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Berbers of Morocco

Berbers of Morocco

ETHNONYMS: "Imazighen" (sing. Amazigh) since 1980 has come to refer to all North African Berbers, whereas distinct names refer to regional subgroups, almost all territorially discontinuous from each other: Irifiyen (sing. Arifi) refers to the Rifians of northeastern Morocco; Imazighen, again and in its original meaning, to the Berbers of central and southeast-central Morocco; Ishilhayen (sing. Ashilhay), to the Shluh or Swasa (sing. Susi) of southwestern Morocco; Iqba'iliyen (sing. Aqba'ili), to the Kabyles of the Algerian Jurjura; Ishawiyen (sing. Ashawi), to the Shawiya of the Algerian Aurès; Imzabiyen (sing. Amzabi), to the oasis dwellers of the Algerian Mzab; and Imajeghen (sing. Amajegh), to the Ahaggar Tuareg of the southern Algerian Sahara, with similar names for other Tuareg groups in Mali and Niger. In this article, only the three Moroccan regional subgroups will be discussed.


Identification. "Berber" refers to any native speaker of a dialect of the Berber language, although manyif not mostArabic speakers in North Africa are also Berber by descent, even if they have lost the language. Especially in Morocco, "Imazighen" is today the preferred vernacular name for the three main regional subgroups of Berbers themselves, and its feminine form, "Tamazight," refers to their language. In the northern Moroccan Rif, encompassing the provinces of El Hoceima and Nador and part of Taza, major tribal groups include the Aith Waryaghar, Ibuqquyen, Aith 'Ammarth, Igzinnayen, Thimsaman, Axt Tuzin, Aith Sa'id, Aith Wurishik, and Iqar'ayen. In the larger and properly Imazighen region embracing the Middle Atlas and Central High Atlas chains, the Saghro (pronounced "Saghru") massif, and the Presaharan oasis regions and encompassing parts of Kenitra, Meknes, Fès, and Taza provinces and all of Khenifra, Azilal, Ouarzazate, and Rachidia provinces, major tribal groups include the Zimmur, Ait Ndhir, Ait Yusi, Ait Warayin, Iziyyan, Ait Imyill, Ait Mhand, Ait Massad, Ait Sukhman, Ihansalen, Ait Siddrat, Ait 'Atta, Ait Murghad, Ait Hadiddu, Ait Izdig, Ait 'Ayyash, and Ait Saghrushshn. In the Ishilhayen region embracing the Western High Atlas, the Sus Valley, and the Anti-Atlas and parts of the Essaouira, Marrakech, and Ouarzazate provinces and all of Agadir, Taroudant, and Tiznit provinces, important tribal groups include the Ihahan, Imtuggan, Iseksawen, Idemsiren, Igundafen, Igedmiwen, Imsfiwen, Iglawn, Ait Wawzgit, Id aw-Zaddagh, Ind aw-Zal, Id aw Zkri, Id aw Zkri, Isaffen, Id aw-Kansus, Isuktan, Id aw-Tanan, Ashtuken, Malen, Id aw-Ltit, Ammeln, Ait 'Ali, Mjjat, l-Akhsas, Ait Ba 'Amran, and Ait n-Nuss.

Location. Of the three major Moroccan Berber-speaking areas, the northern Rif runs from roughly 34°30 to 35°20 N and from 2°30 to 4°30 W; the central region from roughly 29°30 to 34°00 N and from 3°30 to 6°30 W; and the southwestern region from roughly from 29°30 to 31°30 N and from 7°00 to 10°30 W. In Morocco, too, all three Berber-speaking areas are essentially mountainous. The highest peak in the Rif chain (actually just west of the Rif proper) is Adrar n-Tidighin, at 2,458 meters. The two highest in the Central and Eastern Atlas are Adrar Mgun and Adrar n-l'Ayyashi, at 4,071 meters and 3,737 meters, respectively. The highest peak in the Western Atlas and highest in the country is Adrar n-Tubkal, at 4,165 meters. The Atlas chain forms the backbone of Moroccan geography and orography. The higher mountains are always snow-covered in winter and during the rainy season. Precipitation is irregular, however, and only the higher areas receive more than 100 days' rainfall per year, generally much less. Morocco and Algeria are semiarid countries, and, even in the mountains, summers are hot, with temperatures often reaching more than 30° C. The western part of the Rif chain, inhabited by Arabic-speaking Jbala and not by Rifians, is one of the few parts of the country to receive more than 200 centimeters of rainfall per year. The eastern partthe Rif properis much drier and badly deforested. Overpopulation and the infertility of the soil have brought about a long-standing Rifian labor migration. The same is largely true of the Anti-Atlas, another area of strong Berber labor migration. Only the Middle Atlas has considerable agricultural and stock-raising potential. Since Moroccan independence from France in 1956, many Berbers have become urban dwellers as well. Tangier, Tétouan, and Fès have long been urban centers for Rifians, and since 1936 Casablanca has become a major center for the Ishilhayen or Swasa.

