Morocco, as with most African countries, had a complicated and sometimes turbulent history. Throughout the centuries, many different groups have left their mark on the land, the effects of which can be clearly seen in the diverse culture.
The Berber Kingdom of Mauretania spanned what is now northern Morocco, is the earliest known state. Soon after this settlement in the seventh century, the Umayyad Muslims conquered the area and changed the country’s character forever.
The Umayyad Muslims brought with them language, religion and government and can be credited for the strong Arabic influence today. The first Moroccan Muslim State existed during the Islamic era and was called the Kingdom of Nekor.
After centuries of Islamic rule, the region was designated a protectorate in 1912. This would alter the landscape of Morocco dramatically and also accounts for the strong French heritage evident in culture and politics. The French were harsh rulers, denying locals basic human rights in their own land.
With the wave of decolonization in Africa during the 1950’s, this began to change. Nationalist groups gained strength and embarked on a powerful resistance movement. After 44 years of occupation, Morocco finally gained independence in 1956.
King Mohammed VI took the throne in 1999 and instituted several economic and political changes in order to open up the country and improve conditions. Today, poverty is rife, but King Mohammed VI continues to try to attract foreign investment, taking full advantage of the booming tourism industry.
Morocco’s culture is as diverse as its landscape, but in the midst of great ethnic diversity the country has managed to maintain unity. A mixture of Arabic, Roman, French, Spanish and South African influences, somehow a perfect balance between old and new has been struck.
Moroccan cuisine differs from region to region, but each area reflects a bit of the cultures which make up the country. The Berber influences are most prominent in the range of spices used. The great love of grains like couscous is an indication of the country’s African roots, while the use of fresh fruits and vegetables comes directly from the country’s proximity to the Mediterranean.
Moroccan music is a delightful amalgamation with many traditional instruments bearing the mark of other regions. The flute and variations thereof like the shwam and the zither are popular in most areas and can be heard in many folk songs and dances.