Gnawa: Sacred Music of Morocco


Historically, the term Gnawa (Gnaoua in French) refers to the descendants of black slaves in Morocco, the mystical Islam they practice, and the music used in their religious ritual.

Slaves were brought into Morocco from Sub-Saharan West Africa beginning around the end of the 16th century. Enormous gold-wealth and thriving trade networks fueled two great empires, first Ghana (parts of modern Mauritania and Mali), from around the 8th century to the 11th century, and then the Empire of Mali, from the 11th century to the end of the 16th century. In 1591, Timbuktu, a major city of the Mali Empire and a center of Islamic scholarship, was conquered by mercenary armies for Morocco. Mali declined steadily from there and Morocco began to import its people to work as soldiers and imperial domestic slaves. Continue reading

NAME THAT COUNTRY

Ait Ben Haddou, in the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains, is one of many old Berber fortified towns or kasrs in the south of our mystery country, a good example of the earthen architecture of the region. The large houses within the kasr are known in Arabic as kasbahs and small houses are ksour. You might recognize Ait Ben Haddou from these films (among many others): Gladiator, The Mummy, Kingdom of Heaven, Lawrence of Arabia, Alexander, Prince of Persia. Game of Thrones too!

 

Can you name that country? 
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NAME THAT COUNTRY

In the coastal city of El Jadida, about 1.5 hours from Casablanca, the old colonial city of Mazagan is well worth some leisurely wandering. The fortified city was built by the Portuguese in the 16th century. It is full of period architecture, much of which is in need of restoration, but still lovely. Walk along the ramparts for views of the city, harbor and out to sea.

 

Can you name that country? 
See below for answers.

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Ecomusée Berbere, Ourika Valley, Morocco

photo credit Ecomusee Berbere, museeberbere.com

photo credit: Ecomusee Berbere, museeberbere.com

Visitors to Marrakech often take a day to venture into the High Atlas Mountains, which dominate the eastern horizon, less than an hour’s drive away. Besides mountain air and gorgeous scenery, they find many villages of the indigenous Amazigh people. (The Amazighen are better known as the Berbers, a name which derives from the ancient Greek or Roman for barbarian.)  Tafza is one such village, about 37km from Marrakech, on the edge of the Ourika Valley. It’s a typical Atlas village, friendly and scenic, with at least one notable distinction – the Ecomusée Berbere (Berber Ecomuseum).

This exceptional little cultural museum is housed in the restored ksar of a former caïd (castle of the tribal chief). The collection is well curated and includes rugs, tools, musical instruments, pottery, jewelry and fascinating antique photographs of Atlas village life in the early decades of the last century. The local hosts are knowledgeable and amiable guides and proud representatives of their heritage.

photo credit Ecomusee Berbere, museeberbere.com

photo credit: Ecomusee Berbere, museeberbere.com

photo credit Ecomusee Berbere, museeberbere.com

photo credit: Ecomusee Berbere, museeberbere.com

With advance reservation, guests can have a meal on the ksar’s large terrace, with broad mountain-valley views. Also with advance notice, more extensive experiences are available, such as traditional pottery workshops and walking tours of the village and environs.

photo credit Ecomusee Berbere, museeberbere.com

photo credit: Ecomusee Berbere, museeberbere.com

The Ecomusée Berbere is partnered with another fine museum, Maison de la Photographie in Marrakech, which we wrote about here.