Berbers of Morocco - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Except for the transhumant Imazighen tribes of central Morocco, Berber groups traditionally consisted of sedentary subsistence agriculturalists, although a limited transhumance has been reported for parts of the Western Atlas. In the Rif, a wide variety of crops was grown, albeit on a much lesser scale: in particular, barley and wheat, plus maize and broad beans, supplemented by fig, olive, almond, and walnut trees. Kif ( Cannabis sativa ) became a semilegal cash crop on the western fringe of the area only after independence. Almost every family has a cow, a few goats and chickens, and a mule or donkey, as well as the ubiquitous guard dog. Being transhumants, all the Imazighen tribes have sheep, and the southern ones also have camels for transport. For plowing, two cows or a cow and a mule or donkey may be yoked together; lending of individual animals by one farmer to another for plowing or threshing is the norm. Crops grown by the Imazighen and Ishilhayen differ somewhat, but wheat and barley are still staples. Turnips are common in the higher mountains, and, in some areas, apples and potatoes have, since the mid-1980s, become cash crops, which are trucked to Marrakech and elsewhere. Since 1970, however, traditional agriculture, in the Rif in particular, has been disappearing as Moroccans and Algerians have continued to swell the ranks of industrial workers in Europe.

Industrial Arts. In the Rif, important traditional crafts were blacksmithing, pottery, basketry, and utilitarian woodwork such as plow handles and yokes. Blacksmithing was done by members of a totally endogamous, low-status occupational group from one tribe, the Axt Tuzin, which also provided low-status musicians who doubled as mule and donkey breeders. Women made pottery by hand in the Rif, but low-status, endogamous Black men used the pottery wheel in the Atlas (the same group that provided the blacksmiths of southern Morocco). There is strikingly little economic specialization in the region at large, however, and local men do craft work as needed. Only blacksmithing and, in the Imazighen and Ishilhayen areas, pottery making carry occupational stigmata. Silversmithing and packsaddle making, occupations formerly practiced by rural Jews, did as well, but all the latter migrated to Israel shortly after independence.

Trade. All trade in rural North Africa is carried out in the suq (market), found in almost every tribal territory of sufficient size and named both for the day of the week on which it is held and for the tribe in whose land it is located. Large tribes, like the Aith Waryaghar of the Rif (who are unique in North Africa for having special women's markets, without economic value, which are forbidden to men), may have several markets held on different days and in different tribal sections, whereas in the Imazighen region markets are often located not in the centers of tribal territories but on their fringes, as among the Ait 'Atta. Local and European goods could be bought or sold at most markets during the colonial period, when markets also became effective centers of tribal control by the colonial power. Since the postindependence upsurge of labor migration to Europe, however, many Rifian markets have now become full-fledged urban centers where, even in the 1960s, such items as transistor radios were readily available, since replaced by color televisions.

Division of Labor. In precolonial times, feuding and warfare were everywhere male occupations, as is true today of agriculture, driving animals, and, very occasionally, hunting. Women do all the housework (except for making tea for guests, a male occupation) and perform two agricultural tasks: helping the men with the harvest and taking newly cut grain in baskets to the threshing floor. Men build the houses but women whitewash the walls and blacken and smooth the floors, bring in manure to the collective manure pile, milk the animals, and fetch water and firewood. Poultry and rabbits are also exclusively female concerns. Marketing was traditionally a man's job, but, even in colonial times, poorer and older women could be seen vending at market stalls, and today women are as numerous in the markets as are men. Smaller boys and girls both herded goats on the slopes, and girls tended younger children. At home the sex division of labor has remained much as it was traditionally, but both sexes have become exposed to more varied occupational opportunities. Greater emphasis on schooling has made small boys especially less available for household chores.

Land Tenure. Agricultural land is traditionally inherited patrilaterally throughout Morocco, but whether or not it is divided up among sons on their father's death or remains in indivision is a question that, in most cases, must be resolved on the spot. As land in the Rif is a scarce resource, Rifians tend always to divide it; conflicts and feuds over landownership were inherent in their social structure, whereas transhumant Imazighen were more inclined to remain in indivision. Land closest to settlements is, in all areas, generally used for agricultural purposes, with or without irrigation; land farther away is used for grazing and tends to be held by the community in indivision. In addition, a very few communities in the Rif, and probably in the Anti-Atlas, have some habus land, donated by individuals to the local mosque or pious foundation for religious or charitable purposes, although this last is much more an urban than a rural phenomenon.

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