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Amazigh Arts in Morocco

Amazigh Arts in Morocco
Women Shaping Berber Identity

An unprecedented examination of the relationships of art, gender, and identity among the Amazigh (Berber) people of Morocco.

July 2006
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239 pages | 6 x 9 | 82 b&w illus. |

In southeastern Morocco, around the oasis of Tafilalet, the Ait Khabbash people weave brightly colored carpets, embroider indigo head coverings, paint their faces with saffron, and wear ornate jewelry. Their extraordinarily detailed arts are rich in cultural symbolism; they are always breathtakingly beautiful—and they are typically made by women. Like other Amazigh (Berber) groups (but in contrast to the Arab societies of North Africa), the Ait Khabbash have entrusted their artistic responsibilities to women. Cynthia Becker spent years in Morocco living among these women and, through family connections and female fellowship, achieved unprecedented access to the artistic rituals of the Ait Khabbash. The result is more than a stunning examination of the arts themselves, it is also an illumination of women's roles in Islamic North Africa and the many ways in which women negotiate complex social and religious issues.

One of the reasons Amazigh women are artists is that the arts are expressions of ethnic identity, and it follows that the guardians of Amazigh identity ought to be those who literally ensure its continuation from generation to generation, the Amazigh women. Not surprisingly, the arts are visual expressions of womanhood, and fertility symbols are prevalent. Controlling the visual symbols of Amazigh identity has given these women power and prestige. Their clothing, tattoos, and jewelry are public identity statements; such public artistic expressions contrast with the stereotype that women in the Islamic world are secluded and veiled. But their role as public identity symbols can also be restrictive, and history (French colonialism, the subsequent rise of an Arab-dominated government in Morocco, and the recent emergence of a transnational Berber movement) has forced Ait Khabbash women to adapt their arts as their people adapt to the contemporary world. By framing Amazigh arts with historical and cultural context, Cynthia Becker allows the reader to see the full measure of these fascinating artworks.


A Choice Outstanding Academic BookChoice Magazine Outstanding Academic Titles American Library Association

  • A Note on Transcription and Transliteration
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One. Ait Khabbash Textiles: Weaving Metaphors of Identity
  • Chapter Two. The Art of Dressing the Body
  • Chapter Three. Dance Performances: Negotiating Gender and Social Change
  • Chapter Four. Women as Public Symbols of Identity: The Adornment of the Bride and Groom
  • Chapter Five. Performing Amazigh Gender Roles: Wedding Ceremonies
  • Chapter Six. Oh, My Sudanese Mother: The Legacy of Slavery in Ait Khabbash Art
  • Chapter Seven. Contemporary Amazigh Arts: Giving Material Form to Amazigh Consciousness
  • Appendix 1. Selected Songs from Ait Khabbash Weddings
  • Notes
  • References
  • Index

Cynthia J. Becker is Assistant Professor of Art History at Boston University.


When I first arrived in Morocco in 1993 with the intention of learning about Berber art, I soon discovered that women rather than men were the artists in Berber societies. Berber women wove brightly colored carpets. They decorated their faces with tattoos, dyed their hands and feet with henna, and painted their faces with saffron. They also embroidered brightly colored motifs on their indigo head coverings and wore elaborate silver and amber jewelry. Women both created the artistic symbols of Berber identity and wore them on their bodies, making the decorated female body a public symbol of Berber identity.


These connections and intersections of art, gender, and identity are the subject of this book. This study considers women and their participation in the process of identity construction by examining the centrality of the textiles, jewelry, and other art forms created by women to the social relations and ethnic identity of the Berbers of Morocco, the indigenous peoples of North Africa. Unlike Arab groups in North Africa, in Berber societies women rather than men are the primary producers of art, and women's arts identify the group as Berber. This examination, in addition to revealing a rich body of art, is meant to illuminate the complexity of women's roles in the Islamic societies of Africa and to demonstrate the role of women's agency in negotiating complex social and religious issues. Its central argument is that women's control over the visual symbols of Berber ethnic identity grants them power and prestige yet also restricts them to specific roles in that society.


