Morocco Heritage

Each region possesses its own uniqueness, contributing to the national culture. Morocco has set among its top priorities the protection of its diversity and the preservation of its cultural heritage.

In the political world, Morocco is referred to as an Arab state and sometimes as an African state.

The majority of Morocco’s population is Arab by identity. At least a third of the population speaks the Amazigh language. During the Islamic expansion, some Arabs came to Morocco and settled in the flat regions as Tadla and Doukkala. For example there are groups called Charkawa and Arbawa who settled in Morocco from Arabia. The Charkawa claimed to be descended from Omar Ibn Al Khatab.

Ethnic Groups and Languages

Gnawa DancersMorocco is considered by some as an Arab-Berber country. Others insist on the Berber-African identity of Morocco. About 42% acknowledge a Berber identity, though many more have Berber ancestry. Berbers are also by language but also by traditional customs and culture – such as the distinctive music and dances. Berber language (Also called Amazigh) is not yet officially recognized in Morocco, though French (the colonial language) is. Classical Arabic remains the only official language of Morocco and is used in limited socio-economic and cultural activities and written newspapers but it is never spoken between Moroccans. The most common spoken variety of Arabic in Morocco, Moroccan Arabic, has also been significantly influenced by Berber languages.

Linguistically, Berber belongs to the Afro-Asiatic group, and has many accents or variants. The three main accents used in Morocco are Tachelhit, Tamazight and Tarifit (Also called Thamazight by its speakers). Collectively, those Berber languages they are known as “Chelha” in Moroccan Arabic and as “Barbaria” in Classical Arabic used in the Middle East. The terms “Barbar” and “Chelha” are considered by most Berber activists as extremely offending and humiliating. They prefer the word Amazigh.

Tachelhit (sometimes known as “soussia” or “chelha”) is spoken in south-west Morocco, in an area between Sidi Ifni in the south, Agadir in the north and Marrakech and the Draa/Sous valleys in the east. Tamazight is spoken in the Middle Atlas, between Taza, Khemisset, Azilal and Errachidia. Tarifit is spoken in the Rif area of northern Morocco in towns like Nador, Al Hoceima, Ajdir, Tangier and Taourirt, Larache and Taza.

For more detailed information on this subject see: Berber languages.

Although Berbers were eventually converted to Islam, their ethnic and linguistic purity has remained. Hundreds of Amazigh (Berber) associations were created in the last few years. Newsstands and bookstores in all the major cities are filled with new Amazigh magazines and other publications that provide articles about the Amazigh culture and art. The state owned TV station RTM (now TVM) has started broadcasting a daily 10-minute long news bulletin in the 3 Berber accents since the mid 90’s. Berber activists are repetedly demanding a 50% share of broadcasting time in standardized Amazigh language on all 5 state owned satellite channels TVM, 2M, 3, 4 and Laayoune TV. The state still refuses or ignores these demands.

Traditional clothing
moroccan dressYou will see many women wearing a Kaftan, or long ornately designed dress.

The traditional dress for men is called djellaba; a long, loose, hooded garment with full sleeves. For special occasions, men also wear a red cap called tarbouche and mostly referred to as Fez. Nearly all men wear balgha (بلغه) —- those soft leather slippers with no heel, often in yellow. Many women do as well but others wear high-heeled sandals, often in silver or gold tinsel.

The distinction between a djellaba and a kaftan is that the djellaba has a hood, while a Kaftan does not. The women’s djellabas are mostly of bright colors with ornate patterns, stitching, or beading, while men wear djellabas in plainer, neutral colors. Women are strongly attached to their “Moroccan wardrobe”, despite the financial costs involved. The production of such garments is relatively expensive, as most of the work is done by hand. Despite the costs involved most women purchase a minimum of one new kaftan or “tk’chita” every year, normally for a special, social event, such as a religious festival or a wedding. Nowadays, it is an unwritten rule that Moroccan dress is worn at such events.