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Tinouainane, Morocco

Echoes of Berber culture at the foot of the Anti-Atlas Mountains

Mohammed rides a donkey on the unpaved roads of his village, Tinouainane, Morocco. (photo © Wesley Broome)

The word Tinouainane means "The Place of Echoes." This remote village, perched between the Anti-Atlas Mountains and the alluvial Sous plains, is inhabited by indigenous Berber people, or Amazigh ("free, noble, honest people,") as they call themselves.

In the village, there is an utter silence undisturbed by the modern world. At 5:00am, the call to prayer rasps through the air, followed by the shriek of a donkey and the wailing of a child. A rooster joins in, ringing through the pitch black night in an antiquated chorus.

There are no postal addresses here. Local organic oranges go for 40 Moroccan dirhams a kilo- about 40 cents- in the tiny, cavernous shops. "All are welcome" is painted in Arabic on the faded outer walls of every home. This mountain village is home to people of inexhaustible generosity and deep roots.

An Amazigh Muslim woman rests at the argan oil collective where she works in Tinouainane, Morocco. (photo © Wesley Broome)

An Amazigh Muslim woman looks after her daughter in the village of Tinouainane, Morocco. (photo © Wesley Broome)

The older Amazigh generations, having inherited an imposed religion, do not understand the Arabic prayers that they utter five times a day. Children are taught Classical Arabic and French in school, while holding to a deteriorating language at home. Before 2011, the Amazigh language was not recognized by the Moroccan government. Traditional Amazigh names are still not allowed.

"If you speak Arabic, you are welcome on the radio. If you speak Amazigh, go away," said Houcine, a local teacher. "It's a long fight about our language." As recently as 2001, Amazigh teachers were not allowed to speak their own language with students.

"They do everything they can to kill this language, to make this language extinct," Houcine continued.

In Tinouainane, the few foreigners that visit are greeted in limited French and treated with generosity. If a shop does not have the drink you are looking for, the owner will send his son to check the next store over. The village is self-sustaining, employing women at an argan oil cooperative and growing most of its food in private fields. Water usage is democratically controlled with irrigation canals dating back to the time of the Moors, a method that carried over to the American Southwest and is still in use there today.

Amazigh women laugh while gathered at the argan oil collective where they work in the village of Tinouainane, Morocco. (photo © Wesley Broome)

A woman prepares to splash water in the street outside her home in Tinouainane, Morocco. (photo © Wesley Broome)

Villagers handle argan seeds at the argan oil collective in Tinouainane, Morocco. Goats crack open the hard shells of argan fruit, helping women to process the seeds.

(photo © Wesley Broome)

In the evenings, shepherds bring in their flocks past the only café in the village. Patrons drink mint tea outside while the sound of a soccer game echoes within. A cloud of dust trails the herd of goats all the way up from the Sous plains, where the argan and olive trees grow. The black feet of goats patter on the dirt road, with elderly shepherds lurching alongside.

A light skitters down the narrow path between houses as a young man on a motorbike rides home from prayer. At this hour, men in hooded djellabas squat against mud walls, and women in colorful mismatched fabrics stand gossiping in the dark. An unadorned donkey comes clopping up the road from some unknown destination, passing beneath the orange streetlights into darkness, a lonely spirit.

The Amazigh people in Tinouainane live in utter simplicity and isolation, yet their sense of community and cultural roots are deep. In spite of outside political influences, they truly remain a free, noble, and honest people.

The Louai family enjoys a moment of music and dance at their home in Tinouainane, Morocco. (photo © Wesley Broome)