I use the term "ethnic identity" in this book to refer to Berber attitudes regarding group membership. Ethnic categories, according to Nira Yuval-Davis (1998: 169), are based on constructs of collectivity, centering on the notion of a "common origin and/or destiny and engaging in constant processes of struggle and negotiation." As I demonstrate here, Berber groups, who typically trace their heritage to a common male ancestor, attempt to guard female sexuality and fertility to maintain the purity of their group's bloodline and by extension its ethnic purity. Therefore, the forms, colors, and designs of Berber women's arts are public identity symbols that are clearly linked to concepts of contained and controlled female fertility. Since ethnic identity is a process that is subject to historical, political, and social dynamics, this book illustrates that, as concepts of Berber ethnicity change, women's arts have been transformed from localized ethnic symbols to symbols that represent a transnational Berber identity.


To examine the complexity of identity construction and its relationship to gender and artistic production, this study introduces the reader to the art of the Ait Khabbash, who are part of the largest Berber group in southern Morocco—the Ait Atta. The Ait Khabbash are one of the many groups (but the only Berber group) living in and around the Tafilalet oasis of southern Morocco. Various Arab groups, both sedentary and nomadic, have lived here with the Ait Khabbash Berbers since the beginning of the nineteenth century. This diversity has kept the Ait Khabbash Berbers conscious of their difference from others in the area.


Issues of ethnic identity are of crucial importance to Berbers, who consider themselves the indigenous inhabitants of northern Africa, a land they call Tamazgha. Berbers believe themselves to be ethnically, culturally, and linguistically distinct from Arabs, who arrived in North Africa in the seventh century CE after various groups such as the Phoenicians and the Romans had previously conquered portions of Tamazgha over the centuries. In contemporary North Africa, pockets of Berber settlements can be found from Egypt to Morocco, with approximately a million in Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Libya and 140,000 in Tunisia, Egypt, and Mauritania. The largest Berber populations can be found in the westernmost regions of North Africa. It is estimated that 25-30 percent of Algeria's 30 million people are Berber; and Morocco has the largest Berber population, which accounts for 40-60 percent of the country's 31 million people (Chaker 1998: 14). It is this large Berber population that differentiates Morocco from other African countries.


The arrival of Arabs in Morocco in the seventh century resulted in the gradual conversion of some Berbers to Islam. It was not until the thirteenth century, however, with the arrival of large numbers of Arabs from the Middle East, that the majority of Berbers accepted Islam, learned the Arabic language, and were assimilated into the Arab culture. Yet many Berber groups living in inaccessible remote areas, such as the mountainous regions of Morocco or its desert fringes, continued to speak their own languages and retained their political autonomy from the urban-based Arab dynasties that ruled Morocco over the centuries.


Berbers in contemporary Morocco can be found in three major geographical regions, each with its own Berber language: Tarifit in the Rif Mountains of northern Morocco, Tamazight in the Middle Atlas Mountains and southeastern desert oasis, and Tashelhit in the Sus Valley, High Atlas Mountains, and Anti-Atlas Mountains. Although speakers of Tamazight and Tashelhit can communicate with each other, communication with speakers of Tarifit is difficult.


Rather than calling themselves "Berbers," a pejorative term derived from the Latin word barbarus or "barbarian," they refer to themselves by the name of their particular group. Berbers also use the overarching term "Imazighen." "Amazigh" is the adjectival form of the word. While the word "Imazighen" has become more common in the last fifty years, particularly among Amazigh political activists, who define it as "the free people," several scholars have argued that the term is indeed an ancient one.


When referring to their particular group, Imazighen commonly use a two-word name: "Ait," meaning "people of," and the name of their male ancestor. For example, the Ait Atta, who are the largest Amazigh group in southern Morocco, trace their ancestry to a man named Atta. According to the origin story of the Ait Atta collected by the anthropologist David Hart, Atta (who lived in the Jebel Saghro region of southern Morocco in the sixteenth century) had forty sons, who were all married in one communal marriage ceremony. During the wedding a man from a rival Amazigh group filled the barrels of the sons' flintlock guns with water. The rival group, knowing that the marriage festivities would leave Atta's sons distracted and vulnerable, attacked later that night. The sons left their new wives, rushed to their guns, and, finding them unusable, were all killed. But Atta and his daughters-in-law survived the attack. All of his sons had impregnated their new wives before they were killed, and nine months later thirty-nine sons and one daughter were born. Atta went to live on his own, leaving the women to take care of the children. The thirty-nine sons grew up and joined their grandfather, henceforth known as Dadda Atta (meaning "Grandfather Atta"), declaring unrestricted warfare on their fathers' attackers and driving them out of the region (Hart 1981: 11). The forty sons founded all of the subgroups of the Ait Atta, who currently live in southern Morocco between the Valley of Dades in the west to the Tafilalet oasis and Boudnib in the east.