Demography. Morocco has never had a census taken along ethnolinguistic linesand neither has Algeria. At the beginning of the colonial period in 1912, when France annexed Morocco and leased its northern tier, the Rif chain, and the Ifni enclave on the southwest coast to Spain, the population was an estimated 45 million, of which an estimated 40 percent was Berber speaking. The remainder speak Arabic, the official language in both countries. As of 1960, Morocco's population was 11.2 million, and by 1972, 15.7 million. By 1993, it had risen to 27 million, as had that of Algeria. Berber was only given nominal recognition as a second language by the authorities in both countries in 1994 and censuses of Berber speakers have pointedly not been taken. In-depth figures can be provided only for the 1960 Moroccan census, which, entirely by interpolation, yielded roughly 903,000 Rifians, 1,573,000 Imazighen, and 1,724,000 Ishilhayen/Swasa, amounting to a total of 4.2 millionor 37.5 percent.

Linguistic Affiliation. "Berber" is primarily a linguistic term and designation; the Berber or Tamazight language belongs to the Hamitic or African Branch of the Hamito-Semitic or Afro-Asiatic Family. Dialects of Berber are spoken here and there all over North Africa, from Morocco to the Siwa oasis in western Egypt and from the Algerian Jurjura to Mali and Niger, but in no case is Berber the national language of any country in which it is spoken. The various dialects (Tharifith or Rifian, Tamazight "Proper" or Central Atlas Highland, and Tashilhit or Southwestern Atlas Highland in Morocco; Taqba'ilit, Tashawit, and Tamahaq or Ahaggar Tuareg in Algeria; other Tuareg dialects in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger; and various oasis dialects from Algeria to western Egypt) are all closely related from grammatical and syntactical standpoints but in no case to the point of total mutual comprehensibility. Many contemporary Berber speakers also know colloquial Arabic, and some even know literary Arabic, French, and Spanish.

History and Cultural Relations

The Berbers are the autochthonous inhabitants of North Africa. The sedentary agricultural tribes are largely old and long established, and certain important tribal names in the Rif may go back almost to the beginnings of Islam in Morocco in the late eighth century. Berber identification with Islam thus goes back itself to the initial Arab conquests in the late seventh century, barring initial resistance and certain resultant heresies. The sedentary Ishilhayen tribes of the Western Atlas are probably also long established, although there is little Arabic documentation on them prior to the early fifteenth century. The transhumant Imazighen tribes of Central Morocco are more recent, although the great northwest passage of Imazighen from the Saghro massif across the Atlas in search of grass for their sheep began about 1550 and was still unfinished when the Franco-Spanish protectorate was established in 1912. Primary resistance to colonial penetration was heaviest in the Berber-speaking areas. In the Rif, it was led by Muhammad bin 'Abd al-Krim al-Khattabi of the Aith Waryaghar in a major two-front warfirst against Spain in 1921, then against both Spain and France in 1925-1926. In the Atlas, although the French won over to their side the three major quyad (sing. qa'id ), the tribal leaders of the Imtuggan, the Igundafen, and the Iglawn, resistance nonetheless began in 1913 and continued piecemeal, on a tribe-by-tribe basis for the most part, until the Ait 'Atta of the Saghro and the Ait Murghad and Ait Hadiddu of the eastern Central Atlas were "pacified" in 1933, and the Anti-Atlas was fully occupied the following year.

