Join the Neolithic Revolution Advertisement

The Neolithic Revolution – also known as the Agricultural Revolution – was the wide-scale transition of many human societies from a lifestyle of hunting and gathering to one of agriculture and settlement, making an increasingly larger population possible. These settled communities permitted humans to observe and experiment with growing plants. This new knowledge led to the domestication of plants.

The Neolithic Revolution involved far more than the adoption of a limited set of food-producing techniques. During the next millennia it would transform the small and mobile groups of hunter-gatherers that had hitherto dominated human pre-history into sedentary (non-nomadic) societies based in built-up villages and towns. These societies radically modified their natural environment by means of specialized food-crop cultivation, with activities such as irrigation and deforestation which allowed the production of surplus food. Other developments found very widely are the domestication of animals, pottery, polished stone tools, and rectangular houses.

These developments, sometimes called the Neolithic package, provided the basis for centralized administrations and political structures, hierarchical ideologies, writing, cities, specialization and division of labor, more trade, the development of non-portable art and architecture, and property ownership.

ACTIVITY – Join the Neolithic Revolution Advertisement

Create an advertisement urging human beings to settle down and join the Neolithic Revolution.  Your ad should be artistic, creative, and appealing, but should also communicate the key changes/benefits that an agriculturally-based lifestyle will bring to those who adopt it – using at least 3/4 of the vocab words found in your textbook.

You must also utilize at least two of the following – the seven most common techniques of persuasion used in advertising:

  • Testimonial – a story from someone, usually famous, who has used the product
  • Glittering Generalities – words that cannot really be measured, like “great”
  • Transfer – using this product will make you “cool” or “attractive”
  • Plain Folks – a common person who can understand and empathize with a listener’s concerns.
  • Bandwagon – everybody’s doing it, you’re being left behind
  • Name Calling – bashing the competition
  • Card Stacking – shows the product’s best features, tells half truths, omits potential problems.

Think of something like —

NeolithicRevolution

What Is It That Makes Humans Unique?

Aside from our genes, what makes humans different from other animals?

Humans (Homo sapiens) are the only extant members of the subtribe Hominina. Together with chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans, they are part of the family Hominidae (the great apes, or hominids). A terrestrial animal, humans are characterized by their erect posture and bipedal locomotion; high manual dexterity and heavy tool use compared to other animals; open-ended and complex language use compared to other animal communications; larger, more complex brains than other animals; and highly advanced and organized societies.

Human-Family-TreeEarly hominins—particularly the australopithecines, whose brains and anatomy are in many ways more similar to ancestral non-human apes—are less often referred to as “human” than hominins of the genus Homo.[5] Several of these hominins used fire, occupied much of Eurasia, and gave rise to anatomically modern Homo sapiens in Africa about 315,000[6] years ago. Humans began to exhibit evidence of behavioral modernity around 50,000 years ago, and in several waves of migration, they ventured out of Africa and populated most of the world.

The spread of the large and increasing population of humans has profoundly affected much of the biosphere and millions of species worldwide. Advantages that explain this evolutionary success include a larger brain with a well-developed neocortex, prefrontal cortex and temporal lobes, which enable advanced abstract reasoning, language, problem solving, sociality, and culture through social learning. Humans use tools more frequently and effectively than any other animal; and are the only extant species to build fires, cook food, clothe themselves, and create and use numerous other technologies and arts.

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Paleolithic-Age Tools

Humans uniquely use such systems of symbolic communication as language and art to express themselves and exchange ideas, and also organize themselves into purposeful groups. Humans create complex social structures composed of many cooperating and competing groups, from families and kinship networks to political states. Social interactions between humans have established an extremely wide variety of values, social norms, and rituals, which together undergird human society. Curiosity and the human desire to understand and influence the environment and to explain and manipulate phenomena (or events) have motivated humanity’s development of science, philosophy, mythology, religion, anthropology, and numerous other fields of knowledge.

Homo_heidelbergensis_adult_male_-_head_model_-_Smithsonian_Museum_of_Natural_History_-_2012-05-17
Modern reconstruction of what a Neanderthal probably looked like in real life. In a sense, this species of human went extinct about 40,000 years ago – after living side-by-side with Homo Sapiens for tens of thousands of years. In another very real sense, they haven’t gone anywhere – if you have European ancestry, you likely carry Neanderthal DNA.

