The History of the Berber People The Berbers have been in North Africa since at least 3000 BC according to scholars. Morocco is made up with the majority of Berbers, 10.4 million (40%) of the population. These can be divided into three main groups with different dilects: the Riffians, the Chleuh and Central Moroccan Amazigh; 2/3 of the Berber people actually live in rural and mountainous areas, most being farmers. Traditionally, Berbers raise sheep, cattle and goats; some work in flourmills, do woodcarving, quarry millstones, and make pottery or jewelry. Women generally do the cooking and caring for the home and children, weaving, and pottery. Today many Berber people work in Spain or France as migrant workers and send money home to their families.
Family and Culture of the Berber People
A traditional word used in the Berber language is ‘Fard’, a word which literally means “The individual is nothing without the tribe”. The immediate family comes first and they are the most important thing to these wonderful people. Most of the time family members live together and most stay close to home, women children and extended family actually end up working together closely in their own homes.
If you ever visit one of these families, be prepared to eat more food than you will ever want to eat your life (ie/bring a walker because your belly will be so full it will become difficult to walk afterward). The Moroccan culture, and especially the Berber people hold their guests in very high esteem, hospitality here is taken VERY seriously.
If you look into some of the religious beliefs of the Berber people, interestingly they actually believe in a spiritual dimension, or ‘Baraka’ or the positive power of the saints. It is a major source of what has inspired most artisans in Morocco and often is what helps to create the traditional designs of the Berber people.
Baraka can infuse itself into all things, at different levels, such as jewelry, talismans, ceramics, textiles; it can also be in artistic vocabulary (like song & dance), suffuse itself in plants like henna and oleander, sandalwood, saffron, and myrrh. So what is Baraka exactly and why is it so prominent in this culture? Baraka traditionally thought and used to deal with the darker forces of life, curing illnesses and protecting oneself against the evil jnoun (spirits) and the evil eye.
For example, I say an adorable little boy on the street in Marrakech, and told the mother ‘oh he is sooooo cute’ and smiled and motioned that I wanted to pinch his cheeks. The guide I was with told me to say Baraka, which would deter the evil eye, because it is very common for mothers to be superstitious that you will jinx their children by doing this — so saying this word can avoid the curse of the evil eye. Another example is of a Berber woman dancing in Jamma el-fna with a certain colored scarve over her head to get rid of a certain demon or bad spirit that could be plaguing her life. (See video above)
Symbols of the Berber People
The Berber people commonly wear different symbols and say different words to help protect them from the evil eye. Berber women commonly would wear tattoos, jewelry and henna with different patterns to help protect themselves; now with many converted to Islam where tattoos are forbidden, they weave the symbols into the textiles, jewelry and henna even to this day. So if you see the designs of henna drawn on the hands and the feet of a bride, this is something that is both protecting and nurturing for the marriage that has been used and evolved throughout the centuries of use.
If you see photos of the Amazigh women/Berber women, you may find some with the tattoos I previously mentioned. These tattoos were traditionally placed by the family on the face as a sort of rite of passage (usually around the time of her menstrual cycle) signifying her transition into womanhood.
This would typically happen in groups, with several girls being tattooed at once, making it a very social activity. Now that Islam is so prominent, you typically do not see tattoos on the faces of any Berber woman under the age of 30.
There is actually a museum in Marrakech called, ‘The Tiskiwin Museum’ – where you can see some of the preserved arts of the Saharan people, and Berber people of Morocco. There is also a book to help you see what the different designs of the Berber people actually mean by -Cynthia Becker Phd called ‘Amazigh Arts in Morocco + Women Shaping the Berber Identity’, such as circular motifs in pink and red, colors categorized as light, resembling the sunlight, are embroidered over other motifs. They hover like the sun above the other designs, creating a composition that resembles the natural world and its plentifulness, connecting women to fertility.
Traditional Berber carpets contain distinctive patterns and colors and are woven from sheep wool or camel hair.
The materials are hand washed and naturally dyed from saffron yellow to wild mint green and from pomegranate and henna. These carpets are known for their strong geometric designs, and have been dated as far back as the Marinid era (Berber dynasty). Carpets in the middle Atlas generally have a traditional diamond grid. Even the wool itself is thought to have a protective power.
Berber weaving is highly dependent on the female culture, and is passed down traditionally within the home. The young learn from the old, and are expected to learn all the different ways to weave & loop, and the different patterns, color ranges, and symbols. Historically women wove carpets for their families, and the men traditionally produced carpets that were more specialized as professional master weavers. Each tribe has a signature pattern and commonly tells a story, revealing acts of ceremony, or designs that related to fertility and protection.
The Music of the Berber People
You may hear Chaabi Music while you are in Morocco, and this is actually a common folk or ‘pop’ music that is very common at celebrations and markets. Typically an instrument known as a gimbri (sinter or hajhuj) a guitar with three strings and 4 chords typically played. The gimbri has a low bas like tone, and was borrowed from the popular Gnawa traditional music that is typically known as mystical and used in healing rituals commonly.
Gnawa music was brought up from Sub-Sahara African areas and is common in Morocco amongst the Berber people, especially in Southern Morocco. Other instruments used are the Lira (a flute made of bamboo),
a Bendir (a drum played with the fingers) which has a snare stretched across the back that produces a buzzing sound when played,
a Darbouka (single head drum held under one arm),
and the Qraqeb (or karkabas)– this is a set of Metallic castanets or a type of symbol, originating from when the slaves would clang their chains together to make music & now has been adopted into traditional Gnawa music.
