Encountering the "Other People"



Displacement and Emplacement



Black Spirits, White Saints



Voices of Ritual Authority



Sounding the Spirits



Trance, Healing, and the Bodily Experience



Pilgrimage and Place



St.ambeli on Stage


[/g/ is an alternative transliteration for /q/; /kh/ is for /h^/]

capp. 0-2.


0. (pp. 1-9) "Introduction".

pp. 1-2, 4 instance of spirit-mediumship

p. 1

"the ... master musician ... had lured the powerful ... saint Sidi <Abd es-Salem to possess a male Arab Tunisian <arifa (healer; lit. "... who knows") ... . ...

p. 2

Sidi <Abd es-Salem was ready to speak. For the next ten minutes or so, he conferred ... with numerous members of the gathering who had rushed over to consult with the saint. He

foretold futures,

provided advice on personal matters, and

informed individuals of the well-being of the souls of deceased friends or family members."

p. 4

"With facial muscles convulsing and one eye still rolled back, the <arifa returned to the front of the dance space, which was our cue to start the music for Sidi <Abd es-Salem one last time before the possessing saint took leave of his host’s body."

p. 3 healing by spirits during pilgrimage

"As st.ambeli ritual music, simply described as dwa>, "a cure," is largely concerned with healing people suffering from spirit affliction, the pilgrimage attracts many patients who are eager – or obliged – to enter trance in order ... to placate their possessing spirit in order to defend against further spirit attacks for the rest of the year.

p. 3 holy spirits

"the Blacks, otherwise known as "holy" spirits (, were never living beings and are understood as originating in sub-Saharan Africa. Typical st.ambeli ceremonies, performed in a single evening ... placate the spirit of a single, possessed client".

pp. 5, 7 tunes; music

p. 5

"each member of the extensive st.ambeli pantheon is identified with and summoned by its own unique and individualized tune or nuba (lit. "[one’s] turn"; pl. nuwab or, less commonly, nubet) ... . ... Each member of the pantheon has its own preferences and idiosyncrasies".

p. 7

"music communicates with the unseen members of the st.ambeli pantheon who have the power to intervene in people’s lives".


1. (pp. 13-42) "Encountering the Other People : Alterity, Possession, Ethnography".

pp. 13-5 prophetic spirit-possession; possession by spirit of royalty

p. 13

A woman "is wearing a green kashabiyya (hooded cloak) and holding a green, wooden staff in her right hand. She is possessed by Sidi <Abd el-Qadir, ... known as "master of the spirits" ( She is on her knees, head down, directly in front of the gumbri being played ... . [She] ... rises gradually, stamping the rod on the ground ... . ... When the music stops, she stands in place, swaying back and forth. The musicians begin to play the nuba of

p. 14

Sidi Frej ... . [Her] body rocks back and forth to the music in increasingly intensifying movements ... . ... [She] begins to writhe on the ground, trembling convulsively ... . ... The music begins again ... . ... [She] rises slowly as she becomes possessed by a spirit named Kuri and dances on her knees ... as she throws her arms into the air, one after the other, over and over.Then she passes out, indicating that Kuri has left her body. When she awakes, it appears that Sidi <Abd el-Qadir has ... possessed her .yet again. This time ... he ... foretells the future, in secret, to the women who are gathering around her. ... Sidi <Abd el-Qadir ... speaks to them about, among other things, the well-being ... in the afterlife ... . ... .

p. 15

... the musicians resume playing. ... she soon becomes possessed by May Nasra, a young, male spirit belonging to a family known as Beyet, or Royalty spirits. The women cover [her] in a pink and white sunjuq (large cloth banner)".

p. 18 geographic distribution of spirit-possession in the Muslim world

"African slaves contributed to the spread of zar spirit possession throughout the Sudan, Somalia, and Ethiopia and into Egypt and the Persian Gulf (Nartvig 1991).

In Iran, African Baluchis are specialists in trance rituals such as guati-demali and lewa ... (During 1997). ... .

... ritual practices involving elements of bori ... were known throughout the Ottoman empire, including cities in modern-day turkey (Hunwick 2004)."

Nartvig 1991 = Richard Nartvig : "Some Notes on the History of the Zar Cult in Egypt". In :- Lewis; al-Safi; Hurreiz (edd.) : Women’s Medicine : the Zar-Bori Cult in Africa and Beyond. Edinburgh U Pr.

During 1997 = Jean During : "African Winds and Muslim Djinns : Trance ... in Baluchistan". YEARBOOK FOR TRADITIONAL MUSIC 29:39-56.

Hunwick 2004 = John Hunwick : "Black Africans in the Islamic World : an Understudied Dimension of the Black Diaspora". TARIKH 5(4):20-40.

p. 19 etymology of /st.ambeli/

"st.ambeli derives from sambeli, ... a sub-Saharan term for spirit possession activities involving music and dance. [p. 205, n. 1:6 : "There are reports from the early nineteenth century that slaves in Tunis called their musical ceremonies sambani (Montana 2004a:189), which is what a similar tradition ... is called in Libya (Pa^ques 1964:473).] Indeed, among the Songhay, sambeli refers to an illness ... resulting from an attack of sorcery in which spirits are summoned ... (Stoller 1997:12-13 ...). ... The transformation from sambeli to st.ambeli was noted by 1920s". {Samba is a dance; Sambo is a Guinean man’s name.}

"The more common perception from outside the st.ambeli network, however, is that the term derives from istambuli, the Arabic for "from Istambul.""

