Recent cases of incomplete academic research on Morocco’s Berbers

Posté par Michael Peyron le 19 juillet 2011

 

Recent cases of incomplete academic research on Morocco’s Berbers 

 

                                               Michael Peyron* 

 

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After being sidelined by the Nationalists for political reasons in the Protectorate aftermath, Berber studies in Morocco have moved back to centre-stage in recent years. While Moroccan scholars are far from inactive, a considerable portion of the research on the country’s Imazighen (Berbers) is now conducted by foreign academics, not all of whom, however, appear to have benefited to the full from the advantages of fieldwork, or access to existing, relevant sources in Morocco. Although language difficulties involved in switching from English to French, or vice-versa, may admittedly be held partly responsible for this self-inflicted handicap, they constitute a poor excuse. While pointing out such shortcomings as when they occur, the present paper appeals to the better nature of the researchers in question so that, in future, they will leave no stone unturned in their attempts to access available material in whichever language, without neglecting all-important fieldwork. 

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Keywords: absentee academics – relevant sources – field-work – language barrier – inaccuracy – handicap. 

 

 

 

Introduction 

 

 

 

During the Protectorate period, once Morocco’s Berbers had been broken in by military force, they were regarded as a major segment of the population with whom the colonisers could feel common ground, and who could be relied upon if it came to the crunch because of their supposedly lukewarm Islam, compared to the so-called “Arab” element. This divisive attitude, fostering as it did a perceived Arabo-Berber dichotomy, was destined to poison the atmosphere of politics and academia in Morocco for decades to come. Thus, for twenty years after Moroccan independence, Berber culture and language would be diligently swept under the carpet to suit the requirements of nation-building and a single language policy in a country that sought inspiration both in the Arabo-Islamic Middle East and in France’s Jacobin philosophy. Memories of the unfortunate 1930 dahir, with its seemingly pro-Berber French bias, unfavourably influenced the country’s Nationalists, who felt uncomfortable about Berbers, bearing in mind their past record as trouble-makers. Not entirely without reason as, from 1956 to 1971, while some Imazighen had proved loyal to the throne, others participated in abortive, anti-makhzan risings. 

 

 

 

Hence the early emphasis among Moroccan post-colonial writers (Lahbabi 1958, Laroui 1977, etc.), not to mention French exponents of the self-denigration cult such as Jacques Berque (1962),1 who criticized what one researcher (Burke 1973) called the “Colonial Vulgate”. 

 

 

 

French Protectorate scholarship was taken to task for its interpretation of Moroccan history, its Cartesian obsession with Morocco as a static society, the Arab-Berber dichotomy and the blad al-makhzan versus blad as-siba divide that underscored the weakness of the sultan’s hold on the country. 

 

Conversely, the revisionists’ efforts to demonstrate that pre-Colonial Morocco had been a going concern, hale and sound in every way, contributed to invalidating French research, some of which, however, had not been without merit, even though conducted under the aegis of empire. A bevy of foreign scholars (E. Burke III, J. Duclos, D. Eickelman, O. Marais, L. Rosen, D. Seddon, A. Vinogradov, etc.) had jumped onto this particular band-wagon,2  in the process unwittingly devising a “post-Protectorate Vulgate”, inspired partly by the segmentary theory, partly by person-based relationships,3 a joint package that was eventually to be proved to some extent as inaccurate as the one that had gone before! 

 

Indeed, the controversial Gellner and Micaud (1973) festschrift, comprising contributions by many of the above authors, muddied the waters to such an extent that the Berbers were reduced to the rank of Arabs manqués, or semi non-persons, without a specific culture or language of their own, who had somehow survived as good Moslems and patriotic Moroccans4. This constituted a grave misjudgement. By the close of the century many contributors to the offending volume had to eat their own words, as events in Algeria and Morocco sparked a vigorous Amazigh renaissance which, while in no way belittling religion or patriotism, established a right among Berbers to have their cultural and linguistic specificity accepted as an integral part of Maghribian identity. This was a sweeping sea-change such as the revisionist school had totally failed to predict, and which is still on-going. 

 

After the Arabs and Berbers volume had practically written off the Imazighen as a specific social-cultural and linguistic entity, a form of ethnic ostracism vis-à-vis Berber studies perverted academia. Over the next twenty-five years several researchers further contributed to downplaying the Amazigh element (Pascon, 1986, Zartman, 1987, Bourquia & Miller, 1999, Rivet 1999, etc.). It took the efforts of native-born Berber researchers, not to mention King Mohamed VI in person,5 together with a handful of European and North American scholars finally to reinstate academic interest in Morocco’s “invisible Imazighen” (Crawford 2002).6 

 

 

Since then the Amazigh renaissance in Morocco has gained momentum, while a spate of learned Berber-related writings has materialised, some of it in the Journal of North African Studies (henceforth JNAS), some in various doctoral projects, in which, for obscure reasons no doubt related to the exaggerated compartmentalization of academic studies, pride of place is granted to the archive- and library-based efforts of scholars stationed thousands of miles from the area under discussion, while the homeland (i.e. Morocco) contribution, as it stands, is apparently belittled, at times ignored. This speaks volumes as to these students’ inability to conduct exhaustive library research or trawl the web, where they would undoubtedly have located key material that is conspicuously absent from their writings. Surely, nothing can excuse such academic insularity. 