During this period, the French made the mistake of promulgating the "Berber Dahir," or decree of 1930, which placed all Berber tribes in their zone (although not those of the Spanish-held Rif) under the jural aegis of customary-law tribunals. In effect, this subtracted them from the jurisdiction of the Sharia, of Muslim law as enjoined by the Quran. At Moroccan independence in 1956, the Berber Dahir was rescinded, and normal Muslim law courts under qudat (sing. qadi ) were installed in the Berber-speaking areas. Since about 1986, customary law appears to be coming back in small and low-key ways, but not to the extent of resuscitating collective oaths (see "Social Control").


Precolonial settlements varied according to region. In the Rif, local communities (dshur ; sing. dshar ) consisted of highly dispersed individual homesteads, one-floored, flat-roofed structures of mud and stone, with rooms formed around a central courtyard. Each was at least 300 meters from the next and housed either a large nuclear family or an extended one of father and married sons or of brothers and their wives and children. Since the 1970s, however, owing to unprecedented labor migration to Western Europe, the Rif has become "urbanized," with apartment-type buildings now studding the countryside. In the Central Atlas, local communities (timizar ; sing. tamazirt ) consisted of three or four fortlike structures called qsur (Arabic; sing. qsar ) or igharman (Tamazight; sing. igharm ). Made of adobe and stone, these structures stood three or four stories high. Each had a central courtyard and internal staircases leading to individual rooms of the various nuclear families (tashat ; pl. tashatin ) comprising the several patrilineages (ighsan ; sing. ighs ; lit., "bone") that constituted the tribal section (taqbilt ; pl. tiqbilin ). The igharman were generally named after one of the sections, and these names were usually replicated in other localities. Imazighen who take their sheep on transhumance up into the Atlas in spring live in black goat-hair tents while pasturing them during the summer in special reserves called igudlan (sing. agudal ), which have rigid opening and closing dates and which are usually owned exclusively by the group in question. The Imazighen return to their permanent igharman in the fall for agricultural operations. The villages (l-mwada' ; sing. l-muda' ) of the Ishilhayen show features combining the Central Atlas igharman with Rifian-type homesteads in the lower areas and compact Kabyle-type villages in the higher ones. Collective store-houses (agadir ; pl. igudar, but also igharm), still to be found in the Central Atlas, also existed in this area but were abandoned during the colonial period.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Except for the transhumant Imazighen tribes of central Morocco, Berber groups traditionally consisted of sedentary subsistence agriculturalists, although a limited transhumance has been reported for parts of the Western Atlas. In the Rif, a wide variety of crops was grown, albeit on a much lesser scale: in particular, barley and wheat, plus maize and broad beans, supplemented by fig, olive, almond, and walnut trees. Kif (Cannabis sativa ) became a semilegal cash crop on the western fringe of the area only after independence. Almost every family has a cow, a few goats and chickens, and a mule or donkey, as well as the ubiquitous guard dog. Being transhumants, all the Imazighen tribes have sheep, and the southern ones also have camels for transport. For plowing, two cows or a cow and a mule or donkey may be yoked together; lending of individual animals by one farmer to another for plowing or threshing is the norm. Crops grown by the Imazighen and Ishilhayen differ somewhat, but wheat and barley are still staples. Turnips are common in the higher mountains, and, in some areas, apples and potatoes have, since the mid-1980s, become cash crops, which are trucked to Marrakech and elsewhere. Since 1970, however, traditional agriculture, in the Rif in particular, has been disappearing as Moroccans and Algerians have continued to swell the ranks of industrial workers in Europe.

Industrial Arts. In the Rif, important traditional crafts were blacksmithing, pottery, basketry, and utilitarian woodwork such as plow handles and yokes. Blacksmithing was done by members of a totally endogamous, low-status occupational group from one tribe, the Axt Tuzin, which also provided low-status musicians who doubled as mule and donkey breeders. Women made pottery by hand in the Rif, but low-status, endogamous Black men used the pottery wheel in the Atlas (the same group that provided the blacksmiths of southern Morocco). There is strikingly little economic specialization in the region at large, however, and local men do craft work as needed. Only blacksmithing and, in the Imazighen and Ishilhayen areas, pottery making carry occupational stigmata. Silversmithing and packsaddle making, occupations formerly practiced by rural Jews, did as well, but all the latter migrated to Israel shortly after independence.

