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Berber tradition

“We are free people and that's what makes a Berber. There is a musician from Kabylia, from the Berber region in Algeria, who once sang: 'I was born to live in the mountains, to be free like a tiger.' This is exactly what it's about - we are Imaziren, we are free, the mountains are our steps to heaven. "

MBarak would say "The dunes are my steps to heaven". He missed the hot sand, the open sky, his desert most of all during the worldwide exit restrictions. His liberation can be seen:

The fate of the Berbers

Article by Deutschlandfunk from November 19, 2013
Author: Alexander Goebel


The Moroccan tourism authority advertises with it: the Berber culture. But the government is doing little for the Berbers in the country. The people live in poverty - many villages in the mountains have neither electricity nor water connections. Foreign aid organizations are the ones who help.

In the oasis of Fint, hidden in the inaccessible stone desert between Ouarzazate and the mighty mountain ranges of the Atlas, weddings are celebrated. Even a double one: Rachid and Mohamed will get married. Her brides are two girls named Midoua and Fatima. Your parents arranged the wedding. However, nothing can be seen of the wedding couple: They are not allowed to show themselves outside until the ceremony late at night - and certainly not foreign visitors. Rabia, the mother of Rachid and Mohamed, is already very excited.

“I am very, very happy that my sons are getting married. You make me very proud! I have five children - three daughters and two sons - and with this first wedding a new era begins. I'm having two new daughters, so to speak, and they will be able to help me a lot with my work here, in the house and in the field. And I'm really looking forward to the grandchildren who will hopefully come soon. "

Outside in front of the house there are men from the village, many of them unshaven, with holes in their clothes and only a few teeth. They have sat down on bast mats, drinking tea and talking. The conversations revolve around the important things in life: crops, children, animals, diseases. Two large cattle were slaughtered to feed all the guests at the feast. Cattle's feet, rumen and other entrails are just outside the front door of Rabia's house. Children play with the leftovers.

Traditional Berber jewelry

Wedding preparations are women's affairs

Inside, the preparations are now in full swing - and that is a woman's business for the Berbers. Some stir in large soup pots over an open wood fire, others build towers of dishes, use the time for loud palaver. The women's hands and feet are painted with henna, and many wear eye shadow made of sulphurized charcoal; Traditional tattoos can be seen on the forehead or chin: geometric shapes that refer to tribal affiliation or represent fertility: mystical signs and symbols from another, distant world.

“At these festivals, it is a tradition to invite the whole village: the neighbors and also all those who do not belong to the family. Everyone gets something to eat and drink. Sometimes there is couscous or, for those outside the circle, the stewed tajine. In the morning everyone gets rice with homemade butter - and of course mint tea. We will celebrate with all the families from the oasis, that's around 120 people in total. First the men eat, then a few hours later the women. There is a lot of dancing and singing. The festival will last four days. "

Four days in which the people in the villages forget their worries and celebrate life. An archaic, arduous life, which in the Atlas is less marked by holidays than by hard work.

The cradle of carpet art

Taguengoute, the nest of 500 souls at the foot of the great mountain peaks of the High Atlas, is in the middle of nowhere - a day's drive south of the Fint oasis. The village could not have been named more appropriately. In the Berber dialect Tachelhit, Taguengoute means nothing more than “go to sleep”. The place is surrounded by two thousand meter peaks, the sun doesn't stay here for too long. Here, too, they work hard, and here, too, it is the women who bring the money home. Taguengoute is considered the cradle of Berber carpet art. Arkouia kneels on the floor. She is 70 years old, maybe. With her bony fingers she works mountains of freshly shorn sheep's wool with a comb.

“I first have to brush the wool, over and over again, so that it is clean and supple and so that we can even spin it into wool threads. The wool is then dyed and then we work with it on the loom. At some point they will become carpets. "

Carpets are part of Berber culture like mint tea, jewelry, and music. They can be used as a sleeping pad, wall or floor decoration, even a piece of clothing - depending on the region. The following applies to Berber carpets everywhere: With their mostly triangular, geometric shapes and symbols of fertility, they reveal a lot about the ancient history and origin of the respective tribes. And they reveal a lot about the strenuous work:

“If young women help me and we share the work, then we are faster. Then we can create a medium-sized rug two or three square meters in two weeks, provided the patterns aren't too complicated. If I work alone, I need at least a month or two. "

Naima learned a lot from Arkouia. Naima is in her late twenties and she is carrying her three-year-old son in her arms. Her husband left her when she was pregnant - carpeting was her salvation.