 

The present writer’s purpose is to acquaint the Morocco first-timer, as much as the old Morocco hand, with the amount of untapped research on the country’s Imazighen which is waiting out there. Without being unduly unkind, some of the material contained in the work of today’s scholars of things Berber, including judgment passed and conclusions drawn, while narrowly failing to qualify as erroneous, may be described as hasty and one-sided. It would appear that the researchers in question, in their exaggeratedly bookish approach, do not have the least inkling of certain Morocco-based writings, which raises serious questions concerning their research methods, their attitude to fieldwork. The impression gained is that of absentee scholarship, coupled with (in the case of some American scholars) an apparent reluctance or inability to consider sources in French, their patchy knowledge of the country at times conveying an incomplete picture, lacking as it does the freshness conferred by field-work. 

 

Absentee scholars in Western countries wishing to conduct thesis research on
Morocco admittedly labour under another serious handicap, even if physically in a position to do fieldwork on the spot. With their project dependent on some form of financial grant, caught as they are between the temptation to assert their own personalities by keeping a mind of their own, and attempts to curry favour with a supervisor breathing down their neck, aspiring doctoral candidates operate within a framework full of constraints. One of the prime requirements before departure for Morocco is to define the problematic of the research, an exercise in theory habitually based on their supervisor’s pet fantasy.7 As a result, once in the field, the researcher finds him/herself unwittingly attempting to twist the facts in such a way as to suit the pre-conceived patterns to which he/she has been exposed back home, thus resulting in slightly flawed results. 

 

Berque-inspired anthropological material in French 

 

The present survey will commence with some French research of the late 1990s so conducted by two of Jacques Berque’s disciples as to appear unashamedly to ape their mentor’s well-known theories on Atlas mountain societies. Berque visualized Morocco from south to north as a socio-religious continuum with Islam providing the cement, as it were, thereby strongly disagreeing with Protectorate-inspired notions of a country split by a mountain versus plains divide and uncompromising Arab-Berber dichotomy. He thus judged French appraisal of tribalism, as well as rural Islam, as completely faulty, denying as he did the least specificity to Berber tribes. Today his views sound somewhat dated, as they do not take into consideration the country’s socio-cultural diversity, the crystallization of Amazigh identity and its by-product: the Berber revival. All of these Berque totally failed to anticipate. 

 

To their credit it must be pointed out that social anthropologists Garrigues-Creswell and Lecestre-Rollier both conducted field-work, the former among the Ayt Mizane of the Western High Atlas, the latter in the Central High Atlas. Lecestre-Rollier, however,  developed her theory on a contract-based High Atlas Berber society, a kind of be-all and end-all which she claims to have seen at work in Ayt Bouguemmez, suggesting that this could serve as a blue-print applicable to the whole range. This is based on a faulty premise: that the identity of these groups “does not rest on the sharing of a similar cultural and linguistic tradition, nor does it have its roots in a common past” (Lecestre-Rollier, 1997, p. 19), whereas such considerations precisely sum up the heritage of the Tamazight-speaking tribes of the Middle Atlas and Eastern High Atlas. Specifically, in addition to notions of a common ancestry and culture, these communities are governed by custom-related logic, by principles of intra-group solidarity – Ibn Khaldoun’s famous ‘asabiyya – whether in cases of tit-for-tat feuding between clans (in the old days), or trade-offs in the way clansmen help each other in turn during harvest time. 

 

Likewise, says she, Atlas valleys have invariably been peopled by migration from the South (Lecestre-Rollier 1997, p. 22). While certainly valid for the Seksawa and Bouguemmez  regions, this theory does not appear to hold water in the Tamazight-speaking portion of the High Atlas, where two main factors have affected population movements: 1) a long-drawn out SE-NW push by pre-Saharan pastoral tribes towards fertile grazing-grounds in the Atlas and beyond (Hart, 1993); 2) movements by saints, sometimes called marabout; either individuals like Sidi Ahansali or al-‘Ayyachi, who trended SW-NE from the Sous; or whole communities such as the igurramn of Sidi Yahya ou Youssef and Lmerri (Ayt Yahya) who claim to have followed a N-S axis from the Zerhoun area near Meknes down to Tounfit. 

 

Two other of Lecestre-Rollier’s blanket definitions fail to stand up under scrutiny: 1) “Genealogical memory is short. (…) Who cares about the past?  Proverbs underwrite this”. Not so. The proverb is still much venerated in the Middle Atlas region and the ancestors’ store of knowledge is considered with humility: “In their great wisdom, our forefathers had an answer to all. There is nothing for us to add!” (Roux, 1942). 2) “Legends about eponymous ancestors are rare” claims Lecestre-Rollier (1997, p. 23). Again, this does not apply to the Tamazight-speaking area, where each segment, from tribe to clan level bears the name of a different ancestor, and few in the group ignore his story!8 

 

Further inaccuracies appear concerning access rights to pasture and woodland. Lecestre-Rollier (1997, p. 28), at times entertaining idealistic views at variance with what is currently happening on the ground, appears to believe that time-approved Amazigh rules and regulations in this domain still hold good, whereas it is a well-known fact that, given recurring drought over the past 10-15 years such resources are accessed willy-nilly by pastoral communities making a virtue of necessity (Peyon, 2007). 

