The kissar is a 19th-century lyre from northern Sudan, traditionally used at ceremonies to eliminate possession by spirits, considered mental illness in some parts of the Middle East. An enormous kissar adorned with coins, charms and beads is currently on display at the British Museum, and gives us a fascinating insight into the cultural practices of the region.
The kissar would have been played at weddings by a singer and spirit healer. It would also have been used at cults known as Zār ceremonies, and the trance dances which took place during these ceremonies. Zār ceremonies, which remain popular in the region to this day, were designed to calm the restless spirits of the possessed in Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. The ceremonies are typically viewed, not as exorcism, but as a means for women to form a social bond and communicate more openly in conservative Muslim societies.
To continue reading about the traditions of the Sudanese lyre, check out the July/August issue of The Kurios. Music, celebration and healing: the Sudanese lyre is on at the British Museum, London, until 16 August 2015.
Photo courtesy of The British Museum.