In the footsteps of the nomads of the Easterner

Nomadism is feeling at home wherever you are in the world. This is even the basic principle. From hunter-gatherer prehistory to the present day, nomadism has evolved and adapted indiscriminately. So if we remain pensive in light of this particular lifestyle today, we are nevertheless the descendants of these travelers. The history of mankind consists of displacements, travels. Today’s nomads – and they are becoming rarer – continue this tradition in their own way.

Mohamed Mahdi, rural sociologist, teacher

In Morocco, the eastern region has long been a formidable territory for nomads. Mohammed Mahdi, professor of rural sociology at the National School of Agriculture in Meknes, explains why. “It’s a territory steppe consists of land course, that is, land for vocation pastoral. The area of ​​the Eastern pastures is estimated at about five million hectares. Stretching from north to south, these routes allow breeders to nomad between winter routes, Dahra in the north, and summer routes, Sahra in the south. » Our interlocutor is the author of the reference book Culture and heritage of the nomads: the Bni Guil of Eastern Moroccopublished in 2018 by Cardère editions.

Life under the stars… and the tent

The sociologist teaches us that the culture and heritage of the nomads in eastern Morocco are part of a universe of herders (breeders) that can be found in many regions of the world. “But they have cultural idiosyncrasies which brings them closer to the Saharan nomads in southern Morocco and the Baydanes in Mauritania,” he says. These common features that the French anthropologist and ethnologist Pierre Bonte, author of the book, The last nomads published by Solar editions in 2004, called “culture of badiya » bringing together the values ​​associated with animal husbandry, nomadism and living in tents.

Nomadism is therefore a form of pastoral production based on extensive and land-dependent livestock farming, and a lifestyle defined by living in tents, mobility – tarhal in Arabic -, and a tribal organization. It rests, according to Pierre Bonte, on “material foundations and other immaterial foundations of a cognitive and symbolic order”.

“The habitat of Eastern nomads is the steppe, sahbwhich refers to the Arabic word badiyaself attached to that of bad, bedouin. It is therefore a nomadic Bedouin culture and heritage. The nomads of the oriental say to themselves: ArabicArabs, or Arubaor the inhabitants of laa’roubia says Mohamed Mahdi.

Nomadic Geographies

The way of life of the nomads of the oriental is supported by a tribal organization, in which the tribe consists of ethnic groups: factions, douars, lineages. “The pastoral activity of the tribe is organized around the ‘nomadic encampment’. the douar True farqa forms the traditional basic unit of movement and organization of nomadic life. Each nomadic camp consists of a central core, represented by a large and powerful tentKhaima Kbiraand satellite tents consisting of the families of the main tent, its customers and servants, “explains our interlocutor.

The geography of the nomads, contrary to what one might think, is not randomly invested† Travel and movement are never random. The two notions of time and space are mastered. In more scientific terms, Mohamed Mahdi develops this philosophy of travel: “The pastoral area is divided into Wolf pastoral. the Wolfliterally ‘usual place’, being an area of ​​movement of an ethnic group, where the summer schools are located, Woulf Arbia’aand winter, Woulf Ach’ta, its fields, its water resources. common law, Orfcontrols the use of Wolf† Finally, the technical management of herds is based on mobility (or travel), ie nomadism or horizontal transhumance between winter (Dahra) and summer routes (Sahra). †

But it sometimes happens that this way of working changes due to climatic and weather conditions. For the nomads of Bni Guil, for example – an Arab tribe living in the X . arrived in the Eastand century, in the time of the Fatimids -, and in case of necessity or severe drought called Jdoub, they nomadize outside their territory. Pastoral pacts concluded in the past thus allowed for exchanges of rights to use the pasture lands between nomads of different tribes.

Is there a connection between this tribe and the famous sheep breed ‘Bni Guil’? Mohamed Mahdi confirms this. “The name of the sheep breed comes from the Bni Guil tribe. Breeders call it Daghma True hamra, in reference to its brown color. Nomadic poets sing of its qualities and beauty. In 2011, the designation ‘Protected Geographical Indication Bni Guil lamb’ was recognized for this breed.

Patrimonialization versus folklorization

Apart from the nomadic lifestyle that persists in certain regions, following a different way of working, the heritage and cultural value left to us by these travelers is indisputable. In his book devoted to this heritage, the sociologist of the rural world writes that: the nomads have formed a fascinating culturewhich contributes to the richness and diversity of the Moroccan Tangible and Intangible Cultural Heritage and at the same time to the greatness of the heritage of humanity

The material foundations of the Bni Guil society, according to the specialist, are represented by pastoral breeding of sheep, goats, camels; products derived from this breeding (wool, hair, meat, milk, butter); their transformation through culinary arts and crafts, into homes, tents, various foodstuffs and food items that can be stored, furniture, clothing and kitchen utensils. This is “the material culture of the nomads”.

