Forgotten Ways of Thinking
Shumaila Hemani Forgotten Ways of Thinking
In 2009, I travelled to the town of Bhitshah, a three-hour drive from my hometown Karachi in the province of Sind in Pakistan. After a year of studying ethnomusicology in the graduate program at the University of Alberta in Canada, I had come to Pakistan for fieldwork. I began by traveling to Bhitshah to initiate learning in the singing style of Shah-jo-Raag. Shah-jo-Raag is a three-hundred-year-old Sufi tradition that is understood to be an invention of the 18th century Islamic mystical poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai. Forgotten Ways of Thinking introduces the listener to the sounds, singing, and voices of spirit possession as I recorded and experienced it at the shrine of Shah Latif.
I grew up in the 1980s in the Islamic milieu of General Zia and the Shi’ite Ismaili world of singing hymns (ginans). My religious world was embedded in Islamic beliefs in farishte (angels) and jinns (spirits). This was the world I shared with school friends. Later, as a result of moving into the upper-middle class and elite education institutions through scholarships and financial assistance followed by my education abroad, I became more secularized and progressive and distant from this religious worldview.
Forgotten Ways of Thinking was first performed at a graduate composers concert at the University of Alberta and presented as a sound installation at the Old Arts Building in 2010. In 2012, Shumaila Hemani performed it at the R.L. Stevenson Concert at the Society for Ethnomusicology Conference in New Orleans in 2012.
Visiting Bhitshah and watching women in spirit possession connected me with the religious world in a renewed sense. It invoked my curiosity, raised questions, and established a personal connection between my childhood in Pakistan and the religious life-worlds of rural men and women of Pakistan. Usually, women’s lens in viewing society in Pakistan is influenced by the males around them, be it fathers, brothers, uncles, or friends, but this encounter helped me to develop a perspective that was independent of male influence. Forgotten Ways of Thinking reflects my struggle to reach out to the rural women in Pakistan.