It seemed an indelicate way to arrive at a religious ceremony. We bumped in, out and around gravestones set in desert scrub, before pulling up in the minivan in front of a huge circle of men in white robes.
The pounding beat got louder as we walked to the edges of the circle and saw what they were all watching: green, red and leopard-clothed mystics swirling and dancing in a hypnotic fashion in the middle of the circle.
Their faces told the story: blissful is the only way to describe it. The bumpy ride forgotten, all things forgotten but the compelling dancing, chanting and smiling faces.
It was Friday evening in Omdurman and I’d never seen the Sufi dancers before, despite living in Sudan for five months in 2007. At the time it seemed too touristy, and a long way to go on my one day off a week. Big mistake.
If you go to Khartoum, it’s definitely worth taking the tour arranged by the Acropole Hotel every Friday from 3pm. You don’t have to stay at the hotel to go, but pay about 30 Sudanese Pounds and you’ll see lots of sights and, most importantly, end up at the Sufi dancing in Omdurman.
To learn more about the Sufi religion, I enjoyed reading this post: Sufism in Sudan, Part One. Here’s an excerpt about the ceremony:
“The Hamad al-Neel cemetery—a vast, dun-colored cemetery in Omdurman—is the headquarters of the al-Qadiriya order in Sudan and was founded by sheikh Hamad al-Neel, who is buried at a nearby mosque.
“The expanse serves as an attraction for tourists and photographers due to the nature of the order’s rituals, which combine African heritage, dance, music and colorful attire.
“On Friday at 5 pm, the cemetery fills up with people of all ages, ethnicities and walks of life who come to be a part of the rituals, while tea sellers and pamphlet vendors surround the area around the tomb site.
“The dervishes are dressed in red and green, patchwork, leopard-prints or flowing white ‘jellabiyas’ and ‘immas’ (turbans). Some sport dreadlocks, amulets and talismans, and others don on colorful hats and enormous strings of prayer beads.
“Standing barefoot above the sand and under the heat of a sizzling sun, a few men pick up the rhythm on their ‘tambours’ (drums) and chant ‘zikr’ melodically while the crowd swells palpably, grooving to the rhythm.” ((Continued in Sufism in Sudan, Part One)
(Posted by Alison Bate on Jan.1, 2012)