Though most of human existence has been sustained by hunting and gathering in band societies, increasingly many human societies transitioned to sedentary agriculture approximately some 10,000 years ago, domesticating plants and animals, thus enabling the growth of civilization. These human societies subsequently expanded, establishing various forms of government, religion, and culture around the world, and unifying people within regions to form states and empires. The rapid advancement of scientific and medical understanding in the 19th and 20th centuries permitted the development of fuel-driven technologies and increased lifespans, causing the human population to rise exponentially. The global human population was estimated to be near 7.7 billion in 2019.

ACTIVITY – Interpreting Paleolithic and Neolithic Art

How to Teach Like A Traveler

“The best thing would be to take your students on a field trip every day – a world tour that throws light on experiences that most of your class can scarcely imagine. But of course, for so many reasons, that isn’t possible.

In the meantime, we educators have a duty to report the world back to our students – in all its unvarnished wonder. The great Mark Twain wrote, ‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely…’

Are you teaching with the spirit of a traveler?”

Thomas Kenning, the creator of Openendedsocialstudies.org, has written an article which appears in this month’s issue of Teacher Plus magazine entitled “How to Teach like a Traveler.”

Check it out now, and check out our library of lessons designed to help you do just that!

Ancient World History: A Free, Open Textbook in Progress

Ancient World History: An Open Ended History is a free online history textbook adapted and expanded upon from open sources. It is an attempt to develop a middle school world history course that is truly expansive – a true world history, in other words. While it examines historical events and figures, its approach is cultural and thematic.  The text does not aim to be strict chronology of the world – rather, it is a primer for the student who is not a specialist in history.  A primer for being a semi-informed citizen of the world. As such, it features many “digressions” into societies and cultures that don’t always make the cut in conventional textbooks. 

Who’s interested in supporting this project? If you’d like to become a contributor, please click here.
If you’re interested in making a financial contribution – they really help me devote the necessary time to developing this resource – please do so here with “World History” in comment.

Early Humans

  • What Is It That Makes Humans Unique? (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): Read about some of the characteristics that distinguish humans from other life on Earth.ACTIVITY: Interpreting Paleolithic and Neolithic Culture: Students try their hand at interpreting examples of paleolithic art from around the globe.ACTIVITY: Come Join the Neolithic Revolution: Students create an advertisement recruiting paleolithic peoples to adopt the neolithic way of life.

Information on Paleolithic and Neolithic Art

This page is meant to be viewed by students who have already completed the activity Interpreting Paleolithic and Neolithic Art.

The art of the Upper Paleolithic represents the oldest form of prehistoric art. Figurative art is present in Europe as well as in Sulawesi, Indonesia, beginning at least 35,000 years ago. Non-figurative cave paintings, consisting of hand stencils and simple geometric shapes, is at least 40,000 years old.

According to a 2018 study based on uranium-thorium dating, the oldest examples of Iberian cave art were made as early as 64,000 years ago, implying Neanderthal authorship, which would qualify as art of the Middle Paleolithic.

The emergence of figurative art has been interpreted as reflecting the emergence of full behavioral modernity, and is part of the defining characteristics separating the Upper Paleolithic from the Middle Paleolithic. The discovery of cave art of comparable age to the oldest European samples in Indonesia has established that similar artistic traditions existed both in eastern and in western Eurasia at 40,000 years ago. This has been taken to suggest that such an artistic tradition must in fact date to more than 50,000 years ago, and would have been spread along the southern coast of Eurasia in the original coastal migration movement. It is important to note that most of the art of this period is expected to have been lost, as it was submerged in the early Holocene sea level rise.

Niaux
A. Grotte de Niaux.

This painting of a bison hunt is between 17,000 and 11,000 years old, dating from at the latest 9000 BCE.  It is located deep inside a cave in southern France known as Niaux, meaning that ancient humans would have needed to carry lit torches to reach this site.

A scholar has described this giant artwork, saying: “The predominating animal is the bison, represented in the upper part of the panel. The bison standing out in the left central part is usually catalogued as a female, due to the shapes presented, such as the scarcely prominent hump. By contrast and in opposition to this is the male, found on the right-hand side and showing a more prominent hump.

