Understanding the Zār: An African-Iranian healing dance ritual

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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 baba and the mama, 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)69-81
Number of pages13
JournalAnthropology of the Middle East
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018


  • Ceremony
  • Music
  • Performance
  • Persian Gulf
  • Ritual
  • Spirit possession
  • Traditional medicine
  • Zār


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