Moroccan berber

Moroccan berber

Throughout Morocco you can find inscriptions on buildings and signs made in an alien language. This inscription means “Technopark,” and it is in Moroccan berber. Yes, yes, there is such a thing. We were lucky: in Berber, “Technopark” is “Teknubark. Such a coincidence allows us to read the inscription. You have to read it from left to right, then you can recognize some familiar letters. The cross looks like the letter “T”, the zigzag looks like the letter “E”. The last letter looks almost like a “K”. The rest of the letters are unrecognizable and do not look like Latin letters.

There are several Moroccan berber languages. Almost 90% of Moroccan berber speak one of the seven Berber languages. They all differ slightly from each other. On a domestic level, we would call them dialects.

Berber languages use different alphabets for writing. For many years these disparate writing systems have been trying to unify. The most successful attempt is the alphabet “New Tifinag”, which was developed in Morocco in 2003. It is in the New Tifinag that the majority of Berber inscriptions in Morocco are made.


The Moroccan berber language is written and spoken.

The word “berber” is one-kin to the word “barbarian” and came to us from Greek, in which it meant any foreigner. The self-name of the people, of course, has no barbarian connotations. Berbers call themselves Amazigh, free people.

Free people live in different countries. Most Berbers live in Morocco – from 14 to 20 million people by various estimates. Algeria is in second place: 9 to 13 million Berbers live there. The other countries are far behind: Libya is in third place with 4 million, then Mauritania and France with 2.5 million Berbers.

The homeland of the Berbers can be rightly called Morocco, because not only that Morocco has more Berbers than anywhere else, but the Berbers also make up half of the population. That is a lot.

What do Moroccan berber look like and where do they live? we see colorful pictures of people wrapped in an indigo tagelmust and dressed in the national dress galabeya.

I have already said in a general review of Morocco that this is a collective image. Indeed, the tagelmust and the galabeya are the Moroccan berber national dress. But few people wear them every day. Mainly because Berbers live in the countryside, mountains or desert. In such conditions, beautiful, expensive clothes are not worn for a long time. They get dirty and tear very quickly. They are dressed like that only on holidays. Or it is the way urban dwellers wear their clothes.

Berbers live all over Morocco, but their traditional home is remote villages and hamlets. Many of them live as hermits in the desert and mountains. Most, however, prefer small settlements.

Berber villages

There are very poorly equipped. There is no asphalt, no running water, and electricity was not installed very long ago. A typical Berber village is Ourika, forty kilometers from Marrakech.

There is a Berber museum in Ourika with a bunch of exhibits, mostly functional: plows, stupas, oil churns, knives, scythes, millstones.

The head of the museum in the middle of nowhere surprisingly speaks good Russian.

Salah is very fond of riddles. Showing each object in the museum, he asks you to guess what it is and what it is for. You do not always remember the right word even in your own language, not to mention English. But Salah himself prompts: “This one is called melnitis.”

But most of all Salah likes to talk about Berber carpets. It turns out that whole stories are encoded in these carpets.

Moroccan berber carpet

Are a system of writing. The basis of the cipher is two figures. A triangle represents a man, a rhombus represents a woman. The rhombuses and triangles are constantly repeated on the rug and make up the framework of the story.

Colors are then added to the figures. Their meaning is quite fuzzy, but most often green means heaven, blue means a child. Yellow may additionally signify a man and red a woman.

The various combinations and repetitions of figures and colors give an uncomplicated story. For example, in this rug, the rhombuses are repeated on both sides. There are a total of 24 rhombuses in the figure. This is how the woman, who is 24 years old, is encoded.

Inside is a schematic drawing of a man. His head is painted green and shaped like a rhombus, once again indicating a woman. The body, on the other hand, is painted yellow.

The whole cipher means that the woman, 24 years old, is pregnant with a boy. This rug was given as a birthday present.

This is the simplest pattern. Carpets can be much more complicated, and Berbers alone can figure out what’s what. It took Salah an hour to tell us about the carpets.

By the way, these rags are hardly suitable as a rug-they’re made of who knows what. It could be strings or plant stalks. To lie on such a carpet is hardly comfortable, just to put it as a rug near the door. But Berbers are very poor, so for them this rag is a carpet.

If the carpets are not interesting to look at, you can ask Salah to show you his house. For a small fee, the Berbers will be happy to give you a tour of a perfectly miserable dwelling.

Village of the berbers

Are made out of nothing. It looks like clay and straw mixed with bricks and concrete. All the buildings are inordinately cheap and flimsy, and there is nothing around – dirt and ruins.

You should not think that it is always hot in Morocco. Ourika is close to the Atlas Mountains, and it is quite cold in winter. It’s only +10 degrees Celsius during the day in rainy weather, but at night it can be freezing.

The flimsy clay houses let all the water in. They get flooded during the rains, which does not add to comfort.

But the house is cold in the warm season as well. It is specially built so that it is not hot in summer. Even in the heat, not all corners of the house are well heated. That is why every Berber house has a stove.

The stove is arranged so as to warm not only the house, but also the barn with animals. In the basement of the house Berbers keep cattle: cows and donkeys.

Of course, the smell from the cattle is unreal. It makes you want to vomit. Salah explains: “The cattle are warmed by the stove, and they shit and breathe, so they additionally heat the house.

Moroccan berber food

There is another stove in the house. It is used for cooking food. Berbers cook food either in a pot, if it is soup and meat, or by rolling directly on a clay oven, if it is flatbread.

There are many rooms in the house. The poorer the people, the better they breed and multiply. The Berbers have huge families, sometimes with several dozen people.

But all the rooms in the house are dark, like storerooms. It is very difficult to live in such conditions.

There are also women in Berber villages. In their spare time from building a house, plowing the land and walking the cattle, Berber women are busy whipping butter. The most delicious butter in the world.

After the milk is obtained from the cow, it is poured into the butter churn. The butter churn in reality is very different from the museum. While in the museum there is a wooden mortar with a handle, in reality the butter is churned in a ten-liter plastic bottle suspended from the ceiling.

The butter is whipped for hours. The woman sits on a small chair and continuously, for hours, shakes the butter churn back and forth over a small fire.

Salt is added to the butter while it is being whipped. This is not done for flavor, but for storage. There are often hungry, bad harvest years. So they salt the butter and store it in large barrels. If the year is bad, the oil is removed from the salt and eaten.

It turns out that the salty taste of such butter is not an afterthought, but just a consequence of salting. After salting, the oil can’t be cleaned completely, so it remains slightly salty.

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Trips Around Morocco


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