The lower part of the wall represents several horses which, with painted hair, represent a member of the equine family with a great amount of hair, the Przewalski. The bestiary is finished off with two goats.”

Laas_Geel
B. Laas Geel.

Laas Geel are cave formations on the rural outskirts of Hargeisa, Somaliland (situated in the Woqooyi Galbeed region of the self-declared but internationally unrecognised Republic of Somaliland). They contain some of the earliest known cave paintings in the Horn of Africa. Laas Geel’s rock art is estimated to date to somewhere between 9,000 and 3,000 years BCE.

Laas Geel rock – the paleolithic art is preserved under the pronounced overhang near the top of the formation.

Although the Laas Geel rock art had been known to the area’s inhabitants for centuries, its existence only came to international attention after the 2002 discovery.

The Laas Geel cave paintings are thought to be some of the most vivid rock art in Africa. Among other things, they depict cattle in ceremonial robes accompanied by humans, who are believed to have been inhabitants of the region. The necks of the cattle are embellished with a kind of plastron. Some of the cattle are also portrayed wearing decorative robes. Besides long-horned cattle, the rock art also shows an image of a domesticated dog, several paintings of Canidae as well as a giraffe. The site is excellently preserved due to the location of the paintings which are covered by the granite overhangs.

CuevaManos
C. Cueva de las Manos.

Cueva de las Manos is located in modern day Argentina. The art in the cave dates to between 11,000–7,000 BCE.

SantaCruz-CuevaManos-P2210079b
Canyon at the Pinturas River, view from the caves.

The images of hands are negative painted, that is, stencilled. Most of the hands are left hands, which suggests that painters held the spraying pipe with their right hand or they put the back of their right hand to the wall and held the spraying pipe with their left hand.

The age of the paintings was calculated from the remains of bone-made pipes used for spraying the paint on the wall of the cave, then discarded thousands of years ago on the cave floor.

Venus_von_Willendorf
D. Venus of Willendorf.

The Venus of Willendorf is an 11.1-centimetre-tall (4.4 in) figurine estimated to have been made 30,000 BCE. It was found on August 7, 1908 at a paleolithic site near Willendorf, a village in Austria. It is carved from an oolitic limestone that is not local to the area – meaning that it was probably traded for with people who lived far away – and tinted with red ochre.

Similar sculptures, first discovered in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, are traditionally referred to in archaeology as “Venus figurines,” due to the widely-held belief that depictions of nude women with exaggerated sexual features represented an early fertility fetish, perhaps a mother goddess – an item with supernatural powers that  could help a man and woman conceive a child. The reference to Venus is metaphorical, since the figurines predate the mythological figure of Venus by many thousands of years.

800px-Willendorf-Venus-1468Like other similar sculptures, it probably never had feet, and would not have stood on its own, although it might have been pegged into soft ground. Parts of the body associated with fertility and childbearing have been emphasized, leading researchers to believe that the Venus of Willendorf may have been used as a fertility fetish. The figure has no visible face, her head being covered with circular horizontal bands of what might be rows of plaited hair, or perhaps a type of headdress.

Other scholars hypothesize that the figurines may have been created as self-portraits by women. This theory stems from the correlation of the proportions of the statues to how the proportions of women’s bodies would seem if they were looking down at themselves, which would have been the only way to view their bodies during this period. They speculate that the complete lack of facial features could be accounted for by the fact that sculptors did not own mirrors. This reasoning has been criticized by still others, who note that water pools and puddles would have been readily-available natural mirrors for Paleolithic humans.

Bradshaw_rock_paintings
E. Bradshaw Rock.

Bradshaw rock art or Gwion Gwion art is found in the northwest Kimberley region of Western Australia.  This particular piece is referred to by modern archeologists as tassel figures: identified by their characteristic tassels hanging from their arms and waists, various other accessories can be recognised, such as arm bands, conical headdresses and sometimes, boomerangs.

The Bradshaws are not the regions’ earliest paintings. The earlier art consists of crude animal drawings that are believed to be up to 40,000 years old. The Bradshaws have nothing in common with this earlier art and is dated between 26,500 and 20,000 years ago.

The height of the art is variable; most are between 40 and 50 cm in length with some examples up to 2 metres in height.

