Berbers in Morocco: Documenting the oldest inhabitants of North Africa

Morocco’s indigenous people, the Berbers, and their defending of their culture has been documented by photojournalist Ferhat Bouda, and has been selected as part of this year’s International Festival of Photojournalism.

The Berbers or Amazigh people (free people) are the oldest inhabitants of North Africa. For thousands of years they have been living on a vast expanse of land stretching from the Atlantic coast of Morocco to Siwa Oasis in Egypt.

More than 33% of Morocco’s population are Berbers. They are concentrated largely in the northern regions of the Rif, the middle plains of the Atlas, and the Sous Valley.

Berbers have their own language and cultural traditions, but their identity is under threat. They do not aspire to nationhood; some are nomadic, some are sedentary; there are Muslims, Christians and Jews. But leaders in North Africa suspect them of being heretics, and have oppressed them, breaking up communities, assimilating them and sometimes persecuting them. Every day their life is a bid to safeguard their identity.

Photographer Ferhat Bouda said: “Most Berbers are in Morocco, so I went there, to the village of Tinfgam in the High Atlas, nearly 2000 meters [6,500 feet] above sea level, a trip that ended on foot, walking for three hours on a dirt road.

“Houses are made from stone and clay, or are caves in the mountainside or on steep slopes. The villagers are both strong and calm. But these communities are ignored by the government and deliberately kept on the fringe. There is no dispensary, no school, no infrastructure whatsoever for education or healthcare services, and there is no electricity. But the Berbers are independent in spirit, and with their know-how and extensive knowledge of the environment, they are self-sufficient, farming the land and raising goats.

“Their lifestyle is closely linked to the land where they live and each day follows the order set by nature. There may be no material security, but the atmosphere in the village is warm, like a big family. Women play a central role as most men have to travel further afield to find work in other areas. As a result, the women are the living memory of the Amazigh people, of their traditions and culture.”

Berbers in Morocco, resisting and defending their culture will be exhibited at the International Festival of Photojournalism in Perpignan, France next month. Each year, a selection of the best stories from around the world is shown at the festival.

The issues that Berbers face, which Ferhat Bouda has captured on camera, is similar for indigenous people throughout this world. Whether its the Berbers of Morocco, Amazonian tribes in the Amazon or tribes in Borneo, indigenous people and their lands are under threat from ruthless beings wanting to strip their natural habitats of resources while attempting to cut them off from their source, Mother Nature.

The Algerian-born photographer, Ferhat Bouda, often returns to his birthplace and other countries of  North Africa to help draw attention to the problems and the needs of the indigenous people in these areas.

Ferhat Bouda adds: “The hope and future of these people depend entirely on them handing on their values and culture as practiced and safeguarded over thousands of years to future generations. And their land is of critical importance: it must be defended from the constant peril that has been threatening it for centuries. Theirs is a generous land, a land that nurtures the people living there in a spirit of harmony. My work reporting on the Berber people living on their own land can be seen in the context of resistance, with a traditional culture standing firm.”

Berbers in Morocco, resisting and defending their culture runs from 2-17 September at the International Festival of Photojournalism, Perpignan. For more photography by Ferhat Bouda, visit his website.

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She is a writer who specialises in sustainable lifestyle and living, wellbeing, and entertainments. Rosa also works as a psychic, counsellor, intuitive reader and spiritual life coach helping people to become who they truly are and manifest their heart & soul’s desires into their lives: www.rosalindmedea.com

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