great, I had half my post written, and then it got erased.. womp. womp.
Anyway, I met my host mother’s mother and “grandma” was sporting tatoos on her face, very common for older Moroccan women. It’s tribal mark of sorts. I imagine that back in the day, “grandma” looked something like this … to her credit she still looks great. The woman is 70 but could easily pass for 50 or even 45… you go girl.
But I digress…
At any rate, I assumed the tattoos were mainly a Berber thing. That plus my host family’s choice of decor led me to believe that she is Berber. I brought the subject up with her.
And she flatly denied being Amazigh (the more politically correct name for Berbers). I left it at that.
That conversation led me think about what I had heard/learned about the Berber identity in Morocco and how fluid it is depending on who you are talking to or about. There are Berber tribes that have Arabic names and the opposite. There are even some Berber tribes that speak Arabic and the opposite is true. One of my teacher’s mothers was from such a tribe.
the Amazigh are the original inhabitants of North Africa (excluding Egypt) it’s safe to assume that most Moroccans are of mixed Berber-Arab heritage. But for a long time, Berber identity, language etc. was suppressed. A few years ago during my first visits to Morocco, the current King changed all that. It’s now an official language, there’s a whole building in the capital dedicated to Berber affairs, the language has been standardized and is being taught in some schools.
I don’t want to make it seem like there is no such thing as Amazigh culture, because there is. There is a significant minority that has this language and culture as it’s primary one. My first Arabic teacher for example, and my current Moroccan Arabic teacher, both speak Berber as their mother tongue.
I write all this to give a certain backdrop to my conversation with my host mom. The Berber identity is contested by some, and even looked down upon by others, I’ve seen it and heard it with my own eyes and ears while here. I sensed it when my host mother was talking about them and flatly denied being one. Of course she wrapped up the conversation with the standard we are all one country spiel. But I nonetheless felt like I had somehow offended her by assuming that she was Berber.
fast forward two weeks and some Berber singer comes on tv, her husband turns to me and says, this is my wife’s language, she is Berber, with the same stupid 5 year-old Arabic for dummies language that he still insists on using with me. I thought I saw a glimmer of resentment in my host mom’s face. I listened to the song, got tired of not understanding anything and said goodnight.
today at lunch, the news in Berber comes on, and she doesn’t change the channel. I ask her, after 5 minutes or so, do you understand this? She looks at me, a bit surprised by the question and says, “a little.” Girlfriend understands a lot more than just a little.
Then it hit me, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen Berber language programming on the tv here. Is my host mom a closet Berber? She told me she’s Arab.
Her uncle, her mother’s brother, is darker than me and has West African features. I guess that makes him an Afro-Arab?
yup, the Moroccan identity is a maze.