Artistically, Bradshaws are unusually advanced both in technique and style. Image processing has revealed that the outline of the Bradshaw figures are often painted first, then filled in. Engraving in the rock often follows the outlines of figures and may have served as a preliminary sketch which implies planning. Some faces of the figures are painted with anatomically correct features with enough detail to be considered portraits. Due to the fine detail and control found in the images, such as strands of hair painted in 1-2mm thicknesses, it has been suggested that feather quills may have been used as a technique to apply the paint to the rock walls; an imprint of a feather found at one site may support this possibility. No evidence has yet been found of any corrections or changes in composition during or after painting, while evidence of restoration has been found. In a detailed study of 66 Bradshaw panels, approximately 9% of the Bradshaw images have clearly been vandalized. Some were scratched with stones, some damaged by thrown stones, and some have been broken by hammering with large rocks.

What art will you leave behind as a testament to your presence on Earth?  Create your own piece of “rock art” – though please don’t paint it on the classroom wall – depicting the important things in your life.

Interpreting Paleolithic and Neolithic Artwork

ACTIVITY – Interpreting Paleolithic and Neolithic Art

Humans have been producing art works for at least seventy-three thousand years.

Look at the following art, which dates back to the Paleolithic Age – the Old Stone Age, before humans discovered how to farm.  For each piece, respond to the following:

  1. Describe what you see with your eyes (figures, colors, size, etc)
  2. Offer an interpretation – What was this artist trying to communicate? What was the purpose of this art?
  3. What can we learn about this artist’s way of life from this art?
  4. What modern artwork or form of expression does this ancient piece remind you of, and why?

 

 

 

What art will you leave behind as a testament to your presence on Earth?  Create your own piece of “rock art” – though please don’t paint it on the classroom wall – depicting the important things in your life.

More information about each piece can be found here.

Morocco: The Western Kingdom

LESSON PLANS

  • A Basic History of Morocco (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): A brief overview of the geography, culture, and history of Morocco.
  • The Berbers: A Free and Noble People (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): Who are the Berber, and what makes them a distinct and special people?
  • The Sahara, Camel, and the Caravan Trade (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): Highlighting the role of the caravan trade in Morocco’s ancient economy.  That trade was made possible in large part by the camel, which allowed Berber, Arab, and sub-Saharan peoples to traverse the harsh Sahara desert, moving trade goods, and establishing religious and cultural connections where none could otherwise exist.
  • Fes: Center of Moroccan Empire and Culture (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): The first capital of a united Morocco has been a dynamic player in culture, education, and the economy of North Africa for more than a thousand years.
  • The Medina: Sustainable Cities of the Ancient World (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): Examining the characteristics of a traditional medina, and evaluating those traits as a possible template for a more walkable, communal, sustainable future.
  • Chefchaouen and the Moroccan Quest for Independence (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): Exploring Morocco’s experiences as an imperial power – and as the subject of imperial power from abroad.  This history has shaped a distinctive culture at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, European, and African worlds.

Background on Islam, the dominant religion in Morocco:

  • Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): Who was Muhammad, and how did the Arab world of the seventh century shape his teachings?  
  • Five Pillars to Hold Me Up: What Do Muslims Believe? (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): What are the basic teachings of Islam, and what does it mean to be a Muslim?

THIS UNIT WAS MADE POSSIBLE THROUGH A GENEROUS GRANT FROM THE QATAR FOUNDATION.

The Medina: Sustainable City of the Ancient World

This lesson was reported from:


For Your Consideration:
  1. What is a medina?
  2. This article lists many benefits of living in a medina – list them, adding any additional benefits that strike you. Then, create a list of drawbacks.
  3. Should cities in your country build neighborhoods that look more like this?  Would you live in one? Explain your answers.
  4. Design your own ideal neighborhood – create a map that considers space to live, work, and play, as well as transportation and utilities like power and water. Why is this better than your current neighborhood?

A medina (from the Arabic: المدينة القديمة‎ meaning “old city”) is an area found in many North African cities, including those in Morocco. A medina is comprised of a densely-packed collection of buildings, typically walled off from the outside world. It is usually accessible only by pedestrians through a handful of gates. Because the winding streets of a medina are rarely wider than the hallway in your school, they are generally off-limits to modern automobile traffic.

Medina quarters have usually been inhabited for a thousand years or more, and often contain historical public works – features important to the whole community – such as fountains for drinking water, schools, markets, shops, public squares, mosques, and churches. Traditionally, the medina was the city, and its residents rarely needed to leave its confines.

