Driving for miles along the brownish red plateaus out of Marrakech reminded me of the red clay earth that my home state of Georgia is known for as its soil. The snow-capped peaks in the distance, however, was not a sight I was used to seeing. This mountain range called the High Atlas is the highest part of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco.
The High Atlas is home to the northern African culture of Imazighen or Amazigh (Berber) people. They are ancient indigenous tribal people who were known as Berbers but prefer to call themselves Amazigh, which means “free people.”
The Amazigh live in small villages in a rural and challenging environment. Some homes in the village are huts built into the ridges of the hills using local timber and brown clay bricks. Many have houses constructed with rocks and cement. Others reside in tents made of wood and goat’s hair.
The house we visited during our trip to the High Atlas was one of the more modern ones with both the comforts of home and the simple life of the Amazigh. It has intricately crafted doors, ornate with metal mosaic plates and handles. Morocco is known for its unique doors. Some of the most photographed images captured by travelers to the country are its doors. Inside the house wooden beams supported thatched ceilings. The walls were covered with beautiful mosaic tiles and the floors with colorful rugs. Moroccan tiles and tapestries are distinctive to the region.
A Tribe of Herders & Artisans
The people are mainly farmers and herders. We could see their goats easily maneuvering the steep slopes of the hillside. They don’t fall off the narrow cliffs because they have “sticky” hooves that help them scale precipitous rocky surfaces. Mountain goats have elastic, and rubbery like pads with sharp outer edges on the soles of their hooves. It gives them traction and keeps them from slipping.
The Amazigh keep camels and mules to transport not only themselves but also their belongings, food, and wares. As we walked around the village, we encountered a father being greeted by his young daughters as he returned home on his mule. A woman wearing a long dress, a sweater, and the traditional hijab (headscarf) waved to us as her mule carrying a load of material and long tree limbs walked slowly behind her.
For thousands of years the Amazigh have also passed their artisan skills like tapestry weaving, crafting tagines, jewelery making, metalwork, and leatherwork down through the generations. They became key local merchant traders. In many villages, the women have been the master rug weavers. They have helped to keep their culture and language alive by incorporating symbols, patterns, and characters into their rug designs distinguishing them as part of an Amazigh tribe.