Day Break, Ahansal Valley
This valley contains perhaps the most intact stronghold of the Amazigh or Berber culture. The three villages nestled in Ahansal Valley have more or less maintained the same bloodline through inter-marrying since the 14th century and as a result have preserved many of the old Berber traditions. Although power lines arrived in 2011, most still rely solely on wood burning stoves to keep them warm and fed. The weak dawn light illuminates the woodsmoke clinging to the valleys.
Aicha, Queen of Tamdakht
Aicha, along with her 14 family members, represent last of the holdouts in this valley on the Saharan side of the Atlas Mountains. To make ends meet, she sells Argan oil products and accepts tips from tourists that sometime wander her way. Generations ago, Tamdakht was a vital caravanersi stop for the camel trains traveling North out of the Sahara. Her riad fortress would have been the first reprieve from the desert the traders would have encountered in over a month.
Assif n Im'Goun, outskirts of Kalaat M’Gouna
As in the past, large market towns like Kalaat M’Gouna are surrounded by small satellite villages. With this particular community, most villagers make a daily commute through the valley and over small lashed branch bridges to sell products made of rose oil to distributors or tourists.
On the Road to Ouaouizeght, Azilal Province
Many far flung roads represent old trade routes that have been graded and sealed. The curves and crumbling shoulders make auto journeys slow and dangerous, but still much faster than the alternatives rural Berbers had in the past.
Abdelghani, Tizi N’Tichka
Despite a robust bus infrastructure within Morocco, many pack six deep in Taxi Kebiras to get to rural villages or over roads that remain in poor condition. These old Mercedes sedans often resemble overladen camels trekking across the Sahara. Goats, chickens, crates, bushels of oranges, nothing is exempt from being lashed to the roof rack. As it is for many other drivers, his profession is a point of pride for Abdelghani, who has been piloting his Kebira for 40 of his 64 years.
Mountain Home, Zaouiat Ahansal
Seen in a long exposure, a truck clambers on a dirt track above a small house. In the High Atlas, cold climates and tradition dictate shelters be built into mountainsides or as low slung mud brick structures.
Ahmed, Aït Gurram Kasbah
Ahmed, like most men during the cold months, wears a djellaba- a hooded full-length gown. Usually marked by traditional Berber motifs and made of camel or sheep wool, they are effective in keeping the body warm in frigid wind and long nights.
Cave Dweller, Todra Gorge
A Berber woman stands on a peninsula of light in front of her cave home on a ridge in Todra Gorge. During winter months in these deep valleys, the sun’s warming rays may only last for a few hours. Similar to the Ahansal Valley, caves have been utilized in Todra for centuries as a shelter from the challenging climate.
Oarsman, Ouzoud Falls
Muddied after a recent flood, Ayube Monsif plies the waters below the falls. Ouzoud, in the Berber tongue, means “the act of grinding grain.” A dozen small mills above the waterfall are still in use, processing grain and olives.
Patriarch of Azlig, Ouarzazate Province
Mohamed and his wife, Ja, have a large family of fourteen children with a gap of more than twenty years between oldest and youngest. One of his granddaughters is older than his youngest daughter. With more grandchildren than he can count, Mohamed’s family sits at the top of the social pyramid in Azlig. Same as centuries ago, local influence is garnered by sinking roots deep and interweaving families.
School Lets Out, Kalaat M'Gouna
In a country that ranks 186th in literacy worldwide, education presents a way out of small village life. These young men wait on the edge of town for a co-op bus reserved for students living further afield that they pay monthly dues to ride.
A trail leads north out of the desert and into the snowy ranges of the Atlas Mountains.
Morning Bread, Azlig
Sadia along with the rest of the women in her family wake before sunrise to tackle a number of chores before the men get up. Every morning except Sundays, Sadia’s responsibility lies with making the bread for the day. It doesn’t get much more homemade than this. The family grows and harvests their own wheat and grind it themselves at the shared community mill. This leavened flatbread is foundational to the Berber diet. Not only is it the main starch, it also serves as a vessel for eating as utensils are not commonly used.
