Royal Institute of the Amazigh Culture
Situated in the Kingdom of Morocco’s capital city, Rabat, the Royal Institute of the Amazigh Culture (IRCAM) is an academic institute devoted to the safeguarding and promotion of the Amazigh (Berber) culture and languages. The institute was founded with full legal capacity and financial independence, under the patronage of King Mohammed VI, on 17 October 2001.
IRCAM is responsible for advising the Moroccan king on suggested measures to be implemented to maintain and promote the Amazigh languages, and thereafter to implement any policies which are adopted by the king. The 1960 census of Morocco estimated that 34% of the population spoke an Amazigh dialect. A 1991 to 1995 report by Ethnologue, a web and print publication of SIL International, estimated that up to 7.5 million, or about 30% of Moroccans are Amazigh-speaking, with the main Amazigh dialects being Tarifit, Techelhit and Central Morocco Tamazight.
The Royal Institute of the Amazigh Culture aims to incorporate the Amazigh languages into the educational system of Morocco. IRCAM will also focus on reinforcing the status of Amazigh culture at national, regional and local levels. Additionally, continued efforts will be made to develop cooperation with other institutions and organizations nationally and regionally, as well as internationally. Moreover, IRCAM will serve as a base of reference with regard to academic studies and research on a regional and international level.
The establishment of the Royal Institute of the Amazigh Culture is seen as a positive sign that the Moroccan authorities recognize that the nation’s Amazigh culture is part of the national heritage of Morocco. Director of IRCAM, Ahmed Boukoss believes that Moroccans who previously may have rejected the notion that they may have Amazigh ancestry, are warming to the idea and developing a pride in Morocco’s Amazigh dimension. Although Moroccans commonly base their identity on French and Arab influences, it is believed that the majority of Moroccans have Amazigh ancestry – even if only a fraction.
The term “Berber” has come to have negative connotations, especially among westerners who use the term as synonymous with “barbarian”. The people of Berber descent prefer to refer to themselves as Amazigh, which in the plural form Imazighen means “free men”. Injustices of the past against the Amazigh are slowly being turned around by the Royal Institute of the Amazigh Culture. Although there is still a long way to go and some have expressed doubts as to the reasons behind the establishment of the institute, as well as their methods for achieving their goals, interested parties generally agree that they are moving in the right direction. No doubt King Mohammed VI, whose mother was Amazigh, will continue to play an active role in the Royal Institute of the Amazigh Culture.