Sunday, December 4, 2011

A History Lesson

Happy December everyone! I have been looking forward to this month for several reasons – it’s the last month that (hopefully) Justin and I will be living with a host family, as we are looking for a place of our own to move into in January; I am excited to see how Moroccans bring in the New Year; and most importantly, I am counting down the days until I get this friggin’ cast removed from my leg! I am in Rabat now for a check-up tomorrow (Monday) morning, so I’ll give more updates after my appointment – but right now the countdown has me getting the cast off on December 30th or 31st, so keep your fingers crossed that all goes according to schedule and that the doctors work that day!

It’s been a fun few weeks spending time with our new host family in Tiflet and getting to know the town. Last weekend, Justin and I went with our host mom and sister to visit our host mom's brother, sister-in-law, and sister-in-law's family in Khemisset, which is the next city over (only about a 20-30 minute drive). I soon found out that the sister-in law and her family are Amazigh and I spent Saturday evening watching beautiful videos of Amazigh dancing and music, and learning some dance moves from my new extended family. As I was thinking back upon the weekend, I realized that likely most of you don’t know what Amazigh means (I did not before coming here) so I thought that today’s blog post could serve as a quick history lesson for everyone! I will commence with putting on my teacher hat now :)

The Imazighen people, plural of Amazigh. You might recognize the word "Berber" as a term used; however, "Berber" is believed to have been derived from the word "barbarian," whereas the word "Amazigh" is believed to mean "free people" or "free and noble men" and to many the word "Berber" is considered offensive.

Amazigh jewelry

Archaeological evidence suggests that Morocco’s first settlers (known as the Capsian people) arrived between 10,000 and 6,000 B.C.E., after the end of the last ice age. It is from these earliest inhabitants that the Imazighen people (plural of Amazigh) are believed to have descended.

Amazigh pottery in Marrakesh

Following the ice age, Morocco’s landscape was largely made up of grassy savanna, particularly on the coastal plains, which drew inhabitants with an extremely fertile land that are well-suited to cultivating crops and rearing cattle. The Imazighen people developed into numerous groups and inhabited most of the land that makes up present-day Morocco (in addition to other parts of Northern Africa), although in the years following many of the groups moved to mountainous regions as precautions against foreign invaders.

An Amazigh silk hanging; also designs are reminiscent of
tattoos that many Imazighen people have

Today in Morocco, about 40% of its people acknowledge an Amazigh identity, though likely many more have Berber ancestry. Imazighen are identified primarily by language but also by traditional customs and culture – such as the distinctive music and dances.  

A book that I am hoping to read soon!
Amazigh Language:
The language of the Imazighen people has many dialects, but the 3 main dialects used in Morocco are called Tashelhit (spoken in southwest Morocco), Tamazight (spoken in the Middle Atlas region) and Tarifit (or Rifia, spoken in the Rif area of northern Morocco). In our town, it seems like a good number of people speak Tamazight so I may try to learn at least some basic words.

Sample Tamazight text - what it means is
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience
and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. "
(Article 1 from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Amazigh Music:
From what I have read, Amazigh culture is extraordinarily rich and diverse, with a variety of musical styles that range from bagpipes and oboe (kind of like Celtic music) to pentatonic music (reminiscent of Chinese music), combined with African rhythms and the use of oral storytelling. These traditions have been kept alive by small bands of musicians who travel from village to village to entertain at weddings and other social occasions with songs, tales, and poetry.

To hear some of the more traditional music, here's a sample website (not a lot in English but you can click to artists and watch videos). To hear some more modern takes, here's another site to try.

A moussim, or traditional festival, in a small town in the Middle Atlas mountains

Imazighen People Today:
While the Imazighen people have a storied past in Morocco, their heritage was not always recognized by the state. After Morocco won independence in 1956 the King sought to solidify a unified national identity and banned Tamazight in schools and public places (such as hospitals and the courts). Eventually there were 2 major Amazigh revolts, one in 1973 and a second in the 1980s, both of which were suppressed by the Moroccan government and for years, Imazighen people who continued to assert their identity were jailed. By the 1990s the Imazighen movement had built up momentum but little was done until the current king took over (Mohamed VI - whose mother is Amazigh). He reintroduced Tamazight in primary schools and commissioned a research institute to develop a curriculum and promote study of the language. And in the recent constitutional changes Tamazight became an official state language.
Below is the official Amazigh flag, adopted by the Amazigh World Congress in 1998. Each color in the flag symbolizes a territory inhabited by the Imazighen people:
- blue symbolizes the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean;
- green symbolizes nature and the green mountains;
- yellow symbolizes the sands of the Sahara Desert

The letter in the middle of the flag is a yaz, which symbolizes a "free man", the meaning of Amazigh, and is in red, the color of life and also the color of resistance.

There are so many parts of Amazigh and Moroccan culture that I have yet to learn so this is just a small sampling – hopefully, over 2 years, I’ll be able to impart lots of new lessons as I learn more myself! Lots more to come on Moroccan music in general – Justin and I have been spending time at our Youth Center where they LOVE playing music and singing and dancing together, and last week we went to a concert at a local high school with about 95% Moroccan music - the remaining 5% was a small rock band who seemed to really like Bob Dylan :)

And by the way - if there are any aspects of Morocco or Moroccan culture that you are particularly interested in learning, just leave me a comment and I’ll try to address it in a future blog post. Sending everyone best wishes for a great month, and more to come soon!

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