Whether this Ait Atta origin story is historically accurate is unknown. The story's historical correctness is less important than what it reveals about Ait Atta identity construction. As Benedict Anderson (1991) has suggested, the way in which a community subjectively imagines itself should be the basis for our understanding of that community. This origin story not only demonstrates that the Ait Atta consider themselves a distinct ethnic group that shares a common bloodline but also reveals Amazigh attitudes concerning female fertility. It was women who survived the attack, giving birth to the next generation and teaching them what it means to be Ait Atta. Due to their ability to give birth, Ait Atta women ensured the group's continuation into the future.


Blood is only one substance that unites people. Among Amazigh groups, women's breast milk also has the ability to forge kinship relations. When unrelated children are nourished by one woman's breast milk, the children become awlad laban or "milk children." This is a common occurrence among women, who typically breast-feed until a child is two to three, providing many opportunities to offer their breasts to other small children. Women may desire to create kinship bonds between themselves and others or simply to quiet a crying child, but milk bonds are taken as seriously as blood ties. Children sharing the breast milk of one woman are transformed into siblings, establishing a pact based on milk kinship known in Tamazight as tafargant or "prohibition" that prohibits marriage between the two children. The fact that breast milk, a woman's bodily substance, can create kinship bonds illustrates that women unite and bind the society together through their reproductive abilities.


This book demonstrates that the generative power of women is metaphorically extended to the creation of the artistic symbols of ethnic identity. Amazigh women recognize that their individual status is reliant on their ability to give birth and incorporate symbols and colors referring to female fertility in their art. Women's arts not only laud female fertility but also serve as public symbols of ethnic identity. Identity depends on difference; and symbolic systems, such as arts, express difference and create a sense of belonging. Unlike Arab groups in Morocco, where men generally dominate artistic production, women are the artists in Amazigh societies: they create and wear the public visual symbols of Amazigh ethnic identity, such as woven textiles, tattoos, and particular styles of jewelry and dress. Women weave the wool cloaks and gowns once commonly worn by Amazigh men. Women tattoo their faces, hands, and ankles with symbols marking their ethnic identity; and women weave those same symbols into textiles and paint them on ceramics. Except for woven garments made by women, men do not wear clothing that distinguishes them as Imazighen. Amazigh men do not practice tattooing or wear silver jewelry.


This complex relationship of art, gender, and ethnic identity in Amazigh culture defies many stereotypes and generalizations about women's lives in the Muslim world that are commonly found in the literature. The most common interpretation is the notion that in Muslim societies women are associated with the inner, domestic world and men with the outer, public world; this has been used as a model for most of the Mediterranean and Islamic world, thus dividing Muslim cultures into binary categories (Antoun 1968; Bourdieu 1977; Dwyer 1978; Joseph 1980). This binary model is often used to suggest a hierarchical relationship in which women are subordinated to men. According to Lila Abu-Lughod (1986) and Guity Nashat and Judith Tucker (1999: 102-103), binary categories such as public and private do not acknowledge the complex and sometimes ambiguous gender overlapping and mixing that occurs in North African societies. As Bernhard Venema and Jogien Bakker (2004: 52) state in their study of Amazigh women in the Middle Atlas of Morocco, "There is in fact no separate world between men and women and no strict hierarchical model of sex roles." In fact, women in North Africa and more specifically Amazigh women have always been active agents who influence both the domestic and the public sphere. They play an important role in their communities by providing commodities such as tents, clothing, rugs, sacks, and ceramic pots, in addition to acting as healers, marriage brokers, midwives, cooks, agriculturalists, and pastoralists (Clancy-Smith 1999: 27).


