Category Archives: Moroccan traditions

Tanneur!! Tanneur!!

Here’s the tanner, or at least the tanner pick-up service guy, making the rounds in my neighborhood. The morning after Eid el-Adha, I heard him calling “tanneur! tanneur!” from the street, and took this picture.

I wonder how he keeps track of each sheepskin. How does he manage to get them all back to the right family?
**update: see Comments for clarifications by my classmate Anass**



Filed under day in the life, Moroccan traditions, pictures

The Big Holiday

Eid el-Adha is the holiday of sacrifice. Families each slaughter a sheep if they can afford it, and even if they can’t, as a sign of sacrifice to God. It’s also referred to as Eid el-Kabir, or the Big Eid, as opposed to the “small” one at the end of Ramadan. “Eid” simply means “holiday.”

Practitioners of Islam, Christianity, or Judaism might remember the story of Abraham, who was prepared to kill his own son as a sign of his complete trust in God. At the last possible moment, God asked him instead to sacrifice a sheep, and so here we are.

* * *
After morning prayers, my friend’s family came to pick me up at my apartment and take us all to my friend’s grandmother’s house. Everyone in the car, and in the street, was decked out in especially clean, if not new, jellabas, caftans, and at least in the case of and eight-year-old cousin of my friend’s, a sweet suit. I wore black pants and a button-down shirt—not too fancy, but clean at least. Right before lunch, I was urged to change into something “more comfortable,” which is how I ended up wearing an awesome purple caftan that my friend just up and gave to me at the end of the day.

What about the sheep?
By 10:30, the three sheep on the rooftop terrace of the family’s house were very much alive. They had only been around for a week at most, but there was already the “nice” ones and the “mean” one. Later on, we could still tell which one was which by their heads.

Islamic law in regards to halal butchering requires that animals be treated humanely leading up to their slaughter and in the way they are killed. As the first sheep was led away from the other two and the uncle/butcher checked the sharpness of his knife, a barrier was put up so that no sheep would witness the fate of the others.

The family washed the surface around the rooftop drain and prepared buckets and basins of water. The process of slaughter and butchering is messy, long, and very labor intensive for everyone.

I was around to take the obligatory picture of the first sheep right after his throat was slit, although I couldn’t watch the cut being made.

I only saw the next steps later in the day in videos taken by an aunt. The carcass is hung up, skinned, gutted, its intestines and organs washed, its limbs cut off.

In one video the uncle says, “She hardly saw anything at all!” And an aunt responds, “Maybe she’s too sensitive to watch the whole thing. Maybe. Mumkin.” I understood that last word clearly, but my friend translated the rest.

It was a little much for me. I’ve watched my grandma on her farm in France slaughter chickens and I was never really that into watching the entire process.

The first bites of the sheep were delicious. The liver was grilled, probably no more than a half hour after it came out of the animal. Then it was cubed, rubbed in cumin, wrapped in a strip taken from one of the sheets of fat that had been hung out to dry, and grilled once more. The resulting kabobs were super delicious, and I had two.

A half hour later, though, maybe under the effect of so much meat and fat at once, I was nauseous. The once kind-of-novel carcasses and severed body parts were suddenly very, very gross to me.

Eid in the streets
So I went on a walk with my friend through her grandma’s neighborhood to get some exercise and a little fresh air.

Well, not fresh air. Every other block or so, a group of guys were making a few Dirhams tending to a bonfire where neighbors came to have their sheep heads and legs roasted.

My friend suggested that the scene—closed shops, bonfires and smoke everywhere, the smell of burnt flesh—was like the set of a zombie movie. I hadn’t thought of that, but once she mentioned it… I guess you could say the neighborhood sort of resembled the friendliest post-apocalyptic city ever. There weren’t a lot of people in the streets, but the atmosphere was festive.
* * *
The blood and guts aspect of Eid el Kabir is almost impossible to gloss over or ignore, and it’s the number one thing I’ve heard from people about this holiday. This year was my first Eid el Kabir, and “blood in the streets”-wise, they weren’t exaggerating.

The slaughter is hugely important in this holiday, but so is spending time with family. I got to be adopted for a day as a hybrid honored guest/meskina clueless foreigner. Who is now the proud owner of a sweet purple caftan! Shoukran a Zainab!


Filed under cultural shock, Moroccan traditions


Leading up Eid el Adha (more about that later…), families buy sheep as far in advance as they can. Just how early has to do with the amount of money they’re able to spend on food and lodging for their doomed houseguests, and how fast they can come up with the huge amount of cash to buy the sheep in the first place. Your on-the-cheap-side sheep costs around $250.

