Everything You Should Know Before Visiting A Berber Village In Morocco
Visiting a Berber village in Morocco is a must and whether you just go for a short time or, like I did, spend 5 full days hiking through the Atlas Mountains, you're bound to have an incredible time.
The good news is going to the Atlas Mountains to visit the Berber tribes in Morocco is very easy. Amizmiz, one of the largest towns at the base of the Atlas, is just one hour drive and from there you can quickly get to the smaller villages.
However, there are some few important things you should know about the Berber culture before you visit.
In this post, I will explain everything you need to know before visiting a Berber village in Morocco and share a few tips so that you can make the most of your time during your visit.
13 Things To Know Before Visiting A Berber Village In Morocco
The actual name of Berbers is Amazigh.
The official name of Berber tribes in Morocco is actually a word which means "free people."
The name Berber derives from the word "Barbarian" and in general the Amazigh don't like to be referred to as Berbers. In reality, the word Barbarian derives from the Greek "barbaroi" or the Latin "Barbari" and in the common use during the time of the Roman Empire it meant "foreigner" and was used to refer to anybody who was not from Rome, and not intended in an insulting way. The Arabs used it to refer to people who spoke a language other than Arabic. Please note I am only using the word "Berber" for purely simplicity reasons, and that I do not attach to it any negative connotation.
They are more than 15 millions in Morocco.
The Amazigh are scattered across Northern Africa, where they are more than 50 million, and around 15 million of them live in Morocco.
Though most Amazigh also speak Arabic, in reality their language is Tamazigh, of which there are several dialects and varieties.
The language was officially recognized with the new Moroccan Constitution in 2011, but to date no law that implements the changes and that pushes for the use of Amazigh in public life and education has been passed. On occasions, some people who have spent time in France they speak French - but in general you will need an interpreter and a local guide to be able to communicate with the Amazigh.
They live a very traditional life.
The Amazigh main source of income is agriculture and cattle farming. Most men are shepherd and move around with their animals in search of pastures. At times they are gone for days and even weeks with their animals. Women usually look after the children and the house.
Both men and women wear traditional clothes and they are Sunni muslim.
Though most Amazigh live in very modest clay houses with little comforts, with time some have managed to build bigger homes with modern touches. Electricity made it to this part of Morocco no more than 10 years ago, and running water at times is not a thing.
A typical house consists of a kitchen and several rooms which are often scattered around an internal patio - one of them is a living room, with lots of stools and couches: this is where guests are welcomed. The bathroom is usually very modest and consist of a squat toilet and a sink (at times there's not even that). The most comfortable houses have a hammam, which is what the Amazigh use to traditionally wash themselves.
They eat with their hands.
One of the best parts of visiting a Berber village in Morocco is trying local food and eating with local families. The Amazigh don't use cutlery and dishes for their food, but typically eat out of the clay pot used to prepare the food - the tajine - scooping up the food with bread. When eating couscous they use a spoon.
They don't drink alcohol.
Since the Amazigh are Muslims, they don't drink alcohol so don't expect to see any wine, beer or liquor during your visit - whether for a day or longer.
But tea is poured at any time of day.
The one thing that is constantly pouring in Berber villages in Morocco is tea. It's not even remotely close in taste to what you may be accustomed to, and it is serious business here - the procedure to prepare a proper pot of tea is quite elaborate and the end result absolutely delicious. You will be able to try the typical mint tea or an even more fragrant tea with herbs.
The Amazigh love their tea with lots and lots of sugar, but if you - like me - aren't a fan of the sweet flavor, you can ask to pour yours before sugar is added.
People are very welcoming.
The Amazigh people are incredibly friendly. Whether you visit one of the wealthiest family or one of the more modest ones, they will make it a point to welcome you with tea, snacks, and to show you around their house. On some occasions, they will even show your their best dresses and ask you to try them on, and then pose for photos with you.
Amazigh children are absolutely adorable.
Amazigh people have lots of children, and these are absolutely adorable and during a trip to the Berber villages in Morocco you'll have plenty of opportunities to interact with them. As soon as they realize there's a visitor in the village, they'll come running and make a show of their best tricks, engage you in a game of soccer, pull you by your hand to take you around the village and show you to their family and friends. They will be all smiles and hugs and will make your time even more memorable!
They are just as concerned as we are about climate change.
The Amazigh may live an isolated life in the remote villages of the Atlas Mountains, but they are not oblivious of the main issues the world is facing. On a conversation with a local shepherd in the village of Tizzga, it emerged that climate change is a major cause of concern, with people worried that with desertification and heat they won't have pasture for their animals and they will lose their means of livelihood.