While women's artistic production is indeed crucial to the economic survival of their communities, this study shows that women's arts also serve as public symbols of Amazigh ethnic identity, although the relationship between gender and ethnicity can be a burden for women. Nickie Charles and Helen Hintjens (1998: 2), for example, have argued that, when identity is based on ethnic ties determined by blood relationships, tight control over a woman's sexuality is necessary in order to define and maintain the boundaries of the group. This study reinforces their statement. Ultimately, it is through the control of female sexuality and fertility that ethnic purity can be maintained. The result is that women serve as potent symbols of ethnic identity with considerable power and prestige, but they are also restricted by specific societal constraints.


This book fills a void in the current literature concerning African and Islamic art and history. Previous books in English tend to provide descriptive and often superficial information about Amazigh art without a thorough cultural analysis, typically discussing Amazigh art in the ethnographic present as if it has remained untouched from ancient times (Courtney-Clarke and Brooks 1996; Fisher 1984; Jereb 1995; Reinisch and Stanzer 1991). This book moves the discussion of Amazigh art from the ethnographic past into the present, avoiding terms such as "traditional" and "authentic." This study also places art forms such as textiles and jewelry within a dynamic cultural context, considering how they interact with verbal and performing arts. Rather than presenting Amazigh art as a timeless, exotic remnant of a folkloric past, this book places it within its cultural and historical context, examining women's arts in Morocco from the early twentieth century to the present. Unlike previous studies, this one looks at Amazigh art in Morocco within a larger framework that takes into consideration the impact of French protectorate policies, Moroccan nationalism, changing gender roles, state education, and the transnational Berber movement on artistic production.


Most studies of Amazigh arts do not consider how the lives of Imazighen in Morocco have drastically changed in the last century due to colonialism and nationalistic agendas. Morocco was made a French protectorate in 1912, and the French implemented a policy of divide and rule. For example, in 1930 the French created the Dahir Berbère, where Imazighen were allowed to follow their customary laws, while Arabs abided by the Islamic shariâa law. During this time, many French anthropologists were sent to the country to learn about the people living in North Africa in order to facilitate colonial rule of the region. Many of these studies argued that Amazigh beliefs and artistic forms were the result of ancient Roman and Christian values, making Imazighen appear more European in order to reinforce the French justification of colonialism as their duty to reunite Imazighen with their European heritage and Christian roots (Cola Alberich 1949; Doutté 1909; d'Ucel 1932; Laoust 1920; Marcy 1931).


These policies contributed to the rise of an Arab-Islamic nationalist sentiment in Morocco after independence in 1956. The public recognition of Arab-Amazigh differences was viewed by the Moroccan monarchy and Morocco's urban Arab bourgeoisie, who controlled much of the government after independence, as a colonial vestige and an attempt to divide the country. The Moroccan postcolonial government emphasized the nation's common Islamic faith and the Arabic language (which has considerable status as the written language of the Qur'an), attempting to subsume the Imazighen and the Amazigh languages and to unify the country. An Arab-Islamic identity also served to legitimize and strengthen the rule of the Moroccan monarch, a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. For the first decade after independence, the government failed to recognize Morocco's Amazigh heritage (Denoeux and Maghraoui 1998: 122).


This changed in 1967, with the creation of the first Amazigh association in Morocco, called Association Marocaine de Recherche d'Échange Culturel (AMREC), which led to the founding of approximately forty Amazigh associations throughout the country (Kratochwil 1999: 154). These groups dedicated themselves to the preservation and promotion of the Amazigh heritage, and the government tolerated them as long as they did not engage in political activity. Even as the Moroccan government attempted to suppress the political mobilization of the Imazighen, Amazigh artistic and cultural activity remained publicly visible. Photographs of Imazighen were featured on travel brochures, and Amazigh musicians commonly performed at government-organized tourist festivals. In addition, Morocco's many markets were filled with Amazigh ceramics, carpets, and silver jewelry for sale. Amazigh activists angrily complained that the government was reducing Amazigh culture to a folkloric commodity for tourists while marginalizing the Imazighen and preventing them from accessing the country's economic and political resources to the same degree as Arabs (Almasude 1999: 119).


In the 1990s Amazigh political activists became involved in more aggressive actions and public protests, insisting on Amazigh language instruction in schools and the incorporation of Amazigh languages in the media. They argued that since the Tamazight language and the Amazigh culture are the basis of Moroccan society, they must be preserved in order to safeguard Morocco's distinct cultural heritage. They demanded that Tamazight not be referred to as a dialect of Arabic, the official policy of the Moroccan government at the time, but be recognized a national language.


