The Spring of Regragra – Morocco

  • The Spring of Regragra – Morocco

  • The Regraga – Morocco

The Regragas are the inhabitants of Chiadma. The Berber Regraga were the descendents of the 7 saints apostles of Islam. During a trip to the Mecca, they learnt the new religion and they were told by the Prophet to spread Islam to the Maghreb.
Every spring (March-April)they carry out a pilgrimage of 44 sacred places : «the spring of Regraga». They bring the Baraka when they do their «daour» (trip) and at every stop you can find a fun fair and a souk where you can admire the «halqua», folkloristic shows with singers and dancers –the chikhates – a type of music that comes from the Bedouin singing.

Laâroussa  In the countryside in times of droughts, it is tradition to carry in the fields a white puppet with blossoms – named Laâroussa Chta. [Laâroussa=the bride on her wedding day Chta= rain] The chief of the Regraga Akarmoud is considered the chief of all Regraga.
Laâroussa relies the oral tradition.

The Khaïma : A sacred tent in the red coulour is transported on the back of a dromedar och represents all the 12 Regraga Zaouias. The moqadems (chiefs) of their zaouias use the tent to recieve visitors and gve them baraka. The Khaïma applies the written tradition of The Ifriquiya.

Regraga (Rejraja)Regraga refers mainly to the large pilgrimage effectuated annually by the Chiadma tribes. They have 24 zaouias.

It takes place in spring and lasts 39 days. During these weeks, pilgrims visit a series of local shrines, from the mouth of the Tensift river south of Safi to the northern outskirts of the High Atlas, including the city of Essaouira itself. They are led by two groups that effectuate a kind of round trip, stopping at every shrine on the way. One must dress at every shrine a holy tent made of fan palm fibres and dyed with henna, the other one arrives in procession with a muqaddim (religious leader) riding a white horse.

The Daour (tour) of Regraga visit in 39 days the tombs of 44 saints.It starts in zaouia de Sidi Ali Ben Bouali and ends in Sidi Messaoud Boutritiche (in Had dra)

The seven saints

The founding myth recounts that the Berber saints went to Mecca to meet the Prophet Mohammed. They were Christians followers of Jesus, but were awaiting the arrival of a final prophet. They went to the messenger of God to convert to Islam. The Regraga were also revealing the glossolalia of the Prophet Mohammed. Indeed, the latter spontaneously understood the Berber language in which they spoke. However, his daughter Fatima did not understand a word unknown language, which to her looked like rejraja, that is to say, “empty handed“. The Prophet said to her daughter: “You just give them their name. “He then instructed them to return to Maghreb to bring Islam. The seven saints obeyed and returned to their Berber country with an oracle from the prophet Mohammed. The tribes were converted en masse and reputation of Regraga spread widely, and well before the first historically attested Arab conquests. They had acquired the title and prestige of the Companions of Prophet. Each year, the seven holy warriors visited the tribes in the region to ensure that they did not apostasy: that is the origin of Daour.

The seven saints are:
Sidi Ouasmine
Sidi Boubker Ben Ashemas
Sidi Salah Ben Boubker
Sidi Abdallah Ben Salah
Sidi Aïssa Bou Khabia
Sidi Yala Ben Ouatil
Sidi Saïd Sabek.

  • The daour of Regraga in Morocco. A rite of regeneration.

by Manoel Penicaud

1-The Regraga form a maraboutic confederation in the Chiadma country located along the Moroccan Atlantic coast between the cities of Safi and Essaouira. They are known for their thirty-nine-day annual pilgrimage that begins each year at the spring equinox and during which they visit some forty sanctuaries of their ancestors. This spring tour is called daour, which means “tower” (see the map at the end of the article), and it is said that the zaouïas of Regraga “turn on the saints”. To understand the origins of this rite, we must plunge where legends and history are one, where orality and hagiographies are the main historical sources.