 

 

Nor is it quite true to affirm, in connection with the way communities group, disperse and re-group elsewhere that “all traces of their passage disappears” (Lecestre-Rollier 1997, p. 37), views of this kind having already been aired by other revisionist researchers such as Laroui (1977, p.174). There are in fact countless place-names throughout the Eastern High Atlas that refer to previous tenure by some specific group.9 

 

 

Suffice it to say that Lecestre-Rollier (1997, pp. 40-41), freely admits that she is merely prolonging the analyses of Jacques Berque who, very much at odds with Protectorate-period philosophy, was pushing hard for a notional, complex Arab-Berber Moroccan society based on the logics of accumulated agreement and contract, especially when he claims that “the continuity between the Seksawa region and Fez was total”; whereas it was more a case of discontinuity, with the Middle Atlas (Fazaz) region providing a major obstacle. In addition to accumulating factual inaccuracies attributable to insufficient knowledge of the terrain, history and local societies, Lecestre-Rollier proceeds to paint herself into a corner by subscribing to the views of her mentor, whereas it is well known that Fez and the Seksawa have little in common.10 

 

Lecestre-Rollier teams up with her partner Garrigues-Creswell for a further article (2002) on the strategies adopted by High Atlas communities vis-à-vis random events of environmental and/or socio-political nature that affect their existence. The authors show how pastoral patterns respond to a vertical mountains/plains complementary rationale, a well-documented factor that occurs in the Ayt Yahya and Ayt Merghad regions, the latter migrating in winter into the pre-Sahara to avoid losing livestock in the snow – so far so good. 

 

 

Their purpose becomes less clear when, in an article supposedly dealing with the existing situation, they launch into a description of three now defunct institutions, designed in the old days to face up to emergencies: 1) the leff-based alliance system of the Western High Atlas; 2) taḍa-type pacts in the Central High Atlas, based on exchange of mothers’ milk and/or men’s slippers of two clans; 3) the notion of εar, that is claiming protection from somebody by appealing to that person’s honour, somewhat similar to the Celtic practice of placing under geiss. All of this is very interesting, but not really relevant to current practice, the notion of u-taḍa (‘milk-brother’) having been generally replaced by that of ameddakul (‘friend’). The Berque influence in the article comes across strongly when the authors cast doubt on Marcy’s “Berberist” conclusions about maternal parenthood, as reminiscent of the evolutionistic theory of the Protectorate period (2002, p. 10).11 

 

In yet another paper, Lecestre-Rollier (2003), examines the way techno-economic conditions of production can influence forms of social organization in Atlas societies. In many ways, this is a more abstract re-run of her previous efforts with certain criteria reappearing: notions of collective responsibility; marrying off one’s daughter to a lowland tribal grouping to guarantee the stock-breeder a safe haven in the event of heavy winter snowfall – except that weddings do not always work out in terms of marital bliss.12 Apart from linking man’s honour to his native turf, and disregarding the fact that in determining his social position the possession of land is not the sole criteria, wealth on the hoof also being important, the article lacks a proper conclusion. One can also mention a sketchy bibliography (similar to her two previous articles).13 

 

 

Early medieval Berber history 

 

In December 2000, while working on the “Arsène Roux Archive” at the IREMAM (Aix-en-Provence), the present writer came across a complete file (Stroomer & Peyron, 2003, p. 79) that Arsène Roux had prepared on the probable location of Qala’at al-Mahdi, the mysterious XIth century fortress mentioned in early manuscripts on the Fazaz region. After visiting several sites he came to the conclusion that Roux’s choice of the Tisigdelt plateau above Zaouit Had Ifrane just off the Azrou-Khenifra road was the likeliest spot (Peyron, 2003), vestiges of pre-Almoravid-period ramparts having been discovered. Meanwhile a rival team had been in the field, Versailles-based Michel Brun and Amazigh researcher Said Jaafar (2005), and had arrived at a different conclusion – that the site of Lgara a few miles east of Khenifra, with extensive, well-preserved vestiges of fortification, was the real Qala’at Al-Mahdi. Roux had considered this site, but dismissed it as being of slightly different origin, probably late-Almoravid. An opinion Peyron tends to go along with; furthermore it does not fit the descriptions of the Qala’at in the old sources, regarding a wooded, well-watered site with agricultural possibilities, traditions of an early Jewish presence, and proximity of monkeys, all of which occur at the Tisigdelt site. Peyron’s contention is thus based on fairly firm grounds, the more so as the Brun-Jaafar team, not having enough time to visit the Tisigdelt site, had somewhat hastily dismissed it out of hand as situated too deep in the hills. The entire question of the Qala’at’s location thus remains open and will require further research.14 

 

 

 

It is difficult, on the other hand, to fault John Iskander’s (2007) well-researched piece on Morocco’s much maligned Barghawata heretics who held sway over most of Tamesna on the Atlantic Plain from the IXth to the XIIth century. Our comments will be limited to mild disagreement over Barghawata overtures to the Umayyad caliphate of Cordoba, in what turned out to be ultimately fruitless negotiations (2007, p. 42). Repeated injunctions by Barghawata sovereigns not to neglect ties with Cordoba appear to reflect a tentative Barghawata-Umeyyad axis that materialised on thriving coastal trade between Walidia, Anfa and other Moroccan ports, and al-Andalus.15 A link that contributed to keeping the Barghawata empire in business, economically and strategically speaking, as already stated elsewhere (Peyron, 2005b). That Iskander is right in claiming that the alliance fell through, may be related to the trouble the Umayyads had with the fitna al-barbariyya of their own Berber soldiery, who ultimately caused the destruction of the caliphate of Cordoba by the mid-XIth century. For a time, though, a loose alliance with certain Maghribian states (the Barghawata included and, up to a point, tolerated) made sense for the Umayyads, so long as endured their confrontation with the rival Fatimid caliphate (Pennell, 2003; Inane, 2003; Brousky, 2006). 

