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In Morocco’s mountains, villagers hold onto ancient traditions


Surrounded by olive and palm trees in a Moroccan mountain village, a centuries-old collective granary preserves the ancient practices of the Amazigh culture.

“Traditions are disappearing, but not here,” says proud village elder Hossine Oubrahim in Ait Kine in the Anti-Atlas Mountains.

High in the rugged hills some 460 km south of the capital Rabat, Ait Kine is home to one of the country’s few remaining collective granaries, called agadir in Amazigh, the Berber language of Morocco.

The imposing, fully functional structure, probably built in the 18th century and restored in 2012, is still used by local residents to store and protect their produce.

“We grew up with the tradition of storing our grains, dried fruit, oil and valuables there,” recalls Oubrahim, in his 70s and dressed in an indigo tunic.

“And we continue to respect that.”

The village’s granary is a “monument” that “represents our sense of community,” said Abdelghani Charai, a 60-year-old merchant who returned to his childhood home in Ait Kine after years of absence.

Granaries are built using a practice known as tamped earth, and are used to store food and important documents (Fadel Senna/AFP)

Grains, fruits, family records

The granary, built using a practice known as rammed earth, is located in the village centre, protected by a fortified wall with a stone watchtower.

In the past, during times of unrest and rebellion against the government, it provided a safe place for storage, Charai explains.

“The granary guaranteed safety,” he said.

Inside, 76 cabins are spread over three levels around an open courtyard with a water reservoir.

The agadir has stores of barley, dates and almonds, but is also used to store documents such as marriage and birth certificates, religious texts and contracts, and recipes for traditional medicines on palm stems.

Lahcen Boutirane, the guardian of the collective storage facility, said the village’s 63 remaining families use it.

“Others have left, but they keep their records here,” he said.

Unwritten laws have kept these granaries sacred and inviolable spaces, not only to store crops for use in drought, but also to protect them from attack, said archaeologist Naima Keddane.

Boutirane stressed the importance of preserving Ait Kine’s agadir, which “testifies to the ingenuity of our ancestors”.

Guardian Lahcen Boutirane walks towards the old collective granary of the village of Ait Kine in the Tata region of Morocco
High in the rugged hills some 460km south of Rabat, Ait Kine is home to one of the country’s few remaining collective granaries, or agadir in Amazigh (Fadel Senna/AFP)


Collective granaries can be found elsewhere in North Africa – in the Aures Mountains of Algeria, in southern Tunisia and in the Nafusa Mountains of Libya – but they are most common in Morocco, although many are no longer in use.

The kingdom has more than 550 ancient igoudar — the plural of agadir — according to the Ministry of Culture, which is preparing a nomination for the UNESCO World Heritage List.

They are mainly located in central and southern Morocco, in caves or on cliffs, on hilltops and in valleys.

“The challenge is to save Morocco’s collective granaries, which have almost disappeared in Algeria, Tunisia and Libya,” says architect and anthropologist Salima Naji.

Passionate about these ‘institutions of solidarity’, she had helped restore the agadir of Ait Kine, now an attraction for researchers and tourists alike.

A group of Italian visitors appreciated the carved wooden door, decorated with wrought iron.

“We are doing a tour of granaries,” said guide Emanuele Maspoli, describing them as “extraordinary places that testify to the historical richness of the Moroccan oases”.

“It’s a magical place,” said tourist Antonella Dalla.

A woman walks to the old collective granary of Ait Kine
Collective granaries can be found all over North Africa, but they are now mostly found only in Morocco, where numbers are also declining (Fadel Senna/AFP)
Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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