The blue men of the Sahara get their name from the blue robes and scarves that they traditionally wear. They are Tuareg, an ethnic group of the native Amazigh or Berber. About 2 million Tuareg live in the Sahara region today. The largest populations are in Niger and Mali, with a relatively small number in our mystery country.
The Tuareg are traditionally semi-nomadic traders, moving goods across the Sahara Desert to Mediterranean and Atlantic ports. They also carried enslaved people from West Africa to coastal markets and kept slaves themselves well into the 20th century. Slavery is still practiced in some communities.
Tuareg society is matrilineal and women generally have more autonomy and power relative to other Arab communities. Traditionally, Tuareg men veil their faces and women do not.
The Draa River in the south of our mystery country is the country’s longest river, originating in the High Atlas Mountains and emptying into the Atlantic Ocean, although much of the year the river runs dry along 2/3rds or more of its length. The scenic river valley is punctuated with dense palm groves and historically was a major trading route for merchant caravans traveling from sub-Saharan Africa to the markets of Marrakech and Fez. To control this important passage, fortified towns or kasbahs were established along the route, some of which are still populated today.
Can you name that country?
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Click to see tours that include visits to Ait Ben Haddou.
About a 30-minute drive from Ouarzazate, Morocco, or a long day-trip from Marrakech, Ait Ben Haddou is a fortified village (ksar) in south-central Morocco. It’s only one of many ksars built by the indigenous Amazighen (Berbers) in the area, but, thanks to its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a setting for a long list of Hollywood films, this ksar, unlike its fellows, is well preserved. It sits in the southern foothills of the High Atlas Mountains on the old trade route between the Sahara desert and Marrakech. Continue reading
Jemaa el Fna square on the edge of the souk of Marrakech is short-attention-span theater en plein air. Early in the day, it can be almost sleepy, with scattered peddlers and juice venders, but as the sun drops in the sky the place begins to sizzle and pop. If there was a lid, it would blow right off. A throbbing mass of humanity swims around the food stalls, story tellers, musicians, acrobats, sellers of potions, magicians, tooth-pullers, henna artists, snake charmers, monkey guys, and vendors of all sorts. A good share of the throbbing mass is tourists, either intoxicated by the surging energy or dazed and confused by it, but the square really belongs to the people of Marrakech. While there’s no shortage of really tiresome and pushy peddling, taken as a whole, Jemaa el Fna is a sanctuary of authentic culture, and has, in fact, been declared so by UNESCO. Continue reading