Imazighen in Morocco drew strength from Imazighen in France and Algeria, looking across national borders to become part of a transnational Amazigh group called the World Amazigh Congress. In 1994 seven members of an Amazigh cultural association (located in Goulmima) called Tilelli, meaning "Freedom" in Tamazight, were arrested after publicly protesting in Errachidia and carrying banners with political slogans that promoted the recognition of Morocco's Imazighen. Three of the seven men (all teachers) were sentenced to prison for terms of one to two years. Widespread publicity and public outrage led to a reduction of their sentences by the Moroccan king, and the three were released two months after their arrest. Protests like this and the public and international support for these protesters increasingly pressured the Moroccan monarchy to recognize the political necessity of heeding Amazigh demands (Maddy-Weitzman 2002: 161).


Four months after the protest, King Hassan II publicly announced that it was time to consider teaching Amazigh "dialects" in primary schools but that Arabic would remain the mother language of the country. Amazigh activists continued to make demands on the government. After the death of Hassan II in 1999, his son King Muhammad VI continued his father's concessions to the Moroccan Amazigh population. In 2001 he ordered that a Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture (IRCAM) be established to study the Amazigh language and culture in an academic fashion. The government introduced Amazigh languages into a limited number of Moroccan primary schools in 2004.


While Amazigh activists tirelessly work to preserve and promote their Amazigh identity, there is a strict gap between their political agenda and the daily life of the majority of Imazighen in Morocco. As noted by David Crawford (2002), Amazigh activists are a largely male-dominated group run by college-educated intellectuals, living far different lives than the rural Imazighen who have greatly contributed to the survival of Amazigh heritage. Ironically, the factors that create the differences between rural Amazigh and political activists are also those that have contributed to the survival of Amazigh cultural and linguistic heritage in Morocco: illiteracy and the association of the Amazigh language and culture with women. Amazigh men, even those in rural areas, are more likely than women to work outside the home and to receive formal education in Arabic, French, English, or Spanish, while rural Amazigh women are more likely to be monolingual and illiterate (Sadiqi 2003: 225). By speaking Tamazight on a daily basis in their homes and teaching it to their children, women thereby preserve the language and the culture.


Southeastern Morocco, the focus of this book, is an ideal region for the consideration of issues of Amazigh art, gender, and ethnic identity. Southeastern Morocco was one of the last areas of the country to be colonized and was not controlled by the French until the 1930s. Therefore, artistic production in the area was not heavily influenced by the French colonial government's policy to control artistic production by creating artificial stylistic divisions among the different geographic regions of Morocco. The Tafilalet, Morocco's largest oasis, is located in southeastern Morocco, fifty kilometers west of the border with Algeria. The oasis has hundreds of thousands of palm trees covering an area thirteen miles long and nine miles wide and is home to the ancient trading city of Sijilmasa. Caravans from Sijilmasa traversed the Sahara to western Africa and returned with gold, slaves, and other commodities destined for northern Africa and Europe. Southeastern Morocco has historically been a crossroads where people of diverse origins and backgrounds have long interacted, and the area continues to contain much ethnic diversity.


The Tafilalet is somewhat isolated from the rest of the country. To get there, it is necessary to take a rigorous ten-hour bus ride from Casablanca on thin, winding roads that eventually lead to the provincial capital of Errachidia, and from there another bus or taxi for the hour-long ride to the Tafilalet oasis. In addition to its early historical importance and ethnic diversity, the Tafilalet also holds the distinction of being the home of the Alaouite dynasty that ruled Morocco in the seventeenth century and continues to rule today. The Alaouite dynasty, founded by Mulay Ali Sherif in 1666, claims descent from the Prophet Muhammad, giving the region considerable religious significance. Mulay Ali Sherif's tomb is located just outside of Rissani, the largest town in the oasis, with 40,000 people. The town is small and sleepy except on market days, when it becomes vibrant and full of activity.


