Boujad Fantasia, Part I

Fantasia Boujad, MoroccoChain-lightning streaked across the sky. Thunderclaps heralded approaching greatness. Dust storms blinded on-lookers. And the sound of neighing horses echoed in the distance. Was the Age of Apocalypse at hand?

No, I was at Boujad's annual moussem (festival to a local saint) last week, and the fantasia horse show was just starting.

Boujad is some five or six hours south-west from my site. Flagging various local transports including grand taxis and souk buses, I was greeted in the Middle Atlas holy town with 50° C1 heat. My artisans and I had traveled separately to the festival2.

Although I never caught up with my artisans - the fantasia war exercise and the craft fair were held in different parts of the town - I had a great time at this cultural spectacule.

I think the fantasia in Khémisset was cancelled this year; I asked around and no one seemed to know about it. However, the Moulay Idriss (near Meknes) moussen is coming up.

Click on image for a better experience.

Fantasia Boujad, Morocco
The fantasia, rain or sun, takes place on a vast wheat-harvested plain. Many nomadic Berber tribes gather to trade goods and to compete in the fantasia3. Dressed in fine, traditional Arab clothing, horses and riders charge across the field and shoot their muskets in unison4.

Fantasia Boujad, Morocco
Fantasia horses are no ordinary work-horse: they are ripped with muscles and well groom. Only stallions are allowed into the fantasia ranks and files. According to Berber folklore, only men and virgin women are allowed to ride a fantasia stallion; a non-virgin on a fantasia stallion would corrupt the equine, causing it to loose its power and speed.

Boujad, Morocco
Each tribe repeatedly formed the line, charged across the field and fired off their rifles during the three-day competition. I haven't a clue how they are judged, or what technicals or fashions (best in show?) are critical5.
1. 120° F
2. It was a last-minute requests from my artisans for me to accompany them, and I had to get travel approval from my delegation, community counterpart, Peace Corps Morocco staff and police. Luckily there was no red tape, and everyone was in a cheery mood, to get the Work-related Leave Form signed to leave site.
3. I was told the winning tribe gets a huge sum of money, 15 million dirhams. Why would nomads all this money? Where would they put all that money, in the Bank of Nomads?
4. Akin to the Olympic synchronized swim team, there's always a rider or two who would fire off his rifle early or late.
5. I have this same ignorance when watching an ice-skating competition. It's all magical to me.

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