Another option, which I haven’t been able to confirm, may be a reserved spot in a space somewhere in Casablanca, where I’ve heard families have to pay more per night than any hotel I’ve ever stayed at in Morocco. Or so I’ve heard…

I’ve felt the presence of the sheep in the city much more than I’ve actually seen them in the past few days. Early Sunday morning I was sleeping at Annemarie’s place in Rabat when I woke up to the footsteps of a herd being led through the cobblestone streets of the Casbah des Oudaiahs.

Then on Sunday afternoon I was back in Casablanca and sitting at my computer when I heard a baaa coming from the street, or so I thought. I headed to the terrace with my camera, ready to capture the contradiction of a sheep in the street. (Donkeys are old news, but sheep!?) The street was empty, though.

It turns out the sound was coming from a neighbor’s terrace, though I couldn’t see it. Yesterday, I heard more baaas coming from the other side of the apartment and caught a glimpse of one of my new, though temporary, neighbors.

Stay tuned to find out what has become of this guy and others, and why. I’m sure you can handle the anticipation. After all, things could be much worse!

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Filed under Moroccan traditions, Urban Morocco

COWBAY! Morocco, Western style

Those who aren’t familiar with Morocco might not be entertained by this past the two minute mark, but I highly recommend watching the whole thing, even if you can’t understand the dialogue. This sketch by Hassan El Fad mixes Western motifs, out of place bits of Moroccan culture and nonsensical cultural references. For instance, the characters who are supposed to be Native American are not only parodies to begin with since this is a Western-style sketch, but borrow from other “native” cultures–Australian aboriginal, at some point? The soundtrack mixes Western folk music with blues and other anachronistic American music.

It’s both an homage to American Westerns and a wink at Moroccan culture., a blog I’ve just found and have been enjoying recently, compared the Hassan El Fad style of comedy to Monty Python. Personally, this reminds me of Mel Brooks and Richard Pryor’s Blazing Saddles, a Western-style and funny-as-hell allegory on racial issues in the U.S. There’s something about shifting cultural context that is both hilarious and illuminating.

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Filed under American culture, cultural understanding, Moroccan Humor, Moroccan traditions, Moroccan-American Studies

What’s this holiday about anyway?

For the past few days there have been Moroccan flags everywhere, because yesterday was a national holiday in Morocco, the 35th anniversary of the Green March.

Let me first say that southern Morocco, also known as the Western Sahara, is contested territory, and talking about the issue with Moroccans can be tricky business. Morocco claims the area as its own and has been in conflict with Algeria, Mauritania, and independent factions like the Polisario over its sovereignty. Meanwhile, the United Nations doesn’t recognize the Western Sahara as part of Morocco.

The Green March of November 6th, 1975, helps shed some light on the emotional significance of the Sahara problem. Here are the basic details, which I pieced together by just asking a few people, “So, what’s this holiday about anyway?”

Thirty-five years ago most of Morocco had been decolonized but Spain still controlled what makes up the now-contested area. On November 6th, 350 thousand people peacefully demonstrated in the south and marched into the Sahara, Moroccan flag in one hand, Koran in the other. Some people marched from Rabat all the way to Dakhla, 1700 km away. The Spanish then, peacefully, surrendered control of the Sahara to the Moroccans.

Most people I surveyed agreed on and stressed a few things: a) the march was peaceful; b) the march led to the reclaiming of the Sahara by Morocco; c) the marchers (and the King) were righteous.

In fact King Hassan II in all of this is both invisible in the narrative according to which 350,000 spontaneously marched 1700 km, and aaaall over it. One person clarified that the king had forced the issue of the Sahara with the Spanish because he could tell, based on a few failed coups d’état, that he needed to galvanize support. And though most Moroccans at the time were probably supportive of a plan to oust its colonizers, the reign of Hassan II is not known as a time of freedom for Moroccans.

I also read a novel a few months ago that described a practice by the Makhzen, or royal forces, of rounding up people for parades during the reign of Hassan II:

It’s worth noting that the Makhzen had earned themselves a terrible reputation in the area. The caïds, the super-caïds, the khelifas and their acolytes never visited the villages except to round up the population for “serbice.”

Serbice,” an arabized form of the french word “service,” always took place in Marrakesh, along the road between the airport and the Red City [Marrakesh]. Every time an emir, the leader of some little kingdom or the president of some banana republic visited the city, the Makhzen got busy moving the masses of the area, presumably to give the visitor an unforgettable welcome party.

