Cultural diversity in Morocco: An omnipresent history

Morocco possesses a diverse and lively history that witnessed a long succession of different ruling people such as the Romans, French, Spanish, Jews, Arabs and Berbers. This diversity is reflected through many aspects of Moroccan life, namely the languages, the clothing, the cuisine, and the culture.

Traveling from region to region in Morocco might seem more like traveling from country to country. For the diversity of culture from one city to the next is striking. However, in general, Morocco can be divided into two main cultures: Arab and Berber. And, each one has its own charm. Tourists visiting Morocco will definitely not get bored as with every step they take, they are bound to discover Morocco’s eclectic heritage.

The Berbers were the first inhabitants of North Africa and they are also considered its indigenous people. The history of the Berber people goes back more than 5000 years ago. The Berbers are a group of people who migrated possibly from the Middle east or Eurasia to as far west the Atlantic coast and all the way down to Mali, Niger, and Burkina. It wasn’t until the 7th century with the Arab invasion that the Berbers became ‘Arabized’ and converted to Islam.

There are three main Berber groups in Morocco who speak three varieties of the Berber language. Berbers from the Rif, in northern Morocco, speak Tarifit, Berbers from the Middle Atlas region speak Tamazight, and those from the High Atlas and Souss regions in the South speak Tashelheet. The Berber text is different from Arabic and is called Tifinagh.

Berbers, referred to as Shlooh by most Moroccans, represent more than half of the Moroccan population and live mainly in the south of Morocco. There have been a lot of efforts nowadays to preserve the Berber identity and to promote its culture. As a result, the Berber language has recently been introduced in primary schools as a compulsory language. The main characteristics of Berber culture are their nomadic way of life, their folkloric music, fine poetry and silver jewelry.

The Arabs experienced a different history in Morocco. When they invaded Morocco in the late 7th century, their conquest was met with fierce resistance from the Berber tribes. The Arabs eventually succeeded in taking over Morocco and forcing the Berbers to adopt the Arab culture and Muslim religion.

The Arabs represent about 40% of the Moroccan population and live mainly in the northern regions of Morocco. One of the main characteristics of Arab culture in Morocco are their customs, language, music, religion, food, and dress, just to name a few.

Apart from the Berber and Arab influences in Morocco, there is also an Andalusian influence in the North and a Sub-Saharan influence in the south. Due to the Christian conquest of Spain, there were many Muslim and Jewish exiles from Spain into Morocco, which explains the Spanish/Andalusian element in Morocco’s culture, notably in the music and food. In the south of Morocco you will notice many black Moroccans. During the caravan trades, many slaves were brought up from possibly Guinea, and there influence is prevalent in the type of music known as Gnawa, especially in Marrakech which was a main caravan stop.

It is worth mentioning that the official language of Morocco is Arabic. Most Moroccans, no matter what their origins are, speak Arabic. There is a minority of Berber nomads who do not speak Arabic.

So, on your next visit to Morocco, keep your senses awake to experience Morocco’s diversity.