St.ambeli, 4-6


4. (pp. 95-111) "Voices of Ritual Authority : Musicians, Instruments, and Vocality".

pp. 95, 97-9 gumbri instrument

p. 95

"the gumbri ... can be played only by the yinna, the master musician and main ritual authority in st.ambeli." [p. 211, n. 4:1 : "In other troupes, he may be known by the apparently related term inagambara (Gouja 1996)."]

p. 97

"The gumbri is a three-stringed. bass-register plucked lute with a cylindrical body ... . ... A goatskin drumhead (jild; lit. "skin") is stretched tightly across the body of the gumbri ... . ... The neck (yidd; lit. "arm") fully transpierces the body. A rectangular sound hole (qamra; lit. "moon") is carved into the side of the body facing the performer. It is through the qamra that the yinna can access the items stored inside the body of the gumbri, including a number of amulets and charms ... . The strings (awtar; sing. watr) are attached to the neck by thin leather straps (fudha), which ... tune the instrument. A small wooden bridge (rakaz; lit "support"), with a groove for each string carved into the top, suspends the strings above the

p. 98

drumhead. Just behind the bridge sits a thin, curved metallic resonating plate (shaqshaqa; lit. "shaker"), which is pierced by numerous metallic rings, many of which hold metal amulets. ...

The body is often ornately painted. ... The drumhead, even though it needs to be replaced at least once a year, many also be decorated, often with ... henna, or h.arqus (black body paint used to decorate the hands and feet of brides)."


"The gumbri is the instrument that "speaks" (yitkallem) to the spirits and entices them (yijbidhum, lit. "pulls them") into the ceremony. ...

The lowest-pitched string is called shayb (old man) ... . ... The third string, an octave above the shayb,

p. 99

is called kulu, ... a sub-Saharan term that translated into the Arabic rdad, or "the one who answers or replies. [pp. 211-2, n. 4:8 : "among the Hausa, the lower-pitched string is called either "huge camel" (amale) or "little elephant" (giwa) ... . ... the lower register keys of the Shona [p. 212] mbira are called "old men’s voices," while the middle and higher registers are called "young men’s voices" and "women’s voices," respectively".] ... The kulu often fills in the space between other notes, providing a dronelike effect".

Gouja 1996 = Zouhir Gouja : "Stambali". CAHIERS DES ARTES ET TRADITIONS POPULAIRES 11:71-99.

p. 99 gumbri timbre

"The characteristic sound of the gumbri comes from a layering of three sonic elements : vibration of the strings, reverberations of the skin of the instrument, and the rattling of the resonating metal plate attached to the strings. ... Requisite accents of certain notes, usually accompanied by strikes on the drumhead, increase the volume and lengthen the decay of some sympathetic resonances while maintaining the continuous buzz characteristic of the gumbri’s sound."

p. 102 possessing-spirits’ interest in music

"the spirit would not appear without hearing its tune on the gumbri. ...

The gumbri, in fact, can communicate with the spirits without any vocals or shqashiq accompanying it, as is the case with divination sessions ... . ... although the gumbri melody alone might attract a spirit to descend, without the shqashiq it is unlikely that the spirit would stay for long, or become placated".

pp. 102-3 s`qas`iq

p. 102

"The shqashiq are metal clappers. Each set consists of four identical iron plates, two for each hand ... . ... Each hand holds one plate fastened to the thumb and another to the ring and middle fingers. The basic playing technique produces sound through clashing the two plates of the same hand against each other by opening and closing the hands."

{Heraklees had "a pair of brazen castanets, and "clacked the castanets" (GM 128.b).}

p. 103

"the first shqashiq used in Tunis were made from the shoulder blades of an ostrich." (Pa^ques 1964:549)."

pp. 104-5 t.abla

p. 104

"The t.abla (pl. t.abali) is a double-headed barrel drum played with a straight drumstick and one open hand, both on the same side of the instrument. ...

p. 105

The t.abla is used in place of the gumbri during ceremonies that begin before sunset, as the gumbri is mainly reserved for evening and nighttime performance. ... In most cases, the open-hand strokes of the t.abla fill in the spaces between the stick strokes in a manner analogous to the strumming of the kulu string on the gumbri."

p. 106 debdabu for pilgrimage [see also p. 165]

"During the pilgrimage, there is also a percussion assemblage called debdabu ... . In the debdabu, the ... yinna plays the t.abla, but ... in ... this context, the t.abla is positioned upright in front of the seated yinna, ... played with two sticks, one round and one flat. The s.unna< do not play their shqashiq; rather, they play ...

one gas.<a (a drum resembling an upside-down bowl),

two kurkutuwat (sing. kurkutu; small kettledrum), and

two bendirs (frame drums with snares)."

p. 107 gugay

"The gugay ... in sub-Saharan Africa ..., as in earlier times in Tunisia, ... is mostly associated with spirit possession music. IT is strikingly similar to monochord fiddles such as

the Songhay godji ...,

the Zarma goje ...and

the Dagomba gonje ... .