Trade. All trade in rural North Africa is carried out in the suq (market), found in almost every tribal territory of sufficient size and named both for the day of the week on which it is held and for the tribe in whose land it is located. Large tribes, like the Aith Waryaghar of the Rif (who are unique in North Africa for having special women's markets, without economic value, which are forbidden to men), may have several markets held on different days and in different tribal sections, whereas in the Imazighen region markets are often located not in the centers of tribal territories but on their fringes, as among the Ait 'Atta. Local and European goods could be bought or sold at most markets during the colonial period, when markets also became effective centers of tribal control by the colonial power. Since the postindependence upsurge of labor migration to Europe, however, many Rifian markets have now become full-fledged urban centers where, even in the 1960s, such items as transistor radios were readily available, since replaced by color televisions.

Division of Labor. In precolonial times, feuding and warfare were everywhere male occupations, as is true today of agriculture, driving animals, and, very occasionally, hunting. Women do all the housework (except for making tea for guests, a male occupation) and perform two agricultural tasks: helping the men with the harvest and taking newly cut grain in baskets to the threshing floor. Men build the houses but women whitewash the walls and blacken and smooth the floors, bring in manure to the collective manure pile, milk the animals, and fetch water and firewood. Poultry and rabbits are also exclusively female concerns. Marketing was traditionally a man's job, but, even in colonial times, poorer and older women could be seen vending at market stalls, and today women are as numerous in the markets as are men. Smaller boys and girls both herded goats on the slopes, and girls tended younger children. At home the sex division of labor has remained much as it was traditionally, but both sexes have become exposed to more varied occupational opportunities. Greater emphasis on schooling has made small boys especially less available for household chores.

Land Tenure. Agricultural land is traditionally inherited patrilaterally throughout Morocco, but whether or not it is divided up among sons on their father's death or remains in indivision is a question that, in most cases, must be resolved on the spot. As land in the Rif is a scarce resource, Rifians tend always to divide it; conflicts and feuds over landownership were inherent in their social structure, whereas transhumant Imazighen were more inclined to remain in indivision. Land closest to settlements is, in all areas, generally used for agricultural purposes, with or without irrigation; land farther away is used for grazing and tends to be held by the community in indivision. In addition, a very few communities in the Rif, and probably in the Anti-Atlas, have some habus land, donated by individuals to the local mosque or pious foundation for religious or charitable purposes, although this last is much more an urban than a rural phenomenon.


Kin Groups and Descent. Everywhere in North Africa except among some of the Tuareg groups of the Central Sahara, descent is patrilineal, and residence is patrilocal. The fundamental unit of Berber social organization is the patrilineage (dharfiqth [pl. dharfiqin ]; in the Rif, ighs among the Imazighen and afus [lit. "hand"; pl. ifassen ] among the Ishilhayen), which is seldom more than four to six generations in depth in the Rif and only four in the Atlas, where, however, it is corporate in character, unlike the Rifian lineage (see "Conflict"). Exogamy or endogamy is a matter of choice and circumstance: Rifians favor the former and Imazighen the latter, where possible.