( These seven saints are: Sidi Ouasmine, Sidi Boubker Ben Ashemas, Sidi Salah Ben Boubker, Sidi Abdallah Ben Salah, Sidi Aissa Bou Khabia, Sidi Yala Ben Ouatil and Sidi Said Sabek) .

2-The founding myth relates that seven Berber saints went to Mecca to meet the Prophet Muhammad, while he was alive. Adepts of Jesus, they were Christians but waited for the arrival of a last prophet. They went to God’s envoy to convert to Islam. These Regraga were also revealers of the glossolalia of the Prophet Mohammed. Indeed, the latter spontaneously understood the Berber language in which they spoke. On the other hand, his daughter Fatima did not understand a word of this unknown language, which for her resembled rejja, that is to say, “stammering”. The Prophet then said to his daughter, “You have just given them their name. He then instructed them to return to the distant Maghreb al-Aqsa to bring Islam. The seven saints obeyed and returned to their Berber country with an oracle from Prophet Muhammad. The tribes were converted into masses and the reputation of the Regraga expanded considerably, well before the first Arab conquests historically attested. They had acquired the title and prestige of Companions of the Prophet. Each year, the seven holy warriors visited the tribes of the region to verify that they had not apostatized: this is the origin of the daour. Since ancient times, the descendants of the seven saints have been perpetuating this practice from generation to generation throughout Chiadma for thirty-nine days. But new functions and uses have appeared over time.

3-The Regraga pilgrimage has been studied by three researchers since the 1980s: Abdelkader Mana (in 1984), Georges Lapassade (in 1985) and Abdelkabir Namir (in 1996). All three then published their field journals or writings on the daour, but none of them, in my opinion, fully covered the question. Abdelkader Mana, the “discoverer of Regraga”, is the one whose approach is the most analytical. He developed the concept of “caprification” to describe the action of the nomads Regraga: they come “fertilize” by the baraka Chiadma Arabic-speaking tribes for the coming year. But after writing his logbook which was a major success, he did not deepen his research on Regraga. The work presented here is the continuation of these various investigations.

4-The daour is a complex socio-religious phenomenon whose workings and functions deserve to be highlighted. This is a long-term task that is still far from being accomplished, but the present study has shed some light on this issue. It was necessary to live the pilgrimage from the inside in order to answer the following questions: first of all, how is the totality of the Regraga daour? As a pilgrimage, what are its specificities? Does this pilgrimage then respond only to a religious / spiritual need or to more pragmatic motivations? If so why ? The fundamental question was more broadly: why leave, why the daour? We initially assumed that it was a ritualized physical mobility, necessary to lead to an extra-ordinary period breaking with the daily life of the rest of the year allowing the regeneration of the social body.

5-On an anthropological approach, ethnography has made it possible to observe the experience of the pilgrimage through immersion in one of the thirteen zaouïas of Regraga, called Taifa. The participant observation has since then provided a variety of materials: field notes, interviews, sound recordings, sketches and many photographs whose use may describe what the words say.

(The thirteen Zawiyas of Regraga are: Akarmud, Kourate, Talmest, Retnana, Taourirt, Ait Baazi, Boulalam, Skiat, Mzilate, Tiktent, Merzoug, Souert Mrameur, Aghissi).

6-As a warning, however, we must point out some of the limits encountered on the ground: non-belonging to Islam and non-mastery of Moroccan dialectal Arabic. But rather than obstacles, these limits have become investigative conditions that may have favored certain aspects, especially direct observation itself, as well as a certain often difficult retreat to adopt when one is within familiar terrain.

7-In order to better understand what the Regraga daour is, a first part will present its proceedings in a rather succinct way, while a second part will focus on thematically dealing with some selected aspects of the daour.

The unfolding of the daour

8-The Regraga are grouped into thirteen rural brotherhoods (zaouïas) scattered throughout Chiadma. This region is populated by Arabic-speaking tribes but Berber, so that the distinction between Berber and Arab is not always obvious6. We can nevertheless distinguish two major sets in the Regraga system:

1.On the one hand Taifa, which is the zawiya of the locality of Akarmoud, one of the thirteen which form the confederation. This group cultivates its independence and a kind of primacy coming from the fact that it owns on its territory three tombs (qubba) of the seven founding saints. The leader (moqaddem) of this zaouïa also occupies a capital position: always dressed in white and mounted on a white mare, it is called arossa, which means the bride or the bride. It is the subject of special treatment and devotion7.