The closest etymological, morphological, and most likely historical, relative of the Tunisian gugay is the Hausa goge, which ... was ... with bori possession practices (Erlmann 1986:15)."

Erlmann 1986 = Veit Erlmann : Music ... in the Early Sokoto Empire. Stuttgart.

pp. 108-9 languages of the lyrics

p. 108

"the lyrics of some nubas are a combination of Arabic and Hausa, Kanuri, or Zarma. ...

p. 109

Several nubas for the Beyet are almost entirely in Hausa".

"The lyrics, especially in the nubas for the spirits, also preserve many words and phrases in Hausa and Kanuri whose meanings are no longer known."


5. (pp. 112-30) "Sounding the Spirits : the Ritual Dynamics of Temporality, Modality, and Density".

pp. 124-6 suga

p. 124

"the suga, which is used in nubas in the muthallith rhythm. When a dancer is present, the musicians often respond to and

p. 125

shape the trance trajectory through a transition to the suga. The suga is marked by a driving (in fact, the term suga is probably derived from the Arabic ysuq, "to drive") intensification that involves a further increase in tempo and volume and the suspension of resolution of the gumbri pattern. It is during the suga that a nuba reaches a maximum speed and a trance reaches the height of intensity, usually culminating in the desired passing out of the dancer."

"In the more vigorous trances, the suga also involves a more focused ...

p. 126

"somatic modes of attention" ..., as the s.unna< will rise to their knees, raise their shqashiq higher, and close in on the dancer".


6. (pp. 131-51) "Trance, Healing, and the Bodily Experience : From Individual Affliction to Collective Appeasement".

p. 134 enjoyment of music by a spirit

"In st.ambeli, music ... is to attract the spirits to manifest themselves through ritualized possession of a host. Once a spirit has taken hold of a host, the music continues to be played for the enjoyment of the spirit, who will be pleased with this".

p. 134 affliction by spirits

"Initial symptoms of spirit affliction may include partial paralysis, convulsions, syncope, tremors, blindness, deafness, muteness ... . ... In Dar Barnu tradition st.ambeli tradition, they are evidence that the client has become "shattered" or "broken" (yukassir).

pp. 135-6 appeasement of the spirit

p. 135

"After experiencing an "illness episode" ..., and typically after visiting doctors who are unable to identify the cause of the problem, a potential client arriving at Dar Barnu will engage in a consultation with an <arifa. If there is sufficient reason to believe a member of the st.ambeli pantheon is causing the problem or may be able to help, the patient may be ... instructed to perform rites at home. Later, a rite of divination is performed to determine which spirit ... is involved, after which the client makes a down payment on the st.ambeli ceremony."

p. 136

"not all cases of spirit possession fell within the domain of st.ambeli, because there are different types of spirits, each of which responds to a particular healing tradition."

pp. 136-7 diagnosis & divination; placation

p. 136

"If, for instance, one of the main symptoms is paralysis of the legs, if the patient has come into contact with a dead body, or if there is reason to believe black magic is involved, healers may suspect the spirit is one of the Banu Kuri ... . The Dar Barnu healers will then give the patient jawi (lit. "black Java," a dark-colored incense favored by the Banu Kuri, which the patient must burn before she goes to bed ... . She must carry the incense into each room of the house, making sure not to say "bismillah" ... before lighting it or entering any of the rooms with it ... .

p. 137

The patient must also take a specified amount of money, ... and then wrap it in a black cloth. She may be told to sleep with it under her pillow at night and try to remember her dreams so that she can describe them to the <arifa at the divinatory rite."


"After diagnosis, the patient undergoes a divinatory rite to identify the specific spirit afflicting the patient. The patient is seated on the ground, and a sacrificial animal ... is circles around the patient. The animal is then slaughtered, and the spirits are called upon musically to descend in order to be identified. To this end, the yinna performs the silsilas of the nubas until one provokes a significant reaction in the patient. This can consist of trembling, shaking, fainting, or convulsive behaviour, as well as, more rarely, dance. In any rate, ... the offending (and offended) spirit has been identified.

Soon thereafter, arrangements for the st.ambeli ceremony are sealed through the payment of the <arbun (cash advance) to the yinna by the patient or her family. At the ceremony, musicians will entice the spirit to descend into the ritual and dance through the patient’s body until it is placated. This will defend the patient against further affliction until the ceremony is repeated the following year."

p. 138 immolation

"Each spirit ... has its own particular sacrifice ... . .. It is slaughtered ..., butchered on the spot, and cooked for the meal that is the part of every st.ambeli."

pp. 139-42 dancing

p. 139

"the verb yasht.ah. is used to refer to any dancing that occurs in a st.ambeli ceremony. ...

p. 140

The term yasht.ah. derives from the Arabic toot that means to "roam" or "stray" and may connote "escapade" or "excess"". {The possessing-spirit hath roamed or strayed into a human host’s body, during that spirit’s excessive escapade.}

p. 141

"The second type of dance, jedba, occurs mainly to the nubas for the Whites. ... . ... it consists of forceful, repetitive ... bending back and forth at the waist or, on all fours, swinging the head to and fro.


