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Who are the Amazigh of Morocco?

The Amazigh are the original inhabitants of the Maghreb (North Africa) region. The Amazigh identity is strong in Morocco but hasn’t always been so. Reclaiming identity has been gradual over recent decades (see below) and the present monarch went some way in the 2011 constitution to address this.

Originally coastal-dwellers, until from about 1200BC onwards, with the arrival of the horse, the Amazigh moved inland, across the mountains and south to the encroaching Sahara desert. Gradually they populated those regions leaving only small numbers of the indigenous black population to continue to this day (e.g. the Haratin in the south of Morocco).

There are few peoples in the world that can equal the Amazigh length of title to their land – they are descendants of ancient Stone-Age cultures farming the same lands today.

Meet the Amazigh of Morocco

The term Berber

With the Arab invasion in the 7th Century, it was the Arabs who, purportedly, classified the distinct groups of peoples in the wider Maghreb region as ‘barbar’ (the name originates from the ancient Greek for ‘foreigner’). However, the Berbers’ own definition ‘imiazen’ (plural term) means the noble ones.

The Arabs drew upon the Moroccan warriors to capture the Iberian peninsula during the 8th Century and the subsequent Amazigh (Berber) dynasties enjoyed prominence alongside the Arabs until the 16th Century.

As more Arabic peoples migrated to the Maghreb, the Arabic language took hold. The Amazigh identity weakened and the Amazigh populated the mountains and the desert regions, moving away from the fertile plains and cities.

Amazigh in Morocco

Amazigh rights in Morocco’s constitution

‘Berberism’ in Morocco has led to the creation of a Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture, to schoolteaching in Tamazight (one of the Amazigh languages), and, since 2011, to the recognition of Tamazight as one of Morocco’s official languages, all in the interest of national unity. There are also numerous TV and radio stations.

Today, communities of Amazigh groups in Morocco mostly inhabit the mountains (Rif, Atlas, Anti-Atlas) and the Sahara desert and southern oases (such as the Draa Valley).

An Amazigh wedding

Having attended several weddings over the years in Morocco, mostly Amazigh, here’s a snapshot from the biggest one I had the fortune to be part of.

Most weddings are multi-day events, with hundreds of guests in attendance, and a genuine community celebration. There is very little sleep to be had, and depending on the time of year, most events (including eating and singing) will take place long in to the night and through the small hours.

The symbolism is paramount (please refer to our featured image above, and more below) – i.e. the style of dress (women and men), henna and saffron tattooing (women), and henna-washing (men), jewelry, head and clothing adornments, colours, and songs. What can’t be anticipated beforehand is the collective emotion and spirit of the three day wedding. It was very moving, in particular the first full day.

The first full day is before the bride and groom really meet one another, this day embodies their union.

Meet the Amazigh in Morocco (wedding image)

In the morning, the new bride is veiled and adorned with a head-piece (above). She already has the henna tattoos on her hands and feet at least two days prior. She is seated with key family members, her mother behind her, and elder women of the village. The women chant while the bride’s head-piece is decorated and tied. Traditionally, this takes place in the bride’s family home, as she would marry a man of the same village.

Amazigh wedding in Morocco

Then she is taken to be seated on a camel, which will carry her to her husband’s home. During the journey to her new home there is actually a ‘battle of wills’ (all tradition of course). The women of her family try to slow her progress down, while the men of his family encourage it. This ‘battle’ prolongs the procession to the new home and all the while there is singing and drumming to accompany the slow walk onwards. The women of the village walk en-masse together and they also chant and ululate. On reaching her new home, the bride is seated on a small podium in a caidal tent, with female relatives. The rest of the women sit in small circles inside the tent.

Amazigh wedding in Morocco

Meanwhile, the groom is kept apart, and is not permitted to leave his home all day. Family and friends may visit him, but he is kept inside. Much drinking of tea takes place with the male visitors. The groom also wears traditional white garments and make-up.
In traditional Amazigh weddings, this would usually take place over two days. On this occasion, the bride and groom were reunited at the end of the first day.

In the evening, while we wait for the bride and groom to return to the celebration in the village, there is much singing and drumming – the style of music known as ‘ahidous’. Men and women sing and play together, but in separate line-ups facing each other. The lines move in time, to and fro, side-to-side, then rotate, all seamlessly. The songs are very old Amazigh, speaking of marriage and love. It feels like a festival, not a wedding.

Thereafter, bride and groom are brought back to the wedding party in a convoy of cars driving slowly through the village, the cars are decorated with flags and there is much blasting of car horns. The newly-weds are kept apart once more until the bride can be unveiled by the groom. The groom joins in singing and drumming with his family. The bride in the caidal tent.

After the bride is indeed unveiled to family and friends (which would usually take place at the end of the second day) we congratulate the couple and sit down to hearty plates of food.

 

Wherever you are travelling in Morocco you are certain to experience the Amazigh culture, not least of all because your driver/guide is likely to be Amazigh from the south of Morocco.

Further information on Amazigh history may be found here.

Contact us with queries on your trip in Morocco.