People of the Furthest West

Thirty three million people harmoniously inhabit the modern kingdom of Morocco.

The great majority of them descend from two peoples: the Berbers and the Arabs. No matter what their origins, all Moroccans share the values of generous hospitality, charity, and generosity that inform contemporary Moroccan culture.

Morocco’s history’s began with the Berbers, the indigenous people of uncertain origin who have inhabited the country for many thousands of years. The original inhabitants of North Africa, the Berber-speaking peoples now only makeup about 40 percent of the peoples of Morocco and 20 percent of Algeria’s population. But once dialects of the Berber language were spoken throughout all of North Africa, and parts of Spain and Sicily during the Middle Ages.

Much as many other peoples in the world, Berbers have blended with other people. There are differences between Berbers which have inspired many stories, of European slaves and war captives, bringing blond hair and red hair as well as green and blue eyes into the Berber race.

Fiercely tribal and independent, Berbers are dominant in the southern and mountainous regions of the country.

Of major cities in North Africa, only Marrakech has a population with a Berber identity. The Berber dominance in the mountains comes from the days of early Arab conquest, (see below) when the Arabs took control over the cities, but left the countryside to its own (the number of Arabs was to small for a more expansive occupation). Berbers in those days had the choice between living in the mountains, resisting Arab dominance, or moving into the Arab community, where Arab language and culture were dominating.

The Arabs first arrived in Morocco in the 7th century, C.E. with the rapid expansion of the dar-al-Islam, a series of overlapping Islamic kingdoms. Arabs were a initially small minority in the country. However, they brought with them a powerful new faith, a common language that enabled them to introduce and share knowledge and technology from across the expanding empire.

They let their influence greatly outpace their actual numbers in the earliest days, until waves of immigration from Spain, in the wake of the Catholic reconquista, greatly increased the population. To this day, Arab influence is strongest in the northern and coastal regions of the country.

The Arab spiritual, cultural and aesthetic center of Morocco is Fez, one of the holiest cities of Islam, and the largest continuously operating medieval city in the world.

The interaction of the Arabs and the Berbers with the flavorful accents of the Jewish, European and Nomadic

The Jews have been a much smaller, but important presence in Morocco since the country’s founding. Legend brings Jews to North Africa long before the Romans. Indeed, history finds Hebrew inscriptions on tombstones near modern-day Fez at the time of the Romans. It seems segments of the indigenous Berber population first converted to Judaism. Until the fifth century, these Jewish Berbers enjoyed equal rights with Muslims Berbers.

In the late seventh century, however, Muslim Arabs swept through Northwest Africa bringing Islam with them. In Morocco they stumbled across the phenomena of Jewish Berber tribes. By the eight century, Jews had become a minority, living in small mountain and desert communities. They remained a distinctive, and important segment of society for more than the next thousand years, living (with occasional persecution) within the larger Islamic culture, simultaneously influencing and being influenced by larger Islamic corpus.

With the 1948 establishment of Israel, the Jewish population of Morocco fell precipitously. 40,000 Jews still reside in Morocco, and there has been a resurgence of interest among expatriated Jews in rediscovering their Moroccan homeland.

In the arid Saharan region, tribes related to the nomadic Tuareg people of the desert. These people are known for by their extraordinary Ghandoura, or indigo garments. There are still members of these nomadic tribes who live their entire lives without ever seeing a paved road.

During the last century the increasing trade activities between Morocco and the other African countries have caused a black African population to settle in Morocco. This minority group live in the southern regions of the country and especially in Meknes and Marrakesh. Finally, a small community of Jews and some other European nationals such as Spaniards, French and Italians live in Morocco.

Elements of this article were taken material contained in the Encyclopedia of the Orient.