Marrakech Part 2; Moroccan Woman and Berber Man

Rue Bab Agnaou
Marrakech is one of those interesting people watching cities I have ever been to. From any cafe or restaurant situated on either side of Rue Bab Agnaou, the main pedestrian (that includes motor scooters and bikes) artery leading into the Place Jemaa El Fna and the Souks, you can while away hours in the sunshine or under stars over a A$1.20 cup of coffee or a  A$7.00 three course meal and enjoy the slideshow. For a new show all you need do is change where you are sitting, the cafe or the Rue, to some other part of the Medina de Marrakech. Each location has its own virtual personality

My most prominent observation of the streets in Marrakech was that they are a domain that belong to the men. I’m only guessing, but I would hazard at 70-80% of the pedestrian traffic in Marrakech would have been male. This statistic was most notable in the souks, cafes, restaurants and majority of the retail outlets in those locations that you could access on foot. Any cafe or restaurant within one hundred metres of a mosque or citadel would be totally inhabited by men unless some western tourists happened into one of these ‘men only’ establishments without taking too much notice of the clientele present. Women solely operating a retail outlet were the exception.And just as noticeable was the quality of the service from these businesses and the lack of hard sell tactics.

Where we bought our Moroccan fabrics
Of the thirty five million people living in The Kingdom of Morocco, ninety nine percent are of Arab-Berber origins. Islam is the dominant religion with 0.2 percent of the population being Jewish. The cultural diversity throughout old Marrakech is obvious and on the surface, tolerated. The Berber people lived in Morocco long before the arrival of Arabic tribes. The Berbers still maintain their own language although it is not recognized by the Moroccan government, and keep alive their traditional customs and music.

Traditional Berber cape

The main roads throughout the Medina overflow with aging, cream coloured, diesel Mercedes Benz taxis, donkey drawn carts, horse drawn carriages, motor scooters and 100 cc motor bikes and pedestrians. Outside the walls of the Medina the new style, Moroccan designer housing districts have sprung up, complete with billboards, western brand name shopping centres and parking bays filled with modern European cars. Motor scooters and bikes still appear to be the dominant form of transport outside the wall for residents to get around. One of our drivers told us a story about Muslim women but I don’t think it  is appropriate to repeat it here. The content of the story may, however, reflect a dominant attitude of a patriarchal society.

Jo and I managed to meet and talk to a few local women on our travels through the city and adjoining rural landscape. While Jo was waiting to have henna tattoos put on her hands we met two groups of young women. One group were from a small village between Casablanca and Marrakech. They were interested in finding out where we were from and our opinions so far of Marrakech and Morocco. They had travelled to Marrakech for a pampering stay at a day spa and shopping, apparently something which Moroccan women love to come to Marrakech and do. They were outgoing and only too happy to share about their opinions and views on a range of subjects. The other group were students from a school in Casablanca who had been snow skiing in the nearby Atlas Mountains the day before. We spoke with the daughter of their teacher. Her name was Khadija. She is currently studying Economics and Business at a university in Casablanca and offered to show us around Casablanca if we had time to visit there.

The women from the village outside Casablanca
The girls from Casablanca
Jo with the henna artist
Our only venture out of the walled part of the city took us up into the Atlas Mountains via Route d’Ourika. On the way through we stopped off at a traditional Berber trading market, the Berber Eco Musee in the ancient village of Tafza ( and also called into the village of Askine. We had a guided tour through the Eco Musee by a local Berber man. The explanation behind the designs that are created on traditional Berber rugs by the women of the villages and the local history was totally fascinating. The similarities in the symbols used by the Berber, South American cultures  and Australian Aborigines were striking. Traditional Berber living in these villages still have a strong family focus and each women creatively tells her personal story in the rugs she weaves.
The dentist

Berber weekly markets

Berber chicken man

Further up the road to Ourika we stopped in at the village of Askine where a women’s co-operative known as Aitma Sens has been founded. This co-operative employs most of the women in the village processing locally grown argan nuts. On site in the village they extract the oil and use it to produce a range of natural cosmetic products. The village women are involved in all aspects of the business from the picking to the marketing, product demonstration and sele to the public at the Aitma Sens centre in Askine. The Berber woman who showed us through the centre told us that she loved the opportunities that she now had as a member of the women’s co-operative. She also said that she felt the current Moroccan king and the new realization of their people towards a working democracy has improved the situation for Moroccan women.

Tatza - Traditional family hamman

Women's co-operatice Askine

Another woman Jo and I met owned a French style clothes boutique in the Qzadria district of the Medina. Originally from Provence in France she is now married to a Moroccan man and has lived in the Marrakech Medina for six years. This lady explained how she has worked hard at being successful in her little business but she was still a minority in a male dominated retail interface. She also felt that there was progress being made for women in Morocco but it was only on the beginning of the road forward. Yes, the King had good qualities and a genuine respect for women. Yes, corruption by politicians and government employees and the ill-treatment of women had been exposed. But still many class issues remained in Morocco and no matter what political changes had taken place, women were not in the same class as the men. The word subjugation comes to mind.

The lady from the boutique
Jimi from a cafe where we had lunch

Walking through the splendors of the narrow streets of the Medina I couldn’t help but notice the women sitting forlornly on the paving stones with their children. Many women, with black eyes and broken lips and sad children, begging in rags for food, while further down the the twisted lane ways sat many men in the cafes near the citadels, drinking coffee, laughing and getting fat.

And to finish on a more harmonious note try this Moroccan music mix over a glass of Marrakech mint tea (now also available in a Lipton's tea bag)


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