A three-day celebration is underway in a number of Moroccan cities to mark the annual Boujloud Festival, a popular exotic rite that includes singing, dancing and masquerading.
Also known as Moroccan Halloween, the Boujloud Festival takes place a few days after Eid al-Adha.This indigenous cultural event, deeply rooted in Berber tradition, involves people wearing sheepskin, goatskin, or bird feathers.
Some paint their faces with charcoal or wear masks, and some attach sheep hooves around their hands. The more bizarre the participants look, the better for the spectacle.
The audience is mainly comprised of women and children who dance and sing till late into the night, and sometimes the celebrations go on for an entire week.
The name given to this tradition differs from one region to another, but Boujloud is the most commonly used. It means the person who wears sheepskin.
The festivities are organised by local NGOs known as caretakers of the country’s culture and heritage, in coordination with local authorities. The preparations start with young people helping each other to weave unique clothes and masks.
After dressing up, the participants, accompanied by flute players, drummers and large crowds of people, move to the most famous squares in their respective cities for street shows – spectacles reminiscent of ancient Greek folklore.
Marked by the boisterous cries of children and women, members of the procession play music, dance and sing as the audience watches.
At a certain point in the show, Boujloud Men break into the crowd to touch the audience, especially children, with the hooves, conveying the magical power of the sacrificial animal.
This performance is commonly believed to be a blessing. In these cases, Boujloud Men are considered symbols of a good omen or repelling evil.
The symbolism of such practices varies from one region to another. In other regions, Boujloud Men are labeled as scary creatures, and by fighting them, a blessing is gained and a wish can be fulfilled.
The myths and tales of the practice contain numerous takes on the conflict between good and evil.
A number of foreign musical bands are invited as guests of honour to participate in some of the festivities to promote Morocco’s cultural and touristic richness.
The invitations are also part of the organisers’ quest to reach out to other cultures and to promote what they consider a renovated version of street shows that endorse tolerance, highlighting the ancestors’ beliefs through artistic, social and cultural activities.
The festivities have different names in different places, but are symbolic of a desire to hold on to ancient traditions and a yearning for the simplicity of a bygone era.
But mostly Boujloud provides room for entertainment and fun, with young people competing to show off their skills and creativity.
Ahmed Al Goni has contributed to this piece