Kinship Terminology. Both Arabic and most Berber kinship terminologies (those of the Tuareg apart) are, as they stand, "Sudanese," in Murdock's terminology; however, Rifians, Ishilhayen, and Algerian Kabyles all have the classificatory term ayyaw (fem, dhayyawxth ), meaning variously "father's sister's child," "sister's child," "daughter's child," and, asymmetrically, "son's child," and its existence thus turns these kinship systems from "Normal Sudanese" into "Modified Omaha." As for terms of address, all close kin, whether patrilateral or matrilateral, are addressed either by the appropriate kin term or by name, or, especially if in an ascending generation, by the kin term plus the name. The same holds generally true for known elders of any sort in terms of their kinship distance from the speaker.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. In the Rif, unlike the practice in certain other Berber-speaking areas, parallel-cousin marriage with the father's brother's daughter was permitted, although not highly regarded. These marriages accounted for 12 percent of a total of 1,625 marriages recorded between 1953 and 1955 among the Aith Waryaghar (3 percent true father's brother's daughter marriages and 9 percent classificatorythat is, not with true father's brother's daughter, but within the lineage). By far the most common form was local-lineage exogamymarriages between lineages within the same tribal sectionat 54 percent, whereas marriages between spouses of different sections accounted for 22 percent, and marriages with spouses of other tribes (both male and female) amounted again to 12 percent. Polygynous marriages accounted for 11 percent of the total (with each co-wife having her separate dwelling or household), secondary or successive marriages for 5 percent, and 3 percent of marriages terminated in divorce. There was a high rate of widow inheritance (as opposed to levirate) at 5 percent, but sororate, although permitted, accounted for only 0.8 percent. Marriage by exchange of sisters accounted for 2.5 percent, as did two brothers marrying two sisters; 20 percent of all marriageswhether endogamous or exogamouswere between individuals of different generations, even though they may have been of nearly equivalent ages (Hart 1976, 217-229).

Among the Imazighen of south-central Morocco, parallel-cousin marriage with the father's brother's daughter is strongly favored, but among the Ait 'Atta of Usikis on the south-central slope of the Atlas, it accounted for only 17 percent of 313 marriages recorded between 1961 and 1962 (of which only 3 percent were with true father's brother's daughter and 14 percent were with the classificatory father's brother's daughter, within the lineage). Lineage exogamy within the section accounted for 42 percent, intersectional marriages within the community of Usikis for 39 percent, and extracommunity or extratribal marriages for only 2 percent. Plural marriages accounted for 9 percent of the total, secondary or successive ones for 4 percent. Three percent of marriages ended in divorce; the rate of widow inheritance was 3 percent and that of the sororate only 1 percent. Of all marriages, endogamous or exogamous, 10 percent were cross-generational (Hart 1981, 148-151, 251-253).

Bride-wealth or bride-price is heavy in the Rif but minimal in the Imazighen region. Normally only a husband can initiate divorce (except in cases of impotency). Bride-wealth is generally returned in such cases, but children remain with their fathers. Childlessness is a normal cause for divorce.

Domestic Unit. The nuclear family (Rifian: nubth [lit., "turn"; pl. nubath ]; Tharifith: tashat [lit., "hearth"]) of father, mother, and unmarried children constitutes the domestic unit, all of whose members eat together when guests are not present, butowing to the prevalence of male labor migration to Europewomen are now often de facto heads of rural households.

Inheritance. Land is inherited patrilaterally (see "Land Tenure"). Although the Sharia stipulates that, for purposes of inheritance, one son equals two daughters, with one-eighth subtracted at a man's death for his widow, in areas like the Imazighen region, where customary law prevailed until independence, daughters generally got nothing and tended rather to be inherited by their fathers' brothers, in order to be married off to the latters' sons.

Socialization. Under maternal and grandparental supervision, all Berber communities are characterized by a high degree of sibling caretaking, with elder siblings taking care of younger ones while their mothers do household work. Grandparents and grandchildren are close, but sex segregation begins when boys and girls reach 6 or 7 years of age and start to herd goats. By the time they reach puberty, which traditionally is not long before the age to marry, it is fully ingrained.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The agnatic lineage or patrilineage (Rifian: dharfiqth; Imazighen: ighs; Ishilhayen: afus) was, until after Moroccan independence from France and Spain in 1956, the basic social unit, with a depth of four to six generations in the Rif and of only four among the Imazighen (see "Kin Groups and Descent"). Among the latter, however, it was corporate in character, which was not, or not always, the case in the Rif. In the latter half of the twentieth century and particularly since the 1970s as a result of labor migration, the patrilineage has been overshadowed in importance by the nuclear family. Above the patrilineage is the local community, and above this the tribal section (Rifian: rba' or khums, Imazighen/Ishilhayen: taqbilt), and finally the tribe itself. Within certain Moroccan tribes in precolonial times, sections were grouped together to form five primary units of "fifths" (khamsa khmas )as among the Aith Waryaghar of the Rif and the Ait 'Atta of the Saghro and Central Atlaswhich might differ widely from each other in terms of function; however, except in southern Morocco and the Presaharan oases, there is no formal hierarchy, and indeed among Berber lay tribesmen everywhere there has always been a fierce egalitarianism. In the south, holy lineages descended from the Prophet Mohammed (very numerous in Morocco, even among Berbers) form a top stratum. The mass of lay and illiterate White Berber tribespeople form the middle stratum, and the many residential clusters (or qsur) of haratin sedentary Black date-palm cultivators, some of whom stand traditionally in a clientage relationship to specific Berber tribal sectionsform the bottom one. This precolonial social stratification, however, is today turning into a class system based mainly on wealth and economic considerations.