The Ait Khabbash, who are part of the largest Amazigh group in southern Morocco, the Ait Atta, reside in and around the oasis. Prior to colonization, the Tafilalet oasis could be described as an Arab oasis surrounded by an Amazigh sea. Until recently, sedentary Arab farmers (who called themselves Filala after the name "Tafilalet") inhabited the oasis, while Ait Khabbash populated the surrounding desert landscape. The Ait Khabbash controlled approximately 25,000 square kilometers of land that extended from Boudnib in the northeast to Tabalbala in the south. Ait Khabbash also traveled north into the Atlas Mountains and west to the area near Zagora (Joly 1951) (Fig. I.1).


Even though the Ait Khabbash did not live in the numerous walled mud-brick villages (called qsour) that dot the oasis, the Tafilalet oasis was still considered Ait Khabbash territory, because the Ait Khabbash would threaten to invade Arab villages to collect financial tribute from the sedentary Arab farmers. Arab farmers paid the Ait Khabbash one-third to one-fourth of their total harvest as tribute; in exchange, the Ait Khabbash were obliged to dispatch a number of men whenever necessary (Dunn 1977; Spillman 1936).


In the late nineteenth century three Arab villages on the fringe of the oasis, under threat of invasion from another Amazigh group, invited the Ait Khabbash to live with them. Ait Khabbash still occupy these villages today. For more than two years I lived in one of these villages, Mezguida (five kilometers outside of Rissani), in a large, two-story mud-brick house with my husband's Ait Khabbash family, where I learned about Amazigh arts and culture by participating in everyday life, attending scores of Ait Khabbash weddings, collecting wedding songs, photographing and filming wedding ceremonies, and discussing my interpretations with numerous Ait Khabbash women and men.


My fluency in Moroccan Arabic and basic knowledge of Tamazight, the language of the Ait Khabbash, made possible one of the central and original insights of this book: the interrelationship of the visual and the verbal arts in Amazigh society. Addi Ouadderrou transcribed the oral text from tape recordings and videocassettes, using the system of transcription developed by Chaker (1984), and together we translated the text into English. I had the opportunity to spend considerable time speaking with women and photographing their arts, which would not have been possible for a male scholar. A man would not have been allowed to sit with women while the bride was dressed. Male scholars would not have been privy to women's conversations about marriage, sexual relations, and other private matters. Women freely shared this information with another woman, however; hence my gender contributed to my understanding of women's arts in the region. My experience living and studying in Morocco and my familial connections have given me an intimate view of Moroccan culture and an appreciation for the nuances and complexity of Amazigh art and culture.


The majority of images in this book are my own, allowing me to place textiles, jewelry, and other forms of artistic expression in their original cultural contexts. In certain instances, women asked that their individual identities not be revealed in publication. Hence, I covered their faces using a photo-editing program and refrained from using their names in the photos' captions. The generic captions used in this book are not intended to objectify people but simply to protect their requested anonymity.


Although the Tafilalet oasis is somewhat marginalized from the rest of Morocco, lifestyles of people in southeastern Morocco have changed drastically over the last century. This has led to similar changes in the arts, which I discovered in conversations with friends and participation in their lives. I also learned about Ait Khabbash life in the past from older women, who sometimes continued to make and wear older art forms. Visits to Ait Khabbash families still living nomadic lifestyles outside the oasis and colonial photographs dating from the 1930s to 1950s provided additional information on nomadic lifestyles.


As this study demonstrates, French colonization and its aftermath caused Imazighen to abandon or modify many of their art forms, which in turn profoundly influenced gender roles. After independence, increased contact with Arabs living in the Tafilalet oasis also influenced Ait Khabbash art and culture. Therefore, this study presents Amazigh women's arts as living, dynamic cultural forms that have changed and continue to change in response to external and internal pressures. This allows women to negotiate their social position, which is dependent on their connection to Amazigh identity.


In the field of African art there is increased interest in incorporating North Africa into the art history canon, and this book fills a significant gap in the understanding of textile production, dress, and performance modes among the Imazighen of North Africa. In particular, this study builds upon Labelle Prussin's study of African nomads and gender roles (1995). Prussin writes that women are the architects in nomadic societies and discusses nomadic women's arts as gendered symbols of womanhood and female creativity. Amazigh women in Morocco, many of whom lived nomadic lifestyles until recently, are also creating arts that can be interpreted as symbols of womanhood. While my research reinforces Prussin's work and indicates that Amazigh arts reflect gender identity, I found that Amazigh arts are more than symbols of womanhood: they are also crucial ethnic symbols.


