There are several holidays in the springtime significant to Iraqis. In past posts, we’ve covered the importance of Nowruz, or Nevroz, to Iraqi Kurds, who are the fourth largest ethnic group in modern-day Iraq. This celebration takes place on March 21st.
Similar to the Kurdish Nevroz, Kha b-Nisan is traditionally celebrated by Iraqi Assyrians on April 1st. It is the Assyrian New Year and involves dressing in traditional costumes, parades, parties, dancing, and poetry. Significant Assyrian immigrant communities in the U.S. often hold celebrations for this, such as one in Chicago. In 1968, Assyrian Universal Alliance (AUA) designated this day as the official national day for Assyrians all over the world. (aua.net, Ashurian)
Iraqi Kurdistan also celebrates the fall of Saddam Hussein on April 9th regularly. The Kurdish army, or Peshmerga, was crucial to defeating Saddam in 2003.
This year, Jewish Passover takes place from April 10th to April 18th. Until about the 1930s, Iraq had a hefty and observant Jewish population, with their communities including sacred pilgrimage sites such as Ezekiel’s tomb. Between the 1930s and late 1960s, due to political tensions and growing anti-Zionist actions, larger numbers of Jews began to flee Iraq for the State of Israel, established in 1948. Between the 1960s and the conclusion of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, the number of Jews in Iraq continued to dwindle and emigration intensified. Following sectarian tensions of 2006 it is said that there are effectively no Jews remaining in Iraq, though speculation remains that some may engage in Jewish practices in secret. (Wiki)
In 2017, Christian Easter takes place on April 16th. As of 2013, the estimated numbers of Iraqi Christians ranged between 200,000 and 450,000. Most Iraqi Christians are ethnically Assyrian, an indigenous group descended directly from the ancient Mesopotamians. Sects of Christianity in Iraq include the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Chaldean Catholic Church, and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Most Iraqi Christians are concentrated in Northern Iraq in Kurdish-controlled areas. (Wiki)
Iraqi Labor Day takes place on May 1st, similarly to its celebration as a labor day internationally.
Fire jumping on Newrouz in Istanbul. ( photo credit: By No machine-readable author provided. Bertilvidet~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims). - No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=644472)
Today is Friday the 13th and we at Court of Morjana thought it might be fun to share a few well known protective amulets used in Iraq. Below are just a small handful of the most commonly used.
"The Eye" of the Evil Eye is one of the most common amulets you will see, not just in Iraq but across the Middle East and beyond. It is colored blue, which is a common color for these amulets, and is worn in many ways, from being pinned to a child's breast, worn on necklaces and bracelets, and hung on walls.
Our next extremely popular amulet is the Hamsa or Khamsa: known as "The Hand of Miriam" (sister to Moses and Arron) and The Hand of Fatima" (daughter of the prophet Mohammed). This amulet symbolizes the hand of God, and is extremely common amongst Muslims and Jews.
The Wolf’s Tooth is also found in places like Tibet and Scandinavia, but not necessarily everywhere in the Middle East. In Iraq the Wolf’s Tooth is an extremely popular amulet of protection, and considered by spiritualists and sorcerers to be one of the most powerful protectors against evil as well as having the ability to control situations.
"The Seven Eyes" originates in Iraq is not as widespread across the Middle East as The Eye of The Evil Eye or the Hamsa/Khamsa. The Seven Eyes has an ancient meaning and also makes an appearance in many religious texts. The Babylonians believed that in order to weaken the power of the evil eye or any energy that would harm a person, it is best to break up the beams or rays that come from the malevolent glare of the eye. This is what is symbolized by the seven holes of the amulet. The color blue, which is a common theme amongst all Iraqi amulets, symbolizes water. Water is used to absorb these rays/beams or energies that are looking to harm you. Most stones that are blue in color are considered protective in Iraq. For example, turquoise, sapphires, and lapis (which is also the color of the stone of Ishtar's gate).
Have a safe day out there...
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Growing up in London I remember my spending many summers at my fathers best friends home. Our “uncle” as we called him, had a beautiful home in Wimbledon that had an outdoor pool, which in the UK, meant you got to enjoy it maybe 3 weeks of swimming weather out of our rainy UK climate. I remember an old Iraqi lady being around, hanging out with us kids and fussing over us as old ladies do around small children, now at that age I called all older Iraqi ladies "Bibi", meaning grandmother. But, this was not my Bibi, this lady was my aunt's mother, her name was Azeema Tawfiq and I learnt later when I was much older, she was Iraq's first female actress.
