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Area 6 : News & Views


The longest journey starts with a single step .....................................................ancient Chinese proverb

Kathryn Watts reporting worldwide.


A short History of Morocco and the Berbers.

Most of the population of Morocco is made up of Berbers and Arabs. They first came to Morocco in the 7th century with the first invasion of Islam. Much of the population came from Spain originally, when the Catholics evicted the Muslims from their country. As a result this marked a division of the population. The official language that is used in Morocco is Arabic - although in many of the cities French is widely used, and is important in many aspects of life as a result of Morocco's ties with France.

The word "Berber" comes from the Arabic word "barbari", although little is known about the racial origin of these people. The Berbers have three dialects with which they are recognised within their groups. The dialects are used in different regions of the mountains and desert where most Berbers reside. The population of Morocco is increasingly becoming bilingual in both Berber and Arabic due to modern communications. Approximately 60,000 Europeans make up the population, mostly from France, Spain and Italy. It is estimated that approximately 1.7 million Moroccans are living abroad, mostly in European countries.

The Arabisation of North Africa saw the retreat of the Berbers into relative isolation as they lost their tribal society. Nevertheless before the occupation of Morocco in 1912, the Berbers in many different regions began to prosper.

... the longest journey starts with a single step ...

In Tunisia the Berbers sought to preserve their community in their island oasis. Those who resided in Algeria seized opportunities of becoming prosperous cloth merchants in the cities of the North. The same was happening in Casablanca, many making their way to Europe as circus acrobats.

The establishment of the French and Spanish protectorate saw the Berbers trading in Paris and Tlemcen. With the control of the country by the French came the freedom of the Berbers to a greater extent. The Second World War saw the Berbers recruited into the forces, and they were invaluable in the mountain regions.

The success of the state in 1944 of uniting the country saw previous barriers between the people broken down, and distinctions between the people became increasingly less important. The achievement of Moroccan independence in1956 brought new rulers with the creation of a monarchy, leaving nothing to the French except a crumbling fortress at Telouet to signify its defeat.

... the longest journey starts with a single step ...

In France the language of Berber is now accepted as a subject for the baccalaureate examination, and is taught at the cultural associations. It is also heard all day on radio stations. The language is an important part of uniting the movement between the people. A department of Berber has opened up in Morocco in Tizi Ouzou, while postgraduate research takes place in the Berber department of the University of Paris.

Education is becoming an increasingly important aspect to Moroccans, with a fair amount of state money spent to improve conditions in this area. Eleven universities see some 230,000 students attending them, although it is estimated that approximately half the male adult population and 70% of the population of women are still illiterate (UNESCO). The women and girls who inhabit the rural areas are especially in need, being more likely to be illiterate than those living in the cities.

In our travels we often encountered young girls helping in the fields, with cattle and on donkeys carrying resources. Although they play an important part in the survival of their families, this generation with the recognition of improved conditions for the women in society should, in the long run, have the opportunity to improve the condition of their own lives by having access to education. The education of the country people is fundamentally important for economic and social reasons.

.............................. Kathryn Watts

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