- Title: MOROCCO: People of Morocco's Sahara region work hard to keep their culture alive
- Date: 23rd February 2009
- Summary: LOCAL BAND SINGING, DANCING AND DRUMMING VARIOUS OF TOURISTS DANCING WITH LOCAL BAND
- Embargoed: 10th March 2009 12:00
- Location: Morocco
- Country: Morocco
- Topics: Population
- Reuters ID: LVA8K5YFVS098XYF6W80RYNIXYLO
- Story Text: Against all odds, the people of Morocco's Sahara region are working hard to keep their culture alive.
For many centuries, the inhabitants of Morocco's Saharan oases have managed to safeguard their local culture. But now, as young people move to the towns or go abroad, skills that were once passed down through the generations are being lost.
Both drought and desertification are wreaking havoc on local water resources and vegetation. Palm trees, which are vital to the local economy, have dwindled due to neglect and disease as the skilled workforce migrates to the cities in search of better opportunities.
Local Agriculture Ministry official Abdullah Moujib says there are fewer and fewer people left to care for the trees that make life in these oases possible.
"There is a serious problem with the palm trees because the generation which used to take care of them is growing old and the younger generation, the youth, are not interested in this agriculture and prefer to go to the cities or abroad," he said.
But there is some hope. The women left behind have organised cooperatives to help keep the traditions of their ancestors alive.
In small, often self-funded groups, they make local products such as carpets, baskets and couscous.
Chairwoman of Asrir, a women's cooperative for couscous, said the main objective was to empower local women and revive local traditions.
"The main purpose of this project is to develop the rural women and to revive our traditions, mainly in the field of cooking. We also want to show people that the women here in the Sahara are able people," Najia Brabo said.
The majority of Asrir's inhabitants live near or below the poverty line. The women hope to make a living selling their products within their community or to foreign visitors.
Much of the external support for these initiatives come from the government's Agency for the Development of the Southern Provinces.
But local official Ahmed Joumani says there is little they can do to stem the tide of exodus from the stony desert region.
"Oases are facing problems because of the exodus and the lack of communication of knowledge and expertise from one generation to the other.
This is why many traditional crafts that were making these oases rich are threatened today," he said.
Ecotourism has recently increased in the Guelmim Province, providing a much-needed boost to the local economy, but some fear it could threaten local traditions in this socially conservative Sahrawi community.
One Frenchman who has settled in the Tighmert Oasis insists that Sahrawi culture is here to stay.
"I believe that the authentic way of life will be maintained here for quite a while. Things may change after some decades but for the time being, it is an authentic way of life that we like," said Francois Fondorak.
One the largest oases in the Guelmim province, Tighmert is 8 kilometres long and 3 kilometres wide. It is home to about 650 families.
- Copyright Holder: REUTERS
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