Overall I find the Berber people to be kind, intelligent, family oriented, hospitable, positive, vibrant people full of life that I think most of the Western World has forgotten how to live. So if you have the privilege to meet someone who is Berber, ask them of their heritage and be sure to visit them on a Friday when the family gets together for some Couscous 😉
As Always….Happy Travels, Happy Tales and See you on the Flip Side.
Before we began our hike to Akchour, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I had just arrived in Chefchaouen the night before with my friend Omar and his friend Medi, after a nearly 2-hour drive from Rabat. I had been traveling through Morocco for 2 weeks with very little sleep and was completely exhausted when I started this hike. So my first tip is to do this hike when you are well rested and hydrated. If I had done this any other day, not while I was feeling ill, dehydrated and exhausted – it would have been a Moderate hike with beautiful surroundings. That being said, here is my personal experience when hiking to Akchour and some of the tips and mistakes I made when doing it.
It was cooler in the mountains than I expected, so make sure to bring a jacket (especially if you were sunburned from Marrakech like I was). There were a few clouds resting on the mountain side which gave this place even more of a mysterious and magical feeling than before. When you come to Chefchaouen, you feel as if it is the calmest place on the planet. The locals are very welcoming to tourists and incredibly helpful. The locals don’t get irritated with travelers like other popular destinations I have seen or lived in.
We went to grab dinner at the old Medina, hiking up the narrow passageways to the center of town. Omar picked a café that had quite a few locals in it and we sat down to order our Tagines. I ordered a Vegetable Tagine that really hit the spot.
This was my first mistake: I didn’t eat any protein the night before the hike to Akchour waterfalls. We left the Medina and headed back to our guest house to get some much-needed sleep so we could wake early the next morning and start our hike to Cascades D’Akchour.
Omar kept telling me, “the hike to Akchour waterfalls is hard Janiel, its 1 hour and 30 minutes hike” — well he looked about the same physical shape I was in, and I had been working with a trainer, so I thought, “Oh, I’ll be fine, he doesn’t know what he is talking about.” That was my second mistake….. We left for Akchour and had a little trouble finding the way, but after asking several locals the correct roads to take, we were able to arrive in time to start (and finish) the hike.
Traveler tip: You can catch a Grand Taxi in the center of town but try and get a local or the hotel/hostel/guest house personnel to negotiate a good price for you. A fair price would be around 250 Dirham (with tip included), which is around $25. Just make sure they are willing to take you back into town as well. Bring extra cash with you for the return trip to Chefchaouen and for some important items I will explain later, as well as your own towel, a jacket or sweater, and a water bottle.
The road to Akchour passes through some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen in all of my travels. I literally filled my 64 GB memory card with hundreds of images of this breathtaking scenery. Once we got to Akchour, it was fairly easy to find the trail. There are plenty of locals there to point you in the right direction (but don’t expect many of them to know English). We started hiking up the canyon (where the sign points to Akchour), and the first thing that immediately impressed me was the endless swaths of green and the waterfalls that seemed to appear around every corner.
I know you may think that I keep showing you the same waterfall over and over, but each one of these waterfalls is uniquely different and special in their own way. Each waterfall had a swimming hole, that is quite deep, and on a hot summer day is great to pause you hike and take a quick dip to cool off.
Traveler tip: The hike to Akchour waterfalls itself is said to take around 2-3 hours. That is, if you are use to the high altitude of the Atlas Mountains and can tackle the steep elevations of the trail. Yes there are steps you can use, the trail is well maintained; but the steps are made for tall people…..not short people. So be prepared, its like when my trainer has me doing box steps onto the 24″ box step, for 2 hours.
At the first hour of the hike to Akchour waterfalls, I felt like I was getting a good workout. Then we started to get to the steeper portions, and I started to lag behind my giraffe-like friends, who at one point I was cursing in my head for their ridiculous height.
TALL PEOPLE JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW MUCH HARDER IT IS TO GO UP THE GIANT 24″ -32″ STEPS! It takes us a lot more effort and energy! (ok, rant over) — I know I’m not in the best shape, but I had been working out really hard and felt like I could tackle this. They were going really fast up the hill for me, so be sure to hike with people who go at your same pace.
Omar tried to be patient, but Medi was not as patient, and I felt like the weak link. So if you go hiking, make sure people know if you like to go fast or slow and split into two groups. In defense of Medi, his English was not that great, and I think was a little shy to talk to a single American woman when he was a married guy.
I was positive the whole trip, but the last hour up the canyon I really thought that my legs were going to either give out, or I was going to pass out. I didn’t realize how hard it would be, even Omar started to get tired by the end of it. My legs felt like Jello, my mind growled, “I’m going to die in these mountains, just like the Spanish did when they tried to invade. I don’t think Morocco has helicopters that can transport me out of here. I really don’t know if you are going to be able to stand once you get to the end, and if you are able to, how the hell are you going to make it back without needing to be carried”? While this may be a tad bit on the dramatic side, I think the travel fatigue had set in full force. I had been traveling for two weeks non-stop and had Montezuma’s revenge set in the week before.
There were some blessed spots along the way that leveled out & I wanted to just linger longer in these areas to soak up the beauty and take more photos. Alas, this was not possible to do, as a storm was coming in and we had to get there and head back to travel to the next destination. Omar tried to make me laugh, and entice me with the food at the end, but I was NOT in the mood & poor guy… I just told him I wasn’t able to talk about food right then.
