Sunday, 14 October 2012

A break in Khartoum – whirling dervishes

I said in a previous post on my blog that I would have a full timetable directly after the school exams.  This turned out to be a misunderstanding.  After the exams, it will be the long Eid holiday which lasts until 11th November.  As I am therefore at a loose end, I decided to return to Khartoum for a break.  So last Thursday (11th October) Osman drove me to the bus station, and off I went, on the four hour trip to Khartoum.  Suzanna and Tanya, two volunteers based in Khartoum kindly agreed to let me stay with them as the SVP flat is full at the moment.

Baby camels
Adult camels feed from an old boat
The next day I decided to visit the new volunteers in the SVP flat.  I timed it beautifully, as some of them were about to go to Omdurman to see the camel market and the whirling dervishes at the Sufi shrine.  Both the whirling dervishes and the camel market are events which always take place on a Friday.  For one reason or another I had not managed to see them when I was in Khartoum previously.  We were a bit late for the camel market, but did see some camels including babies (see photos).  Then we took a bus to see the Sufi dancing.  This was the first time I have been anywhere where there were other tourists.  I met a Sudanese man and his son who told me that they come to the shrine every Friday just for the opportunity to practise their English with the tourists.  According to the internet, a lot of these events are ‘choreographed’ for tourists, however this one certainly felt very spontaneous.
Dervishes in procession
The Sufi version of Islam takes a far more emotional and mystical approach than is usual in Islam.  This includes ‘whirling’ dances to drums and cymbals.  Adherents follow the teachings of Shaykh Hamdu Niil (whose shrine it is), and the dancing is called ‘dhikr’. Dhikr is a ritual, where techniques are used to bring participants out of their ordinary life, and into a sphere of existence where the truths of reality can be experienced, and closer contact with God is made possible. I think the nearest equivalent would be meditation.  There is a distinctly African quality to it, both in the dancing and singing.  I enjoyed it very much.
Interior of Buren Temple
Exterior of Kumma Temple
Yesterday (13th) I went to the National Museum for a second visit as I was aware that I hadn’t done it justice last time.  There are several temples which have been moved from the north of Sudan to rescue them from the flooding caused by the building of the Nasser Dam.  They have been re-erected in large sheds to protect them from the elements. 
Wall carving from Semna Temple
As I have almost a month until I go back to Ed Damer, I am planning to book myself onto a holiday tour and see something of the country.  Many places beckon.  I think in the end price will be the determining factor.

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