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Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Rehamna in Morocco: The Vessel of Bedouin Life

Rehamna in Morocco
A photo taken for the Rally of Morocco 2021 in the region of Merzouga, on October 10, 2021. FADEL SENNA / AFP

Youssef Sharqawi

The Rehamna Province is located at the centre of Morocco, surrounded by four other provinces. In an ever-transforming Morocco, the rich history, heritage, culture, and customs of the Rehamna tribe persisted, which drew the attention of many historians and researchers.

Administrative Divisions

Morocco was subdivided in many ways throughout its history, each with its own characteristics and foundations but were all under the umbrella of national territory planning policy.

The Moroccan government approved the first policy shortly after independence in 1971. The subdivision aimed to decrease regional disparities, reduce administrative and economic centralisation, and elevate the demographic pressure from the Atlantic coast.

Morocco was then subdivided into seven economic regions.

In 1997 a new policy subdivided Morocco into 16 regions, with political, economic and social motives such as: strengthening decentralisation through local governments and encouraging social proximity.

All of that in addition to promoting economic development, keeping pace with globalisation, improving human development and eliminating backward antics.

The 1997 administrative division laid the groundwork for the national territory planning policy.

The 2015 new administrative division was reduced to only 12 regions, divided into 75 provinces, prefectures, and 1503 municipalities.

The difference between a prefecture and a province is that a prefecture is primarily urban and has a greater population than the rural population. One of the key provinces is the Rehamna Province, located in the Marrakech-Safi Economic Region.

The Tribe Origin

The Rehamna tribe started gaining recognition in the 19th century, with their presence in many critical events; a presence that journalists and historians also noted.

Genealogists indicate that “Rehamna” is derived from ‘the sons of Abd al-Rahman’ or ‘the sons of Rahmon.’” It’s how they were referred to before they arrived in Morocco from Yemen, passing through the desert and settling in it. “Rehamna” doesn’t explicitly indicate Moroccan descent because Rehamna are in Upper Egypt, south Libya and East Mauritania.

Accordingly, the Rehamna tribe is an incomprehensible mixture that came to fruition because of social mobility resulting from social, cultural and economic developments such as migrations, wars and the nomadic life itself.

The Rehamna, according to Professor Abdul Rahim al-Otri, is one of the Arab tribes that came to Morocco from the Arabian Peninsula through Egypt and Libya, then to Mauritania and Morocco, before settling in the Marrakesh-Al Haouz Region.

This cross-country migration gave the tribe a mixture of tribal origins and affiliations and created several clans composed of Arab, Berber and African components.

Land and Geography

The Rehamna Province is around 5856 square kilometres and has a continental climate and fewer than 40 rainy days a year. According to the census report of 2004, a total of 437,288 inhabitants resides in the province, 80 per cent of whom are villagers.

The topography of the Rehamna Province consists of the area overlooking the hills in the north, Al-Gantour plateau in the south, and the Al-Boheira plain and a 10 to 20-kilometres mountain range. Despite the location of the Rehamna between the Oum Er-Rbia and Tensift rivers, they aren’t fully utilised since the arable area does not exceed 40 per cent and is limited to two strips in the far south and far north-west.

Farmers begin to pay close attention to the weather forecast around October. The ploughing season begins in early November. Khalifa, one of the farm owners in the Sidi Bou Othmane town in Rehamna, says that everyone suffers from water shortage.

“The drought has caused damage to both land and people. The high cost of ploughing, irrigation and harvesting are affecting the bottom line.” Khalifa added to Al-Jazeera magazine: “This decrease in living standard is paralleled by a rise in the poverty line in Rehamna. However, we will never join the convoys of immigrants to the cities, at least not all family members.”

It’s becoming hard for farming to become the sole bread earner for the Rehamni.

Al-Azeeb: Seasonal Nomad

As is the case for many rural provinces, “Al-Azeeb” is spread in Rehamna. It’s when shepherds leave their home during harvest season and relocate to the fields where pasture is available for their herds.