The Medina of Chefchaouen.
The medina of Chefchaouen, Morocco – densely clustered, multipurpose buildings, many of which are both homes and businesses. (Chefchaouen, Morocco, 2019.)

Aside from the addition of some electrical wires and modern plumbing, most modern medinas look a lot like they did in those bygone glory days of the trans-Saharan trade one thousand years past.

The streets are rarely wider that six or seven feet, and are sometimes as narrow as two or three. Mules and men with carts do most of the heavy lifting in the streets, delivering or carrying away what can’t be done by hand. In part because of the difficulty of moving bulky items without a motor vehicle, most people buy groceries for today, and maybe tomorrow, but rarely more. Furniture, modern appliances, and large construction supplies are often transported into the medina over a neighbor’s rooftop, then lowered down into a home through the central, open air courtyard. Anger your neighbors, and you might have a hard time remodeling your house. 

Across North Africa and the Middle East, millions of people live this way in the modern day. It’s tempting for an American to view this life as old-fashioned, but that would be an ethnocentric point of view. That is, it would be evaluating other peoples and cultures according to the standards of one’s own culture. This can be a very limiting way to understand the world, because it often leads us to judge other societies unfairly. On the other hand, members of different societies might learn valuable lessons if they approach each others’ culture with an open mind. Someone learning about a different way of life in this way would not say “right” or “wrong,” but instead perhaps “different” and “similar,” “useful” or “not useful.”

So, instead, let’s try a thought experiment…

Don’t think of a medina as “backward.” Think of it as an example which might inspire an American to think about alternate, perhaps more healthier patterns for organizing our cities… What, at first glance, appear to be drawbacks to medina life, when described another way, are what many Americans list as desirable qualities in a neighborhood.

It is walkable, by necessity. Most anything you need – shopping, school, work, healthcare – is available in a five to ten minute walk from your door.  

It is communal – there are basically no police present in the medina, so most problems are solved in the community. Violence is squashed through neighbors’ intervention and social pressure. Public fountains with fresh, safe drinking water can be found at most major intersections.  Same with mosques, which, in addition to the streets lined with small, locally-owned shops, are at the center of residents’ spiritual and social lives.

Most all food is organic, fresh, and affordable, sold with zero plastic packaging.

The narrow streets are shaded between high-walled homes. As a result, temperatures within the medina are typically  several degrees cooler than the open air outside of it. So, while most who live within the medina don’t have air conditioners, they don’t really need them either.

All of this means that the carbon footprint of the average medina dweller is much smaller – much more sustainable by many order of magnitude – than the average American.

Without glamorizing social problems like poverty and sanitation issues that persist in some medinas (as they do in many American neighborhoods), it is easy to see why this way of life has persisted since prehistoric times. 

On the other hand, the patterns of American suburbanization are barely a century and half old. They have led to many comforts for those fortunate enough to afford this lifestyle – but the American way of life is sometimes criticized for the social isolation encouraged by our preference for single family homes, by the unsustainable carbon emissions and lack of exercise encouraged by our urban sprawl, and for water wasted irrigating green lawns, even in parts of the country where grass does not naturally grow.  

As we said earlier, there is no “right” or “wrong” when we attempt to look at cultures in this comparative way. But is it possible that Americans might learn valuable lessons from this way of life, persisting as it has with so little change since ancient times?

THIS LESSON WAS MADE POSSIBLE THROUGH A GENEROUS GRANT FROM THE QATAR FOUNDATION.

The Berbers: A Free and Noble People

This lesson was reported from:


For Your Consideration:
  1. Who are the Berber? Briefly describe their culture.
  2. What do Berbers call themselves, and what does it mean in English?
  3. Write your name in the Berber alphabet.
  4. An anthropologist is someone who examines culture, artifacts, religion, language, lifestyles, and traditions to describe and understand a group of people, either from the present or the past. How would an anthropologist describe your community’s culture and history?

The main ethnic group inhabiting the Maghreb – which literally means “the west” in Arabic, and includes Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia – are known as the Berber people. They and their ancestors have inhabited North Africa for more than 10,000 years, and possess a rich history and culture shaped by the varied geography of the area, as well as by their interactions with other groups, including the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Arabs, the Spanish, and the French.

