The Qawals: sacred Yazidi musicians
Yazidi rituals and festivals are performed in their villages by special teams of musicians called qawals. The qawals, religious men who inherit their status from their grandparents, live in different parts of Kurdistan—in Bashik and Bahzan, and other villages like Shikhan and Baadre to the north of Mosul. Qawals specialize in enlivening rituals and festivals through with speeches and hymns. Their chief is called the Mazne Qawala, and is one of the high-ranking religious men consulted by Baba Shekh (the head of the Yazidis) on Yazidi affairs. The qawals take the Sanjak, which symbolizes the tawoos melek, the Tazidi peacock angel, from one Yazidi village to another once a year. According to Yazidi mythology, there are seven Sanjaks which can only be erected if a special group of the sacred musicians is playing alongside them. When qawals visit Yazidi villages, they play the tambour and the clarinet, special kinds of religious instrument, surrounded by men, women, children and sheikhs celebrating all around them. The musical instruments are kissed by the celebrants, who touch the instrument then put their hand on their mouths during rituals. The reason the Sanjak is taken to Yazidi villages is to remind the Yazidis of their religion and rituals to keep them immune from other religions. When qawals visit Yazidi villages, they begin by giving advice and instructions to people about religion. When they finish, each house bring food and serves it to qawals, everyone bringing what they can to the banquet: some slaughter sheep and others slaughter chickens. Every qawal is obliged to attend the temple at Lalish with their families after the Yazidi feast finishes in order to clean the temple. They also pick the olives whose oil is used in the lamps and candles every Friday and Wednesday night and on feast days. Qawals need to be from a religious family and be familiar with religious texts and stories about the creation of the world and Man; they must also shave their beards and mustaches according to the sect>s rules. «I am very happy when the qawals visit our villages; when they arrive, I know they will provide us with much useful information about religion”, says Daham Ali.
Qawals performing rituals in a Yazidi village (photo: Thamer Alyas)