Anzar is the masculine name for rain, but rain with a distinct personality. Anzar is the benevolent element which helps the vegetation grow, crops to be harvested and animals to flourish. In this way rain, likened to seed or semen, enters into white magic rituals. When the rain is long in coming, Anzar has to be cajoled in every way into distributing his life-giving force. Berbers came quite naturally to the conclusion a long time ago that the best way of going about this was to find Anzar a “bride�, who would stir his sexual desire and thus create favourable conditions for the spilling of the life-giving liquid.

This naïve sexual symbolism is within the same order of thought as other practices such as naked women bathing during the summer solstice, during Awusu, already condemned by Saint Augustine in the fifth century, the “nights of error� widely reported in various locations and at different times in North Africa, and since time immemorial, the more or less symbolic sexual practices accompanying the Cereres cult.

In the tradition of Anzar s bride, which is to be found throughout the
Maghreb region but especially in the pre-desert regions, a wooden doll, made out of a pestle or a ladle, is dressed up. Its arms are fashioned out of two spoons meant to catch, and to conserve in a symbolic fashion, the long-awaited rainwater. In some places, such as Tabelbala (Saoura), they make a proper dress, cut out and sewn around the wooden figurine which is then adorned with various necklaces and bracelets to give the impression that this is a real wedding ceremony. The most usual name given to the doll is a variant of ghanja (Taghonja, Tarenza….) alluding to the spoon symbol and receptacle which is linked to food and thus doubly effective. Often the doll is just called Tislit n unzâr (Anzar s bride) or Tislit n w aman (the bride of water). In the Rif mountains, they use a winnowing shovel in preference to a spoon to serve as a frame for the doll; the beneficial symbolism here is obvious, the shovel is also a receptacle and is furthermore regarded as sacred because of its link to harvesting.

The female doll is, in certain regions (Tasemtit, High Atlas Mountains) accompanied by an image of Anzar himself. Anzar is all dressed in black to portray a sky full of rain clouds. Anzar s bride is carried by a women who sometimes merely brandish a ladle or large spoon during the procession (Tunis, Jerba, M zab…) In the places where the rite has lost all its meaning, it can take the form of a carnival parade by children who remember, however, to chant the prayers for rain.

Several observations or tales have led scholars to think that the actual doll is only a re-enactment of a real bride offered to the rain. The text collected by H. Genevois from the At Ziki of High Sebaou (Kabylie) is quite clear. There are two parts to the text: an explanation as to the origins of the ceremony and a description of the ceremony itself as it was carried out “at a time when the At Qasi and the At Jennad were fighting the Turks� in other words, during the 18th century. The legend can be resumed thus: Anzar, the Rain King (the world aguellid is employed here on purpose) wanted to marry a marvellously beautiful young girl who had the habit of bathing naked in a river; as she spurned him for fear of what others might say, Anzar turned around the ring that he was wearing on his finger and the river immediately dried up. The young girl then called for Anzar out loud, he reappeared and they were united. The river began to flow again and the earth became green once more. The narrative points out: “These are the origins of this custom, during a drought Anzar must be celebrated without delay and the young girl who is chosen for the honour must offer herself up naked.�

According to this Kabyle account, the rain ceremony was effectively organised by women even though the majority of the population took part. The oldest woman of the village got Anzar s bride ready and gave a large spoon (aghonja) to the young girl. Throughout the whole time that the procession was winding its way through the village, the bride kept on chanting and pleading with Anzar for his intervention. The families visited by the procession offered food and sprinkled water over the bride. When the women reached one of the village s sanctuaries, they prepared a meal with the produce offered during the procession. The oldest woman then stripped the bride who wrapped herself in one of the nets which were used to transport sheaves or fodder. She called upon Anzar again whilst walking around the sanctuary, offering herself to the Master of the Rain and mentioning all the living beings, men, animals, and crops that were waiting for the life-giving rain. The women chanted as well, appealing to Anzar on behalf of Mother Earth, who was feeble, dried up and without force. At the same time, pubescent girls grouped around Anzar s bride, who was still naked, and began playing a ball game called zerzari, often played throughout the Maghreb region and more usually called kura or takurt. This game is played with a kind of hockey stick and a ball made out of cork or rags and its aim is to shoot the ball into a hole prepared for it. The moment that this happens, the bride begins a new, even more urgent, chant with the response sung by the group of young girls. The ball is in its hole, in the same way as seed, and all the women return home. The rain always began falling in the days that followed.

L. Jouleaud, following Doutté, Westermarck and Laoust, did not fail to make the connection between the ancient North African game of kura and the rain ceremonies. According to Westermarck (1914, p.121) in the region of the Ait Warain situated at the north-eastern end of the Middle Atlas range, two or three completely naked women played at kura to make the rain fall. It was the same for the Tsul, to the north-west of *****a, where the players used a spoon to throw the ball. In this way provocative nudity, the symbolic receptacle and the ball game which gave the image of seed falling into the ground were closely linked in the same ritual game.

CAMPS Gabriel
Translated from French by Wendy Ouali
Encyclopédie Berbère, Edisud, Aix-en-Provence, 1989, vol. VI, p. 795-797.

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