The Berbers call themselves Imazighen, which means free or noble people in their own language. It is a fitting descriptor.

Historically, the Berbers have been successful in trade, navigating the harsh conditions of the Sahara and the Atlas Mountains, linking Sub Saharan Africa to the Mediterranean world when other groups struggled to do so.  In ancient times, this wealth – as well as Berber prowess on horseback meant that groups such as the Carthaginians were paying them tribute in North Africa.

Unlike the conquests of previous religions and cultures, the coming of Islam, which was spread by Arabs, was to have extensive and long-lasting effects on the Maghreb. The new faith, in its various forms, would penetrate nearly all segments of Berber society, bringing with it armies, learned men, and fervent mystics, and in large part replacing tribal practices and loyalties with new social norms and political traditions influenced by the Arab world.

Almohad_Expansion
The Almohad Empire, a Berber empire based in Morocco that lasted from 1121 to 1269.

Traditionally, Berber men take care of livestock such as sheep, goats, cows, horses, and camels. Families migrate by following the natural cycle of grazing, and seeking water and shelter with the changing seasons. They are thus assured with an abundance of wool, cotton, and plants used for dyeing.  For their part, women look after the family and produce handicrafts like clothing, rugs, or blankets – first for their personal use, and secondly for sale in local souqs, or markets. While many Berber still live according to these patterns, many more no longer follow these traditional patterns – they now have jobs, homes, and lifestyles similar to any of those found in your country.

The traditional social structure of the Berbers is tribal. A leader is appointed to command the tribe through a generally democratic process. In the Middle Ages, many women had the power to govern. The majority of Berber tribes currently have men as heads of the tribe.

beber tea
Berber hospitality centers on a sweet mint tea, offered upon the arrival of guests. Refusal of this offer is considered to be quite rude – take the tea! Let it cool! Have a sip!

IMG_5278
The Berber are known for creating beautiful, artist front doors for their homes, featuring striking patterns, carvings, metal work, and sometimes bright colors.

Imazighen (Berber) cuisine draws influence and flavors from distinct regions across North Africa and the Mediterranean world.

Principal Berber foods include:

  • Couscous, a staple dish made from a grain called semolina
  • Tajine, a stew made in various forms
  • Pastilla, a meat pie traditionally made with squab (fledgling pigeon) often today using chicken

Writing in 1377, the scholar Ibn Khaldun offered a general description of the Berber that applies nearly as well in the twenty-first century:

“As for [their] moral virtues, one can cite: respect for one’s neighbours; the protection of guests; the observance of obligations and commitments; faithful adherence to promises and treaties; resolve in misfortune; indulgence towards the failings of others; renouncement of vengeance; kindness to the unfortunate; respect for the elderly; veneration for men of science; hatred of oppression; resolve before states; determination to win in matters of power; devotion to God in matters of religion.”

Indeed, nearly eight hundred years later the anthropologist Ahmed Skounti echoed these sentiments:

“The Imazighen (singular Amazigh) also known as the Berbers are among the original peoples of North Africa. Their myths, legends and history span 9,000 years, back to the Proto-Mediterraneans. They have achieved unity by keeping up their unique language and culture which are, like their land, both African and Mediterranean.
The Berbers of Morocco share this duality, reflecting the diversity of their nature and stormy history. Through contact with other peoples of the Mediterranean, they created kingdoms but also vast territories organised into powerful, democratic, war-mongering, tribal communities. Both aspects of this social political organisation have left a mark on recent historical events and the two millenia of the country’s history. As opposed to the pagan Mediterranean kingdoms of Antiquity, Berber empires developed inland and were Muslim. Judaism continued to be practiced, and the Sunni Islam majority gradually took
on a Berber hue with its brotherhoods, zaouias, marabouts. and rituals.
The roots of the Berber culture go deep down into Morocco’s proto-history. They are illustrated by a strong link with their land, a sense of community, hospitality sharing food and a specific relationship with spirituality. Its openness to many influences whether Mediterranean, African, Oriental, European or international have defined its current characteristics.
The Berber language, an Afro-Asian idiom, is the melting pot of the history and culture of the country. It has outlived most languages of Antiquity such as Ancient Greek, Phoenician, Latin and Egyptian. It used to be written but is now mainly oral. Though there are fewer now that can speak it, the language is nevertheless still used by a substantial number of Moroccans.”