Although the central concern of this book is art, it builds upon the long tradition of anthropological literature focusing on Moroccan beliefs and practices with an emphasis on gender roles (Davis 1983; Davis and Davis 1985; Dwyer 1978; Fernea 1998; Gellner and Micaud 1972; Kapchan 1996; Mernissi 1987, 1989). Probably one of the most important ethnographers of Amazigh culture is David Hart, who wrote about the Ait Atta, the largest Amazigh group in southern Morocco (Hart 1981, 1984). Since Hart's primary fieldwork was conducted in the 1960s, his research provides important information regarding Amazigh social structure from that period, although his work did not concentrate on gender. Very little research has been done in the particular region studied in this book, with the exception of the important historical study on colonialism in southeastern Morocco by Ross Dunn (1972, 1977), the archaeological and geographical research concerning Sijilmasa (Lightfoot and Miller 1996; Miller 2001), and a recent anthropological study on Ait Khabbash concepts of honor by the French scholar Marie-Luce Gélard (2003).


Chapter One focuses on the performative practice of weaving textiles, which for Ait Khabbash women has included nomadic tents, clothing, blankets, and grain sacks. This discussion of the process of textile manufacture itself as well as the finished product demonstrates that Ait Khabbash women are cultural carriers who give life to the society both literally and metaphorically.


In Chapter Two, the description of Ait Khabbash women's art forms is extended to dress, including hairstyles, tattooing, and embroidered headscarves. This chapter considers how gender identity is learned as a person passes through the life cycle and analyzes the gender identity inscribed through dress at birth, childhood, and puberty. In particular, it discusses women's tattooing and the implications of permanently carrying symbols of the group's identity on the body.


In Chapter Three, the focus is on ahidous, a collective dance commonly performed at weddings by Amazigh groups throughout Morocco. The dance incorporates many forms of expressive culture, such as movement, singing, musical instruments, and specific forms of dress. This examination of the aesthetics of ahidous performances considers women's agency and use of dress to negotiate the tension between contemporary modesty requirements and the source of their power in Amazigh society—their connection to female fertility.


Chapters Four and Five analyze Amazigh weddings and their associated art forms. Through their central role in Amazigh weddings, women express and preserve the cultural distinctiveness of their group despite other societal influences that have changed the nature of their daily life. Although the styles of everyday clothing and jewelry have continued to change for Amazigh women and men, the adornment of the bride and groom, the focus of Chapter Four, has remained the same. Chapter Five concentrates on the dances, songs, and ceremonies that make up the three-day wedding ceremony itself. Together, these two chapters demonstrate that control over symbolic systems such as the arts earns women considerable respect in Amazigh society, as weddings and their associated art forms are among the few concrete symbols that continue to unify the Amazigh community.


Chapter Six considers how Ait Khabbash art forms have been shaped by their participation in the trans-Saharan slave trade. The Ait Khabbash enslaved peoples from Sudanic Africa (the area of Africa south of the Sahara between the Nile and the Atlantic). The descendants of those enslaved have been assimilated into the Ait Khabbash; but, at the same time, the groups do not intermarry. Despite that fact that slavery was outlawed in the 1930s, the descendants of the enslaved continue to refer to themselves as Ismkhan, the plural form of the word ismkh or "slave" in Tamazight. This chapter discusses the visual and performing arts found at Ismkhan ceremonies, which unite them with the Ait Khabbash but also express their difference.


As the concluding chapter demonstrates, far from being fixed in an essentialized, stagnant past, Amazigh artistic production and its relation to gender roles continue to be subject to the changing discourses of history, culture, and power. Morocco's Amazigh heritage makes Morocco distinct from the rest of Africa and the Middle East; thus the artistic heritage of Amazigh women is crucial to the creation of a new "Moroccan" identity that embraces the cultural diversity that is part of the country's history and visually expresses the concerns of the emerging Amazigh cultural and political movement.


In sum, these chapters consider various artistic forms, examining both the process of artistic creation and finished products to provide an original view of women's lives in southeastern Morocco. Artistic production not only reveals the complexity of women's roles but also demonstrates women's agency. These chapters argue that the control over artistic production is a mechanism through which women can negotiate complex religious and social issues while restricting them to limited roles in their society, thereby demonstrating the complexity of women's lives in Islamic Africa.




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