Saturday, September 16, 2017

the bilmawn

We spent Eid al-Adha in Imlil last year, where an old Amazigh tradition still carries on during the days following the Eid. Thunderous drumming echoes through the valleys of the Atlas, and high on a hill one morning, we spied a group of young men dressed in various masks (and some fake beards) preparing to rampage through the village below, led by a fellow dressed in goat skins. This is what I was hoping to find on our trip, the mysterious Bilmawn.

The Bilmawn (or Boujloud) appears to be something out of Pagan times, something ancient— not unlike the Krampus or Portugal's Caretos, who chase young women through the streets whilst wielding sticks and cow bells. With twisting horns and dark human eyes peering through the eye-holes of a flattened goat's head, the animal smell still strong on the fur, the Bilmawn thrills and terrorizes young children by chasing them with a stick, collecting the discarded skins of the sheep sacrificed during the Eid. I have read that the Bilmawn and his cohort also collect alms for the local mosque, though I wasn't able to get much information on the tradition whenever I asked about it, and people seemed genuinely amused that I would even want to know.

Hoping to grab a sketch with this wild character, we approached him with our clumsy French. The Bilmawn, who either did not understand us or was so into his role, stared at us blankly through puffs of smoke from his cigarette, which dangled grotesquely out from under his goat face. One of his companions, wearing shades and a powdered face with a fake beard haphazardly glued to his chin, did understand. Of course we could sketch and photograph everyone, but we needed to offer a donation. Normally I would balk over paying to draw, but this was such a great opportunity and one that might not come my way in some time, so I placed a few dirhams into his powdered palm. The goat man extinguished his cigarette, and struck a pose.

As we drove off down the hill, I looked up to where we had met the bizarre cast of characters and watched them begin their descent into the village. The pounding of drums echoed as I imagined a group of children scurrying away in that wonderful mix of delight and fright.

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