THE CODE OF SEDUCTION
An evening of Imzad music
N the old days, mornings were the time for playing the ‘Imzad’ violin. People used to gather for entertainment gatherings which lasted until midday. Then people would get up and leave. There was also music in the afternoons. People gathered again around the Imzad until just before sunset, the moment when people dispersed. Some would go off to round up their flocks, others to attend to their business, until after dark. Then the sociable activity would resume in the evening, until the time when the flocks had to be milked (azuzeg) under the starlit sky; the low and high notes of the Imzad, then a chorus, words wrapped in sound, would captivate the participants in the divine and infinite silence of the desert.
After the milking, people would go to bed. Before departing, the men would ask the lady presiding over the “djalsa” (the social gathering) if she would kindly return for another evening of poetry. Whether the lady was young or old, she would always try to meet the expectations of the guests by renewing such invitations.
It seems that in the Ahaggar and elsewhere, these romantic gatherings and celebrations often resumed after dinner. In fact, every young man would strive to find out at that moment the response of the young lady whom he fancied, because it was unseemly to sneak off during the gathering in order to ask such a question.
The youngsters sometimes use discreet sign-language: if a man traces a circle with the finger in the palm of a young girl’s hand, and then pokes his index finger into it, this is a declaration of his love for her.
The girl then takes her suitor’s right hand and with her index finger traces a diagonal line across his hand and back again: this means “leave with the rest of the crowd and then slip back discreetly to be next to me”. If however she traces a diagonal line across his hand in one direction only, this means “leave, and don’t come back”.
If a boy finds that a rival has got to the girl first, he is obliged to tactfully back off.
If two suitors find themselves next to the same young girl, the younger has to give way to the older – unless the girl decides otherwise. The women very much appreciate the poems which the men compose in their honour… and the men are pleasantly rewarded for their efforts. All this is done with great style and discretion.
When a Kel-Ahaggar (native of the Ahaggar region) knows a good imzad-player – whether his girlfriend or an older lady – he will offer her all the [best] cuts of meat from any camel or goat which he slaughters. If she is a young woman, whether married or not, the young men themselves bring the meat, impaled on a spear which they peg into the ground at the entrance to her tent. The woman gets up and takes the cutlets which she distributes to her friends, saying “Look, these cuts of meat have been given to me, not you – because I’m the one who knows how to play the Imzad!”