General Information about Morocco
Morocco is a kingdom in North Africa bounded on the north by the Mediterranean Sea, on the east and southeast by Algeria, on the south by Western Sahara, and on the west by the Atlantic Ocean. It is only 13 kilometers (8 miles) from Europe across the strait of Gibraltar. Morocco has been shaped by the interaction of the original Berber inhabitants and people of Arab, sub-Saharan, Jewish and Andalusian origins
The first inhabitants to be known in Morocco were the Berbers. The Arabs came to Morocco toward the end of the 7th century with the advent of Islam.
Islam is the established state religion of Morocco. Almost the entire population is Sunni Muslim, with the monarch as the supreme Muslim authority in the country.
The Jewish population declined from 250000 Moroccan Jews in the 60’s to less than 10000 today; Muslim population estimated at 99% and Moroccan Jews at 1%.
Major Moroccan Dynasties
* The Massyles (203 BC-40)
* The Idrissids: (788-959)
* The Almoravids: 1073-1147
* The Almohads: 1130-1276
* The Marinids: 1258-1420
* The Saadians: 1599-1641.
* The Alawites: (1631-present)
The berbers were the first inhabitants of North Africa and they are also considered its indigenous people. The history of the Berber people goes back more than 5000 years ago. The Berbers are a group of people who migrated possibly from the Middle east or Eurasia to as far west the Atlantic coast and all the way down to Mali, Niger, and Burkina. It wasn’t until the 7th century with the Arab invasion that the Berbers became ‘Arabized’ and converted to Islam.
There are three main Berber groups in Morocco who speak three varieties of the Berber language. Berbers from the Rif, in northern Morocco, speak Tarifit, Berbers from the Middle Atlas region speak Tamazight, and those from the High Atlas and Souss regions in the South speak Tashelheet. The Berber text is different from Arabic and is called Tifinagh.
It is worth mentioning that the official language of Morocco is Arabic. Most Moroccans, no matter what their origins are, speak Arabic. There is a minority of Berber nomads who do not speak Arabic.
So, on your next visit to Morocco, keep your senses awake to experience Morocco’s diversity.
Mellah, the Jewish Quarter
A Mellah (Arabic ملاح, ‘salt’ or ‘saline area’; is a Jewish Quarter of a city in Morocco. Starting in the 15th century and especially since the beginning of the 19th century, Jewish communities in Morocco were constrained to live in mellah districts in many Moroccan cities. The name Mellah derives from a local toponym in Fes which became the name of the first separate Jewish district in Morocco (the Mellah of Fes) created in that city during the 15th century.
In cities, a Mellah was often surrounded by a wall with a fortified gateway. Usually, the Jewish quarter was situated near the royal palace or the residence of the governor, in order to protect its inhabitants from recurring riots since its inhabitants played a vital role in the local economy. In contrast, rural mellahs were separate villages inhabited solely by the Jews.
Several Jewish Quarters still survive today with their synagogues and Jewish cemeteries and can easily be found within large cities such as Marrakech and Fez. But a trip off the beaten path can also be extremely rewarding. Towns such as Sefrou and Chefchaouen have beautifully preserved unique mellahs that can easily be explored from one of the main Moroccan cities.
The Gnawa Music
Gnawa music originates from the Gnawa ethnic group, who were brought to Morocco from sub-Saharan Africa beginning around the 11th century. They were trafficked as slaves, and probably originated from Mali, Senegal, Chad, and Nigeria. The term Gnawa was therefore first used as a color designation, to mean “the black people.” There was originally no one common culture between these different groups when they arrived in Morocco.
The Gnawa people also included a group of indigenous black Berbers from the south of Morocco.The enslaved Gnawa people were used in Morocco mostly as soldiers. By 1200 A.D., there were over 30,000 black soldiers in Morocco, and the practice of using black slaves to maintain power had become institutionalized. In the late 16th century, Moulay Ismail gave orders to conscript all black people, free and enslaved, into the army.
Gnawa music has become more secularized in recent years. Gnawa performers have turned to tourist and outdoor performances, as well as collaboration with blues and jazz artists from the United States. Gnawa music has evolved from a spiritual practice to a secular art, but in doing so it has found its niche within popular Moroccan culture.
Moor, in English usage, a Moroccan or, formerly, a member of the Muslim population of al-Andalus, now Spain and Portugal. Of mixed Arab, Spanish, and Amazigh (Berber) origins, the Moors created the Islamic Andalusian civilization and subsequently settled as refugees in the Maghreb (in the region of North Africa) between the 11th and 17th centuries. By extension (corresponding to the Spanish moro), the term occasionally denotes any Muslim in general, as in the case of the “Moors” of Sri Lanka or of the Philippines. Today, the term Moor is used to designate the predominant Arab-Amazigh ethnic group in Mauritania (which makes up more than two-thirds of the country’s population) and the small Arab-Amazigh minority in Mali.
The term is of little use in describing the ethnic characteristics of any groups, ancient or modern. From the Middle Ages to the 17th century, however, Europeans depicted Moors as being black, “swarthy,” or “tawny” in skin color. (Othello, Shakespeare’s Moor of Venice, comes to mind in such a context.) Europeans designated Muslims of any other complexion as “white Moors,” despite the fact that the population in most parts of North Africa differs little in physical appearance from that of southern Europe (in Morocco, for example, red and blonde hair are relatively common).