High Atlas Feature


The Berbers

Berbers, the ancestral people of north Africa west of the Nile (the area known as the Maghreb), live in every part of Morocco and move in every social class, from the poorest rural farms to the wealthiest neighborhoods in Rabat. The word "Berber" is thought by many to derive from "barbarian," used by the Romans to describe foreigners, especially those from the untamed hinterlands of their empire. Berbers themselves are manifold, dividing into three broad groups (Masmouda, Sahanja, and Zénètes). Although there were numerous Berber-speaking Jewish communities until the mid-20th century (when many moved to Israel at its foundation in 1948), the population is now almost entirely Muslim.


There are three main divisions of the Berber language: Taririft in the Rif area; Tamazight in the Mid-Atlas; and Tashelhit in the Anti-Atlas and Souss. However, the divisions don't necessarily match the broad groups mentioned here. High Atlas Berbers call themselves Ishelhin, and also speak Tashelhit. The language seems to have arrived with migrants from somewhere in the Middle East at least 3,000 years ago, perhaps in several waves.

The Berber Way

Attention to local sensitivities is much appreciated and often rewarded with the celebrated Amazigh hospitality. Smiling goes further than anything in creating good will. Dress modestly, and wear something on your head if you're female (even a baseball cap). It is always appreciated. Smoking is an urban phenomenon, so everyone (particularly women) should smoke discreetly. Many High Atlas villagers are outraged that their children behave as beggars by demanding money, pens, or sweets from foreigners; the polite way to refuse is to say, Allah esahel, which means "God make it easy on you." Always ask permission before you photograph Moroccans.

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