 

As Iskander charts the decline of the Barghawata, while pointing out that they were mistakenly written off by several Arabic chroniclers before they actually disappeared circa 1150, he omits one important episode – ‘Abd Allah ben Yassin’s fatal 1059 expedition against them. It should not be forgotten that the Almoravid leader was killed in battle mid-way between Rommani and Rabat, near the Khorifla river (Abi-Zar’, 1999, p.116; Ibn Khaldoun, 1999, p. 132), where his shrine is visible today, an indication that at the time perhaps the Barghawata still packed a powerful punch. 

 

 

Interestingly, regarding residual Barghawata-inspired practices, three have survived, as the present writer has observed in the field: 1) divination as to future events and the weather by star-gazing, or studying a sheep’s shoulder-bone (Ayt Sokhman); 2) the village cockerel sometimes referred to as lfqih, as his pre-dawn crowing wakes up the villagers for morning prayer (Ayt Hadiddou); 3) collecting and licking a saintly person’s baraka-containing spittle (saints of Buj’ad, Tadla region). 

 

 

Articles on current Amazigh issues in English 

 

Samir Ben-Layashi (2007) examines secularism in the Moroccan Amazigh discourse. A well-researched piece of work based on books and periodicals, it nonetheless raises a number of important issues, though in places revealing insufficient on-the-spot knowledge of the Moroccan scene. A few minor points first: Hassan Aourid, at the time of writing, is the Moroccan kingdom’s official historiographer. In discussing Moroccan Islamist leaders, the writer appears to be unaware of the fact that both sheikh Yassine and PJD leader El-‘Othmani are Berbers from the Tashilhit-speaking South-West of the country. The former, according to one source, is apparently connected to a well-known XIXth-century qayd of the Haha tribe, inland from Essaouira, Hajj ‘Abdellah Ou-Bihi, who ran foul of his sultan and was subsequently forced to take poison.16 

 

Regarding the sharia and Berber customary law (izerf), the fact that the two have been more or less embedded for some thirteen centuries, much like the intimate interaction between Arabic and Berber, appears to make Ben-Layashi argue that they are basically the same. This is not quite the case, though in conversations with Moroccan qayd-s in the early 1970s17 it was stressed that šariaɛ application in Berber-speaking areas was bound to take into considerations some aspects of customary law, especially regarding land tenure and grazing rights (Hart, 1997, p. 29). Work by H. Khettouch (2004 & 2005) amply illustrates how much the passing of izerf is today regretted among Atlas Berber societies. Based on mutual trust and confidence in traditional local law-makers, it guaranteed a swifter, more impartial form of justice, without the present unsatisfactory, time-wasting exposure to officialdom, involving travelling hundreds of miles to have the case heard in court before a non-Berber-speaking judge, with the unhelpful assistance of a graft-inspired lawyer no doubt hardly in the know as to rural litigation! 

 

 

Another inaccuracy regards Imazighen and their attitude to learning Arabic. Much is made of the way rural Berbers parrot items of the Koran without really understanding their significance. This may certainly be the case. However, it conveniently downplays the contribution to Arabic letters since early medieval times by Berber scholars, both in al-Andalus and the Maghrib, where rural zawiya-s such as those at Dila’, Zaouit Ahansal, Tamgrout and in the Sous, prioritized Arabic letters among their activities. It also ignores the fact that today a surprising number of Moroccan teachers of Arabic are Berber, whether or not at any time they may have felt inferior because of their Berber origin!18 

 

Ben-Layashi appears to sympathize with reservations about secularism put forward by El-‘Othmani during discussion with Amazigh militants. The PJD leader affects an attitude of superiority in an attempt to browbeat his interlocutors: “You do not know anything, (…) you don’t know the meaning of the term ‘secularism’ (…) French secularism is the worst of all!” (2007, p. 161) – the archetypal dogmatic style, based on unsupported statements.19 

 

One excellent point that Ben-Layashi (2007, p. 165) does make, however, is that in Morocco whenever the Amazigh question arises among urban literati, the discussion moves swiftly from the cultural to the political angle, the very term “Berber” conjuring up visions of debauchery, dissent, heresy, resistance and separatism vis-à-vis the maxzan and sacred, religious-based national unity. By immediately raising the stakes (and hackles) it precludes unimpassioned debate on the topic.20 

 

There have, of course, been precedents; to wit, the Barghawata and other early heresies, not to mention supposed Berber collaboration with French colonial authorities, highlighted by the notorious 1930 dahir which radicalized the Istiqlal movement (Hart, 1997) and was to sow the seeds for a half of century of anti-Berber feeling among Morocco’s glitterati.21 

 

The resultant stultifying mindset has contributed to blocking attempts to translate the Koran into Tamazight,22 or allowing Berber to be accepted as a national language on a par with Arabic (although significant progress in this respect was made in 2011). Ben-Layashi’s arguments concerning a Berber Koran, apparently supportive of the officially entertained suspicion vis-à-vis the project, lack conviction, especially when he compares it with regard to the Turkish and Persian parallels. He also appears to gloss over the fact that the Koran has been translated into several Eastern languages (Urdu, Bahasa Indonesian, Malay, Chinese, Pashtu, Tajik, Uzbek, Kazakh, etc.) without having seemingly posed any perceived form of threat. 

 

Furthermore, his claim that Berber was never the language of the cult fails to take into account the not inconsiderable influence of the Soussi ṭṭelba and their undisputed, well-documented contribution to ttawhid and commentaries of the Koran, thanks to men like Awzal, Aznag, Rudani and others. Not to mention their written endeavours in fields such as grammar (Ajourroum), philosophy and biography (Mokhtar Es-Soussi), or poetry (El-Moustaoui). 

