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Berbers, spread all over North Africa, were the first inhabitants of Morocco. Living in the mountainous region of High Atlas, they were farmers traditionally. As they lived in the regions close to the Mediterranean coast, they were referred to as ‘Mediterraneans.’ Good looking with fair complexion and sharp features, they look more like Europeans than Africans.
Language and Occupation of Berbers
Berbers form the majority of the population of Morocco today. They live in harmony with Arabs of the country and speak almost the same language except with a difference in accent. Traditionally, the Berber men tilled the land and attended the activities outside the house, while the women managed the home and the family. The modern Berber women, though, are educated and pursuing a career of their own along with looking after their family.
The Regal Berber women
The Berber women being the social heads of the family are highly respected by other members of the family. With a glowing complexion and a pleasant face, they look very attractive in ‘djellabahs’ (loose upper wear), headscarves and chunky Berber jewellery. Visit any home in the Berber village of Ourika valley and taste the hospitality of these friendly women.
The matriarch of the family would welcome the guests with a smile before taking them inside to serve fresh mint tea, bread and pancakes with honey. The preparation of tea and its serving is a ceremony worth watching. In boiling hot water, the regal matriarch would mix fresh mint leaves and lumps of sugar to soak in before serving them carefully in cups. The tea with hot baked thick tasty bread or pancake is surely wholesome.
The Berbers being skilled craftsmen and good performing artists have contributed to the rich culture, tradition and resource of the country. Whether it is making shoes or brown pottery, decorative tiles or colourful kilims (tapestry), reciting poetry or dancing to the tune of boisterous music, the Berbers take the lead.
Berber Music and Dance
During festivities, religious functions and marriages, robust men dressed in robes, turban and coloured belts sing folk songs lustily while their attractive women in bright- brocaded silks and jewels dance to their beat zestfully. Starting with a prayer or poem, they go on to perform to the accompaniment of drums, flute and one-stringed fiddle.
Fine Berber Crafts
Berbers are fine craftsmen. The tapestry they weave is in colours designed with stripes and decorated with sequins or fringes. Drive down to Ourika valley to view a variety of these lightweight carpets on display all along the way. The Berber pottery is unglazed brown pottery painted with designs. The Tajine dish is the most popular piece of pottery bought by the tourists.
Berber jewellery is well known for its craftsmanship. Created out of pure silver or silver mix, pendants with the hand of Fatima or other traditional motifs and inlaid with semi-precious stones look fetching. The bracelets are usually heavy and broad with engravings and stone inlays. The necklaces are either in pure silver strewn with coins, mango-like pieces and other patterns or in coral and amber embellished with silver pieces in between.
Berber art and craft are sure to appeal the eyes of any tourist visiting Morocco. With good bargaining skills, one is sure to pick up a handful of ethnic jewellery and craft pieces as mementos. Plan a trip to Morocco at least to get a sample of such exquisite craft and also get a feel of Berber customs and crafts. It will be worth the visit.