From material to symbolic

As for the intangible culture of the nomads: “the cognitive and symbolic foundations are represented on the one hand by all the knowledge and know-how essential to the way of life in the steppe and its limitations, such as cultivation techniques, knowledge of fauna and flora, climate and meteorology , traditional medicine and pharmacopoeia. And, on the other hand, by the norms governing social life and social relationships, oral traditions, customs, language, ritual and artistic activities such as music and dance and the art of the table,” describes the professor of rural sociology at the National Agricultural School in Meknes. He believes that in order to preserve and transmit this culture, it is necessary to continue with the heritage of certain nomadic cultural elements.

A heritage that is not without risk. The anthropologist Pierre Bonte, who has been studying nomadic societies for more than thirty years, evokes in his work a folklorization of their way of life and their culture, which is just one of the consequences of their marginalization. However, according to him, the nomads are resisting their programmed disappearance by reaffirming their cultural value and their refusal to accept the standardization that globalization brings.

Sedentarization and Migration

Because, it must be said, the lifestyle of the nomads has undergone many changes, especially under the influence of recurrent droughts and climate change. This resulted in the sedentary or giving up nomadism. The sociologist Mohamed Mahdi describes this mutation to us. “This sedentarization took different forms: settling in a tent or shelter on the route, living in a permanent house in an urban center, or in a tent or makeshift shelter on the outskirts. The breeder therefore withdraws to an urban center or the suburbs to carry out ‘urban breeding’ in combination with other activities, such as daily work. †

The other change mentioned by the expert is the motorization of nomadism through the use of a truck to move the family and animals, or towed cisterns to fetch water. Since now the water comes to the herd and not the other way around, as was the case before.

Modern nomads use technology† It concerns, for example, “using the mobile phone to explore the routes or the situation of the livestock market, and to communicate with the shepherds or the members of the family”, Mohamed Mahdi illustrates. The sociologist also calls, as the main change in the way of life of this traveling people, the abandonment of the activity of breeding. It concerned several nomads who lost their capital (cattle). This is a pure and simple cessation of pastoral activity for a conversion to other professions.

The other phenomenon that also affects nomads – it was also the case for sedentary people in recent decades – is the internal and international migration that has developed strongly† This is “the internal migration of herders throughout the Eastern Region, from Jerada to Berkane and from Oujda to Guercif, and cities outside the Eastern Region.

This migration may be due to breeders continuing to engage in the breeding activity while diversifying their activities, or to breeders who have abandoned the breeding activity. This migration is comparable to an exodus from the countryside to the city. International migration to southern Spain where emigrants work as farm labourers. This migration will increase from the 1990s to 2000s.

There is, however, one peculiarity: the emigrant does not sever the link with his place of origin. A large number of these emigrants go back and forth between Spain and their place of residence, and do not give up farming, which is supervised by other relatives,” says our interlocutor.

Time tested

How do the Bni Guil of the East live today, and what is their relationship to the so-called modern society? Mohamed Mahdi’s answer is succinct: “Today’s nomads live very badly and manage their insecurity† It follows a decline in pastoral farming. The sociologist explains to us that in fact young people and women turn away from nomadism, who aspired to a life different from that of their ancestors, regarded as painful and unprofitable. “Currently, many people continue to perpetuate this way of life for lack of an alternative. They live under constant threat of drought and rising feed prices. They live isolated from their journey (called Lakhlah), while being connected to modern society through telephone, means of transport and especially through the market. †

The break with past practices is now clear : the nomad buys practically everything in the market for food, clothing and even housing. “The time when women wove wool to produce” volatile necessary for making tents, fabrics for clothing, other blankets and carpets are gone,” emphasizes the professor of rural sociology. These old woven tents have given way to the canvas tent, which is more practical and easier to transport. Clothes, rugs and blankets are also bought at the souk. “And it is also on the market that the nomad sells his animal products. When there is a shortage of grass, the nomad is forced to buy fodder, which makes him very dependent on the national and international grain market, on speculation of middlemen and on fluctuations in the prices of international exchanges,” specifies Mohammad Mahdi.

Are we witnessing the programmed end of nomadism or at least what’s left of it? Nothing is less certain.

Bibliographic Resources:

Culture and heritage of the nomads: the Bni Guil of Eastern Morocco, Mohamed Mehdi, published in 2018 by Cardère editions

– The Last Nomads, Pierre Bonte, published in 2004 by Solar editions

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