 

 

It is also inaccurate to assert that “Berber was not a written language” (Ben-Layashi, 2007, p. 166). There are records from ancient times of inscriptions in Tifinagh, the indigenous Libyan script recently revived by Amazigh militants and officially adopted by the Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture, IRCAM. From the XIIIth to the XVIIIth centuries, the existence of Berber alongside Arabic as a language of exchange in everyday Moroccan life was fully taken on board, as attested by the existence of dictionaries by Al-Hilali and Ibn Tunart (Van Den Boogert, 1998). Throughout the Moroccan Middle Ages, the tradition of mainly religious Berber texts written in Arabic script, known as lmazġiy, thrived principally in the Sous (Van Den Boogert, 1997). 

 

 

A final inaccuracy, proving to what extent the absentee researcher is out of touch with the Moroccan scene, comes with his suggestion that “one is hard-pressed to find any link between this discourse (secularism) and daily life in the remote Berber villages in the Atlas Mountains” (Ben-Layashi, 2007, p. 168). Quite the contrary, awareness of Amazigh identity has over the past few years spread to out-of-the-way areas such as the Tounfit, Errachidia (Imteghren), Dadès, and Marrakech High Atlas regions23 with local feeling running high against indifference and injustice (hogra) as to the way these communities remain for the most part in a state of neglect and under-development. True, apart from charity provided by a handful of NGOs, providing satellite phone links and building of new access roads little has been done, while the slightest whimper of discontent is at once stifled by the maxzan.24 Despite imprisonment of some students, during demonstrations in some of the places mentioned above, militants have not hesitated to take to the streets, openly flaunting the blue, green, red and yellow Amazigh flag.

 

On the other hand, Elizabeth Buckner’s insightful discussion (2006) of implementation problems surrounding the IRCAM-backed teaching of Tamazight, in Morocco reflects a more than adequate appreciation of the political intricacies surrounding what remains a potentially divisive decision. She admirably summarizes the way the Ministry of Education and IRCAM appear to remain at cross-purposes, while on the face of things both are dedicated to bringing their policy to fruition. Despite the choice of Tifinagh script, seen by many as a major handicap,25 together with the Ministry’s reluctance to improve teacher training and implementation of new programmes, things are looking up: Tamazight teaching is on the rails, with the experience moving to Higher Education at the time of writing (March 2010); IRCAM exists, Tamazight is in the process of re-birth (albeit a somewhat painful one), and awareness and optimism about Amazigh culture and identity among well-informed Moroccans have never been higher. These are arguably the major points which could have been made. 

 

Buckner cannot, however, be accused of absenteeism, having apparently conducted field-work in the Tafraout area of SW Morocco, though the language spoken by the locals should, by rights, have been termed Tashilhit, not Tamazight, a fact she belatedly acknowledges (2006, p. 427). Although she confesses to receiving confirmation from Dr. Jilali Saib, one of the then IRCAM managers, that the Ministry were responsible for delays, she apparently never reached Al-Akahwayn University-in-Ifrane and its well-stocked library, where she could have accessed the Proceedings of the Amazigh Conference devoted to the adoption of Tifinagh, edited by M. Peyron, and in which the same Saib had written a well-informed article (2004, pp. 22-33) on the problem of Tamazight teaching.26 The more so as AUI, situated at Ifrane in the Amazigh heartland has, in an attempt to develop links with the surrounding country, instituted various aid programmes, pioneered Berber studies since 1999 and organised conferences on Amazigh culture. 

 

Cynthia Becker on Amazigh art 

 

Becker is not included in this survey for her failure to do any field-work. Quite the contrary, she carried out several trips into the Tafilalt area of SE Morocco to study the Ayt Khebbash in the field, while the end-result (Becker 2006) is, by and large, a competent account of Amazigh culture and art in the area. The book though, has other defects, pertaining more to lack of experience, the researcher is at a comparatively early stage in her career, and to non-access (for whatever reason) to French language material, together with a failure to net sufficient relevant bibliographical sources, especially on poetry. Her work thus lacks the hall-marks of a comprehensive survey. She complains, for example, that little exists on the Ayt Khebbash, manages to lay her hands on Captain Spillman’s classic and somewhat out-of-date account of the Ayt ‘Atta (1936), but fails to mention an important, more recent paper on the Ayt Khebbash by C. Lefébure (1996). 

 

Becker’s book reveals the extent to which Arabic has crept into Tamazight, a good example being that of awlad laban (‘milk children’), whereas ayt taða would have been more appropriate (2006, p. 4). Also terms like jaltita (‘full skirt’, 2006, p. 80), the same applying to aɛbroq for ‘head-scarf’, instead of the widely documented Tamazight term akenbuš, usually worn with a complementary garment known as tasebnit.27 

 

Her assertion, “in 1930 the French created the Dahir Berbère” (2006, p.6) is erroneous, the Istiqlal having coined the expression themselves, whereas the 1930 dahir was a revamped version of an earlier 1914 text, promulgated by Lyautey, concerning the application of izerf to tribes responding to Berber customs in recently pacified areas (Hart, 1997). Nor can her suggestions of Protectorate-period attempts to Christianize the Berbers be taken seriously, as this would have been impossible under a secular French republic that had firmly separated church from state back in 1904. 

 

The author’s claim that the majority of illustrations are hers is not totally true, there being a sizeable proportion of pictures contributed by Morin-Barde, Jean Besancenot, Addi Ouaderrou, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the National Anthropological Archives and others (including the frontispiece), while many of her own black and white shots are duplicated in colour, either because somebody in charge of DTP botched the art work, or perhaps, in a sales-boosting move, the publishers wanted to go for a semi-coffee-table effort. 

