Tafilalet

   Tafilalet designates the geographical and cultural area of southeastern Morocco until independence. After that, the area was named Ksar Es-Souk Province, which changed later into the present Errachidia Province. Its history was tied to the fortunes and misfortunes of the medieval city-state of Sijilmassa, whose economy was based on trans-Saharan caravan trade. Today, Tafilalet is limited to the urban center of Rissani and its surrounding villages and palm grove.
   Medieval Arab geographers describe the oasis as an area of fertile lands, plentiful dates, lush greenery, and a sophisticated level of urbanization and architecture emulating and rivaling those of Moorish Spain and China. Sijilmassa's trans-Saharan caravan trade between the eighth and ninth centuries made the oasis the favorite trade destination of Moorish and Jewish groups attracted by speculation and high profits generated by an unequal trade exchange with Sudan: slaves and gold exchanged for salt, wool, cloth, arms, and gunpowder.
   At the beginning of the 17th century and as Europeans powers diverted much of the trans-Saharan trade to the coastal areas, Tafilalet became a focal site for control, as the early founders of the ruling Alawite dynasty were caught in competition with the Illigh and Dila religious brotherhoods over the control of the Moroccan terminus of the Tafilalet trade routes. These events eventually led to the rise of the Alawite dynasty. In 1606, Sultan Moulay Zidan took refuge in Tafilalet and, using gold he acquired there, raised an army and managed to conquer Marrakech. In 1910, Abu Mahalli raised an army in Tafilalet and managed to take over Marrakech in 1912. However, Sidi Yahya, saint of the Taroudant in the Sous region, chased Abu Mahalla, killed him, and liberated the city for the sultan. By 1622, Tafilalet was still insubordinate and had to be put under control by the Moulay Zidan in a repressive campaign that lasted four months. By 1630, trans-Saharan trade was becoming more profitable, and the Shorfa Arabs began to unite under the leadership of Moulay Ali Al Sharif. At the start, they were challenged by the Dila religious brotherhoods and Aït Atta but called on the assistance of al-Samlali of the Illigh zawiya. The Illigh zawiya responded with an army but instead decided to conquer the region rather than bring aid to the emerging Alawite dynasty. By 1640, the Illigh forces were driven out of the region. In 1669, the Alawites were finally able to capture Marrakech. Tafilalet's theater of action among the Alawites-the declining Sa`diyin dynasty, the Illigh, and the Dila-reflects its economic significance in the 17th century. With the success of the Alawites, Tafilalet eclipsed the Drâa as the region from which the ruling dynasty originated. In later centuries, trans-Saharan trade became less important as the Alawite dynasty put in a place a taxation system. With the occupation of Algeria by France in the nineteenth century, Tafilalet and the Algerian-Moroccan frontier became exposed to French military encroachment. By the end of 19th century, almost all the city oases southeast of Tafilalet came under French control. In 1932, the French, after several battles with the Aït Atta, conquered Tafilalet and its surroundings. Tafilalet is the largest single oasis in Morocco, given life by the Ziz and Ghris rivers that converge on it. The oasis covers an area of about 375 square kilometers, and it has a population of about 90,000. It is inhabited by Aït Atta, holy and common Arabs, and the Haratine. Its mixed economy is based on pastoral nomadism and on irrigated cultivation of date palms with a variety of crops, such as cereals, fruit trees, and vegetables. In recent decades, emigration plus tourism and the development of modern irrigated agriculture have significantly altered the social and ecological landscape of the region. The Haratine population, who for centuries composed a landless group, have began to purchase land and even be elected to public office, and the Arab and Berber notability has been slowly losing its traditional economic, social, and political domination.

Historical Dictionary of the Berbers (Imazighen) . . 2014.

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