“Thank God I learned how to knot carpets. I'm proud of it, and I'll somehow get through. "

Persecution and oppression

The Berbers are considered to be the "indigenous people" of North Africa. Before the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Arabs, Vandals, French, Spaniards and other conquerors came to the coastal regions of the Mediterranean and coined the disparaging term "barbarians", these so-called Berbers had long been there: in Libya and Egypt, in Niger, in Mali and especially in the Maghreb.

In the Kingdom of Morocco, the Berbers still make up more than two thirds of the population. With tourists everywhere, Morocco advertises as a holiday destination with the myth of the Berbers - their handicrafts are a brand with which a lot of money can be made. But the truth is, there are limits to how much Berber can be appreciated. Colonialism and Arabization took a toll on the Berbers. Their culture and language have been marginalized. This was true of the time when France and Spain had divided Morocco as a so-called protected area, and even more so after Morocco gained independence in 1956. The kingdom became a centralized state, ethnic diversity was not seen as a wealth, but as a threat.

“Until the 1990s, the state did not understand how to integrate the Berbers. The Moroccan state has developed as a Jacobean model since independence in the 1950s: one society, one culture, one language. It should be a unitary state that does not accept diversity, and even sees diversity as a threat. It was a big mistake not to respect and integrate the Berber culture much earlier. Because this diversity is historically a value in itself, it is very useful and important - especially for Morocco. "

It took a long time before the Moroccan Berbers, the Imazirs, were even noticed politically and socially.

The Berber alphabet is written down

When King Mohammed VI. When he ascended the Moroccan throne at the end of the 1990s, he soon realized that the ethnic blended society could ultimately fall victim to this decades-long ignorance and fall apart - into an upgraded Arab culture and a neglected culture of the Berbers, whose activists became louder and louder blue-green-yellow Berber flags waving. The king reacted: The Berber alphabet Tifinagh with its ancient, Phoenician-style characters was written down and internationally recognized, the so-called "Berberity" of Morocco is even anchored in the new constitution. This is an important step for scientist Ahmed Skounti. Because in his opinion there is no Moroccan identity without a commitment to identity as a Berber.

“Moroccanism and Berberism - for me these are two sides of the same coin. In the meantime we have recognized that it is one and the same culture that is expressed in completely different languages. "

As in neighboring countries, the Moroccan Berbers have preserved their traditions as well as their combative pride as former rebels against foreign rule. Even in the High Atlas, where many tribes now live their existence as poor farmers, the Berbers refer to themselves as “Imazirs” - as “free people”. It is an archaic world that wrestles with modernity.

Berber architecture: houses carved out of boulders

The mighty Atlas Mountains: The Toubkal towers above everything, at almost 4200 meters the highest mountain in West Africa. It's cool, the air is thin even in the valleys, clouds hang on the peaks and fight the sun. Nothing works here without an off-road vehicle. Steep, poorly patched gravel roads zigzag up the mountain and then back down over sharp bends. Magdaz is six hours southeast of Marrakech. A place forgotten by the world at an altitude of 2000 meters - at the very end of the green gorge through which the Tessaout River rushes: the end of the line. The dark red mud houses of Magdaz nestle close to the rock walls. Witness to a world that has only been moving very slowly for a thousand years - and despite all its strength, is very fragile. The tower-like houses are made of hewn boulders and torché - a mixture of clay and straw. Berber architecture works without cement and without air conditioning. On a few roofs there are satellite dishes - and solar panels.

Traditional Berber construction: walls made of straw & clay

Men work on walls that have become porous, seal them, prepare them for the heavy rains in autumn and the first snow. In winter Magdaz is often cut off from the outside world. Women carry firewood from the forest to the village, and carry baskets with corn, wheat, barley and okra pods to the granaries. Magdaz, with around 800 inhabitants, is the center of the Ait Attik tribe - their ancient territory extends to five other villages. Places with magical names like from another world: Ait Hamza, Ait Ali n'Ito, Fakhour, Tifticht, Imziln.