  1. On the other hand, Khaima is the sacred tent of the Regraga, carried by a dromedary and installed at each stage in the center of the souk. Woven palm tree fiber (doum), it federates the thirteen zaouïas Regraga. Must stand there permanently, sitting in half-moon, the moqaddem-s or representatives of each of the thirteen groups. A large wooden box under the central pillar of the tent receives donations and offerings from visitors.

9-It should be noted that devotees and devotees come to visit either Taifa or Khaimah. Everyone is free to have his preference and habits. Note also that the two groups follow each other more than they cross each other. Indeed, their respective itineraries do not coincide exactly. It is common for Taifa to precede Khaima for a few hours, or even a day, and to make more stops.

Moqaddem of Taifa.







10-The start of the pilgrimage traditionally takes place on the Thursday closest to the spring equinox, before or after depending on the year. We see that it therefore depends on the solar / agricultural calendar, and not on the lunar calendar that is usually in force in Islam. Sometimes we have talked about circumambulation to qualify the daour. Of course, the Regraga turn on their saints around the emblematic mountain of Jebel Hadid (the Iron Mountain), but they actually make several loops in the country Chiadma, so that the term “circumambulation” is not adequate. The map at the end of the article shows the precise route of the daour: the Regraga in thirty-nine days travel an estimated distance of about 460 kilometers, knowing that some stages are very short and others much longer. They can walk for several tens of kilometers or only a few, depending on the day. It is often said that the daour consists of 44 steps. But we have identified up to 51, without this figure being definitive or exhaustive. This is due to the fact that there are secondary stages, stages without holy bodies (simple mosque or place of souk), off-program stops that only concern the Taifa group (eg visits to families of notables). ).

11-Tenography has identified the reality of the road, the experience of the road and mobility as such: that is to say as well the networks of roads and trails, as the various means of transport and varied (Walking, on donkeys or mules, trucks, taxis, camels, etc.), as the system of accommodation of the pilgrim society and the community life that expresses itself there.

12-Each stage is marked by the unfolding of a moussem, which combines patronal feasts and fair and trade fair.

It is important not to expect an orderly cohort of pilgrims. On the contrary, the flow is rather informal and diffuse: each Regragui walks as he wants or as he can. Some attach a point of honor to walk during the thirty nine days, but others do not hesitate to take the public transport which connect the moussems8 between them. For the latter, walking is not necessarily constitutive of the pilgrim approach. However, the journey on foot allows this surpassing of oneself, the crossing of the space in spite of the hardships of bad weather, and the satisfaction to arrive at the long-awaited stage in the evening. The historian Alphonse Dupront (1987) rightly noted that pilgrimages privileged either the effort (of the journey) or the term (the sacral meeting in the holy place). The specificity of daour compared to most other Moroccan moussem is to combine these two aspects: distance and duration really put the notion of displacement and effort at the center of the pilgrimage, as well as the rituals performed instead saint.


13- Without going too far into the details of the precise course of the pilgrimage, it is important to consider that everything is structured and programmed, according to what must be called a real ritual scenario, even though everything seems at first rather disorganized, even disordered. The memory plays a determining role in the transmission of said scenario and in its realization / annual updating. The role of memory is illustrated in particular in the relationship to space and orientation of pilgrims Regraga. Without a clock, a map or a compass, they always know where they are and which way to go (Mana, 1988). Certainly, the route is written in the memories, but one can also say that the memory of the scenario is inscribed in space into the body. Everyone remembers paths, people and places as we move forward. Memories emerge from the past to the moment and / or the right place.