 

Berber Writing

berber writing arabic french
French and Arabic are the dominant languages for many Berber today, as evinced by this street art in Essaouira, Morocco, but Berbers also have their own traditional language that is distinct from either.

berber script
The Berber alphabet has ancient roots.  It is more properly called tifinagh.

The unique Berber alphabet is called tifinagh. Like the Berbers themselves, the writing has been attributed in turn to having Egyptian, Greek, Phoeno-Punic or South-Arabic origins, though none of these theories is definitive. Other research points toward the indigenous origins of Berber writing, linking it closely to cave art. The undecoded signs and symbols that accompany the depiction of humans, animals, weapons and ritual or combat scenes create a sort of visual vocabulary which may have later developed into the writing system.

Historically, Berber writing had limited uses, primarily in memorials and commemorative stone carvings. It was largely replaced by Arabic around the fifth or sixth centuries, and later by French in the twentieth century. Berber was originally written vertically from top to bottom, but today is oriented from right to left, like Arabic. The alphabet is composed of a distinctive geometric written form, in which 33 characters are created from three basic shapes: the circle, the line, and the dot.

This ancient alphabet serves as the basis for the formation of the modern tifinagh alphabet adopted since 2003 by Morocco in order to write the Berber language.

berber symbol
The yaz (ⵣ) symbolizes the “free man”, which is the meaning of the Berber word Imazighen, the Berbers’ own name for themselves. It can be seen here in graffiti, but also in more formal decorative settings, and in a flag that symbolizes Berber pride and culture.


THIS LESSON WAS MADE POSSIBLE THROUGH A GENEROUS GRANT FROM THE QATAR FOUNDATION.

(Information on the Berber alphabet was adapted from the work of Aline Star, anthropologist at the Institut National des Sciences de L’Archéologie et du Patrimoine. Rabat)

Chefchaouen: The Blue City and the Moroccan Quest for Independence

This lesson was reported from:


For Your Consideration:
  1. How does the story of Chefchaouen reflect the larger history of Morocco?
  2. How did Chefchaouen become blue?
  3. Who controls Chefchaouen today – Moroccans or foreigners?  Support your opinion.
  4. What makes your town unique?  What kind of viral marketing campaign could you create around these characteristics?  Design it and share it with the class.

The Medina of Chefchaouen.
The medina of Chefchaouen – densely clustered, multipurpose buildings, many of which are both homes and businesses.

Chefchaouen is a small town of about 45,000 people. It is located in Morocco’s Rif Mountains. Chefchaouen is not wholly dissimilar to a number of other towns scattered throughout this rocky region – except that this ancient settlement looks like it was made for Instagram. Many of its buildings, many of its streets – most of its visible surfaces – are painted in vivid shades of blue.

What’s going on here?

Chefchaouen was originally founded in 1471 CE. At the time, it was known simply as Chaouen, which loosely translates as “The Peaks” in Arabic, a reference to the tall, foreboding mountainside onto which the fortified settlement was built. In these hardscrabble early days, the humble village served as a base for a fierce Berber resistance against the recent Portuguese invasion of North Africa.

In this defiant effort, the inhabitants of Chaouen were moderately successful. The remote village was never directly conquered by any European power. Chaouen would remain free and independent into the twentieth century, even as much of the rest of the nation came under foreign control. The disclaimer attached to this impressive four hundred year record is, of course, that despite the best efforts of Chaouen’s freedom fighters, no amount of Berber resistance would ever repel a European power from Morocco by force.

This humble reality was a sudden reversal of fortunes for the proud people of Morocco.

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The Islamic Almohad dynasty, based in modern day Morocco, and surrounding states, including the Christian kingdoms of Portugal, León, Castile, Navarre, and the Crown of Aragon, c. 1200 CE.  Before these Christian kingdoms united to conquer the area that would become Spain, the Iberian Peninsula was controlled and colonized for hundreds of years by Moroccans.

Morocco’s great dynasties, in decline by the time of Chaouen’s fifteenth century founding, offer one of the few examples in world history of a non-European power colonizing Europe instead of the inverse.

