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I’ve always admired the history of the Berber people in North Africa. They’ve survived on the cusp of society in rural areas and went head to head with major world powers like the French colonials and Arabs for centuries and have managed to retain their culture and language. It’s a feat that anyone who can claim Berber heritage should be proud of. I’ve chosen the 1930’s to bring in the Berber’s because it was at this time they had just succeeded in winning the Second Moroccan War (Rif Wars). The history of the Berber people go back thousands of years to prehistoric times and while the histories are limited, it is evident that the Berber’s fought the Romans, Arab, Spanish and French invaders, ultimately winning and retaining their lands and way of life.
In the 1930’s, after defeating the Spanish colonizers life more or less returned to normal. Living in rural areas many Berber’s farmed or were involved with animal herding or other agriculture endeavors. They are also well known for their beautiful tapestries and rugs. What’s even more interesting is that the Berber populations of Morocco at this time were Muslim, Jewish and Christian. However it wasn’t long until the Jewish Berbers emigrated to Israel and the Christian Berbers assimilated and moved to France after Moroccan independence. However, the Kabyle community in Algeria has decent-sized Christian minorities, both Protestant and Roman Catholic.
Sadly, the success of the Berber tribes in the Rif Wars did not solidify their position in the eyes of the Arab rulers. The Berber language, the first language for many Berber’s, was not allowed to be spoken or taught in schools or used openly. Arabic (and later French) were the only language permitted. This gave Berber’s unequal footing in education and some argue the prohibition was intended to wipe out the Berber language and culture. Because the Berber language is oral by nature it has been passed down to subsequent generations. The literacy rate for 15-25 year olds’ today averages 80%, for earlier generations this number was much lower. Not being able to speak Berber and not have the ability to learn to read and write Arabic created a big challenge.
Recently there has been an opening up to reduce the discrimination and embrace the Berber populations of Morocco. The language can now be taught and used in schools. There is an Amazigh TV station and multiple radio stations. While there still remains a disparity between urban and rural dwellers in Morocco things are beginning to look better that they did 80 years ago.
A lot of Berber foods are similar to other Moroccan foods. Recently I was introduced to Tanane by a Twitter follower Khadya of La Beaute Berbere. I had never heard of this recipe but was so happy I was! This recipe is from Southwestern Morocco, the Agadir Tanane region. You can use the marinade on anything, meat, fish, vegetables just make lots and enjoy!
Tanane – Full Recipe on Kayotic Kitchen, note I substituted lemons for limes and loved it.
If you’re really adventurous and have a hole you can dig in your backyard try a whole roasted goat in a hole Berber style.