A Berber New Year? I didnít know there was one. Apparently their
time-keeping goes back rather a long way.
When I first came to Marocco, the year was something like 1385.
Okay, save the jokes, Iím not that old. In those days Morocco
counted the years from the date Mohammed jumped up to heaven,
leaving a book and a footprint behind. That habit has obviously
gone out of fashion, and Morocco now uses the gregorian
calendar. The berbers do as well, of course, but we are living
in an age when everyone is upset by globalisation, and various
ethnic groups have started to cling desperately to their ancient
customs, often long since abandoned.
One of the things I found absurd in the Basque country, and Iíll
get lynched for saying this, is this obsession with speaking
their own language. A hundred years ago almost nobody spoke it.
Then Franco banned it, which, of course, was red rag to the
bull, and suddenly every local wanted to learn their traditional
language, and now itís everywhere.
I wonder if the berbers are gradually becoming aware of their
identity at a time when they risk losing it. I may be wrong, but
when I stayed with the berbers around Meknes all those years ago
I dont remember them celebrating any new year halfway through
january. In fact, our waiter here at the hotel claims to be a
berber, and he isnít even sure what day is new year.
Because of the confusion over the actual date I looked it up.
Apparently the official date for new year is January 12 this
year. I get conflicting comments from the locals, but when I
check out the history books even they dont agree. We get all
sorts of confusing nonsense, and the date appears to vary over
the course of a week. My assumption is that the date has to
coincide with a full moon, and unless you follow these things
you wouldnít know which was the crucial day. Here are a couple
of quotes from the Ďexpertsí.
"Some historians link it to the enthronement as pharaoh of the
Amazigh king Chachnaq after defeating Ramses III [believed to
have happened in 950 BC]," said archaeologist Mostafa Ouachi,
referencing the Berbers' ancient Amazigh language.
"For others, it corresponds to what is known in Morocco as the
agricultural calendar, celebrated around January 13," said
Ouachi, a professor at Rabat University.
Amazigh is the local name for berber. And this year will be 2967
in their calendar.
We wandered around the small set-up they have here, with the
usual stalls set in white tents, accompanied by singers,
dancers, and the usual traditional crafts and customs. There are
lots of remedies based around the argan nut, and some nice
sweets. I also bought a jar of cactus vegetable.
Let me explain. The cactus known as prickly pear (opuntia),
bears a pinkish fruit around december and january. I dont advise
anyone to pick these things as the outside of the fruit contains
lots of very fine spikes which you canít see, and it is the very
devil to get them out of your fingers. I do speak from
experience. Special gloves need to be worn. You can peel off the
skin to find the flesh inside which is very refreshing. However,
the berbers do cut the stems as well and cook them. These are
slit into strips, and some ended up in my jar looking like
finely sliced young runner beans. I had a helping with my
breakfast this morning. The taste is rather bland, but they are
pleasant. I shanít be hunting for them again though.
I took some pictures of the market which Iíve run together as a
video together with the sound. Iíve loaded it on my YouTube
channel, but a copy should display on this page.
I note Wikipedia claims there is a movement for the berbers to
gain more control over their affairs, and this has led to
violent demonstrations. I dont know where this information comes
from, but seems unlikely. For a start, the berbers outnumber
arabs by a substantial amount so I dont see they have any real
problem about identity. Secondly, they seem perfectly happy with
things as they are. Thirdly, most seem unaware quite what their
customs are, and how they might be at risk.
Despite the politics, New Year is clearly here again, less than
a fortnight after the old one. Thatís fine by me. I get a second
round of fireworks at midnight down on the corniche, plus more
live local music.