We finally arrived at the Cascades D’Akchour, and it was soooo cold! The storm winds had started to set in, and I was quite sweaty so I got cold very quickly. Omar was so excited to show me the waterfall, it truly was beautiful and I just sat in one of the chairs enjoying the relief of making it to the waterfall.
Traveler Tip: Please eat a hearty breakfast & take water with you before you hike to Akchour waterfalls. There are areas along the way that you can buy orange juice and water at the local cafes, but I didn’t bring any cash with me thinking, ‘oh I will be fine, who needs money when you are in nature’.
Omar is a hilarious and kind human being, he just laid back in the water taking selfies like he was in a hot tub. He also had a Cigar that was given to him that he had been saving for an entire year, just to come and smoke in these waters and take a selfie, lol. He really lives his life to the fullest and tries to bring everyone around him on his grand adventures.
The water had to be around 40 degrees F, very very very cold, especially after a hike. I didn’t really want to hike back wet, but Omar convinced me, ‘You don’t travel to a country like this, do that hike like you did, and not reward yourself with this amazing swim. Don’t waste an opportunity like this, this is when you create good memories’. Well, he sold me on the idea, and I went in for a dip. If you decide to swim, I would recommend just wearing wicking material & go in fully clothed, it’s nice to have the cool clothing on you when you are hiking back.
The swim was great, and I stayed in about 15 minutes because it was actually making my legs feel so good. It was like a natural ice bath for my exhausted legs, and I really really appreciated that the next day. (If you think I’m exaggerating about this hike, there were some other Americans there that came up and looked about the same way I probably did – completely knackered. It’s not just about your fitness level– these mountain valleys are the reason the Spanish Armada was defeated here).
We got done swimming and had this wonderful tagine that was cooked by the locals right there. They were so nice and let us sit by their stoves to keep warm for a bit. We ate our fill, drank the delicious mint tea & decided to head back down the mountain to get back into Chefchaouen before dark.
Once I had a little food in my stomach, and stopped being so ‘hangry’, I was able to keep up with the guys pretty well. Took plenty of photos on the way back down, and couldn’t believe how good I felt after taking the dip in the waters of the Cascades D’Akchour. Still, to this day, I keep telling Omar, how magical and truly healing I feel like those waters were for me.
I have never been one to hesitate on things like that until some experiences in Dallas changed me into something I didn’t recognize myself as being. But for some reason, ever since my hike to Akchour waterfalls, the spontaneity came back to me, and it was the first time I felt happy and like giggling (like the old me), in nearly a year. So if you are ever looking for magical waters in Morocco, this is the place to be, in my own way I have now named it the ‘Fountain of Youth’. Because when you leave, you really feel like you have become the young, free and spontaneous self again. Happy Travels my friends, and don’t hesitate to go and see this wonderful Fountain of Youth in Akchour. The road is hard on the hike to Akchour, but it is worth it in the end.
**The purpose of ‘Ramadan Made Simple’ is to educate, not offend. To those who are of the Muslim faith, feel free to comment and help educate us all, and Rhamadan Kareem to you**
From all the movies I have watched of Muslims bombing Americans, treating women poorly & the mysterious secretive nature of the religion — to be honest I started to become afraid of Muslims & those who wore Hijab’s. So me, being who I am, set out to face my fears and educate myself on what the truth was. I don’t like to give into the mainstream media, and I’m not a ‘follow the crowd’ kind of personality.
As fate would have it, I started working for a Muslim doctor in Las Vegas, and ended up rubbing shoulder with his friends & colleagues who were also from the same religion. He was actually from Pakistan, and after 2 years of working for him & with a nurse who converted to the religion, I learned a lot & my perspective radically changed.
Bottom line, they are human beings, who find passion in their religion that gives them a sense of community – when many do not treat what they believe with much respect. No matter what religion you come from, there will always be the ‘few’, who skew the perspective of the ‘many’. Being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (aka: Mormon, as the public calls us- see LDS.org for more on this), we also have a problem with this aspect and many assuming we are part of the “Sister Wives” – which couldn’t be further from the truth. I think this is why I wanted to learn more, because I know how it feels to be misunderstood, and have people assume things about me that aren’t true.
Quiet frankly, it is hurtful & makes me feel more isolated when people don’t bother to ‘seek first to understand’ instead of just Ass-uming. So after several years of observing, learning, reading (yes, even read ‘The Koran for Dummies’ lol)
What I Learned About Rhamadan:
1- It Is Deeply Religious
It is a deeply religious time for them, which is celebrated as a family. And follows the Lunar Calendar, which means it is a few days earlier each year. This year it begins on 5/27/17
2- Preparation Is Extensive
Days of preparation happen beforehand, each country is different in what they prepare but typically involves special dishes rich in calories and electrolytes that help sustain them throughout the day. (Below is Harrira, a traditional soup made for Rhamadan that is a Tomato base with spices and is very very delicious)
3- Timed By The Sun
Rhamadan begins and ends with the phases of the Sun and coincides with their calls to prayer. The Morning prayer of Fajr (must eat & hydrate for the day BEFORE this prayer); and Maghrib (eat til you are sick, and celebrate the day with family & friends). For local times on call to prayer (for education, I found this App for Iphone and Samsung)
Fajr: it is a prayer & intention of the heart, you fast to show your obedience to Allah (God) and submit your will to his for your life.
4- Why is it required?
