While Morocco is only about the size of California, this petite country averaging 32 million people has an incredibly rich and complex history. In just the past century, Morocco has been colonized by the French and had to share its land with the Spanish.
Despite Morocco’s intense history of having foreigners scoop in and Arabize, later westernize their indigenous Berber ways, Moroccans remain some of the friendliest and most hospitable people in the world. Ask almost any traveler that has ventured through Morocco or your local well read librarian- they will all say the same thing: Moroccan kindness and hospitality is one of a kind.
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Morocco is typically referred to as an Arab nation, but this is far from the truth. While it is accurate to state that there are primarily Muslims living in Morocco,Morocco is best described as a nation of both Arabs and Berbers. The Berbers were Morocco’s original inhabitants. The Arabs arrived at the end of the seventh century, after sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East in the name of their new revolutionary ideology, Islam. Eventually nearly all of the Berbers converted to the new religion and were immediately accepted as fellow Muslims by the Arabs. When Muslim armies invaded the Iberian peninsula from Morocco, the bulk of the troops were Berbers, and the two ethnic groups assimilated.
Today, most Moroccan can claim both Arab and Berber ancestors, though a few (especially Shereefs, who trade their ancestry back to the Prophet Mohammed, and have the title “Moulay”) claim to be pure Arabs. But in the Rif and Atlas Mountains and in the Souss Valley, groups of pure Berbers remain, and retain their ancient languages (Tarfit, spoken by 1.5 million people in the Rif; Tamazight, spoken by over 3 million people in the Atlas; and Teshalhit, spoken by 3-4 million people in the Souss Valley region). Recently there has been a resurgence in Berber pride. TV programs are now broadcast in Berber languages, and they are taught in schools, but the country’s majority language remains Arabic.
Berbers, whose origins remain uncertain, are suggested to have originated in Yemen or present day Syria. Any traveler visiting Morocco should not be surprised to encounter many green or blue eyed fair skinned individuals as over the centuries the Berber and Arab populations have participated in many interracial marriages.
It is uncertain as to when the Berbers first arrived to Morocco because the Berber language never developed a writing system. Before the Arabs arrived in the 7th century, the Berbers were influenced by three groups: the Phoenicians, theCarthaginians, and the Romans. While none of these groups made a significant impact on the Berbers, the Romans were the ones with whom the Berbers quarreled the most. One rebellion between them took three years and 20,000 troops to subdue.
Unlike the previous groups, the Arabs who arrived in 680 B.C were more determined to make their presence felt and succeeded in transforming the country into an Arab and Muslim society. Upon a visit to Morocco, you will be certain to feel the success of their mission. Today, ninety-nine percent of Moroccans are Muslim- Berbers.
During the 12th century, Islam spread throughout Northern Africa, ultimately pushing the Berbers into the mountains. Berbers, which literally mean “those who are not Arab”, did not fit in with the fast paced and busy lifestyles of their new neighbors. Resultantly, they sought solace and tranquility in the mountains to live an agrarian and nomadic lifestyle.
Even with the successful conversion of Morocco to a Muslim country, the new leaders faced centuries of challenges of civil war, rebellion, outdated forms of government, and overall discontent. As a result, Europeans, particularly the Spanish and Portuguese, began to appear in Morocco.
At the end of the 19th century, as Morocco declared bankruptcy, Spain and France tried to stay active in alleviating Morocco’s economic strife. In the Treaty of Fes (1912), Morocco agreed to Spanish and French protection. The treaty lasted for forty years and played a role in why Morocco eventually became a French colony. Only in 1956 did Morocco win back it’s independence from France.
Language tells a lot about a country’s history and people. When visiting Morocco, it will become clear how the Europeans affected Moroccan’s way of life and institutions. Today French is recognized as the official language ofbusinesses, government, and international relations in Morocco. In the northern part of the country, Spanish is also common. Contrastingly, seventypercent of the population speaks Arabic, the national language, and thirtypercent communicate in one of the three hundred Berber dialects.
Today, the rural Berber communities, identified as the Amaziah, account for about thirty-three of the population and can still be found living in the countryside and mountains. However, in the past few decades western style education has attracted more Berbers to move into urban areas in search of a better life.
During your travels in Morocco, you will witness all three Berber groups (theRuffians in the north, the Chleuhs in the Middle and High Atlas, and the Soussi in the southwest) mixing peacefully among the Arab and small Jewish population who have been living in Morocco since the 15th century.
Morocco is a wonderful example of how people of all different backgrounds and ideologies can live in harmony. Besides the mingling of the Arabs, Berbers, andJews, the South hosts a myriad of British, French, and American expatriatesworking for the government as teachers, technicians, and business managers.
Morocco’s years of foreign influence and rule have taught it to have the best communication skills and tolerance towards visitors. Undoubtedly, your journey will be an unforgettable experience that will make you want to return.