أسقيك وأنت رب العالمين ؟ قال : استسقاك عبدي فلان فلم تسقه أما إنك لو سقيته لوجدت ذلك عندي ” ) حديث قدسي
Ancient Circassian rites and customs: Vigil over the sick
In the sch’apsche (щIапщэ) or sch’epsche (щIэпщэ) ritual (кIапщ [ch’apsh], in Adigean), the friends and relatives of a person with a serious wound, bone fracture, or an illness kept a vigil over him to keep him company and prevent him from falling asleep by making loud clamour, chanting songs, and engaging in games by his bedside. On these evenings, in contrast to others, many witty and lively pranks and jests were played to amuse the patient and keep him alert.
Photograph: Villagers keep vigil over a sick child in the Abzakh village of Hakurina-Habla in Adigea, 1927. [The State Museum of the Republic of Adigea]
Listen to songs of vigil over the ill:
1. Circassian song of vigil over the wounded: “Extracting the Bullet” [«Шэхэх уэрэд»]: https://www.youtube.com/
2. Smallpox Song: Swift White Horse… [ШъорэкI орэд: Тэпырагъошъы пкIэгъуала…]: https://www.youtube.com/
The collective term for the games played at a vigil is “sch’opschak’we” («щIопщакIуэ»). In the game hobby-horse (пхъэш; px’esh; Adigean), a long wooden stick was hung by ropes from the (roof) beam in the middle of the room. A player would sit astride the wooden “horse” with a small stick in hand. Upon hearing “May you have a safe journey!”, the other players, in jest, would shake the stick to cause him to fall off, and the player astride the “horse” would try his best to stay up.
The earnest side of the “sch’apsche” ritual consisted of reciting songs and chants of supplication to the lord of the disease in question to cure the affliction and exorcise the disease.
The participators in the vigil, called “sch’opschak’we” [«щIопщакIуэ»], brought along provisions and special dishes for the occasion. One particular Adigean food especially prepared for the vigil is “tseldaw” («цэлдау»; tsel=gum in mouth), a large pie or hard bread made from unleavened dough with sharp grains round the edge.
This curious custom (of keeping vigil over the sick) was a relic of animist times, when evil spirits were believed to be lying in wait for the patient to fall asleep to take possession of his body. The friends and relatives took turns to bring along all that is necessary for the wake. The fare consisted of boiled chicken, loaves of cake and bread, fruits, vegetables, etc. A practical benefit of this practice was to ensure that the break did not get worse by the injured flinching or assuming a wrong position in his sleep.
It is worthy of notice that the Circassians, despite their firm belief in the might and glory of their deities, also took practical steps to guard themselves against the ravages of some of the diseases that afflicted their country. According to Voltaire (1734), “The Circassian women have, from time immemorial, communicated the smallpox to their children when not above six months old by making an incision in the arm, and by putting into this incision a pustule, taken carefully from the body of another child. This pustule produces the same effect in the arm it is laid in as yeast in a piece of dough; it ferments, and diffuses through the whole mass of blood the qualities with which it is impregnated. The pustules of the child in whom the artificial smallpox has been thus inoculated are employed to communicate the same distemper to others. There is an almost perpetual circulation of it in Circassia; and when unhappily the smallpox has quite left the country, the inhabitants of it are in as great trouble and perplexity as other nations when their harvest has fallen short.” The Ottomans adopted inoculation from the Circassians, which practice was transmitted to England through the open-minded Lady Wortley Montague.