14-The nested thoughts of Claude Lévi-Strauss (1962) and Roger Bastide (1970) on the do-it-yourself paradigm are invaluable for anyone working on collective memory in particular. In the manner of mythic thought, the Regraga develop, preserve and model their rites according to their myths, themselves in perpetual reworking according to the needs of the present. Let us retain the relevant expression of “ritual scenario” to qualify the daour. Often, there are “forgetfulness”, forgetfulness in this scenario, from which a sense of lack is born. So we have to fill in these gaps with “event debris” or “memories” to keep the coherence of the whole. It does not matter then what will come in replacement. This is precisely where adaptability, malleability, even improvisation and the ability to respond on a case-by-case basis appear. And Georges Lapassade to return to his first impressions about the daour: “There is order in this system, despite conflicts and contradictions, it is an unstable order, constantly built and rebuilt” (Lapassade, 2000, 47). To refer to this idea of ​​”ritual do-it-yourself”, as far as the Regraga are concerned, appears legitimate.

15-The notion of “habit” has also been found to be fundamental, and first of all in the mouths of Regraga themselves: they do as they have always done. It is the habit that dictates most behaviors and practices. But whereas the notion of habit is often connoted as a mechanical phenomenon, fixed, repetitive and unconscious, it has appeared in this field as a complex process that is highly inclusive, flexible and malleable. Corresponding to the idea of ​​custom, the habit then presents the same characters of flexibility, malleability and adaptability as those updated by DIY. From this type of habit to the “habitus” of Bourdieu, there is only one step of which we are only sketching here: habitus in the sense of Bourdieu is the social incorporated and internalized in the mental structures of individuals. In a way, it is the matrix of the process of socialization, “a principle generating strategies that makes agents capable of coping with unforeseen and ever-changing situations” (Bourdieu, 1992: 102). It makes it possible to signify the world and make it intelligible to the agents. To do the daour is to learn the world.

  • Sense, functions and challenges of the daour

16-The baraka is at the center of this pilgrimage and these beliefs. The Regraga are the transmitters / transporters of the baraka of their holy ancestors. Thus there are two levels of intermediaries between the faithful and God: the saints and their descendants.

17-Abdelkader Mana (1988) developed the concept of “caprification” to describe Regraga’s action on baraka claimants. This is technically an arboreal operation practiced by the peasants which consists in making fertile a fig tree become sterile. By their passage, Chorfa Regraga “symbolically fertilize” the sedentary tribes Khoddam.(The chorfa are the lords, while the Khoddam are their servants). This notion seems legitimate to me, even if it aroused (and continues to arouse) a misunderstanding among the main stakeholders: the Regraga heard an allusion to sexual practices. But the report is above all metaphorical and symbolic.

18-The Regraga operate by blessings (fatha) that come to solicit their visitors. These are primarily demands for protection, fertility, health, healing and success of all kinds. But they also proceed with curses when they feel that it is right or in response to an already done evil. A certain temporal power is also granted to Regraga during the time of the day since they manage current affairs and any internal problems, without the official authorities being concerned, except as a last resort.

19- Baraka seekers offer various types of offerings in return: lodging and food on the one hand, and money gifts on the other hand (ziyara). (Ziyâra here means a gift in addition to the commonly accepted idea of ​​”visitation” and thus of pilgrimage)

This money is shared daily among all zaouïas, then divided among all the present members of each group. The sum total amounts to several thousand dirhams daily, but the share granted to each Regragui never exceeds a few dirhams. The sharing actually responds to very specific rules that it would be tedious to list here. Note, however, that this system gives rise to some internal tensions: for example, the moqaddem of Taifa enjoys the privilege of keeping the ziyāra directly paid to it without having to redistribute it to other zaouïas. This use is one of the characteristics of this character. The reception and the redistribution of the offerings generate stakes of power, in particular between the group of Taifa and that of Khaima. However, this “tension” is accepted, assimilated, to produce a certain dynamism within the internal system that avoids any monopoly situation on the part of one or the other group. For its part, the central power (the makhzen) is implicitly present at the event, through official ceremonies, police forces and national flags. This presence is moreover experienced rather than appreciated. But although it is clearly visible during the headlights, it is however limited in most rural and remote stages.

