Storytelling is experiencing a revival in many Western countries right now, but the tradition of oral storytelling, or hikayat, in Morocco is almost 1,000 years old. Morocco has a strongly oral culture – everything from recipes to stories to legal agreements have been passed down from generation to generation in the absence of the means to record such information and against the backdrop of widespread illiteracy. In the past, storytellers travelled around to perform in public places and at community events and palace celebrations. They were not only a form of entertainment – they were also used by the authorities to pass information and moral messages. In today’s era of satellite TV and the internet, storytelling is a dying art. Although visitors to Marrakech may find the odd storyteller on Place Jmaa el Fna, the crowd around them is smaller than ever and because the stories are told in Arabic or a Berber dialect, the performers cannot attract the support of foreign tourists.
Moroccan Arts & Entertainment
UN statistics suggest that average literacy rates in Morocco are as high as 67% (in 2011). However, this figure hides large discrepancies between males and females and between urban and rural populations. Typically, girls in Morocco are less well-educated than boys. Additionally, in rural communities or poorer areas of the medinas, parents may remove children from school at an early age to work or help the family. The Medina Children’s Library in the medieval old city of Fez aims to support children’s learning and make it fun.
Prior to the establishment of the French Protectorate in Morocco (1912-1956), Dar al Bayda, as Casablanca was then known, was a modest port of a population of around 12,000. A few years into the Protectorate, this had increased 10-fold and has hardly stopped growing since. Today, Casablanca is Morocco’s bustling economic hub, home to many international companies and Africa’s biggest port and its largest shopping mall, Morocco Mall. For visitors to this metropolis, the big draw is the stunning Hassan II Mosque. However, the French left a significant architectural legacy. As you walk the streets, look up and around you beyond the crowds, the traffic and the hubbub of city life to discover Art Deco Architecture in Casablanca.
Few Moroccan authors have achieved international recognition beyond the Francophone world because of the lack of translations of their works. The international acclaim of writer Mohammed Choukri and the fact that not only his works, but his remarkable life story, are known beyond the Arabic and French-speaking worlds is largely due to the support he received from globally acclaimed authors Paul Bowles and Tahar Ben Jelloun along with his own, incredible determination.
The port city of Essaouira, on Morocco’s Southern Atlantic Coast, is known for its white-washed walled medina (old city), fabulous seafood from its working port, a windswept sandy beach great for watersports and swimming and its annual music festivals, which reflect its culturally diverse past. Essaouira is also known as a town of artists – both indigenous and international – who are inspired by the relaxed atmosphere, creative environment and fabulous light. The streets of the Essaouira medina are lined with boutiques and galleries, which present plenty of opportunities for purchasing locally produced pieces.
The Marrakech International Film Festival is now in its 14th year. The festival will take place in Marrakech from December 5th – 13th, 2014. Founded in 2000 as a means to promote Morocco as a production destination on the international film circuit, it is now responsible for an influx of film fan and film industry visitors every December to the ‘Red City’.
Two older well known films featuring Morocco are Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much which features James Stewart and Doris Day and was made in 1956. It has all the tense drama of a Hitchcock thriller and has a scene on the Jemma El Fna square where Hitchcock makes a cameo appearance looking at acrobats on the Place in a cafe as a man is stabbed nearby. The French built fortress like police station on the square features prominently in the film. It was made in the same year as Morocco gained independence and captures some of the excitement of the period.
The French designer Yves Saint Laurent remarked of Marrakech that “This city leads me to color.” Morocco has fascinated many designers with its wealth of color and diversity of islamic design for the last century. The color in Morocco’s bright zellij tiles, woodwork, silver jewelry and cedar hand-crafted ceilings blend effortlessly with modern interior design. Morocco’s winding medina street scenes, colorful souks, majestic gardens and palaces provide the perfect inspiration to adorn a home.
Moroccan Street Food is a great way to discover Morocco’s local culture. While the best Moroccan food is said to be found in a Moroccan home, very reasonably priced street food is available in small stalls and roadside cafés all over Morocco. Eating Moroccan Street Food in the old medina of Fes, Marrakech and Essaouira allows for a great opportunity to meet Moroccans during breakfast, lunch and dinner or just for a snack. Moroccan Street Food is also the best way to discover local Moroccan fresh foods that are well cooked and full of flavor.