Morocco; A rich legacy of colorful folklore

Morocco has beaches on two seas, deserts and snowcapped mountains, as well as ancient walled cities and splendid palaces and mosques.

However, for the tourist one of the country's most rewarding aspects is its authentic popular art. The Souks dazzle with embroidered caftans, woven carpets, spangled saddles, and silver jewelry. They smell of saffron, sandalwood, and leather, and sound of the tapping hammers of copper and brass smiths.

This exuberance of crafts is matched by the rich legacy of folklore. Even the most casual tourist has the opportunity to see traditional dance performances and fantasias. And Morocco has a long list of moussems,m or festivals. Among the most celebrated are the festival of fiances of Imilchil in September, the October date festival of Erfoud, and the cherry festival of Sefrou in June.

All of these celebrations, whether honoring a saint or marking an event of the agricultural calendar, represent a still living tradition. Even the more official National Festival of Folklore held in Marrakech June 4-20 is not just a professional spectacle but an echo of tribal celebration.

My own special memory is of the festival at Imouzzer of Ida Ou Tanane. The Ida Ou Tanane are a Berber tribe. For centuries they have been celebrating a honey festival at the onset of the full moon late in April or early in May. Recently the Moroccan government attempted to make these tribal festivals accessible to visitors in their country. Accordingly, the Tourist Bureau of Agadir, the nearest city, now arranges for transportation into the Atlas foothills for those interested (Avenue Prince Heritier, Sidi Mohammed, Immeuble A, Boite Postale 178, Agadir, Tel. 2894). The price of transportation and the diffam (feast) is about $30 per person.

The drive from Agadir is interesting in itself. In the spring the hills are fragrant with rosemary, thyme, and lavender, the stream beds pink with oleanders. The only visible trees are the carob and the argane. The latter bears an oil-producing yellow fruit that lures climbing goats into the branches.

The valleys occasionally sprout clusters of flat-roofed mud houses. Near these enclaves Berber children hawk fistfuls of fossils. This whole range must once have been under the sea. Where the road cuts through, the exposed rock formations look as if they had been diagonally slashed with a giant knife and are now ready to slide back into the Atlantic.

Finally the road winds down to the site of the festival, a valley backed by a cliff over which a waterfall cascades. Three stately tents are raised over rich red carpets and cushions. The governor of the province and his entourage occupy one, the Berber performers another, while the third is reserved for tourists. On the occasion of my visit most of the audience is local. There are only a few paying guests and the majority of these are former French colonsm (colonists).

When we arrive, a line of Berber men is already shuffling and chanting. They wear white djellabasm and turbans, silver-sheathed daggers slung over the left shoulder. In contrast to these severe white garments, the Berber women in the audience glitter with gold brocade or pink, flame, and lime gauzy silks. Under the trees up on the hill or across the stream, their brilliant colors flash and flicker like those of tropical birds or butterflies.

For the diffam itself, groups of six or eight sit on cushions around low tables in the tent. Before the feast and again after it hot water is poured over our hands from a copper pitcher. After this ceremony each guest is presented kesruh,m a crisp round bread. Then the mechoui, a whole roasted lamb, is brought in on a round tray. Coarse salt, cumin, and pepper are served separately. The French colonsm explain that it is proper to add the seasonings with a mint leaf. They also help us pull off chunks of tender meat, which we eat with the fingers of the right hand (properly only the first three fingers are used).

The roast is followed by a cous cousm of chicken and chick peas. Cous cousm is made from a grain known in English as semolina. It is steamed over meat and vegetables and served with two sauces, one to moisten, the other to spice. This latter sauce, known as harica,m is hot with red pepper so it must be added with caution. Dessert consists of fresh oranges and bananas with aromatic honey.

During the feast and after it we look out from our tent at the continuous performance. The first set of dances calls for all-male performers who vary their shuffle with leaps and body shaking. The syncopated four-four rhythm is beaten out on skin-covered terra cotta drums. Some dancers also carry hand-held drums. Some strike a metal headpiece, others shake a strangely shaped earthenware tambourine. Chanting, hand clapping, and stamping further emphasize the spellbinding beat. The Taskiouinem and the Ghiatasm are warrior dances involving the tribe. In other dances one man pantomimes a story, often with great humor.

In the second group of dances, the Raissetm and the Houara, a single woman in white brocade dances with several men. At the beginning the men follow each other in solo performances until the quick rhythm reaches its peak. At this point a woman rushes into the center whirling in a spirited dance of frenzied steps.

The final group is the Rouais, a kind of ballet danced by several women to an ancient tune picked out on the one-stringed rabalo soussim and accompanied by several three-stringed mandolins. The musicians and dancers wear town dress; the male musicians belted caftans, the women flounced dfinasm of muslin or lace cinched with belts of silver or embroidered silk. Their loose hair is bound with spangled woolen cords.

Some of the dance movement resembles delicate grinds and bumps but the overall effect is mannered and graceful, as stately as the song they sing: ''Our provinces seem boundless To make birthplaces eternal for future generations Whoever comes here returns For here wealth and love And generosity abound With faith and piety and all that's good.

''It is difficult to do justice to the excitement of the festival. Aside from the fascination of the diffam and the dances performed so spontaneously, the wild setting and the colorful local audience add to the feeling of authenticity.

One feels strongly that this spectacle, photogenic as it is, does not exist primarily for the photographer's delight. The chants and dances are an expression of joy and faith, a manifestation of tribal unity. Tourism is too recent to have affected the collective inspiration of the Ida Ou Tanane, and their festival at Imouzzer offers an opportunity to participate in a traditional celebration.

Practical details The Moroccan National Tourist Office, 521 Fifth Avenue, Suite 2800, New York, N.Y. 10175, has information on these festivals about a month in advance.

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