Fethi Sahraoui | The Cult of the Souls

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Country of origin: Algeria
Project location: Algeria
Program: Arab Documentary Photography Program
Year: 2017

Rural celebrations are seasonal festivals organized by the local people of different regions of Algeria to celebrate Muslim saints. The local name for a rural celebration is ‘Waâda,’ derived from the word ‘promise’ - a promise given by the local villagers to celebrate their devotion. These celebrations are more frequent in the Western part of the country, and they usually coincide with autumn, the season of grape harvesting. Those that have good harvests are expected to share their bounty, thought to bring another successful year, and thus, they become more like the creator by providing for others.

The preparation for festivities start from in the early morning by installing tents, but the waves of curious people start flooding after ‘Al sr’ prayers iIn the afternoon. Fantasia shows of synchronized race horses end with simultaneous ceremonial shooting in the air by the cavaliers, as all the horses cross the finish line. Guesba music bands are omnipresent, with lyrics about love, betrayal, and adultery. They sing about all that concerns rural life and what differentiates it from city life. The singers constantly mock the lifestyle of the people of the city. Here you also find the peak of ecstasy in Hamdawa groups, a type of religious sect who perform their dances under the beats of Bendirs, encircled by a crowd of followers.

As a child, I grew up visiting rural celebrations with my family members, and I remember the festive atmosphere, the sounds of the music, and the dancing. When I started photography, these festivals were one of the first subjects that I documented. After many years of attending, I photographed a sort of concrete idea - the rural celebrations became my imaginary circus, my alternative world. Rural celebrations are a social phenomenon established to prospect the grace and benediction of God with a hope of a more beneficial harvesting season. Through time, it has become a whole system of amusement that fills the lack of places dedicated for that. There you can find what is joyous, strange, and saddening in the same moment and place - the circus of life.