Rhamadan is one of the 5 pillars of Islam, or one of the 5 major lifetime commitments that they believe is required by God to be rewarded for in heaven. It is also the Lunar calendar month in which the Quran (their Holy Book) was revealed & in a way is a world-wide celebration for showing God how much the appreciate the direction it provided them.
Note: If you read about when their Prophet Mohammad was inspired to found this religion & belief system, it was in a time of a lot of turmoil – where women were sold, bought, killed. Pagan beliefs were rampant & it was a call to leave that aside and live life as a higher law and it ended up saving thousands of lives within the region because of its founding.
My Soap Box:
Whenever a life is saved, I am deeply grateful to whatever source helped to save it. Working in the medical field and seeing the frailty and emotional struggle with physical ailments; consoling those who have lost a loved one — it takes a lot out of me emotionally.
So realizing this bit of history, made me particularly grateful to their Prophet Mohammad for providing an avenue in which lives could be saved during its founding. While I know that their are lives lost in the current situation with terrorists and bombings, this is not the first time that lives have been lost in the name of religion. Christians have slaughtered those of the Jewish faith, Romans caught Christians and put them into gladiator pits and drug them behind chariots for sport and their are centuries of people doing this over and over and over….in the name of religion.
This does not diminish the pain or the loss experienced by those that have lost their lives in the battle against terrorism; it is a cruel, hateful & heart-breakingly evil thing that is happening in and to our world. But the best way to battle that, at least in my opinion, is by education, reaching across the isle and showing forgiveness, spreading understanding not spewing words of hate that further isolates us from our fellow human beings. History is going to keep repeating itself until we as the human race can stop labeling, self labeling, identifying others as ‘bad’ ‘wrong’ or ‘crazy’, just because they believe something different than us. #endofsoapbox
5- Practicing Discipline
They feel that abstaining from food is a way to practice discipline and restrain for the human desires of this life. Muslims believe (similar to Mormon beliefs) that the body is a vessel that was given to us by God to allow our spirits (or celestial bodies) come to Earth and be tested with all the associated trials that come with being human. (We are spiritual beings having an earthly experience, not the other way around). So in a way, it is their way of proving to God that they are focused on improving their spirituality & hope (if done correctly & with true intent of the heart) that he will accept their fast. In accepting their fast, they will be rewarded when their life is over. It is also a way for Muslims to appreciate all that God has given them, to feel what it is like to be hungry and thirsty all day; so as to soften their hearts to the hungry and sick. Which strengthens empathy, which in my opinion is something we definitely need more of in this world of ours.
6- Are There Exceptions During Rhamadan?
There are those who are exempt of course!
Children generally don’t participate until they hit puberty, but because most of them want to be ‘a grown-up’ they end up at least doing a meal or two with their family.
Those on menstrual cycles & women during childbirth
The elderly or those with health problems
My thoughts: totally reasonable, and glad there are exceptions honestly, and after researching it, these individuals have the option to just go and feed the poor one meal a day for each day of the fast to substitute for what they can’t do themselves.
7- There Are Six Things That Make Fasting Invalid
Intentional Eating or Drinking
If someone eats or drinks due to forgetfulness, a mistake, or coercion, then his fast is still valid and should continue to fast.
If you choose to eat or drink, for any reason, then your fast will become invalid.
My thought: reasonable, as a Mormon we fast once a month at the beginning of the week, with the same idea.
If one is overcome by the urge to vomit, and vomits unintentionally, then he should continue to fast.
My thought: well who would want to eat anyway if they are vomiting.
If someone chooses to vomit, for any reason, then his fast will become invalid.
My thought:if they are vomiting intentionally, well they likely need a lot more help and should get the reason for vomiting intentionally looked at (ie/ Binge and purging is a serious issue that should be addressed by a Psychologist and Nutritionist)
Intentional Sexual Intercourse
If one has sexual intercourse while fasting, then he must perform kaffaarah, expiation of the sin. (Fasting continuously for sixty days or if unable then one should feed sixty poor people).
My thought: women will love this idea, lol, but if you think about it, sex puts your mind into a dirty lustful place. So if the idea is to clear the mind and have it more in-line with the thoughts of God; well abstaining from sex is likely not the best thing to be doing during your Holy month.
Menstrual or Childbirth Bleeding
The fast becomes invalid during menstrual or post-childbirth bleeding. Even if such bleeding begins just before sunset, the fast of that day is invalid and the day must be made up at a later time.
My thought: this was a little irritating to me, mostly because I hate my menstrual cycle and don’t feel women should have to fast longer because they are on the cycle. But on the flip side of this thought, its likely better to not fast when you are on your menstrual cycle and just delay it, because you are likely to already be bitchy & then to add Hangry on top of that — well there would be no more Muslim men left if they had this deadly combination. Just my opinion, take it or leave it. Regarding Childbirth, I totally agree, no woman should be fasting when growing a human being in their belly; it would be harmful for the child.
8- The Three Day Festival Is Amazing
The Holy month of Rhamadan ends with a 3 day festival (massive amount of food and several parties) called Eid el-fatir. And who doesn’t love a party 😉 In the end I came to appreciate a small part of what makes up Islam and its people, and have learned so much from my friends who are part of this religion.
I haven’t met one Muslim yet who hasn’t been warm, kind, inviting, and patient with me and my questions (which at times I know were slightly rude and racist– my apologizes).
Taking Time To Understand
So as with anything in our lives, if you are afraid of it, seek first to understand — and in the end you will be able to make a very personal & educated decision on if those fears you had were founded or not. It is ok to disagree, it is ok to get angry at the attacks that are happening by these terrorists & protect your lives/livelihood and families; but its not ok to lump an entire religion into one package.