Azeema Tawfiq was born around 1920 and was of kurdish origin, from an area called Jazira Abu Omar. At a very young age her parents divorced and her father cut all contact with them. Her mother moved them to Baghdad shortly after the breakdown of her marriage but then left Azeema to be raised by another kurdish lady called Azeema Hussien and her Turkish diamond merchant husband, Azeema grew up believing that this man was father. Although her real father, a gentleman from Mosul called Tawfiq Al-Gaylani, had cut all contact with Azeema and her mother, he was always aware of Azeema's whereabouts and what she was doing with her life, watching her from a distance, deciding not to be present in her life until later. Azeema married her first husband at at a young age and had two children, a daughter and a son, however the marriage did last and they divorced shortly after. Alone with young children Azeema was encouraged to pursue a career as singer by a cabaret singer of that time called Hassiba Almas. Through Hassiba, she was introduced to the world of cabarets or nightclubs in Baghdad and started making a name for herself at Baghdads prestigious Al-Jawahiri Cabaret club. Also, through Hassiba, she made many contacts in Iraqs show business world helping to push her popularity and career.
Iraq has never been known for its film industry, falling far behind its neighbors Iran, Turkey and industry heavy weights Egypt. There is some dispute over which film is concerned the first Iraqi feature length. In 1946 there was an Iraqi/Egyptian collaboration which produced two films, Son of the East and Cairo/Baghdad. However, because these were made by Egyptian production companies, many consider the movie Aliah and Issam to be the first Iraqi made film as it is the first Iraqi production filmed on Iraqi soil. The Baghdad Film Production Company was formed in 1942 by a collaboration of Iraqis, mainly, Iraqi jews. Due to tensions caused by the formation of the State of Israel in 1948 the company was liquidated in 1950, the same time as the mass Jewish immigration to Israel. The company managed to produce three movies in total, one Iraqi and two Turkish films interestingly, the movie Aliah wa Issam being the Iraqi film they made, it’s 90 minutes in length and cost 25 thousand dinars to make (a huge amount of money back then).
Through her fame as a singer, or a “qiyna” as they were known in those days, Tawfiq was cast as the leading lady in this romantic Romeo and Juliet style story. The story was written by Anwar Shaul and directed by french director Andre Hotan. Iraqi theatre pioneer
Ibrahim Jalal had the role of leading man and other well known theatre actors and singers were cast in the movie including, Salima Murad, Fawzi Mohsin and Jaafar AlSaadi. Release date or first showing, according to El Cinema, was March 10th 1947 but the Almada news claims the first showing was March 13th 1949. Other articles I have read about this film indicate 1948 as the year of its release. It was shown at The Roxy Cinema in Baghdads famous Al-Rashid street. Azeema appeared in one other film, Nadam, in 1956 of which she starred as leading lady along side Hussein Al Samaraai and Maqbula
Azeema remained active in the world of Baghdads cabarets, performing at Al-Jawhiri club from 1943 through to 1956 and briefly opening her own Cabaret club in the Karada district of Baghdad. Azeema recalls the story of how she met her real father, having never known him, to my father, Sadi AlHadithi, “She told me she had noticed, when she went on stage to perform, an old man or elderly man would sit and watch her night after night after night, this went on for a long long time. One night after her performance she left the stage and went to her dressing room and this man entered the room. Surprised and shocked she demanded to know what he was doing there, he held out his hands to calm her down and said “Habibti, listen to me, I am your dad”, he went on to explain that he could no longer live with his conscience having denied his daughter. He wanted to legitimize her status within his family and introduce her to her siblings and just get to know her before he died.” The story goes on, he tells her that he had always watched from a distance growing up throughout her life and had now, finally been able to approach her. Her father, a very elderly man now, through guilt and fear of damnation for his actions in abandoning her, asked Azeema what he could do for her, whatever she wanted from him he would provide, Azeema broke down in tears saying that all she wanted was to know her father and her family. From that moment on she was introduced to her siblings, integrated into the family and from then on continued to have a strong relationship with them. Her father formally acknowledged her in legal terms so that she would be included in all family matters such as rights to inheritance and family assets etc..
During her years of activity, her contemporaries at that time were Salima Murad, Afeefa Iskander and Zuhur Hussein, however she never reached their level of fame as she decided, after her daughters marriage, to retire completely from entertainment and public life, she was no longer heard of from the late 1950’s. Remaining in Iraq until the late 1970’s, Azeema then moved to London, UK to be close to her children and grandchildren. She passed away, in her home in Kensington, in the late 1980’s.
Very little information or footage is left of this very progressive lady who pioneered women in entertainment in Iraq by being their first actress and leading lady on the silver screen. One of the most significant and almost forgotten qiyan of the last century.
Here are a couple clips of Azeema:
Click image or follow this link to go to video: https://vimeo.com/170723856
By Sara Al-Hadithi
On Nubata’s hill is the scar of a grave
that appears on all hills marking the land;
closed on a hand that was open, free,
on the spirit of action, the heart of resolve.
God lighten the burden cast on a man
who never balked at his people’s needs.
If Yazid and his men have unhorsed him now,
how many squadrons and ranks he outfought!
Rise, people, against calamity’s tide
and a fate implacably bent on the best!
Rise for the moon that fell from the stars,
for the sun that for him would darken her face!
