Nomad Berber Life

April 08, 2007


Berbers call themselves Amazigh and do not even have the word “Berber” in their language. It means “free men” and they are the ancient native people of Morocco, although almost all Moroccans have Amazigh in their genes even if they call themselves Arab.

References to these people occur frequently in ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman sources. Many have lived a similar life for centuries. Not all of what we call Berbers are nomads, as most are farmers, but those that live in this area come from a line of nomads. Sahara means “great desert” in Arabic and it is larger than the 48 mainland states in the U.S.. They enjoyed the freedom of roaming this beautiful but harsh land of unrelenting sun. Our camel driver, still lives in the desert as even the tiny village, has too many people for him.

Hmad, Alessandra’s husband grew up as a nomad in the Sahara with his eight brothers and sisters. They had livestock including goats and camels and would sell some to live. There was some tragedy, I think due to a drought and all their animals died, so they had to come in to where the hotels were in order to survive. He started to learn to do desert treks with tourists at nine years old.

After we returned from the desert,  took a shower, changed and relaxed at our guest house, we were invited for tea at their family home which is a typical Berber/Amazigh home. They built it themselves five years ago, out of mud and straw and they have no running water similar to most of the people in the village as it is very expensive. They have floors made out of earth which they prefer as they like to be able to touch the earth with their bare feet.

Alessandra was a college educated city girl who came here for a desert trek and fell in love with Hmad, married him and had a baby here that they are raising. This is where they live too and since she speaks English (as well as French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese) and understands life from a western perspective, she had some wonderful insights into the culture through living in it.

We had already met one of his young sisters, Fatima who is seven and adorable at Mozart’s concert, but now we met more lovely family members. His 16 year old sister was doing some homework on the floor in the main room and his 5 year old sister was being a typical 5 year old.

It was an archetypal structure made out of straw and mud with bamboo and logs. If there is too much rain, the houses fall down as some did in  a recent winter near the river when it flooded. The mother had made the rugs, just as she had made the original bouviac or tent for the family in the desert that they now use for tourists like us. They weave it from goat hair and sew it together and it is amazingly strong. Since we can not speak Berber or French, we could only use gestures and smiles with the rest of the family except Alessandra.

The camels are housed in a corral area right behind the house with a pen of goats next to them. They had a huge load of hay for food. There is a huge community garden and the whole village uses one rather small community over to bake their bread daily.

It is near there house and Alessandra asked if we could look in and take pictures. It was quite dark and hot inside. Different women have different times to come. The woman baking was the last one to use the oven this day. One can see the brown round loaves in the picture and also the square seats where usually other women sit. It as a social center for women who sit around and gossip while one is doing her baking. They just use branches to turn over and move the bread.

Back at the family home we looked into the kitchen (that is fat hanging from the string that they use in all their cooking) and where they watch TV. Mozart felt perfectly at home just like she was visiting any friends home. It seemed strange to us that so many homes had satellites for TV and yet did not have running water. They had a big bag of dates like most homes and the baby liked to get into herself to get a little snack.

They did have a bathroom and a shower at the house, but had lots of jugs of water that they use and have to collect. The pedals and hole (turkey style) toilet is the one used most in Morocco which are unusual for us, but used in many places around the world including lots in France. Of course, all the riads we went to and even the small lodge in this village where we stayed had American/UK style toilets. So luckily I did not have to use one, but I brought my travel paper folded funnels along just in case.

All through Morocco, one sees women washing in rivers and clothes laid on rocks to dry. They live very simply and have very, very few possessions. It is illegal to teach Berber in Morocco schools as they just teach Arabic and French, but the people speak it in their homes and to each other. I have read that the Berbers were once Christian but most are moslems now.

The other pictures that I felt showed a peek into Berber life was one of our guides working in the desert kitchen, the view of the village taken by DaVinci on his camel and a picture I took out our guest house window of a woman working with a pick ax in the morning while her child watched.

It was very interesting to get to a close up look into their lifestyle and we really appreciated Alessandra’s explanations and their graciousness in allowing us to join them and take pictures. We never got to the tea as we were running late for our next nights lodging that was six hours drive away and we wanted to male sure we were there before dark.











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Very well written :) i am so fascinated by berber people... How did you find the guest house? Did you ask someone to sleep in their home or paid for your stay there? :) when I was in Morocco I arranged to stay in a berbers home in exhange for help with their work :)

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Aren't the Berber people in rural Morocco wonderful, Anna?

I connected with a photographer from Portugal who has lived in Morocco and knows it well ( writes about it on Virtual Tourist) and he connected us to amazing Alessandra and this family.

I wrote more about her here:

This is the simple guest house we stayed in:

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