By Nii B. Andrews
Fantasia is a wonderful and inspiring North African tradition and an art form.
It is brought to superlative fruition in Morocco where it is called TEBORIDA.
I still recall the immense pride I felt as an African when the Fantasia ended at the welcoming ceremony for the World Neurosurgery Congress more than 10 years ago in Marrakech; over 2000 of the world’s leading neurosurgeons stood in awe of what they had just seen.
The tents, the special appointments of the magnificent horses, the regalia of the riders, the gunpowder, the musical ululations of the women, the chants and shouts of the riders, the synchronized pounding of hooves -all combine to make this an unforgettable cultural and artistic spectacle that emphasizes the bond between man and equine.
Rock paintings in the Sahara Atlas document that horses have been part of the Maghreb since 9 000 BC thus producing a vibrant equestrian tradition.
“Riding a horse is an indescribable feeling”, says a 22 year old female Fantasia rider named Afrae Benbih.
Happily, today, whole teams of female riders participate fully and to the highest standards.
Fantasia is a team event. It starts with a recitation, followed by the mounting of the horses and the rendering of a special salute before breaking into a gallop – a frontal charge of horsemen with billowing robes, turbans and five foot rifles encrusted with camel bone; a sudden stop in unison occurs with the simultaneous discharge of the rifles.
The “Orientalist view” of the 19th century as documented by several writers and in the paintings of Eugène Delacroix has been overridden; Fantasia is not a “combination of rodeo and a carnival”.
It is instead a representation of an authentic Arab and Berber cultural heritage that celebrates the close relationship between masculinity, discipline, horses and social cohesion.
Of course, numerous artists from multiple backgrounds, albeit with varied degrees of accuracy and success, have attempted to capture the disciplined exuberance of Fantasia.
Everything used in the event – the horses, tents, equipment and regalia are a product of the community itself – all home grown, produced and maintained – continuously improved, embellished and protected.
The saddles, harnesses, stirrups, blankets, rifles, riding boots and clothing are almost always meticulously handcrafted to the highest aesthetic standards.
Fantasia is an African art form and an excellent example of African self-reliance.
A self-reliance that protects, projects and refines a vibrant historical story of pride – a story that Africa should always be pleased to share with the whole world; a story that enriches humankind.