This week, in conjunction with the 18th anniversary of the establishment of the Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture, Qalam students were invited to learn about Amazigh culture and language in Morocco through a variety of activities.
More commonly known in the West by the name "Berber," Amazigh people and their culture have been around in North Africa for centuries - since prehistoric times, before the Roman Empire, before the Arabs conquered, and before the influence of Islam. Amazigh people traditionally lived in nomadic tribes throughout North Africa, with varying traditions, dress, and languages.
In more recent years, there have been movements both within the Amazigh community, as well as by the Moroccan government, to standardize an Amazigh language so as to teach it in schools. The Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture, located in Rabat, is run by the Moroccan government and has been with charged developing and recommending Amazigh language lessons for Moroccan public schools. More generally, the Institute works on developing and promoting Amazigh language and culture.
WEDNESDAY MORNING: GUEST LECTURE
The lessons this week began with a guest lecture on Wednesday morning entitled “Amazigh Culture and the Mediterranean Dimension" by Kamal Agha from the Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture.
Kamal's presentation discussed the various manifestations of Mediterranean culture in Amazigh culture. He began by presenting a map that showed the Mediterranean basin, naming each country and touching upon the civilizations that have progressed to the Mediterranean basin countries over time.
Kamal then discussed the forms of tangible Amazigh heritage in Morocco. Tangible heritage, he explained, is the sum of tangible objects of cultural, historical or archaeological nature. He talked about historical buildings, ancient cities, fences and archaeological sites and displayed photos of some of them, comparing them to other Mediterranean countries.
At the end of his lecture, Kamal went on to talk about the presence of the Mediterranean dimension in the forms of intangible heritage, which is the sum of practices and traditions, oral expressions, cooking and traditional crafts. During the lecture, Kamal used examples of Amazigh cooking, folk tales, customs and traditions, and compared them with other countries in the Mediterranean basin.
Following the lecture, the students discussed the ideas of the lecture among themselves in small groups and participated in a Q&A session with Kamal. Their discussion and questions centered around the relationship of religions adopted by the Amazigh people and the relationship of political power with the Amazigh in the countries where they are located.
WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON: THE ROYAL INSTITUTE OF AMAZIGH CULTURE
Later that afternoon, students took a trip to the Institute, where they were welcomed and given a small introduction to the Amazigh language. Then, Kamal (from the lecture) gave a short workshop about the Amazigh alphabet. He taught the students to write all of the letters and encouraged them to try to write certain words, including their names and countries of origin, as well as some Moroccan names and cities.
After the writing workshop, Kamal taught the students how to introduce themselves. Kamal asked each student or teacher participating in the workshop to introduce themselves to the entire group, and then encouraged the students to practice introductory dialogues with one another!
Before leaving the Institute, students explored the grounds of the Institute, including a beautiful outdoor theatre. A few students were interviewed by both the national Amazigh radio and TV stations, too! The link to these interviews will be posted as soon as it is published on their website.
THURSDAY AFTERNOON: ARABIC LANGUAGE CAFE
While not specifically linked to Amazigh culture, this week's Arabic Language Cafe session discussed cultural diversity around the world. Students and Moroccan guests alike discussed diversity in their home countries, and the good and bad aspects that cultural diversity can bring to a country.
For example, Arabic student Mirre from Holland reflected on the different regions and languages in her country that all live together peacefully. Moroccan guests discussed the diversity in language and dialects, clothing, and food throughout the many regions of Morocco. And many Moroccans were quick to point out that the cultural diversity of Morocco is one of its greatest selling points, enriching the culture and encouraging tourism year-round.
But one guest noted that in some countries around the world, cultural diversity can lead to a hatred and violence between groups - or at the very least, racism and sectarian segregation.
Two Moroccan guests argued that, in fact, Arab-Amazigh relations in Morocco are not as good as they seem to be. They suggested that Amazigh people do not have the right to express themselves the way that Arab people do, and that Arab people treat Amazigh people negatively. The other guests at the Cafe adamantly opposed this suggestion, arguing that Arabs and Amazigh people are treated the same, and that all of them are considered true Moroccans.
In the end, everyone at the Cafe agreed that Moroccans generally embrace their cultural diversity, and that any Moroccan who visits a region unknown to him will be welcomed with open arms.
THURSDAY NIGHT: AMAZIGH PRESENTATION AT THE MOHAMMED 5 THEATRE
The Institute invited all students and staff at Qalam to join them for the annual Amazigh event Thursday night, but only a few were able to attend. The presentation took place at the Mohammed the 5th Theatre, where Moroccans from all over came to enjoy Amazigh music and learn more about Amazigh culture.
The event started with an introduction to Amazigh culture, as well as a thank you to the 18 years of service of the Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture.
The rest of the evening included various live musical artists performing in their traditional clothes. There were musicians from the well-known Amazigh regions in Morocco - the Rif region in the North, the Atlas region in the center, the Souss region in the South, and the Hassania region near the Sahara Desert. There was also a group from Mali that presented gnawa, a type of traditional spiritual music that originated in West Africa.
Everyone had so much fun that our Qalam group stayed at the event until past midnight! In that case, it's safe to say that the students enjoyed learning about Amazigh culture.
This type of in-depth cultural immersion was made possible by Qalam's dedicated teachers and Qalam's partnership with the Royal Institue of Amazigh Culture.