Friday 12 March 2010

A Berber tale: The Steelmakers

Brahim, our master bricklayer is a great storyteller and sometimes during a tea break in the afternoon, he fervently tells a tale. One of his tales is a true story about the enormous rock we look upon from our terrace.

Once upon a time, no one really knows how long ago, a douar (Berber village) by the name of Tagadirt Toug el-Ghir was built around the rock. The tribe who inhabited this village had access to iron ore in a nearby cave and had inherited the art of making steel and weapons from the Portuguese invaders. The making of steel brought respectability and great prosperity to the village which of course didn’t go unnoticed by another tribe of a nearby douar across the river. For many years they observed with envy the good fortune and growing strength of their rivals across the river and several unsuccessful attempts to overtake the village provoked even greater resentment.

The steel making tribe was well armed and the men of the douar were always on guard, ready to defend their village against possible attacks from their enemies. The envious tribe across the river realised that a battle between men could not be won so a cunning plan was made.

On the morning of Eid el-Fitr (sugar feast) it is tradition for all Muslim men to gather in mosques or open spaces for communal prayer and celebration of the ending of Ramadan. Early in the morning on the day of Eid el-Fitr the woman of the enemy tribe were instructed to dress as men and to walk to the mosque. To the guards of the village around the rock it looked as if the men of the enemy tribe had gathered in the mosque for prayers. In reality the men of the enemy tribe were already sneaking towards the village of the steelmakers.

It seemed save for the steelmakers to leave the douar and without their weapons the men left for prayers at an open ground for worship a short distance further up the mountain. As soon as the steelmakers were out of sight the enemy tribe immediately invaded and conquered the village. Woman and children fled the village and by the time the disastrous news of the invasion arrived to the praying men it was too late. The tribe realised that the situation was hopeless without their weapons and fled into the mountains to save their lives.

Even though the enemy tribe had conquered the village and had access to the iron ore they did not have the knowledge to make steel and gradually the renowned village of the steelmakers fell into oblivion.

Two or three decades ago a few villagers from the Valley of Ourika travelled across the Atlas Mountains and beyond Ouarzazate. To their great surprise they came upon a village by the name of Toug el-Ghir mn Ourika. When they inquired about the origin of that name, they were told that according to the tales which are passed on by every generation, the original founders of the village had fled from the Valley of Ourika.

Apparently there are still a few vague traces of the village of the steelmakers to be found near the rock. Their open ground for worship is also still used for communal prayers by the villagers of another douar nearby.

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