Friday, November 6, 2009

Security, Trade, and the Caravan – Blog 9


Roger Mimo owns a small hotel in Tinerhir. He reconverted a splendid Kasbah into a 20 or so room hotel, each tastefully decorated with local colors and each interestingly named after one of the stages of the Caravan Route that linked the Maghreb to the Bilal al Sudan (literally, land of the Blacks). Marrakech, Oualata, Timbuktu, Gao, Koumi Sale- every room has its little story about the activities and trades one could encounter in each of these places. Perchance, I happened to stay in his hotel during my own Caravan travels and was eager to strike a conversation on the topic. As it happens, Roger had crossed the Sahara desert, along many of these caravan routes a few decades ago, in a 4 by 4. The road from Morocco to Mali is a dangerous one, crossing parts of Algeria and all of Mauritania. But Roger Mimo doesn't seem like the type of person to give up on anything!

  • Why did you name each of these rooms after a stage in the Caravan Route?

When I started this hotel, I had just returned from my trip across Mauritania where I had done quite a bit of reading about the Caravan routes. I thought it would be a good addition to the hotel.

Salt was one of the main goods transported across the Sahara from North to South. I know about the great Salt mines in Northern Mauritania. Do you know if there were any salt mines in Morocco?

I don't think salt was mined in Morocco. The land is very salty, actually just a few miles from here, North of Ouarzazate, there is a river called "Assif Mellah"- the Salty River. But I don't think they gathered Salt in Morocco. No, Caravans loaded fine crafts, dates and grains in Morocco, which they then traded for Salt in Mauritania.
In reading Leo, I am always stricken by the very 'un-Moroccan' nature of his prose. I don't think he would have been able to write such a work had he stayed in Morocco.
For sure, he needed to leave his country before he could truly reflect upon it. But remember that he was not Moroccan, he was Andalusian. At the time, the Andalus were more refined culturally and intellectually than any Moroccan or even Christian European. We owe a lot to their culture. 

In other ways, Leo's prose is actually quite Arabic or local. For example, in each of the regions he describes, he always lists the number of villages, then the number of 'chateaux' (castles). This distinction is odd, given the meaning of Castle for Italians- and there were certainly not that many single family, noble dwellings in Morocco. Having lived here for many years now I realize what he meant by this term. Castle, is Ksar, or fortified village- the wall enclosed towns you see all across Morocco. Village, on the other hand is Douar- a grouping of houses or tents.

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