Anthony Kersting visited the Yezidis in Iraq in 1944 and 1946. His photos are published on the Yezidi Photo Archive with the kind permission of the Conway Library, Courtauld Institute of Art, London.
A Yezidi girl at the annual festival at Sheikh Adi, in Iraq, 18 October 1946
Every year there are pilgrimages to Lalish which end in a so-called assembly festival; the Jimaya Sheikh Adi. The Yezidi Assembly Feast is the annual highlight and one of the most important festivals of the Yezidis.
When the pilgrims arrive in Lalish on the first day, they take off their shoes and wash their hands three times before crossing the Silath Bridge to the upper part of the Lalish Valley. All religious dignitaries of the Yezidis also take part in the procession. When they arrive at the sanctuary, both the pilgrims and the religious dignitaries gather there. They play tambourines and flutes, and together with the dancing crowd they sing holy qewls. The dignitaries wear their traditional costumes; the sheikhs are dressed in white, the feqirs in brown and black turbans and the gewals in black and white. The pilgrims also wear their traditional Yezidi costumes, however, these are much less common among Yezidis today, especially among the young men. These ceremonies are repeated every evening during the festival. In addition, market stands are set up in Lalish, where pilgrims can buy drinks, food, but also toys.
Another ritual that is performed daily during the assembly feast is the distribution of the so-called holy meal simat. The simat is a dish made of cooked meat and wheat and is distributed to the pilgrims. This is attributed to a tradition according to which Sheikh Adi is said to have hosted guests at Lalish. Only on the sixth day of the assembly feast simat jil meran is served instead. This dish consists only of meat and is said to have a special power: According to Yezidi belief, the consumption of a small piece is enough to stay healthy and protected from evil for a whole year.
The highlight of the festivities is the bull sacrifice on the fifth day of the assembly feast. During this procession, men from different tribes try to steal the bull. However, they are driven away by the pilgrims present, who are equipped with sticks, and the bull is presented as a gift to the Mir, who then takes it to the place of slaughter. The meat of the bull is distributed to the pilgrims as simat. On the sixth day of the Assembly Feast, the commemoration of the day when Sheikh Adi left this world begins. On the eighth and last day a ritual dance of the dignitaries is performed. The qewals play music and a dignitary in the old clothes of Sheikh Adi joins them. Dignitaries dressed in white follow him. This ritual dance represents the seven angels.
The festival strengthens the sense of unity of the Yezidi community by bringing together Yezidis from all over Iraq and other countries. Therefore, it is not only a spiritually important event, but also offers the opportunity to meet family, friends and to socialize.