Iraqis of African Descent Are a Largely Overlooked Link to Slavery
By Theola Labbe
Washington Post Staff WriterSunday, January 11, 2004; Page A01
Each time Thawra Youssef returns to Hakaka, well-dressed in pressed clothes and a loosely draped black head scarf, she looks like a queen visiting for a day among the poor families in house clothes, who hover at their doorways and call out to Youssef by name.
“I don’t feel like a stranger here,” she said one day, stepping carefully to avoid the sewage as eager children followed her. “I have something deep inside of me that is connected to the local Basra ceremonies. I can’t abandon them.”
The practices, she said, came from “the motherland where we came from: Africa.”
In her dissertation, Youssef mentioned seven open fields in and around Basra where ceremonies take place. The field in the Hakaka section is a dusty, hard-packed courtyard with houses clustered around it. Drums, tambourines and other instruments are stored in a closet. Youssef said that only a local leader named Najim had a key. Youssef had to seek his permission to write about the ceremonies.
Najim declined to talk about them.
In her dissertation Youssef describes a song called “Dawa Dawa.” The title and words are a mix of Arabic and Swahili. The song, which is about curing people, is used in what Youssef calls the shtanga ceremony, for physical health. Another ceremony, nouba, takes its name from the Nubian region in the Sudan. There are also ceremonies for the sick, to remember the dead and for happy occasions such as weddings.
“The ceremonies are our strongest evidence of our African identity,” she said.