So my takeaway? Its a month of reflection, giving thanks, abstaining from our animalistic human natures & coming closer to our divine nature. Developing our spiritual selves, helping those that are less fortunate & remembering the history of how human kind was drastically changed by a book called the Quran.
I have tried the ‘give up something for lent’ & now after studying and reading all of this (ok and participating in some of the parties associated with this), I might just have to give it a try in my own way. Focusing on my spiritual side and realizing that I am a spiritual being having an earthly experience.
I hope that this article has been informative to those not of the Islamic faith, and I truly hope my Muslim friends feel I have given honest opinions in a way that has not offended them or what they believe, to you I say Rhamadan Murbarak & Rhamadan Kareem 🙂
Rhamadan Murbarak (Congratulations its Rhamadan, or congrats on the month of blessings for this month)
Rhamadan Kareem (Have a generous Rhamadan, or generous in the way of have generous blessings from God this month)
If you have ever been to Morocco, you may have seen the uniquely clad Berber people. Full of color, pom poms and traditional Islamic garb – yet the traditional clothing often has more meaning than you know at first glance. The Berber, or Amazigh, have come from a rich heritage of art, color and dance that they believed has provided protection. It is called the Art of the Free People, or the Amazigh – as they were never fully conquered by the Spanish or the Muslim invaders.
There Are Different Amazigh Clans
Each color of the flag has a meaning, and corresponds to the aspect of the Tamazgha, the territory inhabited by Berbers in North Africa. The blue symbolizes the Mediterranean Sea & the Atlantic Ocean; the Green represents nature & the green mountains; the Yellow represents the ‘Free Man’ which is the meaning of the Berber word ‘Amazigh’, the Berbers own name for themselves. The Red is the color of life, and also the color of resistance.
This is particularly significant and a huge source of pride for them and their community, they are one of the few people who were able to defeat the Spanish Armada invasion & especially were resilient in resistance in the Mountainous regions in the North. If you ever see a Berber who is from the North, the men are MASSIVELY TALL, I’m talking 6’4″, and its not just one of them, its the entire town. Go to Chefchaouen, you will see what I mean.
So why is knowing this about their history important? It has helped their traditions survive the test of time, those traditions of using symbols especially and the stories that are behind them. Although most converted to Islam, there is still a very prominent underlying influence of traditional beliefs about things such as: The evil eye, demons that can possess you, pagan worship of fertility gods, and deep protection in implementing color and the type of medium they use to do it.
For Example, metal workers, they will typically have the symbol ‘X’ or scissors. Their occupation is treated with fearful respect as metal keeps away jnoun or the evil eye.
Another example is those symbols commonly found in the traditional Berber Rugs. These rugs are typically woven by the women in the home, the techniques are passed down from mother to daughter, and sometimes to the sons. The sons then become master weavers and sell their rugs to tourists or other visitors to help support their family. Depending on the location within Morocco that you are in, the ‘Traditional Rug’ will change in its symbols and colors that are used. For example in the North, you may see a lot of Blue rugs with Diamonds; in the South you may see a lot more squares & Red colors. Below you will find the Symbols and their meanings.
Symbols of the Amazigh
Other symbols used, may be in the concrete work or metal work found on houses, above the doors or on the gates to a home. Here are some of those symbols and their meanings:
1-The Star of David
Typically found on a Jewish home within the communities. The Jewish fled to Morocco during the Spanish Reconquest & many settled in Chefchaouen. So you will see Jewish stars scattered throughout the city and above the doors of certain homes that symbolizes the couple in the house, but then it is often combined with a Scorpion symbol to ward off the evil eye.
2- A Rose With Four Petals
This particular house actually belongs to a Christian family. At the bottom in form of two signs, face to face, a symbol of love of those which live in the house.
3- Without a Star and Religious Membership.
This symbolizes the love of the couple, and the flower represents their offspring.
4- The Five Snakes
The snakes guards an eye on the top. This is a Muslim house, and the flower represents the couple living in the house being guarded by the snakes and the evil eye.
5- A Flower with Five Petals and Seven Leaves on the Stem
This is the symbol for a Muslim family
6- A Flower with Eight Petals
This is the symbol for a Muslim house, with the symmetrical fan like symbol at the bottom indicates the love of the couple within the home.
7- The Star Of David with Branches Crossing
This is another symbol for a Jewish family, and the branches crossing at the bottom symbolized the love of the couple within the home.
An Oval At The Top With A Date in the middle, and eye to stop the evil eye within the branches from harming the family within.
8- The Rose with Eight Petals
Thus Arab & Muslim, with two branches of symmetrical olive trees which symbolize that the couple lives there peacefully. The olive-tree is actually the symbol of peace throughout Morocco (as well as in Isreal- for my Christian friends, think of the significance of that in some of your Bible stories).
So as you can see, with all the symbols that were being placed on doors, clothing, jewelry, rugs, clothing — they were symbols for faith, love, and protection. Every color has its meaning, and use in their culture, but typically it revolves around strength, fertility, and protection.
But the thing that was most surprising to me is that they also put the symbols for fertility and magical rites on their faces as tattoos. This was strange to me at first. The more I studied their meanings and culture the more I thought about how beautiful the idea was.
Diversity of culture is what I feel is slowly starting to disappear from our world, as the internet makes information more available, and travel is more affordable; it is very important that we not try and change others & cherish who and what defines them as a culture and a people.