First Born Son, Azlig
Tradition dictates that the family’s first born son be named Mohamed (in it’s vast variety of English spellings). This Mohamed, 17, has many traditional obligations, especially carrying on the family name and legacy. However his primary interests consist of Facebook and the outside world.
Friday Couscous, Azlig
A feast of couscous, pork and beef tripe, and seasonal vegetables is prepared every Friday amongst the Muslim Berbers in the village of Azlig. Fridays, the holy day in the Islamic week, are important for things other than praying. Large meals bring the extended family together as well as community mixing. Often times, members of one family will join another on this day and eat multiple mid-day meals.
Aicha, Queen of Tamdakht II
Standing in a palatial open air family room on the second floor of her towering riad, Aicha expresses how difficult it is to find help and money to repair this massive mud brick structure after torrential rains. This four-hundred year old home, and many other traditional caravanersi riads like it, are susceptible to eroding into the annals of history with the region’s intensifying extreme weather events.
Boy with Slingshot, Tamdakht
Riad towers loom large as a boy peeks around a corner in his playful hunt of cats and birds.
Fields Outside Tamdakht
While the majority of the world has turned to mechanized agriculture, most Berbers still practice centuries’ old methods. On the edge of Tamdakht, two men take turns at the till where either barley or wheat will be planted between the rows of olive and nut trees.
River Crossing, Asif Ounila
A djellaba clad man steps from stone to stone, making his way across this river. Frequent flash floods and a lack of dams to control them make permanent bridges uncommon in Morocco. This is generally not a problem as most rivers are like Asif Ounila, broad and shallow.
Berber on Horseback, Assif n Im'Goun
A man begins his trek home after spending his day in the nearest commercial center, Kalaat M’Gouna. A testament to Berber independence and self reliance can be found in the fact that Morocco ranks 98th in urbanization rates worldwide. This means that unlike many other societies, rural tight-knit agrarian village life carries on.
Ibrahim, Aït Benhaddou
Ibrahim wears a Moroccan Shesh; a style of turban that the Berbers long ago adopted from the desert dwelling Touaregs to combat dust storms. Ibrahim prides himself on the unfailing hospitality of Berbers. Now preserved as tradition, feeding, housing and helping travelers was a system of survival for their semi-nomadic ancestors.
Ibrahim, Sunset Over Tinghir
Coming out of Todra Gorge with a load of fresh clementines, Ibrahim takes a break from driving to take in the last glow of the day.
Fog, Fez Medina
Deep blues and heavy fog inundate the old heart of Fez as a man waits for a taxi to pass. Not only the center of Fez, this fortressed city was once the cultural, religious and economic nexus of the Almoravid Empire. Within these walls, the world’s first university sprung up, influential architectural canons developed, and religious ideology radiated throughout the Arab-Muslim world. Today Fez continues to serve as a cornerstone of Berber cultural identity.
dynasty // berber
Dynasty stems from my own anxiety that the country of my cultural identity is in decline. I look back at what the United States of America once was. A country of constant innovation, independence and above all, a country united in a common pride for what we stood for. Now I see a land divided on many fronts and distracted from seeing a long term vision; blind to our own regression.
Dynasty is a look into the current human condition of cultures that were once empire builders and societies on the forefront of human advancement. Peoples whose ancestors conquered vast swaths of land, amassed extraordinary wealth, and exported ideology to the far horizons. However, as history has proven, even the greatest empires fall. This is a story of the culture that endures and the resilience of the individuals who perpetuate their heritage.
This particular selection of work from Dynasty looks at the Berber (or Amazigh) people of Morocco. Just after the first millennia A.D. during the Almoravid Dynasty, the Berbers controlled much of Northern Africa and Southern Iberia. Their domain was a nexus of religion, learning and commerce. It contained some of the greatest religious minds of their time, the oldest university in the world and vital trade routes through the Sahara. By conquest of neighboring empires they spread the teachings of Allah, architecture, freedom of movement and a common tongue.