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Sahara Territory



:: MOROCCO AND WESTERN SAHARA ETHNOGRAPHY ::

Morocco and Western Sahara map.

Total population (Morocco): +/- 32 millions.
Saharan population (Morocco): +/- 3,5 millions (11%).
Total population density (Morocco): 72 hab/km2.
Saharan population density (Morocco): 14 hab/km2.
Total population (Western Sahara): +/- 0,5 millions.
Saharan population (Western Sahara): +/- 0,5 millions (100%).
Population density (Western Sahara): 1,9 hab/km2.
Ethnics: 99% arab-berbers, 1% subsaharans and europeans.
Languages: Arabic, berber and french.
Religions: 98% islamic, 1% christian and 1% other.
Life expectancy: 76 years.

Morocco is a country of the Maghreb.

In similarity with Tunisia, Morocco is attractive because of its diverse nature that comprises sea, mountains and desert, combining the influences of the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean and the Sahara desert, and also because of the good roads and good offer of hotels. However, Morocco faces the same problems as other developing countries: the economic development and the demographic expansion (population in Morocco has doubled in the last 40 years). Schooling and employment don't reach the rythm of the population growth. In the touristic cities, slum districts grow with the arrival of people that come from the depressed rural areas, impoverished by bad politics and desertification.

Berbers and arab-berbers are the bulk of the population, while in the southern country are present some negroid peoples, descendants of former slaves. The Western Sahara, a former spanish colony, is a territory administered by Morocco and a focus of severe humanitarian problems, because of the repression that Morocco applies upon this region that aims for its sovereignty. Morocco takes advantage from the resources present in this territory: the coastline, the important phosphate deposits at Bu Craa, and the iron and petroleum deposits in the southernmost region.


Left image: in a typical village of the High Atlas, these cubic dwellings are decorated with austerity and have almost blind walls in an attempt to repel the heat. The rigors of the saharan climate start to be noticeable in this area.

Right image: in the gorges of the oued Dades, the flowering almond trees intermingle with the kasbahs, small fortresses made with reddish adobe whose ruined walls sheltered during long time the sedentary agricultors from the attacks of the nomad raiders.

A typical berber village in the High Atlas. Kasbahs in the valley of the Dades.

Left image: a typical berber village in the valley of the oued Dades. These villages and their environment look picturesque, but when one enters on them, it becomes visible the general poverty of the rural Morocco: constructions are decayed, people looks tired and children may surround us begging for food.

Right image: the berbers inhabit Morocco and the rest of the Maghreb since remote times. Recent studies point that thirteen centuries after the arabic invasion of northern Africa, albeit islamization and arab culture are omnipresent, the genetic of the berber people has been minimally altered. Their ancestral customs stipulate that while the men guide the herds, women have to do a lot of tasks, such as construct, repair, mount and dismount the jaimas (tents used by nomads), to weave clothes and carpets, and to gather firewood and water.

A typical berber village in the valley of the Dades. Berber women and girls from the moroccan Atlas.

The ocher kasbahs built in the valley of the oued Dades were in the past the home of the berber chiefs, acting as true feudal fortresses that served eventually as refuges for the inhabitants of the oases in the event of attacks.

According to the legends of the algerian touareg, their leader Tin Hinan was originary from somewhere on this region.

Kasbahs in the valley of the Dades.

The Western Sahara territory was abandoned by Spain in 1976. Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria proclaimed themselves as defenders of the rights of the native inhabitants, in the hope of dominate the territory. The control of Western Sahara was granted to Morocco and Mauritania and the territory divided, being the northern part for Morocco and the southern part for Mauritania. Moroccan and mauritanian troops occupied this territory and fought against the independentist forces of the Polisario Front, but Mauritania abandoned the territory in 1978 and since then Morocco controls it.

The following images were taken in the refugee camp of Dakhla, located in the algerian province of Tindouf, where the Polisario Front provisionally established the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. Several camps were set in this area and they were named after Western Sahara towns (Laayoune, Awserd, Smara and Dakhla). They were established in 1975 to shelter the people fleeing from the Western Sahara conflict, but 35 years later, the sahrawis were still living there. These camps are governed by the Polisario Front, being administratively part of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. The limited self-reliance in the harsh desert environment have forced the refugees to rely on international humanitarian assistance to survive in the camps. These camps are in fact administered by the women, who take care of most quotidian tasks, being their presence widely visible along the camps. The Polisario Front has attempted to modernize the camps' society, through emphasis on education, eradication of tribalism and emancipation of women.

Summer temperatures in this part of the hammada are often above 50° C and frequent sand storms disrupt normal life. There is little or no vegetation, and firewood has to be gathered by car tens of kilometers away. Only a few of the camps have access to water, and the drinking sources are neither clean nor sufficient for the entire refugee population. Algerian authorities have estimated the number of sahrawi refugees in Tindouf to be around 165000, while the Polisario Front states that around 25000 refugees have settled in Mauritania.

A group of women during a festival in the refugee camp of Dakhla.

Some women walking in the refugee camp of Dakhla. Two girls from the refugee camp of Dakhla.

Morocco And Western Sahara Geography



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