What I Saw

30 Jun 2023

Etheldred Allen

The back of beyond offered the exotic and it was precisely this that caught the attention of Etheldred Allen, a female traveller in 1912. While touring Nicosia on 7 April 1912, in fact, Easter Sunday for the Orthodox, she visited the Mevlevi tekke where the dancing Dervishes were about to perform their ritual.

Wearing long black mantles, with tall brown conical hats and barefooted, they entered the dancing floor. They sat cross-legged on the floor looking downwards and listened to the long monotonous song of a singer up high on the balcony who was accompanied by the peculiar tunes of a tambourine and a flute. At a certain point, the dervishes started whirling with their arms outstretched but Ms. Allen found no fascination, no excitement in this religious performance except for the expression changing in the face of the Sheik, their leader, who started acquiring a translucent appearance as if he was hypnotized. Suddenly they all fell to the ground with their face downwards and some elderly gentlemen covered them with their black mantles. This represented the “kiss of peace”, the men trying to kiss each other on the chest simultaneously. The sheikh spoke out some words and they all responded with a cry similar to that of wild animals in the midst of the night. All was over. Ms. Allen was not impressed. Such movements could hardly be called dancing. She concluded her description as follows:

They belong to something long abandoned by civilised men, so it is very interesting to see that their custom has survived although it cannot be comprehended by words.

The 'What I Saw...' series is made possible with the support of OPAP (Cyprus) and the Active Citizens Fund.

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