Understanding The Amazigh Through Art
The Amazigh, or Berber people in Morocco may be in danger of losing their language, unique practices, and one of a kind Artistic ways in the future. Learn what you can, approaching a culture like this with an open mind and a desire to learn is what makes them have pride in their own culture. It helps them to be a little more excited about their heritage, thus preserving the stories, art, and heritable trade that is passed down through generations.
They are a people full of love, life, and joy and are eager to share it with the world. Those Berber who understand how unique their heritage is, are becoming more protective of wanting to continue those traditions in their own children. Tourists can support this by going on cultural tours, interacting with the Berber Community and buying the artwork, clothing, and crafts that have been handed down through the centuries.
First it’s pronounced Chef- shouw-en & is known as the Blue City of Morocco…..but most of the time you just see the photos of the one blue alleyway that has flowers, and a girl sitting on it in a pretty dress posing like the 50 other girls in line to do the same thing. But there is so much more to this city that a pretty photo opportunity! Chefchauen is close to Tangier and was founded in 1471! Crazy right?!? It was a fortress used to fight the Portuguese invasions of Northern Morocco. Along with the Ghomara tribes of this region, many Jews actually ended up settling here. The Jewish people were fleeing the Spanish Reconquista during Medieval Times; the Jewish people who settled here began painting the houses blue here to match the sky to serve as a reminder to lead a spiritual life (this was after they settled here from escaping the atrocities of Hitler during World War II). The city is not only unique in its blue buildings, but also in the hand crafter articles available in this region such as traditional hand woven Berber rugs where you can literally watch them weave it in front of you. These Berber rugs and their patterns are handed down from one generation to the next, the mothers teach their children & the men typically become master weavers and open their own shop. I bought one such rug, that in the United States would typically cost $3500 (easily) and it only cost me $200 & is full of color and life with blues, purples and yellows dancing in geometric patterns across it.
The master weaver I bought the rug from was extremely generous, in that when I bought this rug he also gave me a smaller rug as a thank you gift! Something to know about me is that accepting gifts is extremely difficult for me, it literally makes me feel like I have birds and worms crawling in my stomach & am unable to make eye contact with the person giving the gift. So for this man, who reported to me that he spent 3 months making this rug I had bought, was selling it for $200 USD, I really felt I was almost stealing it from him. My guide and I talked with him for some time, and he was so excited at how happy I was about the rug for my new townhome. I thanked him multiple times, and then he said this, “The most important thing to me, is that you leave my shop happy”. Well naturally my eyes became all misty, and didn’t know what to say. One thing I know you can count on in Morocco, is that when someone says something like this to you, they actually mean it. The craftsman ship of their products here are amazing & the shop owners here in Chefchaouen are the kindest & most genuine people you will meet. This is one thing about having anxiety, or PTSD. When you endure trauma, it is very hard to trust strangers again. I use to be able to trust strangers unequivocally, I would pick up hitch-hikers, just to have someone to talk to in the car on a long drive. But after my trauma, it was hard for me to go outside without feeling I was exposed or vulnerable to any person I passed. This place, Chefchaouen, it helped me see that there were still good people & genuinely good people in this world. To have a stranger care about my happiness like that, it helped some part of me that I felt was too broken to heal start to heal. By the time I left this city, I felt happy, happier than I have felt in a long time. There is something about the mountains, the blue buildings, the calm nature of the city (which may be from the Hashish, but I love the vibe), the food and especially the WONDERFUL PEOPLE, that helped me put some of the pieces inside me back together. The market in the center of the city is the best place to spend your evening, it has a lot of cafe’s restaurants and souvenirs. When you pick a café, make sure that there are plenty of locals filling it up, that means that the prices are reasonable and the food is excellent. Don’t expect service to be quick here, its typically & painfully slow. This is important when you are hungry and feel like your stomach is going to start chewing its way out at any minute and the whole table gets hangry. If this is the case, there are sandwich shops scattered throughout the city that are delicious, and also a freshly made yogurt shop that is to die for! The guy literally makes the yogurt right in front of you, and it looks like this big bowl of white goop, but oh man, it is so delicious. A bowl of white heavenly yogurt that fills you up and calms the stomach. The shop is naturally very crowded, so you have to kind of gently push your way to the front and get his attention to order a bowl of this heavenly delight. You can find this shop on the street from the town center that leads up the steep alleyway into the medina near the mosque (see alleyway in above photo). You won’t regret it, believe me.
While we are on the topic of consumption, let me offer you a piece of safety advice when visiting this place. Marijuana is cultivated and grown here all over the hills, so if someone offers you hashish, I would suggest not trying it unless you are adventurous. But let me give you fair warning, as many drugs as Snoop Dog has done, when he came to Morocco and tried it, he reportedly said, “D@^#, that’s strong stuff”…..so consider yourself warned 😉 We only had one day in this city because of time constraints with other locations I wanted to visit, like the nearby Akchour, which I will address in another post. So I feel the time I had there was far too short to really drink the city in. So I will be going back to Chefchaouen, and when I do, I will not only hike in Akchour but visit this amazing cave I was reading about online.
It is one of the deepest caves in Morocco right near Chefchaouen called Kef Toghobeit, which I really want to visit this next year when I return to this beautiful city. It is actually not only the deepest cave in Morocco, but also the deepest cave in AFRICA measuring 12,854 feet in length and 2,369 feet in depth! I love spelunking, it makes me feel like a real explorer, just have to remember to bring either a guide or some really long string if I decide to explore this one.
