Piste de Berber, Morocco

February 2006 Morocco Marakkech 042.JPG Following the Piste de Berber (visiting the Berber People)Traveling with 6 4x4 Jeeps, we journeyed up to the Piste de Berber to see the original population of North Africa living in the Atlas Moutains. We had heard about the colorful Berber people living in the mountains and their unknown origin (perhaps from India) and were determined to see them. We had heard about their longevity, love for the sun and ecological lifestyle and wanted to investigate for ourselves.Historically, here are a few facts known about the Berber people. There are about 300 local dialects among the Berbers. Berbers are Muslims, but there are many traditional practices found among them. Since Berbers typically outnumber Arabs in rural areas, traditional practices tend to predominate there. The conversion of Berbers to Islam took centuries and in many areas Islam was not dominant until the 16th century. This has resulted in Berber Islam being somewhat atypical in its incorporation of traditional beliefs, preserving more traces of former religious practices.Of major cities in North Africa, only Marrakech has a population with a Berber identity. The Berber dominance in the mountains can be traced to the days of Arab conquests, when the Arabs took control over the cities, but left the countryside to itself. The number of Arabs being too small for a more profound occupation. Berbers in those days had the choice between living in the mountains, resisting Arab dominance, or moving into the Arab community, where Arab language and culture were dominant not unlike today.Until a few years ago, Berbers were considered to be second class (like in many societies in the West: Indians in America, Aboriginals in Australia, Lapps in Norway). For example, in the most modernized society in North Africa, Tunisia, being Berber has been (and still is to some extent) synonymous with being an illiterate peasant dressed in traditional garments.Adapted from: http://lexicorient.com/e.o/berbers.htmBerber Architecture


Berber architecture is essentially troglodyte. Houses and mosques are constructed by digging down into the earth and rock, so that most of the accommodation is underground, with only a small area built up on the surface. The advantage of this type of building is twofold; namely, protection from the Jabal's biting winter winds, and also from the fierce summer heat. The soft rock of this area permits easy digging, and the underground rooms remain at a constantly pleasant temperature of 17�C.The plan of the troglodyte houses is fairly uniform, with a steeply sloping tunnel leading to a large courtyard at a depth of about 8 meters. From this courtyard several rooms are cut into the surrounding sandy rock; these can be used as living accommodation, stables and storage areas. Fodder for the animals or human food supplies, such as grain, can be dropped through holes in the ceiling into the rooms below. Living quarters have whitewashed walls, with shelves cut for storing possessions. Water is stored in cisterns. Oil lamps were originally used for lighting, although many of these dwellings today are supplied with electricity.From: http://www.arab.net/libya/la_berbers.htmThe way of the life of the Berber people is from sunrise to sundown. Up at 6 am in which everyone has a bit of Olive Oil for breakfast. Work in fields takes place from 6:30-10 when the sun is low in the sky. A mid morning meal is followed by rest, relaxation and doing the chores or making crafts under the cool shade. Dinner is at 5pm and bedtime soon follows as the sun sets. The kids go to local village schools for 2-4 hours a day dressed in western wear that has been traded by the villagers for their fruits and vegetables. The average Berber person who lives in the mountains lives to a minimum healthy age of 85 versus the 65 in the neighboring city of Marrakech. Is it the morning Olive Oil for breakfast, climbing up and down the mountains every day, or living with the sun that keeps them so youthful and healthy so long?Later on we learned that the tour company believes in traveling in Jeep caravans through the mountains for safety reasons with small groups of about 6 persons followed in discrete distance by other Jeeps, but still showing a certain unity and potential force if needed to help each other in case of danger or accident. At one stop as 50 children surrounded our Jeep and people started getting a little scared, we could understand why. The children, like all those in Africa are taught to beg for money or gifts. However, in Morocco they have made a huge campaign asking tourists to only provide school supplies (i.e. pens, paper, etc.) to the kids to encourage them to learn. We bought a stack of pens and Zoe-Pascale handed out pens to the begging children and learning about another cultures and their needs. On our trip, 100� s of pens were given out to the needy children we saw. 

Suzanne Saxe-Roux