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Area 6 : News & Views


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

Kathryn Watts reporting worldwide.


Art, Music and Social Etiquette of the Moroccan People

On my travels in Morocco I found that the centre of all Moroccan music and theatre was the Place Djemma-el-Fna in the main square of Marrakesh, where all the action took place. Music appears to be an important part of Moroccan life. It also has a special significance as a form of storytelling, which is passed down through the generations. An oral tradition, as well as serving as a form of livelihood to these people.

It is used in celebrations in much the same way as we do. Moroccan weddings are colourful and noisy with much partying. Marriage for Moroccan women is of great importance and in the rural areas especially, is still often arranged. A newborn child also has a ceremony after a week. His or her head is showered and an animal is sacrificed. The calls of prayer are the first words that a new born baby will hear.

Many traditional Moroccan instruments are still used although Western music appears to be popular in the night-clubs as it was in Vietnam and Zambia. In my quest to buy a drum I was invited to drink mint tea with a Moroccan lad who made them. An interesting afternoon was spent learning about the differences and qualities in drums as well as being given several shows for the different sounds.

I learnt that a "darbukas" was a generic term for a form of drum that was well known throughout the Arab world. It was most often made of terracotta in the shape of a jug that had goatskin covering it on one side. The "tebilat" is another form of drum that has two differently shaped drums attached together with leather lacing and then covered in skin. A traditional Berber instrument is the "amzhad", a single chord violin which is made of wood and goatskin and which is played using a horsehair bow.

The Islamic customs should be respected by foreigners, as should other countries' customs. A high degree of modesty is expected, and offence taken if a lot of flesh is showing. Muslims are prohibited to eat pork, to drink alcohol, and to take part in gambling, fraud, and slander.

In Morocco, much as in Singapore, the family is the most important part of life, coming before work and often even before marriage. Seeing a female traveller on her own is of much surprise to Moroccan people, as the Moroccan women do not even go to the souq without being accompanied.

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

I was often invited by Moroccan people to join them in drinking tea and was actually lucky enough to be asked to dine with them. People's openness and warmth was so appreciated by someone like me from a Western country where such behaviour is rarely seen. I removed my shoes and shook everyone's hand. Physical interaction including hugging, kissing and the holding of hands between men is merely a part of life there.

Before we sat down to dinner around a knee-high table, water from a kettle was poured over each person's hands in turn, much like what I had experienced in traditional African food places. The food was eaten with the hands, something I also remember having experienced in Java, even where the dish was full of juices. The food was delicious and so much of it. The first course consisted of baked bread and salad, followed by tajine and couscous. I found out that the eating of camel and goat was a rare luxury. I learnt on my travels that the use of the left hand was frowned upon especially in activities such as eating and touching children on the head, as the left hand is considered for the use of personal hygiene.

In public life there is much segregation, and private space given to both women and men, with places such as the public baths, cemetery on Friday and on the flat roofs of the Medina being set aside for the women. The men reside around the cafes, in the streets, bars and the cinemas. Women's role is still considered to be at home - it was only in 1972 that the women of Morocco won the right to vote. The first women in Parliament were elected as late as 1993, and women are still considered to be inferior in many ways. Changes are occurring with equal opportunities in working conditions, but many still remain in low status jobs and experience much social prejudice against them compared with Western women.

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

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