4 other dancers.)
    If you can get hold of the March 2005 issue of "Egypt Today" there is an excellent article on Zarr. The author is Manal El-Jesri, the article discusses the origins of Zarr according to Zar musicians who are some of the few remaining in Egypt now. They say Zarr was originally for a small circle of people to communicate with spirits and that it is one of the "few healing ceremonies performed mainly by women and for women in an attempt to pacify the spirits and win some measure of inner harmony". The music originated in Africa and is poly-rhythmic and has a very different tradition than most Egyptian music. Participants often experience not only catharsis but often altered states of consciousness. ( I know I did!!). In 2005 there were only 24 Zar performers left in Egypt, not counting some types of Zar that are more like Sufi trance dance.

    Here are some Zar related terms:
    Hadra- the place where the Zar occurs, usually someone's house.
    Sangaa- Male Zar leader
    Leila- Night, which is what a zar performance is called.

    According to the people interviewed for the article, the Mazaher group of musicians, the Zarr is requested by the family of a woman is "not feeling well", but never to cause conception,which can only happen at the will of God. "It is mostly people with psychological problems who come to us."
    People also come to Zarrs to be entertained, it seems.


    This is from a friend of mine who is from Alexandria and Coptic: Her uncle is a Coptic priest and when she was a child of nine years old, she witnessed him performing a Zar with a woman who was possessed and she thought the event was very creepy. The woman "talked in a man's voice", which seems to be a sign of demon possession in the Middle East, this seems to have been a different kind of Zar from he usual more communal event that is described above, and there seems to have been cause to believe that this woman was not just "married to a Djinn", but that some other kind of possession had taken place with a seriously evil entity to be driven out. In usual cases, the Djninn does not seem THAT nasty and it is with the woman always, and just acts up now and again. My friend said that this Zarr involved her uncle doing a lot of praying and the woman acting very bizarre.
    About the woman talking in a man's voice thing. The same night I was talking with my Alexandrian friend about Zarr, a friend from Saudi Arabia was there and she mentioned that when her class was taking exams at university, a woman in the class room started talking in a man's voice and they made everyone else leave the room. She does not know what happened after that.

    This is info from several people, but Sahra Kent contributed to it also and I want to give her credit since I remember the conversation with her very vividly. We were both very into studying Zarr at the time. This is just sort of a typical scenario and it is how I explain Zarr to my students:

    Fatmeh is newly married and she lives in the countryside in Egypt. She lives with her new husband's family, including his mother, father, brother and wife and three children and two unmarried sisters. Fatmeh finds that she is at everyone's beck and call, helping with the children, the cooking, the cleaning, working in the garden, taking care of the chickens, etc. She is 17 years old and does not think much of this life of her's. She goes along for a time and resentment builds because she is tired of doing so much work with so little reward. One day she just snaps and has a huge temper tantrum and lets everyone know just how she feels. when she stalks out of the house, the family all look at each other and think, "Ooooh, Fatmeh has a djinn!" It's time for a Zarr. Other people who are having problems with their family members will also attend a Zarr and the musicians and leaders are called and arrangements made.
    The event is social as well as functional and music is played and socializing is done. The people who are afflicted with an active and ornery djinn get up and start moving around in rather jerky movements, This will go on all night and in some cases, they get totally exhausted and the movements become more and more violent and eventually they fall on the floor, worn out. This is the time when someone will approach Fatmeh and her fellow sufferers in hopes of finding out what it is their djinns want. Mostly they seem to want things like new shoes or a dress, and the family will take pains to get it for them, in order to appease the djinn. Everything will go back to normal for some time after this. From a sociological point of view, this seems to be a great way to relieve pressure in the community and especially in the family. It also allows people to act out without having to take any blame or place any blame on a familial situation that has no solution.

    I am afraid this may be getting too long ,so I am going to post and continue later with my own experiences with Zarr.
    Regards,
    A'isha
    Last edited by Aisha Azar; 09-24-2008 at 05:21 PM.

  8. #8
    V.I.P. masrawy's Avatar
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    Dear A'isha,
    I am reading this post with some interest in the subject I'm not expert in it, but I have different takes in such ritual. I am not Islamist fundamentalists but my Muslim background guide me to see the light through the darkness of "Khozablat" can't think of a good translation to this word at this moment. Salam~Mahmoud

  9. #9
    V.I.P. Aisha Azar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by masrawy View Post
    Dear A'isha,
    I am reading this post with some interest in the subject I'm not expert in it, but I have different takes in such ritual. I am not Islamist fundamentalists but my Muslim background guide me to see the light through the darkness of "Khozablat" can't think of a good translation to this word at this moment. Salam~Mahmoud

    Dear Mahmoud,
    Please look high and low for the meaning of the word. Should I call one of my friends who speaks perfect English and ask if she knows anything about the word, what it might mean as a translation to English? Your English is really good, though, so maybe it is just a completely hard word to translate??
    Please share with us your feelings and ideas about Zarr.
    Regards,
    A'isha

  10. #10
    V.I.P. masrawy's Avatar
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    Dear A'isha and gang,
    Well, despite the misconception as Muslims we do use logic and reasons and that's why is the Zarr is rejected by educated Muslims. It's a ritual but not spiritual ... it does not even rise to cult it plays to a simpleminded individual who they have to believe in it in order for it to work and will what it does it robs them the little money they have. A similar example of it in the West is exorcism and speaking in tongues and the like of TV evangelists who can cure you though your TV set in high definition too. So I don't know what's the West attraction of such a ritual that is rejected in the East for its harmful effects in simple people lives. I hope that explain my view in this matter. Salam~Mahmoud

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