Thursday, December 22, 2011

Stories from Merzouga: Modernity and other discourses.

So on this organised tour, I wanted to bang my head against a kasbah wall more than once.

The first time was when Hamid, our Berber guide in Tinghir, is explaining the traditional method of construction. A mixture of rocks, clay, straw and water is called adobe. It's used to build houses for many reasons: it keeps the inside cool in summer and warm in winter, it's cheap if not practically free since it uses natural materials including palm tree trunks and bamboo stems for roof beams, and it is a symbolically and spiritually significant link to the land.

Kasbah

Adobe wall

Upon hearing that the walls are rebuilt every five to eight years because of natural weathering, a guy in the group asks quite petulantly:

"Why don't they rebuild it with modern materials like concrete?"

Nevermind that Hamid had just explained the benefits of these materials, which are presumably in comparison to concrete and steel, "primitive"? How do you even start to explain that there is deep wisdom in constructing something the same way it has been done for hundreds of years -- clearly there is some economic or social value in it that makes it last.

There as also another guy in the group who was clearly not any of the following: Arab, Moroccan, Berber, scholar of the Middle East. But he knew a lot about Berbers evidently, and had to interject every now and then with what he knew. When Hamid was getting on the subject of nomads: "They go up into the mountains..."

"...Yeah, with their animals,"

That is all what Berbers are! Nomads with animals. Arghhhhh.

Amazigh for "Freedom"

On a more positive note, last month I met a Moroccan woman of Berber descent who is a singer, and also produces monthly theater pieces on Islam through science and art. No politics there, please!

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