Amazigh Poets of the Middle Atlas

Michael Peyron (Al Akhawayn University, Ifrane, Morocco)

This paper purports to demonstrate how bards and troubadours of the somewhat marginalized Middle-Atlas imazighen community are having to adjust to changing times. Just as glasnost and democracy appear to be the order of the day via--vis amazigh culture in Morocco, paradoxically, it is beset on all sides by lethal dangers: administrative delays regarding implementation of Tamazight teaching in schools, the detrimental effects of 'global village culture', not to mention a rearguard action by a segment of opinion to which things Berber remain an unwelcome reminder of the pre-colonial and colonial past.

These difficulties notwithstanding, tamazight poetry still thrives, not only in the traditional village-oriented recital form of poetic couplets, but significantly, in the more elaborate ballad-style verse. While the profane side of this poetry deals mainly with courtly love, and mild pedagogy for everyday purposes, more specialized, professional poets act as a moderately militant mouthpiece for this society, exploring such themes as current events, the iniquity that is rife in the this world, together with celebration of yesterday's heroes, especially those who died during the resistance.

Apart from closely monitored state-run radio broadcasts, these genres are also diffused nation-wide by private musicians, backed by the full force of modern technology. Furthermore, interaction with Arabophone 'shaabi' music works both ways, especially with regard to lexicon. Still firmly rooted in the past, this poetry is nonetheless reaching towards new horizons, literally and metaphorically. Experimentation regarding choreogrpahy, vocalization and musical back-up may, understandably, shock some purists, but it is only at this price that what might otherwise become a fossilized form can expect to survive.

Postcolonial OV discourseov Casablanca Conference

Last modified: 7 May 2001