20-The agrarian dimension of the pilgrimage is very important. The context is eminently rural, apart from the single urban stage of Essaouira. Thus, the Regraga bless people but also the fields, hence the idea of caprification above expressed. Their passage accompanies / causes the arrival of the spring and puts an end to the dormition of the nature that represents the winter. The theme of the dormitory echoes the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus to which the seven saints Regraga are associated. Thus we speak of “people of the cave” about the Khaima, in reference to the famous surah of the Koran bearing this name.

(On the theme of the Seven Sleepers in the Mediterranean, the famous orientalist Louis Massignon has collected a lot of archaeological and iconographic data, taken up by Father Yves Moubarac (1961).

Offering great couscous dishes

21-The Regraga come to concretize the passage of the winter (associated with death / sleep) in the spring which is renewal and cyclical rebirth. The singular conception of the relationship between sleep and death is further illustrated by the proverb: “sleep is brother of death”. And Boujemaa Lakhdar, former curator of the museum of Essaouira, adds that: “The dormition is not death but it is a sleep that looks like death. The sleeping vegetation awaits the return of the beautiful season. (…) For crops to be abundant, it is necessary that the baraka (of Regraga) come to complete and complete the work of nature “. So people believe that nature will not wake up if the Regraga do not pass. The pomp and the evil are therefore considered as a direct consequence of the devotion to the saints Regraga. Scarcity and drought, for example, are perceived and explained by the lack or decline of loyalty to Regraga.

22-The character of the moqaddem of Taif maintains a privileged relationship with the rain which is the gift of the sky hoped by all for the crops to be abundant. Its surprising name of “bride” or “fiancée” (arossa) is in fact the re-appropriation by the man of the virtue of birth, and contradicts the usual problematic of the masculine / feminine. He is a man who favors rain. This use is reminiscent of a rain ritual called tarunja observed among the Berbers by Emile Laoust (1926). This old agrarian rite consists in making a white doll called arossa chta, which is then walked in the field to get the rain. Marriage and rain go hand in hand. Arossa is associated with rain and the return of spring. Can one then make the hypothesis of the daour as the reproduction on another scale of the old Berber rite of tarunja? One can certainly formulate it, without answering hastily.

23-Thanks to the baraka, the Regraga are also great healers. Miraculous cures are attested even nowadays. Each sanctuary has a therapeutic specialty, so it has been possible to draw up a list: Sidi Ali Maâchou cures for example rabies, Sidi Abdallah or Sidi Ahmed cancer, while many others treat possession by the spirits (jnoun). But unlike other popular Moroccan brotherhoods, the Regraga have neither rituals nor specific ecstatic music. Only the baraka, their prayers and their piety are enough to free the weight of the evil eye and untie the knots and traps set by the spirits. It is also necessary to emphasize the fundamental idea in Islam of niya, that is to say the good / just intention. The healing seeker must have the niya, without which point of healing. The niya is one of the keys of popular therapy in Morocco and among the Regraga: the niya is worth the act.

24-Commerce is also an essential component of each stage in which a fair of varying size is held depending on the size of the sanctuary and the access routes. But this commercial aspect is not peculiar to this pilgrimage: most Moroccan moussems are accompanied by a souk. The day before the daour is held safia, the commercial day where we prepare the festivities of the next day. Each moussem is the occasion of a “souk of the barouk” where all that is there is barouk thanks to the baraka which emanates from the adjoining sanctuary. The passage of the Regraga is in many remote places the only opportunity to stock up on all kinds of food products or consumer goods. The transport of men and goods is incessant night and day. It is daily a whole city of paintings and tents that settles and dismounts in order to relocate to the next sanctuary.

