Berbers of Morocco - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. The agnatic lineage or patrilineage (Rifian: dharfiqth; Imazighen: ighs; Ishilhayen: afus) was, until after Moroccan independence from France and Spain in 1956, the basic social unit, with a depth of four to six generations in the Rif and of only four among the Imazighen (see "Kin Groups and Descent"). Among the latter, however, it was corporate in character, which was not, or not always, the case in the Rif. In the latter half of the twentieth century and particularly since the 1970s as a result of labor migration, the patrilineage has been overshadowed in importance by the nuclear family. Above the patrilineage is the local community, and above this the tribal section (Rifian: rba' or khums , Imazighen/Ishilhayen: taqbilt), and finally the tribe itself. Within certain Moroccan tribes in precolonial times, sections were grouped together to form five primary units of "fifths" ( khamsa khmas )—as among the Aith Waryaghar of the Rif and the Ait 'Atta of the Saghro and Central Atlas—which might differ widely from each other in terms of function; however, except in southern Morocco and the Presaharan oases, there is no formal hierarchy, and indeed among Berber lay tribesmen everywhere there has always been a fierce egalitarianism. In the south, holy lineages descended from the Prophet Mohammed (very numerous in Morocco, even among Berbers) form a top stratum. The mass of lay and illiterate White Berber tribespeople form the middle stratum, and the many residential clusters (or qsur) of haratin —sedentary Black date-palm cultivators, some of whom stand traditionally in a clientage relationship to specific Berber tribal sections—form the bottom one. This precolonial social stratification, however, is today turning into a class system based mainly on wealth and economic considerations.

Political Organization. In the precolonial Rif, the highest unit of political integration was the tribe ( dhaqbitsh, which like "taqbilt" is derived from Arabic qabila ), although as a unit it was invoked far less often than the section (rba' or khums). A three-tiered system of representative councils ( aitharbi'in, agraw ), for the community, the section, and the tribe, respectively, was convoked as needed and generally met in the suq in any case. The councillors (Rifian: imgharen ; sing. amghar ) were always tribal notables. As of the late nineteenth century, the choice of top tribal quyad, although generally ratified by sultanic decree, tended to confirm local strongmen in their positions. Among the Imazighen tribes, annual elections for chiefs at the tribal, sectional, and community levels were held in spring through rotation and complementarity of participant sections. Each year, it was the turn of one of the sections to provide the chief; its members sat apart, and members of the other sections selected the chief from among them. The chief's badge of office was a blade of grass that the electors placed in his turban. Among the Ait 'Atta, this procedure took place, until final "pacification" by the French in 1933, at the tribal capital and supreme court seat of Igharm Amazdar, in the Saghro. Given the egalitarian ideology, the top chief, or amghar n-ufilla, like the lesser chiefs, had little power and could be removed from office before his year was up if he were deemed unfit in any way, or if the year in question had been a bad or calamitous one. Conversely, if he were an able leader during war and if under his term of office the harvest had been good and the sheep had grown fat, he was likely to stay on for another year, or even longer. Today tribes have been nominally eradicated administratively, and the tribal sections have given way to the rural commune, but the communal councils are still elected and representative bodies that meet every week in the markets to deliberate on local issues.

Social Control. In the Rif and elsewhere, the sectional council was competent to handle most misdemeanors, such as theft or land disputes, but woundings and murders generally fell under the competence of the tribal council ( aitharbi'in n'tqbitsh ). Prohibitively heavy fines ( haqq ; lit., "truth, right") were imposed by the council members on anyone who committed a murder in the market or on any path leading to or from it on market day, the day before it, and the day after it. In all Berber areas, especially among the Imazighen, the most effective and drastic form of sociopolitical control was the collective oath (Tamazight: tagallit ), in which a man accused of any crime had to attest his innocence backed up by his agnates. One did this in front of a saint's shrine, with the number of agnates, as his cojurors, varying with the gravity of the offense. Supernatural sanctions of death or blindness in the event of perjury acted as a powerful incentive against swearing falsely. Although bin 'Abd al-Krim decollectivized Rifian oaths in 1922, they persisted in the Atlas until the end of the colonial period, with the rescinding of the Berber Dahir. By colonial times (after the Rifians were defeated in 1926), vengeance killings became far less common than they had been prior to 1921; these cases were handled by the courts of the protecting power. The qa'id's tribunal heard lesser cases and the qudat were concerned with torts. Since about 1986, customary law, now under the aegis of local specialists, has been reintroduced in embryonic form in most Moroccan Berber tribal areas, and this development is evidently looked upon with favor by the tribes in question.


Conflict. In the precolonial Rif in particular, both blood feuds (between lineage groups) and vendettas (within lineages, and generally between brothers and their sons) were endemic. Among the Aith Waryaghar, the latter outnumbered the former by about two to one: of the 193 conflicts recorded by Hart (1994) for the period from approximately 1880 to 1921, 122 were vendettas as opposed to only 71 feuds, indicating the lack of a corporate base in the Rifian lineage. Alliance networks, called lfuf (sing. liff ), conceived as equal in size but usually not so in fact, either embraced whole tribal sections or cleaved them in two, but essentially they did not extend beyond individual tribal borders. However, given the emphasis on corporate lineages in the Imazighen, and possibly the Ishilhayen regions as well, the emphasis here was on feud. Feuding was partially responsible for a degree of dispersal of individuals, given the fact that it was customary for a murderer, with or without his coresponsible agnatic kinsmen, to flee from home and seek exile in another tribe. In all regions, however, the resolution of conflicts between groups was the work of imrabdhen (sing. amrabit ) or igurramen (sing. agurram ), members of holy and generally charismatic lineages descended from the Prophet; conflict mediation between lay tribesmen was part of their stock-in-trade.


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