The Saharawi Culture -The Ethnic and tribal identities Of The Draa

 The Saharawi culture  – The ethnic and tribal identities of the Draa

The Saharawi people are composed of several ethnic groups of Arab and sub-Saharan origin. To understand the current situation of this pre-Saharan region that is the Middle Draa Valley, we must appeal to the past. However, few sources, both bibliographic and handwritten and if oral versions abound, they are confusing, contradictory and unable to date the facts they relate.

A – The Middle Draa Valley until the 11th century

The earliest historical sources are Hebrew manuscripts from the 12th century AD. According to these manuscripts, the Drâa, was populated until the fifth century, by “Ethiopians of the west” called KOUICHITES. This black sedentary population was engaged in culture and formed a kingdom whose capital was located in Jebel Zagora. According to the same document, Jews from the east settled in Tidri in the bend of Drâa and then founded their capital at Tamgroute / Tazroute in Fezouata. In their northward progression, these Jews would have clashed with KOUICHITES but would have remained quite powerful until the arrival of the Arabs in the middle of the eleventh century. Around the year 1000, the MORABITINES arrived from Sudan with the Sultan LAKHAL would have colonized a part of the valley of Drâa means from Zagora to M’hamid.


would be the ancestors of the current black population HARRADINE. But according to other hypotheses, these would be the descendants of slaves brought from Ethiopia and Sudan in the 15th and 16th centuries and used as agricultural laborers.

B – The Islamization of the Draa and the arrival of the Arabs in the eleventh century.

The first Muslims arrived in the Drâa not as conquerors but in small peaceful groups from the Tafilelt. Around the year 1000, the MORABITINS arrived from Sudan with the Sultan LAKHAL have colonized part of the valley of the Middle Drâa from Zagora to M’hamid. Massive Islamization really begins towards 1053 – 1054, with the arrival of ALMORAVIDES called “Moulathamouns, veiled”. While their sultan, Youssef ben Tachefin, continued his conquest of the North and Spain, Abu Bakr ben Omar kept the command of the Sahara with Tafilalet and Drâa.

ALMORAVIDES left among others descendants:

1 the M’RABTINE attached to the nomadic Bedouin confederation of AARIB.
2 the MSOUFFA who subsequently became part of the Berber Confederation of AIT ATTA

The Drâa is then attached for the first time to Morocco but will regain its autonomy several times, serving as a refuge and a hotbed of revolt to dissidents, under the reign of the following dynasties, ALMOHADE and MERINIDE. Under the MERINIDES begins for the Drâa and the Saharan provinces a time of ravages. Coming from Tunisia by the northern edge of the Sahara, the Arab tribes MAQUIL BENI HSIN seized the Draa in 1255 and imposed their domination everywhere until the middle of the fourteenth century. Often escaping the authority of the central government (the Makhzen), the MAQUIL deeply disintegrated the country, both economically and politically, resulting in the ruin of sedentary and peasant life. Then continuing their progression northward, they left descendants like the ROHA, the OULAD YAHIA and the OULAD MALEK, and especially their language, the Arab. The ZNAGA Berbers, who were ousted from the region by the first MAQUILS, came back and during the 15th century, the country seems to have been under the grip of struggles between the Arabs and the Berbers. 

Judging by the many religious figures and the many “zaouias” from that time, the Drâa has undoubtedly largely participated in Maraboutism movements and the fight against the Portuguese settled on the coast.

C – The Saadian dynasty and the economic boom of the sixteenth century

. In the mid-sixteenth century, under the reign of Ahmed El Mansour Ed Dhabi (1578-1603), the Saadian dynasty, whose cradle was in Tagmadderte between Zagora and Tamegroute, was at its peak. For economic reasons (expansion of trade with Europe and imperious need in gold) and/or political (in 1545 the Tuareg Oulmîden under the orders of Ishaq 1st, king of Sudan had seized the palm grove of Ktaoua) the Sultan El Mansour decided to successfully undertake the conquest of Sudan (1590). After the military operations, the caravan trade with Sudan intensifies. The Draa becomes a hub, starting point and end of the caravans that carry gold and slaves. In the palm grove of M’hamid, between qsar Bounou and qsar Talha, The ruins of Qsar El Alouj are still to be found, a former “customs post” where gold powder arrived. There, we also struck the currency, before sending it to Marrakech.

At the end of the 16th century, the Drâa population formed a compound ethnic conglomerate, blacks, Berbers, Arabs, and Jews.

D -. The domination of the great nomadic confederations and the evolution of the social organization of the sedentary population in Qsour, from the 17th to the beginning of the 20th century

With the decline of the Saadian dynasty, especially with the death of the Sultan in 1603, the country falls back into anarchy, leading to the decline of the caravan trade. In the 17th century, the new ALAOUITE dynasty struggled to gain recognition for its authority in the South. The Drâa is not long in escaping the control of the central power to fall under the major confederations of tribes, formed during the sixteenth and seventeenth century. Unceasing struggles pitted different nomadic tribes against the domination of sedentary populations. Until the beginning of the twentieth century, extremely complex alliances and political groupings emerged, and writings and oral traditions were not fully sufficient to understand this period in the history of the valley. During these last centuries, the formation of geographical groupings, QSOUR, contributed to the integration of the old conquerors to the mass of the natives. The kinship (real or fictitious) that constitutes the determining element in human groups – one belongs to a particular tribe or fraction of a tribe – then gives way to the neighborhood bond in basic groupings. Exposed to the covetousness of groups who remained nomadic, these Qsors, placed under the authority of a chief, CAID, compromised with each other to be protected from others. Each tribe or fraction of nomadic tribe undertook to protect one or more Qsour, guaranteeing the sedentary the security necessary for agricultural life, in exchange for a portion of the territory which was assigned to them. However, the nomads kept increasing their demands on their protégés and also tried to extend their protection to those who remained independent.

Sedentary/nomadic conflicts were juxtaposed with rivalries between different protectors, and the social evolution of the valley was closely linked to these conflicts and rivalries. The penetration of the Glaoua at the beginning of the century (1918-19) in the upper part of the valley slows the progress of the qsour domination by the nomads. Later, in the 1930s, the settlement was difficult to settle in the region and freeze this process. The Drâa then enters an evolution marked by the integration and sedentarization of nomads and by the erosion of inherited social structures. to increase their demands on their protégés and also to extend their protection to those who remained independent.

words Guide

-Qsour: Kasbah

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