Along with other shepherds, they set up tents and survive exclusively on food produced by their own livestock, such as ghee, yoghurt and milk.

Al-Azeeb ends when the harvest season is over, and with it, the hay and weeds the goats feed on.

Mostafa, a Rehamni shepherd, told Al-Jazeera magazine: “Al-Azeeb is not optional. It is difficult, harsh and requires perseverance, but the consecutive years of drought in Rehamna almost destroyed our livestock, and we will not stand by and watch.”

In another circumstance, Al-Azeeb can also mean that a shepherd leaves the land where his house is built to a more fertile piece of land. The new land is also either owned or leased, but it needs to have a house, regardless of its size, as long as it’s a roof above his head.

He doesn’t even take his wife, which makes perfect sense, if he will be sharing it with other shepherds.

The shepherds shear their sheep before it gets too hot at the beginning of summer. This yearly ritual is celebrated through festivities and feasts prepared from sheep products.

Quran reciters and women are invited too to cast away the blessing and express gratitude for the yield.

This celebration is called “Dazaza,” a word derived from the act of shearing sheep’s hair.

Basmat the Bedouin Village

Rehamna in Morocco
A mosque in the region of the Rehamna tribe. Source: Creative Commons, Wikimedia, مآثر المغرب.

Around 70 per cent of the residents of Rehamna live in clay houses. They are built using three primary materials: soil, stones and straws, and roofed using wood and reed.

A Rehamni man usually builds his own house, brick by brick. In the Moroccan dialect, the building bricks are called Yajur.

Yajur is made with a mixture of water and hay, and well-sifted soil is added and then mixed well until it becomes homogeneous.

After that, it is placed in Yajur moulds, and the mixture is covered with a small piece of iron called “Al-Mallasa” or by bare hands. The Yajur needs 10 days to dry, after which the construction process begins.

The Equestrianism tradition that the Bedouins are known for is no stranger to the Rehamni culture.

Horses have a material and sentimental value, and festivals and competitions are held to showcase the best equestrian skills.

This competition is called “Tbourida” or “Fantasia.”

According to the Rehamni, horses represent nobility and chivalry and are a blessing to the household even when drought and high prices halt the celebrations for several years.

They believe things are getting better. Horseback riding and Tbourida are not exclusive for men, and women too can be good at it.

A Rehamni team won the national gold award in the Young Knights category.

Art and Women: Two Sides of Resistance

The Rehamna tribe is famous for their Bedouin musical style called “Aita,” which translated to a “Call” in the Moroccan dialect.

The object of interest of this art is to call upon the members of the tribe to awaken their enthusiasm and sharpen their resolve. This name remains unchanged after so long.

Both men and women engage in this art, although women are better at it; their skills are honed by the hardships of life in the village and singing Aita to carry them for the rest of the day.

In the Rehamna tribe, unlike other tribes, the women famous for Aita are more than men, and among the icons is Sheikha Saadia Naqira.

Some of the most viral Aita videos are hers, like the one that chronicles the battle of Sidi Bou Othmane in 1912 between the French army and Ahmed al-Heiba’s resistance army.

The latter was defeated, as the song goes, “Where are you Bou Othmane?” and continues to lament the defeat of the Rehamna and the massacre the French committed soon after.

The Rehamni woman is keen to express her aesthetic touch through carpet weaving, which is one of the identifying marks of the tribe.

The women of the tribe take weaving rugs or “Zrabi” as they learn from an early age how to spin wool for knitting and prepare threads for weaving carpet.

Through this art, women breathe their ideas on canvas. They celebrate life and its colours, family, community, tribe, land and authenticity.

The Rehamna tribe remains, through its entire history, one of the most prominent Moroccan tribes. Between their nomadic lifestyle and the Moroccan independence, they were at the heart of the political discourse, with its diverse mixture of multiple affiliations and ethnicities and its open field that invites expansion, transition, integration and assembly.