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.
Home. A comforting word to some, a source of pain and turmoil for others. Home. A concept often taken for granted. Home. An endangered term.
I have long thought on this post. With the current refugee crisis and the horrors we are witnessing on a daily basis, does it seem appropriate to talk about home? Does it seem appropriate to talk about nomads and their way of living? I will let you decide…
A nomad is… by definition, a member of a group of people who have no fixed home. They move according to the seasons, in search of food, water and grazing land. Nomads are well-known to Western culture. The tales of the Tuareg have been told and retold in literature – the “Blue Men” have almost become a symbol of the desert, like a hazy vision, an indigo blue veil (the cheche) billowing in the Saharan wind.
Although there is a small population of Tuaregs in the Moroccan Sahara, they are not the prevailing nomadic tribe in Morocco. Nowadays, many guides south of Ouarzazate wear the blue disguise and claim to be descendants of the Blue People but more often than not, it is only a trap for tourists. But I’m digressing.
There are many tribes in Morocco. And of course (I shouldn’t be that cynical), their lifestyle is in decline. It has been threatened by natural occurrences like droughts and not so natural occurrences like colonialism. In order to keep this post to an acceptable length, I shall only focus on one tribe today. (See map of tribes to see what I mean when I say, “many”)
The Ait Atta are the largest tribal Berber confederation in Morocco. But don’t be fooled. They are further divided in more tribes, spread around the country. They are defined as semi-nomadic people but in many books I have read (there seems to be more literature in French than in English – lucky me!), they are actually depicted as a fully nomadic tribe.
Before the 1930s and the French Protectorate… transhumance was a widespread activity. Twice a year, ‘Atta groups would emigrate in spring and along with their livestock, in search for grazing land in the higher pastures of the Atlas Mountains. This was a well-organised system, with collective pasture lands called agudal and rigid rules such as strict opening and closing dates and heavy fines for trespassers not entitled to use the agudal.
The main focus of transhumance was the ma’idar – naturally occurring basins in the hamada areas ofthe desert where water would gather. The perfect land to cultivate. When the rain was sufficient, telegrams were sent out to all ‘Atta groups ; invitations for cultivation were on a first come, first serve basis. Those wishing to participate were expected to be at the rendezvous exactly 8 days after the convocation. Not a day before, not a day after. Rigid, I told you.
As generations succeed one another… it seems that the nomads become more and more settled. Families have been known to sell their animals and buy a house in a village, thus putting the nomadic concept into perspective. But migration still exists. Some groups have even started charging tourists to join them on their 6-month “expedition”.
Would you join them?