Stories from days long gone

Lahcen Ait Hassou is the fqih of Magdaz - the Koran teacher. He is in his late 60s, says the frail man with the soft eyes and the black burnous. But he looks like 80. Only stumps are left of his teeth - which doesn't stop him from telling the story.

“The Ait Attik were nomads who actually came from Syria. It was a very determined, very combative tribe. The members have always defended their families and their property by all means: against the storms of winter, against the drought, but also against invaders and conquerors. Take a look at the granaries over there, the kasbahs, they have built-in bay windows that served as guard posts. Men and women alike were posted as patrols. And when enemies wanted to attack, they were sometimes pelted with lances or doused with boiling oil. "

They love Lahcen's old stories and listen reverently - the men who gather on a hill every evening at sunset on the opposite side of the village. The cool air flows slowly from the peaks into the valley. The rust-brown mud houses of Magdaz are framed by the mountain ranges - and now shine in golden autumn light.

The idyll is deceptive

The men look down into the valley - the evening mood makes them even less taciturn than they already are. Your paradise is right here: between heaven and earth. At least at first glance. There are no clocks here. Why, asks Mohamed El Nassiri, the grandson of the mayor of Magdaz: It is the seasons that determine the rhythm of the village, the harvest, the sun, the moon, the stars. Or the crowing of the rooster, the call of the muezzin, death and the birth of new life.

“We live with nature. We are there for one another, we help one another. Whenever I'm not in the mountains, I immediately get homesick. There is peace up here. "

But the idyll is deceptive. Mohamed wears flip-flops with holey socks, a brown burnoose and blue sweatpants underneath. His hands are black, he has just come from the walnut harvest. He and his sons spent the whole day collecting nuts in the valley and putting them in large sacks. The Atlas villages were once famous for their walnuts. But business is very bad.

“We have a lot of problems here. We have no running water, no electricity, we are poor. Some families don't have ten dirhams a day. We have walnuts and corn here, we could sell a lot more, we could raise a lot more cattle to make the drudgery worthwhile. But we sit on mules and we live from hand to mouth. Nobody can save anything here. We don't have the money to set up stores, we don't have cars to bring our products to market as far as Demnate, a day's drive from here. Nor can we wait two or three years for cattle breeding to pay off. For years we have been in the ears of the state to do something for us - even if it's only one street. Instead, it is foreign aid organizations that support us. "

In fact, it is French and Spanish organizations that have been working for years to finally move electricity and water lines to Magdaz. A few years ago, an association from Bordeaux built a school and also the first and only infirmary: There a French nurse and interpreter is responsible for 8,000 people. There are many diseases - and not just because of malnutrition. To this day, garbage is simply burned in Magdaz if it is not thrown out the window and then remains in the alleys. Mothers and children often die during childbirth. The nearest hospital is six hours away by transport commun, the shared taxi - if it comes at all. It seems as if the myth of the Berber of Magdaz no longer extends beyond the mountain ranges of the Tessaout Valley. But for Mohamed the pride of the Berbers is unbroken. At that time they were the best warriors in the fight against the colonial rulers, he says, after all, fearless rebels like Abd el-Krim al-Khattabi in the Rif Mountains taught the Spaniards fear in the 1920s. And as warriors, Mohamed continues, they still feel like they are today. Especially here in the mountains. Far from those who rule Morocco today.

“We are free people and that's what makes a Berber. There is a musician from Kabylia, from the Berber region in Algeria, who once sang: 'I was born to live in the mountains, to be free like a tiger.' That's exactly what it's about - we are Imaziren, we are free, the mountains are our steps to heaven. That my children have to freeze in winter because we have no money for shoes - that makes me angry, also at this state. But that doesn't stop us from being proud. "

What is important in life, Mohamed asks himself. Possession? Wealth? And what does happiness actually mean? Luck, he replies without thinking twice, that is the mountains. And the children.


Traditional Berber jewelry

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