Beginning around 700 CE, successive Moroccan empires had been the dominant force in western Mediterranean world. Moroccan emperors ruled over the Iberian Peninsula, which includes modern Spain and Portugal. This long reign ensured a strong and lasting Moroccan influence in the language, art, and architecture of the Iberian Peninsula – but also a deep-seated resentment for its Islamic conquerors. The Christian peoples of Spain and Portugal fought a century-long struggle to liberate themselves from Moroccan dominance.

Their zeal also included often violent purges of any non-Christian people left behind in the wake of Morocco’s retreat.

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The sun rises between the towering peaks that lend Chefchaouen its name.

In 1492, Chaouen received a tide of Jewish and Muslim refugees, expelled by royal decree from a newly-unified and fiercely Christian Spain.

This traumatic arrival would transform Chaouen for all time. You can force a people from their homeland, but they will always carry that homeland with them in their language, their architecture, and in their hearts.

Previously, Chaouen had been a small military enclave – homogeneous and reflective of a proud Berber heritage. Suddenly it was a cosmopolitan blend of Maghreb (the Arabic name for North Africa) and Andalusia (the Arabic name for the Iberian Peninsula). The new refugees built their homes in the Spanish style – with tiled roofs, centered around open courtyards, designed to accommodate extended families in communal spaces. The newcomers continued to speak a form of Spanish that would persist – increasingly blended with Berber and Arabic – until the modern day.

Despite this new diversity, mistrust of the outside world only intensified in Chaouen. For centuries afterward, Christians were banned upon punishment of death from entering the walled city – a lingering, telling example of how traumatic acts of prejudice can be cyclical for generations, long after the original wrong has faded from living memory…

In 1912, during the final decades of the European colonial scramble, Morocco fell decisively under the dominion of France and Spain. It was a prize divided by mutual agreement in order to keep a third rival, Germany, out of North Africa. Unfortunately, this arrangement was devised with no input from the Moroccan king or his people. After nearly five hundred years, the long, falling arc from mighty empire to dependent colony was complete.

By virtue of this European treaty, Spain would control the northern swath of the country that included Chaouen. Spanish soldiers occupied the town during much of this colonial period. They were reputedly the first Christians to enter this fiercely-independent town, and they remained, with one exception, until 1956.  During the 1920s, the Spaniards would be forced to withdraw when Berber rebels, once again based in Chaouen and its surrounding environs, launched the Rif War, a hard-fought but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to claim self-rule for their homeland.

It was after this failed rebellion, for reasons lost to history, that the town – previously a nondescript Moroccan adobe, accented with splashes of Islamic green like so many other mountain towns – adopted its distinctive, omnipresent blue palette. Some tour guides speculate that this new color scheme represented the clear, cloudless sky that hangs like a dome over this arid country. Others suggest that blue, a color with strong ties to Judaism, is symbolic of the many descendants of the 1492 refugees who still adhere to that faith.

In Morocco, house painting is a traditionally feminine activity. So, we are left to wonder, who was the first resident of Chefchaouen to paint her house blue? And who was the first neighbor to say, “Hey, that looks pretty good – I’m going to do that, too!”

We’ll never know, but this mountaintop wave of blue was a viral trend that anticipated social media by a hundred years.

The only thing that we know for certain is that the bold blue wash is an accurate representation of the town’s independent spirit. Chefchaouen looks different from any other city in the world, and maybe that’s the point.

Chefchaouen, a town that at first glance seems to have arisen in some other, more magical, more whimsical world than our own, has become an unlikely tourist destination. In the twenty-first century, the town’s idiosyncratic color has brought the town an out-sized fame among travelers from as far away as the United States and China.

A town founded on resistance to the foreign occupation of Morocco now welcomes hundreds of thousands of foreigners every year.

These tourists, enchanted by the town’s singular beauty, sleep in Chefchaouen’s hotels, eat in its restaurants, and spend money in its shops. They are the dominant force supplying the town with a degree of wealth well beyond that of many similar-sized Moroccan communities.

Violence in Chefchaouen is a thing of the past. But it’s an open question as to whether a few hundred cans of blue paint, tastefully applied, won the centuries-long contest for Morocco’s Rif Mountains – or simply opened the latest chapter in the saga.

THIS LESSON WAS MADE POSSIBLE THROUGH A GENEROUS GRANT FROM THE QATAR FOUNDATION.