Political Organization. In the precolonial Rif, the highest unit of political integration was the tribe (dhaqbitsh, which like "taqbilt" is derived from Arabic qabila ), although as a unit it was invoked far less often than the section (rba' or khums). A three-tiered system of representative councils (aitharbi'in, agraw ), for the community, the section, and the tribe, respectively, was convoked as needed and generally met in the suq in any case. The councillors (Rifian: imgharen ; sing. amghar ) were always tribal notables. As of the late nineteenth century, the choice of top tribal quyad, although generally ratified by sultanic decree, tended to confirm local strongmen in their positions. Among the Imazighen tribes, annual elections for chiefs at the tribal, sectional, and community levels were held in spring through rotation and complementarity of participant sections. Each year, it was the turn of one of the sections to provide the chief; its members sat apart, and members of the other sections selected the chief from among them. The chief's badge of office was a blade of grass that the electors placed in his turban. Among the Ait 'Atta, this procedure took place, until final "pacification" by the French in 1933, at the tribal capital and supreme court seat of Igharm Amazdar, in the Saghro. Given the egalitarian ideology, the top chief, or amghar n-ufilla, like the lesser chiefs, had little power and could be removed from office before his year was up if he were deemed unfit in any way, or if the year in question had been a bad or calamitous one. Conversely, if he were an able leader during war and if under his term of office the harvest had been good and the sheep had grown fat, he was likely to stay on for another year, or even longer. Today tribes have been nominally eradicated administratively, and the tribal sections have given way to the rural commune, but the communal councils are still elected and representative bodies that meet every week in the markets to deliberate on local issues.

Social Control. In the Rif and elsewhere, the sectional council was competent to handle most misdemeanors, such as theft or land disputes, but woundings and murders generally fell under the competence of the tribal council (aitharbi'in n'tqbitsh ). Prohibitively heavy fines (haqq ; lit., "truth, right") were imposed by the council members on anyone who committed a murder in the market or on any path leading to or from it on market day, the day before it, and the day after it. In all Berber areas, especially among the Imazighen, the most effective and drastic form of sociopolitical control was the collective oath (Tamazight: tagallit ), in which a man accused of any crime had to attest his innocence backed up by his agnates. One did this in front of a saint's shrine, with the number of agnates, as his cojurors, varying with the gravity of the offense. Supernatural sanctions of death or blindness in the event of perjury acted as a powerful incentive against swearing falsely. Although bin 'Abd al-Krim decollectivized Rifian oaths in 1922, they persisted in the Atlas until the end of the colonial period, with the rescinding of the Berber Dahir. By colonial times (after the Rifians were defeated in 1926), vengeance killings became far less common than they had been prior to 1921; these cases were handled by the courts of the protecting power. The qa'id's tribunal heard lesser cases and the qudat were concerned with torts. Since about 1986, customary law, now under the aegis of local specialists, has been reintroduced in embryonic form in most Moroccan Berber tribal areas, and this development is evidently looked upon with favor by the tribes in question.