 

 

Poetry-wise she would appear to have read little of the available material devoted to this speciality (Lortat-Jacob, 1980; Roux & Bounfour, 1990; Jouad, 1995; Peyron 1993a, 1993b, 1994, 2000, 2004; Roux & Peyron, 2002); nor undergone sufficient theoretical tuition in Tamazight, though she does appear to have a grasp of the basics of the language. As a result we have sometimes incomplete, non-stylish translations of aḥidus-type songs, while Tamazight transcription throughout remains amateurish and inconsistent. A remark that leads this observer to believe that the texts were not properly vetted by a bilingual scholar conversant with Amazigh poetry. 

 

The author thus wrongly describes the term tamawait (usually tamawayt) as a “wordless melodic phrase” sung between one izli and the next” (2006, p.76), whereas an izli, the basic component of aḥidus-type songs, is a couplet, or distich, certainly not “a single phrase” (2006, p. 88). While her observation may reflect present Ayt Khebbash practice, there is little doubt that tamawayt would be more accurately glossed as ‘traveller’s song’ (lit. ‘what one takes on the journey’ < verb awiy, ‘to take, to bring’). A series of timawayin is usually sung at the beginning of an Amazigh musical evening, preparing for the izlan that are to come after (M. Peyron, 1993, p. 40). There is, incidentally, interesting evidence of Tashilhit influence on Ayt Khebbash dancing with reference to “a new form of aḥidus described as hiwawi” (p. 86) (< ahwawi, or ahwaway = ‘fickle’, ‘impetuous’). In Tamazight means “lecherous”, a description applying to the young hero in the famous Tashilhit epic poem “Hmad u-Namir” (Roux & Bounfour, 1990, p. 202). 

 

Nor have cases of semantic shift been remarked upon. Example:  tagwerramt, glossed as ‘bride’ (2006, p.88), whereas it usually means ‘female saint’. ‘Bride’ is given as symbolic translation for yawudž, though usual meaning of awudž is ‘foal’, ‘young horse’ (Taifi, 1991, p.751), a term applying in Amazigh poetry to both genders. Likewise, igwerramn (= ‘saints’) is glossed by Becker as ‘respectability’, a plausible semantic shift, saints being generally considered as respectable (2006, p. 89 & 195). 

 

Here are some more cases of either incomplete or literal translations, with suggested improvements:- 

 

1) tga almu yuley uldžig ar iġir = ‘Grass and flowers have grown to her shoulders’ > ‘Flowers from fertile green meadow reach shoulder-high’; conveys positive connotation of term almu, a key-word in Amazigh poetry. 

 

2) ak-afeġ a ṣber ig msafaḍn ulawn = ‘Oh patience, I find you when hearts say good-bye’ > ‘Forbearance must hearts show at leave-taking!’ 

3) Term abrid n lxir (‘path of happiness’) not translated in line 19 (p. 101); notion of lxir understandable in context of Mecca pilgrimage. 

4) seg dadeġ s-imal iney-d iyyis yagg-en zar-i yeγr-i = ‘Next  year he will visit and invite me’. > ‘Come next year, shall mount his steed, repair to my side and invite me!’ 

5) Term azaġar = ‘plain’, usually North of the High Atlas (line 30); expression yiwey wasif is a common Berberism, referring to some dogs ‘taken by river’, implying that they were swept away by the strong current (p. 103). 

 

6) Unfortunate choice of Arabic loan-word sebbaṭ (‘shoes’, line 15); Tamazight word idukan would have been equally acceptable on ground of metrics; would also have guaranteed assonance vis-à-vis nearby lexical items ikebran, izbian and lluban

7) ad-izwur ig-aġ ameksa = ‘God leads us and is our guardian’ > ‘May God lead us (me) like a good shepherd’ (p. 105). 

 

8) a yelli = ‘hey, my daughter’ > ‘O daughter of mine!’ (p. 109); in most cases, in fact, the vocative /a/ in Tamazight, need not be translated. 

 

9) Rather than ‘rulers’, igeldan should be glossed as ‘kings’ (p. 113). 

 

10) ur iḥli iwaḍu, should be transcribed ur iḥley i-waḍu to avoid hiatus and convey full meaning (waḍu = ‘destiny’); line 49. 

11) Term taġrart = ‘bag’ is an incomplete translation; actual meaning > thick double-blanket that once filled with grain and sewed up, serves as saddle-bag on pack-mule; line 26 

 

12) riġ ad-d nzur mas-kwn užžy, ay isemḍal n mulay εli =  ‘I want to visit the tomb of Mulay Ali’ > ‘Go I must to Mulay Ali’s shrine, a cure for to seek’; line 34 (2006, p. 196). 

 

 

Conclusion 

 

We thus see how academic research sometimes tends to be conducted in more or less watertight compartments, and with excessive importance paid to theory. Surveys by French social anthropologists of the Berque school, evenly balanced between library research and field-work, appear nonetheless to be “moving towards cultural interpretation”, with emphasis on finding blanket definitions to fit the facts observed on the ground – mere “pigeon-hole classifications for their own sake” – with their attendant fallacies (Hart, 1993a, pp. 234-235). For the most part, French scholars still baulk at accessing English-language sources,28 thus cutting themselves off from valuable material, their post-revisionist American colleagues, sometimes unrealistically displaying a similar aversion (or neglect) for documentation in French (or even Arabic), a factor that contributes in both cases to incomplete, sometimes flawed research. 

