Morocco's Achoura festival: toys, drums, bonfires and charity
By Sarah Touahri for Magharebia in Rabat – 18/01/08
The festival of Achoura, celebrated this year on Saturday (January 19th), the 10th day of Muharram, is an occasion keenly anticipated by Moroccans young and old. Families gather for special meals, bonfires and fireworks and children enjoy the chance to buy gifts.
From stores in working class districts to large shopping centres, the trade in toys flourishes ahead of the event. Many traders stock new merchandise specifically for Achoura. With a variety of dolls, plastic guns, cars, swords, masks and other toys for sale, the choice is a difficult one for children and their parents. Marked with prices to accommodate all budgets, some traders set out their goods on the floor to provide easy access to even the smallest of shoppers.
This is the second year that Samir Taj Eddine, 26, is selling toys during Achoura. "I’ve bought 10,000 dirhams worth of toys from China. Last year, I made 3,000 dirhams in one week, with capital of just 5,000 dirhams," he said optimistically.
In addition to the many toys for sale, the so-called Tâarija drums are popular this time of year. They are prized not only by children, but by adults as well. The drums are part of a deep-rooted custom with Moroccans, going back decades. Teach Selma Sefrioui has been collecting drums since she was 16. "It’s impossible not to buy a drum at the festival of Achoura. All my friends do the same as me. We meet on the big day and sing and dance," she said, as she bought a new drum.
Children celebrate in the streets during the Achoura festival, eager for the big day which follows: "Zem Zem". Although this is the name of a well in Mecca, in Morocco the name describes the day when children are completely free to spray water at their friends and adult neighbours in the street.
When evening comes, the children light great bonfires and leap, sing and dance around them for hours on end. Wearing new clothes, they set off rockets in the streets. This activity, however, has started to fall out of favour in recent years because of accidents. Indeed, every year children wind up in hospitals due to the improper use of the explosives. The government has banned the sale of rockets, but some traders still sell them secretly.
Achoura is primarily a social celebration. Families meet in houses filled with the scent of incense for a meal of dried fruits and couscous with dried mutton (gueddid). Carrying candles, Moroccans visit the dead in the cemeteries and pray for them.
It is also a zakat day. Islamic education teacher Mohamed Rahmani said the word Achoura is derived from the Arabic word for the number 10, achara. "During Achoura, Muslims offer zakat for the poor, a tenth of their money from the previous year," he said.
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