Understanding the Zār

An African-Iranian Healing Dance Ritual

in Anthropology of the Middle East
William O. BeemanUniversity of Minnesota wbeeman@umn.edu

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This article explores the structure and meaning of the Zār ceremony as carried out throughout the Persian Gulf. This ceremony is mirrored by similar ones throughout North and East Africa, suggesting that the Zār may have resulted from cultural diffusion along historical trade routes. The Zār practitioners, the bābā and the māmā, must cultivate extensive skills in musical performance, movement and coordination in order to affect a palliative relief for persons affected by spirit ‘winds’ that inhabit them, causing physical and emotional distress. The Zār ceremony is an important method of non-allopathic treatment for emotional disorders that might elsewhere be treated through psychiatry in clinical settings. Practitioners see it as compatible with Islam, though not a strictly Islamic practice.

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