 

Regarding most American researchers, while significant material on Amazigh-related topics has been appearing over the past 15 years or so in certain academic journals in Morocco and France, some of these sources have apparently not been deemed worthy of mention.29 Surely, before embarking on serious scientific work, is not the fact of presenting as complete a bibliography as possible one of the prerequisites of such an undertaking? Failure to conduct exhaustive research in libraries and on the Web, or to perform fieldwork in the Moroccan study area, including visits to institutions such as IRCAM and AUI, is inexcusable on the part of international scholars purporting to pen all-encompassing papers on specialist topics such as these. 

 

Notes 

 

* Professor Peyron taught “History and Culture of the Berbers” at Al-Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco (1999-2009); from retirement in Rabat/Grenoble continues to lecture on Amazigh-related topics. 

 

1 – As a rural administrator in the Meknes area, because of his outspoken criticism of the colonial régime, Berque had been exiled in the early 1950s to the Western High Atlas where he wrote what was probably his best book, Structures sociales du Haut Atlas (1955). 

 

2 – Apart from contributions by some of these scholars to Arabs and Berbers,  cf. E. Burke, Prelude to Protectorate (1976); J. Duclos (writing as J. Ougrour), “Le fait berbère” (1962); D. Eickelman, Moroccan Islam (1976); J. Seddon demolishing Montagne’s theories in The Berbers, their social & political oganisation (1973). 

 

3 – Stepping in Evans-Pritchard’s shoes, Ernest Gellner was the leading light of the segmentary school in Morocco during the early post-Colonial period with his famous book Saints of the Atlas (1969) based on fieldwork among the Ihansalen marabouts of the Central High Atlas.  His rival, Clifford Geertz, after studying societies in mainly urban settings arrived at a different theory of a society responding more to person-based patterns (cf. Geertz & Rosen, Meaning and order in Moroccan society, 1979). Both schools of thought were being challenged by the 1990s, especially the segmentary one, but that is another story. 

 

4 – Speaking of patriotism it was particularly galling to Imazighen that their heroic, thirty years’ anti-French resistance in the Atlas Mountains and pre-Saharan regions was not included in the newfangled, Istiqlal-inspired rewriting of Moroccan history. 

 

5 – In his fall 2001 Ajdir speech, the king announced the forthcoming opening of the Royal Academy of Amazigh Culture (IRCAM), which was hailed by most observers as a positive move. 

 

6 – Crawford is arguably the most influential of a new breed of American researcher into matters Berber. Cf. also an article, “Essentially Amazigh: urban Berbers and he global village” (Crawford & Hoffman 2000). Another article on the history of Morccan Berbers (Saad 2000), though more archive- than fieldwork-based, highlights the Amazigh situation in a fairly objective manner. 

 

7 –This obsession with theory can effectively stymie fieldwork or channel it into the wrong direction. The present writer once witnessed a bevy of Grenoble-based geographers discussing research problematics far into the night at a hotel in Immouzzer-du-Kandar (Moroccan Middle Atlas) on the eve of a field-trip to the Bou Iblane area (September 1998). This conversation was continued the next day in the coach that was transporting the party up into the foothills, to such an extent that little attention was paid to the stunning scenery outside. They might as well have stayed put in their hotel! 

8 – For example, among the Ayt ‘Ayyach, Bou Salim al-‘Ayyachi is the famous forbear; for the Ayt Seghrouchn, a simple baraka-possessing shepherd who shrivelled on the spot the panther that threatened to attack his flock; among the Ayt Hadiddou, one important segment claims descent from a common ancestor, Midoul (Laoust, 1932 & 1934). 

 

9 – Examples abound: Tafraout n-Ayt Ouallal in the ‘Ayyachi massif; Almou n-Ayt Ndhir in the Taaraart valley; Tizi n-ou-‘Atta (referring to a brief XVIIIth-century foray by the Ayt ‘Atta) between Ayt Fedouli and Ayt ‘Ammar (Ayt Yahya), etc. 

10 – A well-known proverb firmly separates Morocco’s religious capital from the Souss region (of which the Seksawa is a notional part): “Poetry belongs to the Sous, water to the Tassaout, science to Fez”, (amarg i sus, aman i tassawt, lεilm i fas!”). For this reason it is unfortunate that Lecestre-Rollier should go out on a limb to perpetuate these questionable theories. 

 

11 – Marcy was possibly the wrong candidate for Lecestre-Rollier to pick on, having proved one of the most innovative and insightful Berber scholars the Protectorate period ever produced (Hart, 1997). Today, IRCAM observers such as Mohamed  Chafik and Fatima Boukhris have paid tribute to his work (Peyron, 2005a). There is also slight confusion in the article over Tamazight tribal names: we come across Ayt Nder and Ayt M’tir as if they were separate tribes (Lecestre-Rollier & Garigues-Creswell, 2002, p. 10), whereas this is the same unit; referred to in Arabic as Beni Mtir, in Tamazight as Ayt Ndhir. Nor is it fully clear whether the authors have fully appreciated that u-taða is the singular of ayt taḍa (2002, p. 11). The term for ‘woman’ (tamġart) is misspelled, viz. ‘Tamgart’ (2002, p. 13), while the Arabic term for ‘shame’ (ḥašuma) is used instead of the more correct Tamazight term leḥšumt (2002, p. 15), the case study being about mountain Berber, not urban, society. Nor is a closely-related term lḥiya (‘shyness’, ‘modesty’), mentioned. Minor shortcomings, for sure, but difficult to countenance in an article by Morocco specialists. The bibliography is incomplete, Hart’s 1981 book on the Ayt ‘Atta being listed, but his 1984 effort left by the wayside. 