O tree by the river Khabur, how green--
if in truth you grieve for the son of Tarif!
for him who sought no gain but the Faith,
sought no possessions but lance and sword,
nor pride of horses but chargers swift
and steeds that know their footing afield.
We miss you, brother; we miss the spring,
and with thousands gladly would ransom your life.
Be not disconsolate, brothers alive,
for I see death set on the gallant, the great.
-Layla of Shayban-Bakr (Al-Faria B Tarif)
We rarely hear of female heroes and warriors because much of the history of women has been conveniently brushed away or belittled until it’s lost forever. In today’s world we have been encouraged to accept that women must hold secondary roles in life and little more than that. We are encouraged to forget the that although women have only recently been joining the military in the West, being a female warrior was not unheard of in the Middle East. In fact, it was quite common during the Pre Islamic and Abbasid eras. A very famous example of a female warrior was the wife of the Prophet Mohammed Aisha who lead her forces against Ali Ibn Abi Talib, and during the Prophet’s lifetime, he (The Prophet Mohammed) had a number of women warriors go to battle along side him.
A less famous example is the of a poet and Abbasid warrior from the 8th century named Layla Shayban Bakr, also known as Al-Faria. Belonging to a sect of muslims called the Khawarij, this sect were originally bedouins, followers of the Caliph Ali and known warriors who absolutely rejected the idea of a centralized state authority, and fought for an egalitarian system of government. They strongly believed in democracy and provoked the imperial muslim government for centuries. Layla was a muslim of pure Arab stock and belonged to the tribe of Banu Shayban. The story behind the poem above was a response to the death of her brother, Khariji rebel, Al-Walid B.Tarif who died battling the imperial troops of Yazid B. Mazyad. So grief stricken was Layla when she heard of her brother’s death, she mounted her horse and alone charged at Yazid and his army. Obviously failing this mission, she later went on to lead her tribe’s forces against the imperial muslim army twice before being deposed by her own people. She was not the wife of a prophet or a king, she was simply a young female warrior who is only remembered because of the poetry she left behind. An almost forgotten "Arabian Knight."
This is a depiction of Nusayba B Ka'b, she fought side by side with the prophet and although she has a bow and arrow here, she was known for her swordsmanship and famously throwing herself in front of the prophet to shield him from attack.
This is a very brief look at traditional bijouteries (Majoharat مجوهرات in Arabic) and jewelry worn in Iraq. Some are regional, some are national, some are Classical Arabic words (C.A.), and some are specific to Iraqi dialect.
One of the most famous Choobi songs, which is an absolute favourite in Iraq starts with this refrain:
كل الهلا بحبيبي الجاني زعلان
طابج ورده وخزامه والوسط عران
Kil el hala bi habaybi eljani z’alan
Tabij warda wa khezzama wa elwasta eran
Every welcome, my darling, who has come back in anger,
(s)he is wearing a warda and khezzma and an eran in the middle.
Warda, khezzama, and eran are all nose accessories that have been worn by Iraqi woman for centuries. Zalan is one song example of traditional jewelry that has found its way into Iraqi folksongs.
The following is a short glossary of terms that explain what these accessories are called in Iraq.
Let’s start with the pieces referred to in the song, and then work our way from the head down.
Warda - means rose, and as an accessory it is a rose shaped stud for the nose
Khezzama - nose ring
Eran - is a bar piercing that goes through the septum
Terrachi - earrings
Gladah - variety of necklaces
Tooq - a collar, same as the celtic torc neck piece
Silah (Or Silsilah) - meaning neck chain
Brooches and Headpieces
Chillab - A brooch for holding various headscarfs together fotah or shailah.
Shannagiyat - headband and scarf attachments
Gethlat - These are silver and turquoise bijouteries that are tied to the hair or a headscarf atop the head.
Dhafayir - Also hair bijouterie
Blabil - A brooch worn by young girls with bells, which attaches to the hair or headscarf on top of the head.
Braclets, Armlets, and Rings
Sewar - bangles
Swear Lawi - twisted metal bangle/cuff
Zanadi - snake armlet
Mahbes Sufi - Sufi Ring
Hizam - Arabic word for belt
Hiyassah - Wide strong cloth belt, with silver, and decorative stones.
Kamar - Kurdish or Turkish word for belt. Woolen belt with silver pieces. Similar to "Kuchi" styles.
Hijil - anklet
Hijil abu el shanshal - anklet with bells that jingle as you walk
Hijil messammat - solid anklet
Hijil Nafukh - hollow anklet, often seen on children
In this old Iraqi film clip you will also see some great examples of some pieces mentioned.
"Raqs Sharqi," as you all know means "eastern dance." Every country in the Middle East has their own version of raqs sharqi including Iraq. Court of Morjana have been been collecting and archiving many examples of Iraqi sharqi dance and music in preparation for deeper discussion in the future.
The Art of Iraqi Dance.