Posts Tagged Rakhimahon

Day 24 – The Elusive Shaman

The shaman elludes us. Sadly she was busy at a funeral. Luckily we were introduced to Uzbekistan’s finest folk singer, Rakhimahon. More later.When we arrive at Rakhimahon’s spacy and elaborate house, food and tea is already on the table. We are immediately shown a video of her many performances on TV and video. This is surprisingly well made for a ‘State film’. Rakhimahon Mazokhidova sings and plays doira. She is the most celebrated folk singer in the country and she could perform at weddings every day if she had the time. She is also the teacher of the two musicians we met yesterday.

As we begin to settle, Rakhimahon is called to perform at a nearby wedding. We are suddenly at another table loaded with food and drink, surrounded by a large crowd of women. Apparently they have gathered (in the groom’s house) to witness the bride’s unveiling. Here the newly married woman opens her veil after a chilla – the bride and groom are locked in a room for three days, are not allowed to receive any visitors and are treated like Royalty. The air is filled with expectancy when a door opens and the bride enters the scene. Rakhimahon is slowly beating her doira and begins to chant a wedding song.

Two girls are leading the bride to the female crowd, they dance in wave-like motion as they slowly move forward. The bride lifts her white-golden veil and disappears into another room. Rakhimahon now plays a faster rhythm. In front of her several women perform a wild dance twisting their feet and arms in animal-like motion. At 68, Rakhimahon still has a lot of energy and bewitches the listener with her charm. The ceremony finishes with Rakhimahon chanting a short prayer.

While we have chai with the host, Kathrin disappears to join the women’s gathering inside the house. Being male I could not enter so Kathrin relates her experience; I find myself sitting cross-legged surrounded by a circle of women in traditional dress. They all wore head scarves in a diverse range of colours. Richly decorated tables overflowed with plov, exotic fruit, strange sweets and drinks. They looked at me with great curiosity and a wonderful openness – it didn’t take long to connect. I am invited to join them for food and prayers. Magical sounds fill the air. The voice belongs to a female Koran reader who is chanting a sura, now the ‘party’ can begin.

Suddenly it’s time for us to leave. We have to get back to Rakhimahon’s house where we are expected by her friends and entourage.

After eating yet another meal back at Rakhimahon’s house we were invited into another part of the house, and told to bring our cameras. Rakhimahon wanted to show us something. Inside a small room were several women wearing white headscarfs. They started to intone a sura from the Koran as soon as we were seated. The recitation is punctuated at intervals by the receiving of blessings (or baraka) from God. This gesture, a cupping of the hands which are then passed over the face soon becomes second nature here in Central Asia. It is performed at various times during the day particularly at meal times. On this occasion the recitation grew in intensity until several of the women began to sway and move their hands rhythmically. This turned into chanting of syllables such as “hai” and “hu” and I realised I was witnessing a Zikr. Zikr is an Arabic word meaning remembrance and there are two main kinds; loud and silent. It consists of the repetition of words or syllables and is used by the various Sufi orders to establish a connection with God.

The chanting was becoming more rhythmic and the women stood up and began to move more vigorously. I sensed that none of the Nomad team were expecting this and this is quite disturbing when it happens so suddenly. Rakhimahon, our host, was becoming physically affected by the experience and she began to cry. It was one of those moments when you feel you ought not to be there let alone with two video and three still cameras. We had most definitely been invited to record this. Before we knew it the atmosphere changed abruptly, the tempo relaxed, smiles flashed, drums were brought in and all tension vanished. There was dancing and celebration. Kathy’s dancing being the cause of much mirth, her hip gyrations were possibly out of context – later though we noticed it had caught on with the younger women. Each of us was presented with a silk scarf which was tied around our waist. We sat down and drank chai. Still shell shocked from our experience I could tell from the uncomprehending looks passing across the room that events had once more taken an unexpected turn. We had witnessed a ceremony normally performed at a funeral.

These women are hereditary singers who are trained to learn the Koran from a very young age. I suspect that they undergo other kinds of spiritual training as well, but this is difficult to substantiate. We were told that this is first time this had been shown to anyone and certainly the first time it had been recorded. Exactly why it was shown to us remains a mystery.

If you ever come to Uzbekistan you need a hat. Small square and black, decorated with a motif that will mark you out – there’s a Fergana motif and a Tashkent motif, a Samarkand motif and a Baysun motif – people know you by your hat – there’s probably one for Peckham. The hats are mostly worn by the older men. These ‘white beards’ (a translation from the Uzbek words) are the custodians of wisdom and sit for hours sipping chai (green tea) in chaikhanas – mostly humble areas of shade beneath a clump of trees. Today I sit in a very grand chaikana, decorated with carved pillars and a multicoloured ceiling. A ‘Ghengis Khan’ lookalike sits in the corner discussing ancient battles his boots carry the mud of the Mongolian steppes.

In the nearby market a woman sits chewing Kokand rock – not the seaside candy variety but serious bits of geology – she tells me it’s good for the blood and circulation – she sells it by the kilo.

With my hat I make many friends, people shake hands in the street I am a local, I wear the Kokand hat.

I came across a stall selling wooden toys. I approached and was greeted ‘asalam aleikum’, peace upon you. Behind the stall the young stall holder had an Afghan Rubab lying on a bed. I pointed to it and he seemed surprised that I recognised it. Suddenly I was in his ‘shop’ drinking chai, being treated like a VIP. Olim played the rubab, luckily I had my penny whistle to return the favour. This seemed too much for him and he immediately started looking through his stock of decorative knives to find the best one to give me. He examined each blade for straightness and sharpness and spent several minutes find the best sheath to fit it. It was then presented to me as a gift. he absolutely refused any payment. The only thing I had to give him in return were my sunglasses, cheap ones, but he seemed pleased. We exchanged addresses and felt like lifelong friends.

24mus01.gifThis tradition of hospitality to strangers is extraordinary – Kathrin was showered with gifts of spices just for being in the market. People want to give you everything. This is an extraordinary feeling for a Londoner. In the chaikhana today they didn’t want to take payment for our tea. It’s no good explaining that we can afford to pay 20 pence for seven people to drink tea and eat bread. Admittedly this is Kokand and tourism is not big here. In some ways I hope it stays that way. In Samarkand and Bukhara where tourism is more developed the people are friendlier than most but they have learnt to handle tourists. If one measures civilisation by warmth of character, grace and humour, then we’ve got a lot to learn from the folks in Uzbekistan.



Tomorrow we go to a new land, Kyrgyzstan. On the way we plan to finally meet an Otin-Oy, a female Sufi singer. Join me

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