The Moroccan Kasbah du Toubkal & the Imazighen Who Live There

When I hear the name Morocco, what immediately jumps in my mind are the colorful mosaic art, amazing architecture and the exotic smells of Ginger, Turmeric and Paprika spices you find walking down the streets of its lovely capital. But there is much more to Morocco than what meets the eye. Morocco actually has extremely diverse touristic attractions of hidden gems scattered across the country.

Set in the small village of Imlil in the Atlas Mountains range in Morocco, Kasbah du Toubkal is a beautiful Eco-lodge that was restored in 1995 by British traveler Mike McHugo. The lodge has a long history, where it was initially the home of a former caïd (a local baron) in 1937. Since electricity did not reach Imlil till 197, the lodge was rebuilt using traditional tools and equipment, with mules carrying the needed construction material up the mountains.

What’s even more interesting for me is how Kasbah du Toubkal is operated in partnership with the local Berber community, where 5% of revenues are funneled back to the villagers.  To support local development efforts, an umbrella organization called “The Association of the Valleys of Imlil” was created in 1999 with representatives from all the villages in the Imlil valley, giving the region more credibility in implementing local projects and receiving much-needed funds from the domestic and international donation. 

Imazighen Woman
Imazighen Woman

The Association’s first project attempted to resolve the transportation difficulty facing residents of the valley by starting an ambulance and driver service. Activities undertaken by the Association over the years included building a community bath (hammam), support of modern apprenticeships and craft training at the Imlil School, and reinforcement to the flood protection in the village, among others.

Imazighen Flag
Imazighen Flag

The Berber community (or the Imazighen as they prefer being called, meaning free people), are considered the indigenous people of North Africa, who represent numerous heterogeneous ethnic groups sharing similar cultural, political and economic practices. And no, they are not nomadic people. Imazighen are actually village dwellers who survive on agriculture, herding, and trade. The Berber language, Tamazight includes more than thirty distinct languages and hundreds of different dialects.

When I first heard Tamazight music, I was entirely captivated by the moving, romantic sounding language of this culture. One of my favorites is this song by a band called Oudaden founded in 1978 in the Sous region of Morocco. Imazighen languages and culture were banned by the Moroccan government for an extended period. Thankfully this ban was lifted in 2003 when King Mohammed VI started integrating the language in the school system, in an attempt to combine the local community in modern day Morocco.

Morocco alone is home to numerous Imazighen tribes such as the Dades in the North East of the country, and the Mesgita, who live along the rivers in the North West. Shilha – the Arabic word for all Berber languages – includes three distinct groups of Shilha Berbers, the Northern (Rif) Berbers, the Southern (Sousi) Berbers, and the Central (Berber) Berbers.

The term Kabyle originally meant “the tribes,” referring to all groups of Berbers. Nowadays the term refers to two distinct groups, the those living in Al-Quabail Mountains, and the Sousi Berbers native to the beautiful village of Imlil, (with the fantastic lodge mentioned above) located in the Marrakesh Safi province – one of 12 regions in Morocco.

The Sousi or southern Shelha inhabit the high Western Atlas and Anti-Atlas mountains. They mainly work in herding and agriculture, planting only two crops a year as a result of the harsh winter climate. Many members of the tribes migrated to cities – such as Casablanca and Tangiers – where they established monopolies in the grocery business. The Soussi are argued to have strong political influence since their support for the independence from French.

Map of Atlas Mountains

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