Remember how I mentioned Akchour, well this is a tiny little Berber village that has a 1.5 hour moderate hike to some gorgeous waterfalls & you are rewarded with fresh mint tea and tagines at the end. It is a right of passage to swim in the water, and it’s waters are frigid and invigorating! Stay tuned for more on my hilarious adventure hiking to these water falls.
I can’t say enough about this city, in the short time I had there, it was nothing short of magical. So now I’m thinking of retiring there at some point, Inshallah….. Chefchauen Location/Map: ]]>
I was quite surprised when I arrived in Marrakech Morocco, how modern it looked, and that it actually had nightclubs, casinos, and bars. The buildings reminded me of those you find in New Mexico in the United States. The flat-topped roofs and all the buildings were a Clay Red color adorned with embrasures that are distinctly Moroccan with a touch of Moorish influence on them.
The Climate of Marrakech
The air here is warm and dry, but I could see that the people knew how to dress for the weather when it gets extremely hot here. In the winter months (Nov-Feb) Average Highs are 73F (23C)-68F (20C), for the Summer months (March-October) it can range anywhere from 110F (39C)-to a cooler 77F (25C); so the best times to visit are really in March, April and October — if you are like me and have a hard time in the hotter weather. The humidity is not as bad here as it is in Rabat or the coastal cities, so expect it to be more of a drier climate. Nights can be relatively cool, but never reaching below 42F, and rarely going above 70F. For this reason, this is a city that is much livelier at night and sleeps in til around 11am. If you are an early riser, I suggest you grab something to snack on for breakfast, unless you are ok with having brunch.
Where to Stay in Marrakech
I stayed in an apartment on Geliz street, a main thoroughfare of Marrakech. It had nice furnishings, a great AC, hot shower, washer, and a refrigerator with a working flat screen TV. There are other apartments & guest houses on this street that are a great location, typically have security at the door for you to check in with & prevent anyone who shouldn’t be coming to see you from even entering the building. I mistakenly went to the wrong elevators, and before the doors even opened, the security guard led me to the correct elevators. It was nice to know that they were actually just doing their job, and not watching television while on duty. The apartment was quiet (for a city apartment). Just realize the construction in Morocco doesn’t use insulation like America does so you will hear the chairs above you, or doors closing in the hallway — but conversations not as much, only if the people above you are talking quite loud. Most of the buildings are cement. This helps cut costs for cooling and such as most of the nights are cool and it helps retain that coolness throughout the day.
If you are looking to stay at a fancier hotel (note: I am not sponsored to say this) – this one is a great location, with super nice and traditional Moroccan Décor. Typically you cannot enter places like this unless you are either a hotel guest or have a reservation. We just politely asked the security guards and they let us in to take a look around & encouraged the photos 🙂
The best way to find these guest houses is either through booking.com or Avito. If you have a local guide with you, they will likely have a friend or two that has a guest house you could use, that you will likely get a great deal on as well. Most areas in Marrakech are safe if you stay near the busier parts of town. Asking a local is always a good idea when traveling overseas. (Find out more about other Safe Countries in Africa)
Breakfast, as I mentioned is taken late in the evening. Most people sit out on the patio, and I would say about 1/2 of them typically smoke. There is not etiquette here like in the States regarding second-hand smoke, so don’t be offended or give dirty looks if someone next to you is smoking like chimney, I don’t think the effects of second-hand smoke is widely discussed in the population in Morocco. Just ask to move to another table upwind 🙂 Eggs are great here, and Moroccan “bacon” is actually shredded beef (and it’s delicious). Olives are common pre-meal ‘appetite openers’, and given that I am not much of an olive fan, I became an olive fan here. The black ones are the best, with a little bit of the cheese on it. I don’t really know what most of the food I ate here was, I only know that 99% of it was fantastic & so delicious I want to go back just to have seconds 😉 If you have any allergies to particular foods or aversions to particular foods, make sure you write them down on a pad of paper in either Arabic or French (if you can’t write Arabic, then take a screenshot and have it on hand when ordering). For example, I would just show them the photo for Paviron Rouge (Red Peppers), and then say La, and grab my stomach and make a very pained face. This got the message across, and I never had a problem. If I tried to say it, it never got the message across. But for those Moroccans who do speak French, most of
them know what Allergia (Allergy) means.
Things to do near Marrakech
I was able to visit the Atlas Mountains while in Marrakech, and they are much taller than I imagined, we were there when it was slightly cloudy, so it was difficult to get a decent picture of them.
But they are well worth the visit, as there are cafe’s where you can literally sit in the middle of a river and drink the classic Moroccan Mint Tea from a Berber. I also was able to have an interview with a Berber man in the mountains, check out that interview on our YouTube channel “Gypsy Soul Adventure”, where I was able to be humbled by this man who was attempting to provide for TWO families, was an Imam to his city (a Muslim religious leader in the community), and was so happy and kind and tried to give me a necklace for free for buying 3 of them. I couldn’t take the free necklace, but those necklaces are now the most prized possession I have with me from that trip (along with my sandals that I will tell you about later)– mostly because of the story behind the person I received it from. I realize I take WAY too much for granted in my life, and need to be more grateful for everything I do have. Its easy to fall into the trap of ‘need, need, need’ and/or ‘want, want, want’. There are so many people who are happy in this world just literally by being able to put food in their children’s mouths or give everything they have and are just to be able to send them to school.
