It’s a Berber Life

That morning, after an extremely cold night in our hostel (thank goodness for Berber blankets!) and a basic breakfast (consisting of bread and coffee), we had watched the sun rise as we travelled through the Gorges du Todgha (Todra Gorge), humbled by the incredible rock formations caused by a millennia of wind erosion. Morocco’s diverse landscape was unfolding before us.

Gorges du Todgha | Todra Gorge | Morocco

Just before lunch, our non-talkative driver had dropped us off at a beautiful Berber Village tucked away in the mountains. Gaining some insight into the local Berber culture was certainly worth the hunger pangs which had begun to gnaw at us.

Berbers are one of Morocco’s main ethnic groups. Sadly, many of Morocco’s indigenous tribes are in decline. This scarcely populated Berber village was divided into two by a river whose rushing waters danced in the afternoon sunshine. On either side, we picked our way through little farming plots, carefully marked out for each household and expertly irrigated.

Morocco | Berber Village

From our guide, we learned that even this rustic and remote Berber village was not immune to the effects of desertification and climate change. A few years before, floods had washed away most of the farms. Now a concrete wall was under construction to shore up defences along the river.

Morocco | Berber Village

Village life buzzed around us. Women doing their washing averted their eyes and covered their faces as we walked past. The locals believe that cameras could steal their souls. We respectfully took no close up photos of them.

Morocco | Berber Village

Children played on a dirt road while a truck, laden with bales of straw twice the size of the truck itself, carefully avoided them as it backed up to upload its precious cargo. The traditional Berber abode is built with mainly straw and mud. The locals use the dry winter to carry out repairs and fix cracks caused by wear and tear. (See another blogger view of Berber life here)

The high point of the visit was a choreographed demonstration of intricately handwoven traditional Berber kilims (rugs). In Berber culture, every rug or carpet tells a story.

According to author and researcher Elissaveta Marinova, “Each tribe is reputed to have its own style and string of patterns which gives a specific identity to the village and its inhabitants. If you know the symbols, you can ‘read’ the kilim”. The desert sand dunes formed a recurring pattern on many of colourful samples presented to us.

Morocco | Berber Village | Kilim | Rug

The process of making the rugs, including the careful application of dyes, is a long and tedious process which could take months. Later on, during our visit to Fes, we would see massive rugs and tapestries handmade decades ago which have now become treasured artefacts protected by the Moroccan government. However, just like we had observed during our visit to Sri Lanka’s tea plantations, it seemed Moroccan Berber women too did all the grafting while the men simply sold the finished product.

Realising that our little group did not intend to buy anything (sorry sir, next time!), the Berber ‘chief’ politely rounded up his presentation with a promise to give us a discount if we ever came back. While saying our goodbyes, he slapped Omo on the back and shouted, “Jamaica! Bob Marley!” in what was clearly another case of mistaken identity.

HDYTI tip: While many tour operators will promise you that visits to cultural attractions are included in the quoted price, note that you may have to pay a small fee (approximately 20 MAD or $2) to a local guide who will usually be your chaperon during your actual visit. If no fee is demanded, expect to leave a tip of approximately the same amount.

After we left the village, we considered how we could repeat that section of our trip on our own terms and at a much slower pace; taking in more of the culture and geography. Although there are benefits of travelling with organised group tours, we didn’t really enjoy being unable to control that part of our itinerary. Pros and cons!