:"For the article about music, refer to Gnawa music"

Gnawa or Gnaoua (Arabic alphabet: غناوة) refers to an ethnic group and a religious order, in part descended from former slaves from Sub-Saharan Africa or black Africans who migrated in caravans with the trans-Saharan trade, or a combination of both.


The name appears to originate from the Saharan Berber dialect word "aguinaw" (or "agenaou") (Arabic: أݣناو), meaning "black (men)". This word in turn is possibly derived from the name of a city significant in the 11th century, in what is now western Mali, called "Gana", in Arabic "Ghana" or "Jenna" and in Portuguese and later French "Guinea" or "Jenné".


The Gnawa population is generally believed to originate from the Sahelian region of West and Central Africa, which had long and extensive trading and political ties with the Maghreb and Algeria specifically, including gold and slave trades.

Popular history particularly credits the Moroccan Sultan Ahmed Al Mansour Ad-Dahbi's conquest in 1591 of part of the Songhai Empire, in particular Timbuktu, with bringing large numbers of captives and slaves back across the Sahara to form the Gnawa. However, the slave and gold trade with sub-Saharan African states had existed for centuries prior to al-Mansur's conquest, and it is unlikely the Gnawa community was in fact formed from one invasion but rather over centuries.

While adopting Islam, Gnawa continued to celebrate ritual possession during rituals where they are devoted to the practice of the dances of possession and fright. This rite of possession is called "Derdba" (Arabic: دردبة), and proceeds the night ("lila", Arabic: ليلة) that is animated jointly by a master musician ("maâlem", Arabic: معلم) accompanied by his troupe. Gnawa music mixes classical Islamic Sufism with pre-Islamic African traditions, whether local or sub-Saharan.

Many modern Western scholars see parallels between African American music such as the blues, that is rooted in Black American slave songs, and Gnawa music as well as Sufi tariqa. This influence also resonates from other spiritual sub-Saharan black groups such as the Bori in Nigeria, the Stambouli in Tunisia, the Sambani in Libya, the Bilali in Algeria and those outside Africa such as the Voodoo religion or the Candomble in Brazil. These similarities in the artistic and scriptural representations are seen by such scholars as reflecting a shared experience of many African diasporic groups.

Gnawa and music

The term Gnawa musicians generally refers to people who also practice healing rituals, with apparent ties to pre-Islamic African animism rites. In Moroccan popular culture, Gnawas, through their ceremonies, are considered to be experts in the magical treatment of scorpion stings and psychic disorders. They heal diseases by the use of colors, condensed cultural imagery, perfumes and fright.

Gnawas play deeply hypnotic music, marked by low-toned, rhythmic sintir melodies, call-and-response singing, hand clapping and cymbals called "krakeb" (plural of "karkaba"). Gnawa ceremonies use music and dance to evoke ancestral saints who can drive out evil, cure psychological ills, or remedy scorpion stings.

Gnawa music has won an international profile and appeal. Many Western musicians including Bill Laswell, Randy Weston, Adam Rudolph, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, have drawn on and collaborated with Gnawa musicians. Some traditionalists regard modern collaborations as a mixed blessing, leaving or modifying sacred traditions for more explicitly commercial goals. International recording artists such as Hassan Hakmoun have introduced Gnawa music and dance to Western audiences through their recordings and concert performances.

The centre for Gnawa music is Essaouria in the South of Morocco where festivals of Gnawa music are held periodically. The Gnawa of Marrakesh hold their annual festival at the sanctuary of Moulay Brahim in the Atlas Mountains.

ee also



* [ Gnawa Stories: Mystical Musician Healers from Morocco]
* [ gnawa at the Moroccan ministry of Communication website]
* []
* [ gnawa by Chouki El Hamel at Duke University December 1, 2000]
* [ Etymology of Gnawa from Encyclopedia Britannica]

External links

* []
* [ Essaouira at]
* [ gnawa at]
* [ Dar Gnawa Website]

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