Souk of the barouk

25-Along with trade, the moussem is finally an opportunity to party and to amuse oneself. It is often the only annual event except public and official national holidays. The village (douar) sees playing games, fairground shows and various rides for the pleasure of all. The moussem then takes on the appearance of a fair. Sometimes there are chikhât concerts (dancers with liberated customs) or fantasias (very famous equestrian games). Note the presence of a growing number of foreign tourists on the occasion of the great fantasia of the last stage of the daour. But this festive aspect does not make the specificity of the daour, because most other Moroccan moussems know the same phenomenon. The anthropologist Fenneke Reysoo (1991) has asked the question of the secularization of moussems in general about ten years ago, which does not seem to be the case for the Regraga daour. However, it is indisputable that the party marks a break with the daily time and order.

Show of traveling musicians

26-All of this leaves the pilgrimage as an extra-ordinary period fundamentally different from the ordinary life of the rest of the year. Indeed, the existential categories of time and space are transformed, at least lived as such. The specificity of the daour is relative to its duration since it extends over thirty nine days which makes some say that it is the longest Islamic moussem.

27The rich thought of the British anthropologist Victor Turner (1990) then adapts remarkably to the daour. This author distinguishes in society the succession of two juxtaposed or alternating phases / periods: the communitas and the structure. The term structure is to be understood in the sense of British structuralism, that is to say in the sense of “social structure”, and not in the sense of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s structuralism. The structure is a part of society, but does not cover the whole society. By transposing this bipartition about Regraga, the period of “structure” covers the whole year except the time of the daour which is precisely the second period, that of the communitas. Turner deliberately chooses the Latin formula so as not to give it the overused / scattered sense of community. It means by communitas a less structured community than the first model, or structured differently.

28-In summarizing the analysis, it is important to note that we live in an alternative reality temporarily. We enter the pilgrim society daouryine (the people of the daour) who dismantles at the end of the pilgrimage until the following year. It is indeed an initiation rite of passage for neophytes who begin to walk from puberty, but not for everyone. The pilgrimage corresponds to the introductory phase of the rites of passage, but its peculiarity is due to its repetition: it is done every year. This means that the benefit and the acquis are also temporary. This rite of passage is accompanied by a temporary change of status in the communitas, without provoking a lasting change of status in the structure. The alternation of these two periods allows the balance of the whole society, hence the need for liminarity and extra-ordinary. Every spring, society is regenerated.

29-The vitality of the current pilgrimage may seem surprising, especially since it is accused of heresy by fundamentalists and archaism by the modernists. On the other hand today, tourism does not present a threat to the continuation of the pilgrimage? The question may arise, but the phenomenon does not seem to disappear despite the presence of massive tourism in the city of Essaouira.

30-The pilgrimage of the Regraga is sometimes called hajj al-maskîn (the pilgrimage of the poor) echoing hajj, the great canonical pilgrimage of Islam. Although it is not the intention that is missing, many Moroccans will never be able to go to Mecca. It is said then that to do a certain number of times the daour of the Regraga is equivalent to the hajj, which attests to the prestige of this pilgrimage. Thus, many old pilgrims feed the secret hope of dying out during the daour.

31-One can certainly speak of a system peculiar to the Regraga, as we can speak of plural mobility, that is to say, at once physical, sacral, economic, festive, liminal, and therefore extra-ordinary, without, however, adding to the generalization of an interpretation in terms of total social fact. The initial hypothesis is validated, that of a physical mobility and an extraordinary mobility necessary for the regeneration of the social body. The pilgrimage begins with the spring and marks in the minds the renewal of nature and the year to come. In the tradition of Victor Turner, we can say here that the daour is necessary to the order of the world.

32-Ethnography has made it possible to identify the reality of the path and to reflect more broadly on the pilgrimage in general (through the notions of ritual scenario, memory, DIY and habit), with a view to comparative analyzes of several pilgrimages. since this is the characteristic of anthropology. An overall reflection could focus on explaining how self-displacement leads to self-transcendence.

33-The subject of the Regraga dour is still very rich, and the investigation was only in the particular group of Taifa, so that it is impossible to claim a systemic approach on the whole daour. This leaves many points in suspension and unanswered questions. It was reasonably inconceivable at one time to make the “turn”.