Conflict. In the precolonial Rif in particular, both blood feuds (between lineage groups) and vendettas (within lineages, and generally between brothers and their sons) were endemic. Among the Aith Waryaghar, the latter outnumbered the former by about two to one: of the 193 conflicts recorded by Hart (1994) for the period from approximately 1880 to 1921, 122 were vendettas as opposed to only 71 feuds, indicating the lack of a corporate base in the Rifian lineage. Alliance networks, called lfuf (sing. liff ), conceived as equal in size but usually not so in fact, either embraced whole tribal sections or cleaved them in two, but essentially they did not extend beyond individual tribal borders. However, given the emphasis on corporate lineages in the Imazighen, and possibly the Ishilhayen regions as well, the emphasis here was on feud. Feuding was partially responsible for a degree of dispersal of individuals, given the fact that it was customary for a murderer, with or without his coresponsible agnatic kinsmen, to flee from home and seek exile in another tribe. In all regions, however, the resolution of conflicts between groups was the work of imrabdhen (sing. amrabit ) or igurramen (sing. agurram ), members of holy and generally charismatic lineages descended from the Prophet; conflict mediation between lay tribesmen was part of their stock-in-trade.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. All Moroccans, whether Berbers or Arabs, are Sunni (i.e., orthodox and mainstream) Muslims of the Maliki rite, which predominates in North Africa. Their beliefs are exactly the same as those of Sunni Muslims elsewhere. It should be noted, however, that Islam in rural North Africa has traditionally placed a strong emphasis on baraka (lit., "blessing"), the charisma and miracle-working abilities of shurfa' (sing. sharif ), descendants of the Prophet, whose shrines dot the countryside and whose living representatives have traditionally been mediators of conflicts between lineages or sections of lay Berber tribesmen.

Religious Practitioners. In Islam, there is, in theory, no intermediary between man and God, but every Moroccan rural community, whether Berber or Arab, has its fqih or schoolmaster, who teaches the boys to recite the Quran. The fqih, who is contracted by the community on an annual basis, leads the prayers in the mosque and gives the Friday sermon. He also writes charms (from Quranic verses) with a view to curing diseases, although any elements of witchcraft and sorcery that do not involve the use of (Arabic) writing are generally the preserve of women.

Ceremonies. The major ceremonies in the individual life cycle are birth, marriage, and death, with the first haircut and circumcision as additional rites for small boys. Circumcision, although not specifically mentioned in the Quran, is nonetheless practiced by all Muslims. Rifians perform it when boys reach 2 years of age, whereas the Imazighen tend to wait until boys are 5 or 6they are told by their elders to bear it bravely. There is no female circumcision. The marriage ceremony is the most important, lengthy, and elaborate ritual for both sexes. In addition, everyone observes the normal Muslim religious festivals of the lunar year. During the first ten days of the first month, the 'Ashura is celebrated; in Morocco, children are invariably given toys and other presents at this time of year. The month-long fast of Ramadan, in the ninth month, is followed immediately by the 'Ayd al-Saghir or Small Feast to break the fast. The 'Ayd al-Kabir or Great Feast, when every householder must sacrifice a sheep, occurs in the last month of the year and coincides with the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Arts. The only specialized arts among Berbers are performed by women and consist, among Rifians, of pottery decoration and, among Imazighen in the Middle Atlas, of rug weaving.

Medicine. Traditional healers continue to flourish, but today hospitals and clinics are also much in use.

Death and Afterlife. Death may be attributed either to natural or supernatural causes, and every community has its cemetery. If the deceased is a man, his body is washed and enshrouded by the fqih, and if a woman, by another woman. Anyone who dies in the morning is buried the same afternoon and anyone who dies at night is buried the following morning, in a hole that must be only a spread handspan plus an extra half-thumb length in width. Of overriding importance in the orientation of an Islamic grave is the qibla, the direction of Mecca. In Morocco, the body is therefore placed in the grave more or less on its right side, with its face turned toward Mecca, while the fqih intones an appropriate chapter of the Quran. Only men attend funerals, and among the Imazighen the kinsmen of the deceased give a feast seven days after the death for those who mourned at the burial. In the Rif, a widow gives a feast forty days after her husband's death, which theoretically marks the end of the mourning period. Ideally, it should also correspond to the obligatory 'idda, or three-month period between widowhood, or divorce, and remarriage, in order to determine paternity in case of pregnancy. Anyone who dies during Ramadan will go to paradise immediately, far faster than at any other time of year. The Quran is quite specific on the subject both of paradise, ajinna, and of hell, jahannama ; it also teaches that two invisible recording angels sit on everyone's shoulders, one recording good deeds, the other bad ones.


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