To the Amazigh, mules are a means of transportation.
Mules are working animals to the Amazigh and when you'll visit you will notice that a lot of them are charged with weights or that that people ride them. Please keep in mind that using mules for work purposes is part of the local culture, and that these animals are nicely treated and well taken care of - it's in the interest of their owners to make sure that the animals are healthy and fit to work.
Waste disposal is very much an issue.
Although it is doing much better than its neighboring countries, waste disposal is very much an issue in Morocco, and even more so in the Berber villages of the Atlas Mountains where there is no garbage collection system. You may not notice if you just visit for a day, but there are large waste dumps close to the villages and people often set them on fire, with terrible consequences for the environment and their health.
My hope is that policies to reduce plastic waste, as well as garbage collection and recycling policies are implemented as soon as possible.
Berber villages in Morocco are actually very safe.
We often hear people express their worry that Morocco is not exactly safe and people who have visited say that they have been victims of scams. I can't comment for the cities - I didn't spend enough time in Marrakech. But I can tell you that the Berber villages of the Atlas Mountains are absolutely safe and the people nothing but nice.
As the Amazigh people of Morocco are usually Sunni Muslims, both Berber women and men are dressed very modestly, with women covering their head and men usually wearing a long sort of coat that goes all the way to their ankles.
Although you won't be required to cover your head, it's definitely recommended to be dressed modestly regardless of the weather, covering your shoulders and chest, wearing long pants or a long skirt and avoiding anything that is too tight and revealing.
Get an excellent guide.
You shouldn't be visiting a Berber village in Morocco independently. This is not for safety reason: the villages are truly lovely places and the people are kind and welcoming. But the language barrier is such that unless you get someone that speaks the local language you won't be able to make much of what you see and experience.
Importantly, you need not only to have a guide, but to have an excellent one that proactively talks to the local communities, that is willing to act as an interpreter, and that has a real interest in informing you about the culture and customs of the Amazigh people.
This may seem like an obvious kind of tip, but I only too often seen guides that were not really interested in what they were meant to do, and this diminished the experience. Make sure to enquire locally for a recommended guide, or - should you decide to book your trip the the Berber villages in Morocco online - take your time to go through the reviews.
As soon as you get to the first Berber village, you will realize that there are many children, and that these are just as curious about you as you are about them. They will run after you, pull you by your hand so that you can go play with them, show you with pride to their friends and family. In some cases, they will ask you for small things - pens, candies, treats.
If you are thinking about bringing some presents for the children, enquire with your guide beforehand to get an idea of what may be some good options.
In general, I do not recommend bringing anything such as candies, chocolates or other kind of snacks - for two main reasons: most of the time these are wrapped in plastic, and the kids will just throw the wrap anywhere they happen to be, a lot of children in this part of the country have teeth issues (I have seen a good deal with major cavities).
If you don't have the opportunity to consult with your guide before visiting, consider bringing a book - something that they can read or that they can use to write and study. You can even donate books to the local school.
Buy locally made souvenirs.
You won't find many shops when visiting a Berber village in Morocco. You will however come across places such as women cooperatives where you can see them brushing and preparing the wool and even making carpets. These are really inexpensive and truly local souvenirs and buying them will certainly bring a small contribution to the welfare of the local communities.
Make sure to carry some spare change and enough cash in case you have an opportunity to shop!
One thing you will notice the minute you'll get into a Berber village in Morocco is how friendly people are - men, women and children will all smile at you, and you should do the same. It's the first means of communication and it's a nice way to break the language barrier.
On an occasion I even had a woman hugging me - it came completely unexpected, and it was such a genuine gesture that I was truly touched.
If you have time and want to have a more in depth experience of the Berber culture, you should consider joining a long distance hiking trip like the one I did.
My hike was organized by Nomadic Tribe, a new tour operator which strives to allow travelers to have real and at times raw experiences with indigenous communities around the world, and to do so in a manner that is responsible and completely supportive of local communities.
During the hike, you'll be able to appreciate the gorgeous landscape of the Atlas Mountains and you will be visiting various villages, with a chance of encountering the Amazigh people, visiting their homes (and in fact, sleeping in their houses) and sharing a bit of their daily life.
Legal Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Nomadic Tribe during my trip to Morocco and I was thrilled to be one of the first to test this itinerary. Needless to say, the views expressed in this post remain my own.
Claudia Tavani https://myadventuresacrosstheworld.com/ via @clautavani