Berbers and our trip from Dades Gorge to Ait Ben Haddou

Today we started out from Dades gorge heading west to Tamdakhte.

Since we arrived in southern Morocco we have been in Berber territory. Although there is an Arab presence, much of the architecture, the kasbahs, and the people are Berbers or of that origin.

Just who are these Berber people? A Moroccan pre-Arab culture which ruled unperturbed and unconquered for hundreds of years. Our driver, Lahcen, is Berber and has given us much insight into this culture and these people.

Berbers have been around for at least 4000 years or maybe more. Calling themselves Amazigh, the proud raiders, they fought against the Romans, Arab, and French invaders. Even though the Romans and others tried to colonize them, they have managed to preserve their own language and culture and in reality were never beaten! Their language is oral, however they have had a written language for over 2500 years.

Driving through the small villages with Lahcen has been lots of fun because he sees someone he knows, or who is from his tribe, along the side of the road and he stops and they laugh and chatter for a few minutes.

It was the Arabs who gave them the name “Berber”. Islam came to the Berbers in the ninth and tenth centuries. Prior to then, most Berbers across Africa were Christian or Jewish. Old kasbahs that we visited had both Berber and Jewish homes in them. Two great Islamic Berber dynasties, Almoravids and Almohads, ruled large parts of Spain and northwest Africa.

Most of today’s Berbers live in the mountains of Morocco while the Arabs and Moors live in the cities, though it is very common these days to see Berbers running, owning and operating small shops. The desert camp and hotels we stayed in were owned and run by Berbers.

Often characterized as nomads, most today are farmers in the mountains and valleys of southern Morocco, but in earlier days they were traders who established trading routes between the West African and the Sub-Saharan region. They transported goods from beyond the Sahara desert to the northern Moroccan cities.

Lahcen went off the road and deep into an area of emptiness along this stony trail.

This Shepherd was barely visible as he and his flock blended in to the scenery.

He took us to a place where a ramshackle tent was pitched and some chickens were running around. He took us down to meet the occupants of a tiny cave cut into the side of the rocky landscape. An elderly (we discovered mid-80’s) man and his wife have made a simple home in a cave measuring about 8×10 feet and about 5 feet high. A little black kid came in and out of the cave at will. The kettle was brought to a boil on a primus burner and the ubiquitous tea was served in glasses that Lahcen kindly rinsed out with the hot water!! These people were Berber nomads. One of their sons tends their small flock of sheep.

Berber graffiti.

Views of the snow covered high Atlas Mountains.

A reservoir outside Quarzazate.

A view of Ait Ben Haddou (we will return tomorrow morning to hike to the top)

Our accommodation for the night – Riad Tamdakhte.

2 thoughts on “Berbers and our trip from Dades Gorge to Ait Ben Haddou

  1. Thank you, Chris. I love your fascinating stories and histories. What a great guide you’ve found to fill you in on the culture. Now tell us about the food. Every time I use my Berber spice mix from Penzey’s I find I can barely swallow it. The heat is so extreme. What are you eating?

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