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Observations on Gnawa healing in Morocco: Music, bodies and the circuit of capital

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Gnawa musicians in Morocco conduct ceremonies to heal a variety of maladies, and they receive payment. However, the way the payment is rendered turns it into a spiritual investment. First, the ill person stakes the ceremony, which then becomes a joint venture between the troupe, the ritual healer, and the person requesting healing. The ceremony is to return blessing in the form of material benefits in addition to healing. The point is not to get rich, but to meet daily needs through honest work that benefits the community. This broader approach is possible due to the open space created and maintained by the Gnawa troupe I worked with, a situation mirrored by other groups across the country, but also contradicted by examples of exploitation and exclusion, a kind of ‘neo-liberal Gnawa healing’ that is, indeed, all too frequent. But still the alternative persists. What is its rationale? This article argues that in seeking a holistic approach to treatment, Gnawa healers perform important transformations on Islamic ideologies of the body, including a ‘complementary dualism’ that itself complements ‘antagonistically’ dualist Enlightenment ideologies.
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Keywords: Gnawa; healing; neo-liberalism; performance; slavery; trance

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Miami University

Publication date: December 1, 2015

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  • merging from an international network project funded by the British Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economics and Social Research Council, and research collaboration between academics and practitioners, Performing Islam is the first peer-reviewed interdisciplinary journal about Islam and performance and their related aesthetics. It focuses on socio-cultural as well as the historical and political contexts of artistic practices in the Muslim world. The journal covers dance, ritual, theatre, performing arts, visual arts and cultures, and popular entertainment in Islam-influenced societies and their diasporas. It promotes insightful research of performative expressions of Islam by performers and publics, and encompasses theoretical debates, empirical studies, postgraduate research, interviews with performers, research notes and queries, and reviews of books, conferences, festivals, events and performances.
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