The Mahfal “Gathering”… In the Footsteps of the Ancestors, With Their Customs and Beliefs - A Collection of Symbols and Signs
Dr. Al Zazyah Barquqi, Tunisia
Folk celebrations represent a fertile and abundant field and an essential incubator for the collective culture, where the spiritual, material and imaginative elements meet together, bringing beliefs with knowledge and mingling customs and traditions. The collective ritual celebration has rich semantic representations and symbols.
One of these folk practices is called the Mahfal gathering, in which a group of pretty women dressed in the best of their clothes and jewellery, gather for celebrations such as a wedding or circumcision, and parade towards the celebration house. The women hold a red quilt from its four sides so that other women may walk underneath it, while singing special songs of the Mahfal gathering. The themes of the songs are derived from the natural and social environment, as well as the celebrations themselves.
The Mahfal “gathering” is held for certain occasions and festive times, and follows inherited customs and traditions. For example, for wedding ceremonies the Mahfal is held at only two occasions; the first gathering is on the day of tying the bond of marriage, and marks “Al Jahfa” (the wedding day when the bride goes to her husband's house).
The Mahfal consists of a few elements: the group of women who sing and perform ululation, the selection of songs specifically for the Mahfal and the celebrations that the Mahfal is held for, along with other special rituals. These rituals, which are mainly related to speech, movement, form, and colour, are derived from the collective imagination. They are also part of the customs and traditions that make up the Mahfal.
Through our study of the Mahfal and our analysis of many aspects related to it, it became clear that tribal communities are the keenest on their cultural practices. They have well established cultural and social norms, and everyone seeks to follow and apply them in their lives.
My discussion of the Mahfal gathering is not merely a review the of aspects of folk culture, but rather an attempt to highlight the social specificities, intellectual perceptions and ceremonial practices to identify their semantic symbols. This may be an introduction to understanding and knowing our heritage and renewing our connection with our ancestors.