Next, we went to the Menara Gardens and Pavillion, we visited these on our way out to the Atlas Mountains. There are fish there that are fun to feed, and men playing gimbris. It doesn’t have the pizzaz that other places inside Marrakech do, but if you think about how amazing it is that someone built this place in the 12th century, explore the nooks and crannies of the building, and realize that this was a place of gathering, reflection, and a place to get away from the busy city rhythm, then I think you may appreciate just how incredible it is that something built so long ago is still standing today.
In addition to that, the Olive Trees surrounding this place is actually cultivated and olives gleaned and given to the poorer areas of the region for the people to have a source of income. If you go there and expect to see a lush garden with lots of photo ‘ops’ then this is probably not the place for you.
But if you go realizing that this was actually built by the Sultan in the early Saadi dynasty; who increased his power by controlling a water source & did I mention it was built in the 12th Century! Then you may appreciate this place of reflection and peace. Make sure to go in the morning, as this can get quite hot here. Plus it’s free to get in here 🙂 We attempted to get into Jardin Marjorelle, but the line was literally around the block, it’s not free, and it was starting to get really warm and we had to drive to Essaouira so I nixed that plan and decided to head to Essaouira. Some may be shocked I didn’t take the opportunity to do this, but you have to understand, I’m not a ‘crowd’ or super touristy area kind of person, I like the places where the local people go. I like to get to know what makes the people in a particular city peaceful, and how they live their life. I’m not really into posing or getting that perfect Instagram photo that takes 20 minutes out of your day, but I could talk to a stranger in a strange land (at least strange to me) for hours about their story, and how they approach their problems that life throws at them etc….etc…. But for those of you who like to see these places, then I would suggest the Jardin Majorelle, Bahia Palace as well as the Ben Youssef Madrasa. These are beautiful places that command a certain amount of respect with any photo you take.
I did go to Jamaa el-fna, or the famous Medina in Marrakech whose vibe changes from day to night and so do the shops. El-fna actually means (to some) Armeggedon, or the Assembly of the dead, or Mosque at the End of the World. It has a lot of different meanings and has been used for many different things throughout the centuries. In 1050 AD it was actually used for public executions, then it was renovated along with much of the city after the Almohads took over in 1147 AD, and after many rises and falls was eventually turned into a thriving market that both local and tourists visit. During the day you can find orange juice stalls, Leather, Barbary apes you can hold, snake charmers (yes really, and just like you see in the movies), the shops are all open, the smell of spices and dates and olives fill the air. This particular spice shop featured above actually had a traditional sinus cleansing ‘spice’ that was placed in a small cup of hot water, and I’m telling you, I was still smelling that stuff about 20 minutes later. I figure it must be what they use in smelling salts because it was pretty potent. I don’t know what the name of it was, but it actually looked like small clear white crystals, that when placed in hot water puts out an even more potent smell.
I found it fascinating that most of the people in Morocco actually found Americans to be overmedicated, they feel that the pharmacy industry was actually making people in America sicker than helping them heal. So places like this spice shop, actually double as a sort of apothecary that gives locals traditional ways of healing common ailments. Very interesting to me, as I work in the medical field; and yet I disagreed with this thought as well, as one of my traveling companions shared that his brother actually passed away from an Asthma attack. Something that would have been so simple to remedy, if they had the appropriate medicine. It made me sad that there wasn’t more public knowledge about simple medications like this. Then as the sun sets, the shops close, and the traditional dancing Berber men with their twirling hats come in, Moroccan lanterns are lit with tiny candles, the smell of meat fills the air with smoke wafting above the square and can make you salivate to partake of it even if you are still a mile from the square. There is also an abundant flowing of Moroccan Mint tea of course, the best way to enjoy the square is on a Café Terrace overlooking the square. This way you are not hounded by the dancing Berber men wanting to put a hat on your head and take a photo for $2-$3. If you take a photo or get excited about a particular item you wish to purchase, it will likely cost you money in this place. As opposed to during the day, where locals come to buy supplies at the Souk’s (traditional North African Market) where bartering is expected & the craftsman that makes the traditional souvenirs will likely cost you much less if you go directly to them. Where do you find the craftsmen? They are usually along the side alleys, that you may have to duck around some of the souvenirs that the shop owners use to hide the view of these side streets. They are so kind, and so helpful and really would do anything to help you out, BUT most of the time they don’t speak English, so if you have a guide with you, they can help translate for you, and it makes it totally worth it.
I had some sandals custom made for me for $15 & I loved every second of it. It really made me feel so special that someone would go to that length and take such pride in making me something like that, just because it would feel better to walk in, with my bad feet. I can’t tell you how much that touched my heart. This little guy really touched my heart so much. Just the look on his face, the innocence and being able to catch that unguarded moment, where he just is enjoying being with his brothers. His brothers, who had been doing this for the last 17 years, told me that the shop belonged to their father, and this father before him. And it is a huge traditional thing to actually, as the Moroccan say, “follow in the footsteps of your father”, where typically these shops are handed down for generations at a time, or given to close family members to run the business and carry-on. Overall, I found Marrakech very fancy, very modern & full of interesting stories and history. Because it is a tourist hub for both the world and Morocco, I was ready to leave after about 3 days; but definitely would love to go back for a visit, if only to participate more in the festivities of Jamaa el-fna; and would likely spend a few days camping up with the Berber people in the High Atlas Mountains as they are able to tell you the stories of their ancestors who have been there since the beginning of time. If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy: BEFORE You Hike to Akchour Waterfalls in Morocco, You Need To Know This….The Sapphire of Morocco, Chefchaouen ]]>