Chicago – Fantasia, or Lab el Baroud, is a cultural practice usually featuring local cultural festivals and national celebrations.
This is the simplest idea that remains after one has been lucky enough to attend such a traditional exhibition of horsemanship in Morocco. The view of those brave horsemen courageously riding their authentic Berber or Arabic horses and firing simultaneously their rifles in the sky has it all; temptation, intense enjoyment and audacity… In fact, fantasia has much more to offer.
All we need to do is to dig deep in history; to see how Moroccan have historically attached to their horses. We know that the presence of horses in the region dates back to thousands of years. For instance, The ’Equus Caballus algericus’ -Rock paintings in the Saharan Atlas- which dates back to 9 000 BC clearly shows the presence of late breeds of domesticated horses in the Maghreb region.
Of course, each region has its own traditions and favors its own way of celebration. However, those variations, usually, in costumes, the number of participants, the types of guns used, the chants, the screaming and timing don’t mark a huge difference in the practice. Over all, they all share the courage, folk-like festivity and impression. Be it in Tan tan, Azemour, or El Jdida, they all hold in one way or another to a single historical story of pride. What we usually see in these performances are truly a unique celebration of identity, a memory to fully honor and appreciate authenticity…
The words of James Estrin, a journalist of New York Times, that “Fantasia is a centuries-old cultural performance that combines history and storytelling and celebrates the North African tradition of a close relationship with masculinity, horses and warfare” fits perfectly to the idea that this practice represents both Arab and Berber cultural heritage.
From the gunshots snapping all attention to their sounds, the rifles held and raised in unison, the women flicking their tongue in musical ululation, the circles formed beautifully by the riders –Serba- , the smoke covering the dusty skies to “the mass of bodies and tents writhing behind the fields”, one has no choice except to freeze in front of the theatrical scenes. Even that strange mix of fear and excitement makes things much sweeter to swallow.
At first sight , fantasia may seem like a “combination of a rodeo and a carnival” or a fascinating primitive military exercise. Even the French Romantic painter Eugène Delacroix view it from this angle when he first visited Maghreb in early 19th century. His world class oil painting of fantasia- driven by an “Orientalist view” exhibit in most part a group of exotic people wearing colorful costumes, riding on horseback and firing rifles.” But fantasia is much more!