{Since /s-/ is used as a causative grammatical praefix in North American languages (such as Kemetic), therefore a more apt stem-word could be */T.AmBeLi/. /T.ABaL/ (Strong’s 2881) is ‘plunge’.}

Montana 2004a = Ismael Musah Montana : "Ah.mad ibn al-Qad.i on the Bori Caerimonies Of Tunis". In :- P. E. Lovejoy (ed.) : Slavery on the Frontiers of Islam. Princeton : Markus Wiener.

Pa^ques 1964 = Viviana Pa^ques : L’arbre cosmique dans la pense’e populaire dans quotidenne du Nord-Ouest Africain. Paris : Institut d’Ethnologie.

Stoller 1997 = Paul Stoller : Sensuous Scholarship. Philadelphia : U of PA Pr.

pp. 34, 36 Dar Barnu

p. 34

"Dar Barnu is situated in the neighborhood of Tunis known as Beb Sidi <Abd es-Salem (lit. "gate of Saint <Abd es-Salem")".

p. 36

"Behind the closed doors of some homes, clairvoyants may be consulting with clients ... .

Behind one traditional, light blue wooden double door, in an alley just off the main thoroughfare of the street market. a patient may be seeking diagnosis for suspected spirit affliction, or a spirit ceremony may already be well underway. This is the door of Dar Barnu."


2. (pp. 43-67) "Displacement and Emplacement : ... the Emergence of St.ambeli".

pp. 45-6 legend of the 1st musician of st.ambeli

p. 45

"The legendary figure of Bu Sa<diyya – simultaneously the mythical first musician of st.ambeli and ... responsible for guiding displaced sub-Saharans to the appropriate communal house in Tunis" : "Bu Sa<diyya, according to legend, lived in sub-Saharan Africa and hunted to support his family. One day he returned home from hunting to find his only daughter, Sa<diyya ... missing. During his search for her, he discovered that she had been captured by slave raiders from a Tunis-bound caravan. ... Bu Sa<diyya left his home to follow the same trans-Saharan caravan routes to Tunis. Upon his arrival ..., he would wander the streets, playing

p. 46

the shqashiq and singing ..., begging onlookers to help him find his daughter. Bu Sa<diyya never did find his daughter.


But ... individuals would dress up in the mask and costume of Bu Sa<diyya and wander the streets singing, dancing, and playing the shqashiq, t.abla (double-headed barrel drum), or gugay (one- or two-stringed fiddle). ... The mask, which covers the entire face and drapes over the shoulders, has cutouts for the eyes and mouth that are lined with cowry shells ... . Atop the mask is a conical headdress topped with a tuft of feathers and the head of a bird with a long beak. ... Over the body is draped a long, bright red vest decorated with cowries and dangling amulets. Across the waist is tied a kind of skirt fashioned from dozens of animal tails ... . ... He continues to entertain ... onlookers, especially children ... (Ben Abdallah 1988:179-180)."


"Bu Sa<diyya ... attracted the attention of freed slaves and newly-arrived sub-Saharan migrants, whom he would then lead to the communal houses associated with their places of origin. ... . ... if language was a barrier, Bu Sa<diyya could still identify the origins of newcomers, because geography was inscribed on their bodies through scarification, painted markings, and clothing. "[The Africans] were tattooed and painted to tell where they were from, and Bu Sa<diyya knew all of their markings ... . ...""

ben Abdallah 1988 = Chadly ben Abdallah : Fe^tes religieuses et rythmes de Tunisie. Tunis : JPS Editions.

p. 51 a bori performance

[quoted from Richardson 1853:287] One of the servants’ wives "was performing Boree ... and ... majesty had taken possession of her. She threw herself upon the ground in all directions, and imitated the cries of various animals. Her activities, however, were somewhat regulated by a man tapping upon a kettle with a piece of wood, beating time to her wild maneuvers. After some delay, ... now possessed, ... she went forward to ... our servants ... and made over them, with her whole body, certain ... motions, ... and ... she declared to each all their future – their fortune, good or bad. ... The slaves carry these mysteries with them in their servitude ... . The Moors and Arabs, indeed, have great faith in these mysteries, and resort to them to know their future."

Richardson 1853 = James Richardson : Narration of a Mission to Central Africa, 1850-51. London : Chapman & Hall.

p. 56 names of the communal houses

"Tremearne (1914), using the Hausa term gidan (lit. "house," but he translates it "temple") rather tha the Arabic dar, notes that there were seven main communal houses in Tunis in 1913, ... that included

Gidan Kuri (i.e., Dar Barnu),

Gidan Belik,

Gidan Aska,

Gidan Ziria, and

Gidan Yara."

p. 58 deities of specific communal houses

"Dar Barnu accords primacy of place to the spirit Kuri, who is understood as originating in Bornu. ... The Water spirits (Bah.riyya) were most important to Dar Gwari and Dar Bambara, which had shrines to Sarkin Gwari and Sarkin Gida, respectively."

p. 59 functions of officers of a communal house

"The <arifa was a position typically held by a woman, although there were (and are) several men who held the role ... . The <arifa was responsible for diagnosing new patients, divining which (if any) of the st.ambeli spirits was responsible for the affliction, and determining which medicines and ritual procedures were required to placate the spirits. She was a conduit for the spirits, becoming possessed during rituals. She was also a caretaker for her patients, attending them before, during, and after their own possessions."

"The yinna was the leader of the musicians and ... played the gumbri and ... the t.abla."

All the other musicians, referred to collectively as the s.unna< (lit. "workers" or "craftsmen"), were responsorial singers, who played the shqashiq".


Richard C. Jankowsky : Stambeli : Music, Trance, and Alterity in Tunisia. U of Chicago Pr, 2010.