 

12 – Case of a Tounfit (Ayt Yahya) family who, to hedge their bets, married two of their daughters to men living in relatively faraway villages: one in Tagoudit south of Jbel Maasker; the other finding a husband among their northerly neighbours, the Ichqiren. In both cases, the girls were back under the parental roof before the year was out. Cf. M. Peyron (1996). 

 

13 – Recent bibliographical sources on the history and human geography of the High Atlas are conspicuous by their absence, including Crépeau & Tamim (1986), Benabdellah & Fay (1986), Hart (1993 & 1996), Maurer (1996), Kraus (1997), and several by M. Peyron (1976, 1984, 1992, 1994, 1998-1 & 1998-2, etc.). 

 

14 – Brun and Jaafar paid this writer a visit at AUI in the spring of 2007, but neither party was able to convince the other of the authenticity of their claim to have found the Qala’at. The visitors said they would attempt to visit Zaouit Had Ifrane, but their plans fell through. (The present writer visited El Gara in early June, 2011, but remains unconvinced that it is the genuine Qala’at site.)

 

15 – Discussion with Prof. Pierre Guichard (Lyon-2 University) at the “Maroc des résistances” conference, IRCAM, Rabat, autumn 2004. 

 

 

16 – Discussion with a Moroccan historian, Dr. Mostafa al-Qadery, Al-Akhawayn University, Ifrane, spring 2008. 

 

17 – Discussion with local authorities at Ribat al-Kheir (September 1973) and Tounfit (January 1974). 

 

18 – Or may have been made to feel inferior. One of this writer’s Arabic-teaching Berber friends from the Rif relates how an Arabic-speaking colleague, tried to put him down by asking, “What business has a Rifi like you to profess to teach Arabic!” (Discussion at Al-Akhawayn University, Ifrane, Spring 1998) 

 

19 – Should Morocco subsequently succumb to such dogma, democracy would undoubtedly become a casualty in little to no time, as has already happened, Morocco’s present Istiqlal government having, in fact, banned by decree Adgherni’s Parti Démocratique Amazigh (PDA) in April 2008. 

 

20 – Not exactly new. Similar attitudes prevailed in the XVIIth century, a fact commented upon by C.R. Pennell (1991). 

 

21 – Quite a few of today’s Imazighen think the idea of retaining customary law (izerf), at the heart of the 1930 dahir, was excellent. In fact researchers such as Boudhan & Mounib (1998), Khettouch (2004 & 2005) regret its passing  What is deplored is the manner in which the French authorities presented the problem, not to mention subsequent Berber negationist attitudes that pervaded urban Moroccan circles, together with the generally bad reputation that Imazighen gained as a result of the exercise. 

 

22 –This was achieved by another of the writer’s acquaintances, a certain Al-Johadi, a remarkable scholar of Arabic perpetuating the respectable tradition of the Soussi ṭṭelba, and who personally presented a copy of his Koran to the Al-Akhawayn library in April 2008. While its impact reader-wise may have been minimal, its very existence has proved that a more broad-minded approach in Morocco to this much vexed topic is possible. 

 

23 – There is considerable evidence of this on the Web, especially in a weekly electronic news-letter entitled Tabrat. Furthermore, pro-Amazigh path-side graffiti, some it highly subversive, has been appearing over the past year in secluded nooks of the Eastern High Atlas (Asif Melloul, Tatrout gorge, etc.) as this writer can attest personally, and of which he has documentary evidence. 

 

24 – A typical example: the way a peaceful demonstration in Imilchil (spring 2003) escalated into a riot after the makhzan had refused to listen to the villagers’ complaints about the town’s inadequate facilities, and proceeded to deploy the “heavies”. Similar demonstrations in August 2007 in SE Morocco (Dadès, Imteghren, Tounfit, etc.) likewise led to maxzan repression. 

 

25 – On the other hand, this writer has been informed by IRCAM officials that they have software enabling   conversion of a Tamazight text from Tifinagh into Latin transcription at the press of a button. M. Brett and E. Fentress (The Berbers, 1996, p.280) also refer to the existence of such a device. 

 

26 – In particular, Saib emphasizes the fact that, so far, it has only been visualized by the powers that be as better preparing the pupil for acquisition of Arabic. By consulting Amazigh Days at Al Akhawayn University (2004), Buckner would likewise have read other well-documented papers on Berber identity, the Tamazight teaching issue and Tifinagh, in articles by Fatima Sadiqi (2004, pp. 34-39), Moha Ennaji (2004, pp. 113-130), Mefatha Ameur and Aïcha Bouhjar (2004, pp. 132-138). 

 

27 – This, for example, was widespread among the Ayt Yahya of Tounfit in the 1970-1980 period, though  the practice is now discontinued by many women in favour of the simple Berber head-scarf, or, in some Ayt Sokhman villages further west (Boutferda, Cherket, etc.), of the Islamic-inspired hižab

 

28 – Many French researchers have a rabidly protective and short-sighted attitude to la défense de la langue française, a point that comes strongly home at international conferences, to the point of ignoring papers read in English, or actually refraining from attending the proceedings, apparently to avoid any exposure to that language! This writer, a former regular member of the French AFEMAM research association, can attest that at joint AFEMAM/BRISMES conferences at Warwick, UK (1993), Aix-en-Provence (1999) and Mainz, Germany (2002), this was a most noticeable and regrettable fact. 

 

29 – In Morocco there have been scores of IRCAM publications since 2003 not to mention various conference proceedings on Amazigh-related matters at Al-Akhawayn (Ifrane) AUI; also journals in Europe such as Awal, EDB (Paris) and ROMM (Aix-en-Provence). 

 

 

References 

 

 

 

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