These movements are ... generally referred to as (lit. "presence"). ...

{for that meaning, perhaps cf. [<ibri] /S^kinah/ (‘praesence’)} {[<arabi] / is ‘a civilized region with towns and villages’ = Strong’s 2691 / ‘courtyard; hamlet’}


The relationship between saint and dancer is understood as one in which the saint, through trance, "takes the dancer away" (yuhiz-ha; sometimes wajd yuhiz-ha "trance takes her away")."

p. 142

"each spirit has its own unique figurative or mimetic dance movements. There are as many dance movements as there are spirits."

"The proximity of the dancer’s body to those of the musicians and their instruments is remarkable : after bowing in front of the t.abla, she continues dancing with her head bowed down almost vertically above the drum and between the shqashiq on either side. She is enveloped in a pocket of sound."

pp. 143-4 manipulation for driving an overstaying invited spirit out of the host’s body (the spirit’s not having as yet departed being evinced by the host’s not having fainted)

p. 143

"The process of driving the spirit out of the body requires a chiropractic manipulation of certain body parts. First [the male manipulator] pulls [the female host for the spirit]’s arms backward behind her. He then pushes down

p. 144

on her shoulders from behind her. Then he moves in front of her, and, like a chiropractor, pulls her right arm behind her, as if cracking her back. He then repeats the procedure using her left arm. He turns her head to the right, and then to the left, both times resulting in audible "cracking" sounds from the vertebrae. Finally, he pulls both of her arms forward, jerking them together and then apart repeatedly until they fall loosely to her sides."

p. 146 censing the musical instruments for the rite of celebration

"Once the communal meal is finished and the sun has set, [the yinna] tunes his gumbri, then holds it above the incense, which is then passed in front of each of the s.unna< so that they can likewise cense their shqashiq."

pp. 146-7 spirit-possession by Nana <ays`a

p. 146

"she becomes possessed by Nana <Aysha, one of the Beyet (Royalty) and Sghar (Children) spirits. The possession by Nana <Aysha constitutes the ceremony’s only verbal communication between spirit and

p. 147

human. As her nuba ends, Nana <Aysha is immediately surrounded by a flock of young women who wish to have their futures told, Some wish to know if they will marry soon, others seek advice on solving personal or family problems."

pp. 147-8 Sidi <abd >el-Qadir’s bowl

p. 147

"The musicians begin the nuba of Sidi <Abd el-Qadir as one of the s.unna< walks into the midan [‘ritual dance space’ (p. 218)], balancing an enormous bowl of couscous on top of his head. He is followed in procession by members of the ritual gathering ... . This ritual is especially for unmarried women; only single women ... carry candles, but everyone takes part in the slowly moving procession, which, lighted only by the flicker of candles, circumambulates the midan seven times. ... The musicians break into the suga, and many members of the congregation, some still with candles, begin to dance. Nubas for Sidi Bu Ra>s el-<Ajmi {‘Revered Father Head the Foreign’} and Sidi <Amr precede the communal recitation ... .

At this time, an older man kneels down in front of a bowl of water, drinking from it without the use of his hands. One of the s.unna< sprinkles water on the head of this kneeling adept, which is a sign of placating a Bah.riyya spirit. All initiates ... must eat from the bowl in this manner. Tremearne (1914:466) notes that in Nigeria, this is understood to confer upon initiates the ability to throw themselves on the ground without getting hurt."

p. 148

"The performance of gas.<a [‘drum resembling an overturned bowl’ (p. 217)] is considered a highlight of the st.ambeli ceremony. ... Having initiates eat and drink from his bowl {which was a musical instrument : cf. "I have eaten from the tympanum; I have drunk from the cymbal" (S&MACC&A, p. 78, quoting Protr II.13.3)}, without using their hands, marks this off as a particularly esoteric point in the ritual".

Giulia Sfameni Gasparro : Soteriology and Mystic Aspects in the Cult of Cybele and Attis. Brill, Leiden, 1985.

Protr = Clemens of Alexandria : Protreptikos.

pp. 148-9 final offerings

p. 148

The yinna "uncovers another gas.<a, this one filled with mulukhiya, the dark-sauced dish that is eaten at Dar Barnu st.ambeli ceremonies to satisfy the requirement that "something black" be eaten."

p. 149

"Two large bowls filled with copious amounts of sweets are censed and set in front of the musicians as they begin the nubas for Miryamu and Nana <Aysha. As we near the end of the ceremony, Nana <Aysha possesses [the woman being consecrated], who lurches forward, grabs the larger bowl of sweets, raises it above her and places it on top of her head, where it balances as she dances. As the nuba ends, the bowl is placed back on the ground ... . The candy and nuts are generously distributed to all. The bags of sweets each of us will bring home ... will bring good luck (they are considered blessed by the ... spirits)".


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