He who has no milk has no friend. #MoroccanFridays


Original photo by my dearest friend and talented photographer – Lina. (Adapted by Writer’s Caravan)

Salam Aleykoum! This post is part of the Moroccan Fridays series in which I aim to shine a light on the country I grew up in. The series strives to explore various topics, swaying between reality and legends, geographical wonders and curious traditions. You can discover previous posts here


“He who has no milk has no friend.”

You may spend an hour analysing this Moroccan proverb. It will lead you nowhere. That is, of course, unless you’ve heard of the word “colactation” before. But still. How can friendship be related to the possession of milk?

Somewhere in Pre-Saharan Morocco… in a small oasis community 400 km south of Marrakech, there exists a bond other than blood. A bond based on the practice of colactation, or in other words: milk kinship.

Breastfeeding forges bonds. But this isn’t any kind of regular, metaphorical or just spiritual bond. Breastfeeding has legal, social and cultural consequences for both the mother and the children. Children who have been nursed together thus become like siblings. This bond is taken so seriously that there is a Surah (a chapter) of the Quran stating that milk siblings are forbidden from marrying one another.

Moroccan oasis by Gulden Ustun (Creative Commons)

Milk kinship bonds can start for many reasons.

  1. In this particular oasis, there are two prevailing tribes, the Shurafa (highly-respected, land-owning families, considered to be descendants of the Prophet) and the Haratin (dark-skinned farmers standing at the bottom rung of society, thought to be traded slaves from Central and Eastern Africa).In short, the Shurafa and the Haratin symbolise the tip and the base of a pyramid. And yet, Shurafa infants have been nursed by Haratin mothers and vice-versa. The exchange of mother’s milk becomes a strategic tool to begin a long-term exchange relationship.

    A Haratin family in the Draa Valley (photo source here)

  2. Mother’s milk is also considered to have healing powers, especially for eye diseases.
    Here’s an example. One Sharifa believed that it was her ‘bad milk’ that caused the early death of her children. When the fourth child was born, she asked a Hartania to nurse her child. Milk kinship thus has the power to create long-term, affective bonds beyond the social status.

Some say that in order for the kinship to be formed, a mother needs to breastfeed the infant five times. Others say that a single drop is enough for a bond to be forged but one thing is certain – mother’s milk is considered as a gift.


Thanks for reading.
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25 responses to “He who has no milk has no friend. #MoroccanFridays

  1. Learning cultural practices and underlying beliefs is a way to feel closer to those who live far away. Thank you for beginning this series. I found this week’s topic so interesting and human.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! This is a truly amazing post! I love Morrocco, have visited twice only, sadly, but I have never heard of this milk kinship bond. It makes so much sense, and I suspect was a common practice across cultures which fell into disuse in the last century, when breastfeeding your child lost favour. So much for advanced enlightened society.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Ali!! If I’m honest, I hadn’t heard of it either until I stumbled upon it in a book at the library. ;)
      Sometimes I wish I’d stayed in Morocco a little more and been more curious. But hey, the child I was wasn’t particularly interested in traditions! :D

      Liked by 1 person

      • When you are a child, you think like a child. I cant remember who said that, but its true. I had such wonderful life experiences as a child, but I never realised it. It is like I walked around withvmy eyes and mind closed. Nothing we can do about it now, sadly.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. This series makes me look forward to Friday. So far two very different insights into Morocco. Was this new information to you too? The photos are a great addition: is that sadness on the faces, or just the unfamiliarity of being photographed, do you think? This custom gives a new dimension to the English and American tradition of the wet nurse: there’s an acknowledgement of kinship. Are you going to use this in any way in your novel?

    Liked by 1 person

    • It makes me so happy to hear you say that!
      Yes, it actually was new to me too. While I was researching my novel, I stumbled upon it in the library. At first, I thought I would use it, but the location in my novel is very important, and in this part of Morocco, this tradition was not that widespread. But you never know where or when it will be useful. :)
      I like to think the Haratin in the photo were not used to a camera, but we will never know. If you click on the image source, there’s an interesting article related to it.


  4. Fascinating. I wondered what kind of status the woman providing the milk enjoys. Is she thought of as a servant (basically a wet nurse), a kind of godmother, a family friend, or something else entirely?


    • Bun, I just found this comment in my spam. Why on earth was it in my spam, I don’t know… Sorry for the delay in response but here it is: the nursing mother is definitely considered to be a friend. I guess if we were comparing, the concept of godmother would suit the occasion. Once a mother has nursed two previously unrelated children, the bond is instant and usually eternal.

      Liked by 1 person

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