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Rarely does there exist such cultural pluralism as is expressed in Morocco by the dramatic mix of European, Middle Eastern, and African styles and culture. The West African country of Morocco blends aspects of all three regions and the combination is demonstrated in the architecture, clothing, and traditional crafts. An examination of a wide range of artifacts from everyday Moroccan life provides some insight into the balance this country has found between a modern and more conventional society.
The history of the nation explains its unique position as a crossroads of cultures. People have lived in Morocco since Neolithic times, perhaps as long ago as 10,000 years. The indigenous people were the Berbers, called Amazigh by those who belong to the group today. Romans, Visigoths, and Byzantine Greeks conquered the region, but the Berbers resided in the treacherous mountainous region and remained overall untouched.
Arabic invasions in the 7th century brought a wave of cultural change, and many of the indigenous Moroccans converted to Islam. The Arab foreigners did not remain in power; the local Berber dynasties controlled Morocco through the centuries even after Islam was widely accepted. During the Spanish Inquisition many persecuted Muslims and Jews fled south to Morocco.
As recently as a century ago, Spain and France claimed responsibility for Morocco and ruled the nation as a protectorate. Many Amazigh fought in World War II, and the famed Casablanca Conference brought Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt to the land. These turbulent years exposed the traditional Moroccans to American and European societies, which affected more changes in the country. The Berbers rose up and claimed independence in 1956, and since then they have been an Arabic country in Africa with strong European ties. While Morocco is geographically a part of Africa and the Northern city of Tangiers is a mere nine miles from Spain, the indigenous Amazigh are Muslim with a strong Islamic history.
Most of the artifacts displayed in this minigallery are objects from everyday Moroccan life. Tea set pieces, clothing, jewelry, and more depict the styles and decoration common to the region.
All artifacts are from the L.H. Feldman Collection or were purchased by the University of Missouri.
Becker, Cynthia. 2006. Amazigh Arts in Morocco. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Bonfante-Warren, Alexandra. 2000. Moroccan Style. New York: Friedman/Fairfax Publishers
Dennis, Landt. 2001. Living in Morocco. New York: Thames and Hudson.
Text and photos by Chelsea Bilyeu
Museum of Anthropology, 100 Swallow Hall, Columbia, MO 65211-1440
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