Le Bonheur des Moineaux de Mohamed Nedali (2008)
(my translation, from French)

Yeah I know. Fiction. Grain of salt.

The thing is, I’m an outsider who’s not emotionally invested in Moroccan patriotism, so I’m naturally skeptical.

Learning about the glorious events of another country’s history, though, has forced me to think about some of the historical “facts” I learned in elementary school:

“Yeah, everyone thought the earth was flat, but Columbus was all, no guys, and I can prove it! So he sailed the open sea and found, ya know, America!” Et cetera.

Almost every day is a struggle to wriggle out of my own preconceived notions, to stretch my mind, and at the same time to approach things with a healthy amount of skepticism. Being open to the world and willing to challenge your worldview doesn’t mean uncritically swallowing another, but it does involve taking a look at the some of the bullshit we all absorb over the course of our education.

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Filed under cultural understanding, Moroccan fiction, Moroccan History, Moroccan traditions, Morocco


On Sunday afternoon I got an email from a Moroccan friend that ended with this: “Alright, see you at the wedding tonight.”

Uh…what wedding?

Kind of awkward, right? Well, not really.

    -I don’t know anything about a wedding tonight, but have fun!

    -OK, well now you know. Do you want to come?

I’ve never been to a Moroccan wedding, but everyone has stressed that an ‘ers (عَرْسْ) it is THE event to experience. Two fellow Ambassadorial scholars, Annemarie and Jacob, have given really thorough accounts of their Moroccan wedding experiences, which you can read at and

Seriously, read them. They both have a lot of details that I didn’t do such a good job of recording myself. In Annemarie’s account you’ll find a timeline, something which prepared me for the long night on Sunday. Jacob even got the chance to hang out with a wedding band!

There’s a lot about Moroccan weddings I’m in no way prepared to explain, and in any case we cut out early—at around 3:30AM.

What I can say, though, is how bizarre and pleasant an experience it was to be welcomed as a total stranger to someone’s wedding. There was no seating arrangement except for the one table reserved for the bride, groom, and close family. So I just joined a group of people who work for the IDMAJ association. The bride, actually, works with IDMAJ.

There are some events leading up to the night of the wedding party, including a henna night for women the day before, but I came just for the main party:

A few dinner courses, served starting around midnight. (You’ll recognize the first one as Pastila–this time with shrimp, though)

The “wine glasses” there are filled with Coke or Sprite, Tabiat alHal.
* * *

This picture was taken well into the night, after the men in the room had finally gotten up to dance.
* * *
The bride. It’s all about the bride.

First the white outfit…

Then the red outfit…

And finally the blue. So far. Like I said, we left early.

Cameras flashed everywhere, and flatscreen TVs projected images captured by the videocamera guy who roamed the party almost the whole time. Somewhere in Casablanca there’s footage of me being very awkward.

I dunno, guys. I came away less with the feeling of having “Experienced a Moroccan Wedding!!!” than of having attended a wedding, albeit with Moroccan customs, decoration, dresses, and music.

Which, incidentally, was not exclusively Moroccan. In fact, at one point I recognized a Lebanese wedding song because I’d heard it just last weekend, at my cousin’s wedding in France, to a man who’s part Lebanese.

The thing is that the French weddings I’ve been to are also kind of crazy, if crazy means staying up all night eating until you’re beyond stuffed, dancing and performing wedding traditions. One tradition de chez nous in particular struck my friends as absurd: at the end of the night, the small group of people who’ve made it that far– I did not– will take a huge pot of onion soup (a.k.a. “French Onion Soup,” har har) to the bride and groom for everyone to share. I can no more explain this than I can explain why the Moroccan bride has so many outfit changes. Parce que c’est comme ça.

*The title of this post refers to a cheer/chant that women call out at celebrations. It’s starts out with: Sala wa salaam! and goes on for a good twenty seconds, ending in you-yous all around.


Filed under Moroccan food, Moroccan traditions, pictures


The before shot:

Henna designs are drawn using a syringe filled with henna paste. Henna, which is a powder that comes from a root, is mixed with water, sometimes olive oil, maybe a lemon, some cloves, etc. You leave it on the skin to dry.

Then you peel it off. Here is the after shot:

This is just one of the kinds of designs people-well, women, really- put on their hands and feet. I’m told henna has properties that are good for your skin and hair.


Filed under Moroccan traditions, Uncategorized