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The Ait Sukhmann of the moroccan central Atlas : an ethnographie survey and a case study in Sociocultural Anomaly - article ; n°1 ; vol.38, pg 137-152

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Revue de l'Occident musulman et de la Méditerranée - Année 1984 - Volume 38 - Numéro 1 - Pages 137-152
Résumé Comprenant 26000 âmes selon le recensement marocain de 1960, les Ait Sukhman dans la province centrale marocaine de Béni Mellal chevauchent les chaînes du Moyen- Atlas et du Haut-Atlas Central. Typiques en beaucoup d'aspects socio-culturels des tribus transhumantes des Imazighen dont ils forment un groupe, ils sont néanmoins atypiques en beaucoup d'autres : 1) Dans le fait qu'au moins deux de leurs clans-clefs réclament leur descendance d'un esclave noir de Mawlay 'Abd al-Qadir al-Jilali (et ceci dans une région où les noirs et les Haratin sont vus traditionnellement par des Berbères blancs comme leurs inférieurs sociaux), bien qu'il ne s'y manifeste aucune trace visible d'ascendance noire ; 2) dans le bizarre système économique d'un de leurs groupements-clés localisés, les Ait 'Abdi du Plateau du Kusar (Koucer), qui gardent des chameaux à une altitude de presque 3 000 mètres, où ils se trouvent sous la neige pendant neuf mois de l'année, pénétrés de l'idée qu'ils en ont besoin pour le transport des grains ; 3) dans l'existence, sur leur territoire (et dans ce cas, chez les Ait *Abdi d'Aghbala) d'un grenier collectif dont l'entrée est gardée par des serpents venimeux, dans une montagne presque inaccessible ; 4) par le fait que même s'ils ont cinq clans, lesquels pour la plupart sont discontinus et redoublés au point de vue territorial, ici comme ailleurs dans la région, ils n'ont aucune notion du principe de khams khmas ou « cinq cinquièmes » qui apparaît avec une certaine régularité comme un facteur assez majeur dans la composition et l'organisation des tribus marocaines ; et finalement 5) dans le système inutilement embrouillé d'élections annuelles pour le chef local, encore chez les Ait *Abdi du Kusar. En d'autres aspects traditionnels socioculturels comme par exemple le mariage préférentiel entre cousins parallèles patrilatéraux, l'organisation et la profondeur des lignages, la segmentarité, le droit coutumier, les serments collectifs, la vengeance, le prix du sang et la guerre traditionnelle (surtout avec les Ait Hadiddu) ainsi que s'agissant des arbres et des lieux saints, des « marabouts », ou encore de leur mentalité reconnue par tous leurs voisins et par eux-mêmes comme «arriérée» et «sauvage», ils ressemblent étroitement aux tribus qui les entourent ; mais dans leurs aspects déjà énumérés ils s'en détachent suffisamment pour fournir une exception qui prouve la règle. The article which follows is based on approximately two months of anthropological fieldwork among the Ait Sukhman during the summers of 1959, I960 and 1961. The fïeldwork was carried out in connection with a wider overall project on the sociocultural anthropology of Moroccan Berber-speaking tribes which the author worked on from 1959 to 1967, and which was kindly funded by the American Museum of Natural History in New York, to which institution he extends his thanks. His thanks must go equally to Professor Ernest Gellner of the London School of Economics for having introduced him to the highland Ait Sukhman at Anargi (Anergui) in the Moroccan Central Atlas in 1959. The Ait Sukhman are a Tamazight Berber-speaking tribal group of Central Morocco, consisting largely of transhumants and located in a single territorial bloc straddling the Middle Atlas range to the north and that of the bigger and higher Central High Atlas to the south. They are bordered on the northwest by the Ait r-Rba' and the Ait Sri, on the north by the Ait Ishaq and Ishqirn, on the east by the Ait Yihya and the Ait Hadiddu, both of the Ait Yafalman confederacy (with the latter having traditionally been among their principal enemies), on the south by the northernmost wing of the supertribe of the Ait 'Atta, the Ait Bu Iknifen n-Tlmast, as well as by the local groups of the Ait 'Atta at Usikis and Msimrir, and on the southwest by the Ihansalen and by the Ait Ishha of the Ait Massad confederacy (Maroc, Carte des Tribus: 1.500,000e, Rabat, 1958 and 1962). From an administrative standpoint they fall entirely into the province of Bni Mallal (Beni Mellal circle of 1-Qsiba and three rural communes of Aghbala, Fum 1-Ansar and Tizi n-Isli, circle of Wawizakht and two communes of Anargi and Tagalft, and circle of Azilal and commune of Zawiya Ahansal, with a population in 1 960, by our interpolation of the Moroccan census of that year, of 6,614 nuclear families and 26,182 total population (Royaume du Maroc, Service Central des Statistiques 1962: 162, 166, 167-8, 169-70, 176, 178-9) (1). Figures derived from any subsequent censuses have not been available to us. There is no question but that the Ait Sukhman, or their ancestors, as well as their neighbors, or the latters' ancestors, were integrally involved in the great and disorganized push of Berber tribal groups from the Jbil Saghru and southeastern Morocco northwest across the Central High Atlas and the Middle Atlas toward the Atlantic coastal plains, from the sixteenth century (or earlier) through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, what Terrasse has described as « la poussée (montagnarde) venue du Sud, fait essentiel de l'histoire marocaine» (Terrasse 1949-50, cited by Couvreur 1968: 13; also Brignon et al., 1967: 259-62). According to Couvreur, the Ait Sukhman may have been established at Anargi in the Central High Atlas, which is generally regarded as their point of origin and where they were first divided up, as early as the thirteenth century (though in our view this date seems too early), and certainly by the sixteenth (1968 : 13-14) ; and two clans which were possibly Ait Sukhman or had become so, the Ait Hamama and the Ait Sa'id (w-'Ali ?), figure among those who sold land to Sidi Lahsin w-'Atman of the Ihansalen in the latter's famous land deed of 1598 A. D./ 1006 A.H. (Ithier 1947, unpublished), hence buttressing the sixteenth century date. Couvreur also notes that in the first instance there is a contradiction which a legend tries to resolve : Dawud w-'Ali, the ancestor of one of the Ait Sukhman clans, had a first-born son from the region but then adopted a second son who had come from the south. In this fact we may have a memory of the mixture of two groups of different origin (ibid. 14, n. 13). At any rate, Couvreur adds that apart from the Zawiya Ahansal land deed of 1598, an additional Arabic manuscript from another Ihansalen zawiya at Askar has them chasing out the last stranger groups from Anargi and consolidating their own position in the Anargi area around 1650-70 (ibid : 15). In any event, as Tarrit already noted in colonial times (Tarrit 1 923 : 53 1), it has come to be that if one speaks of the Ait Sukhman in the area of Bni Mallal and Wawizakht, it is generally admitted that one is dealing with these same Ait Dawud w-'Ali, while the Ait Sa'id w-'Ali, the Ait'Abdi and the Ait Hamama are all specified as such. The Ait Hamama came to occupy the right bank of the Asif n-Wirin, after they were pushed out of the Azagharfal by he Ait'Abdi, while the latter occupy its left bank up to and including the crests of Ijbartan, Imghal, the Amalu n-1-Kusar and the Amalu n-Zaimuzen, the twin massifs of the Kusard and the Zaimuzen. (It is no accident that the Kusar massif and plateau, at a height of almost 3,000 meters, was the scene of the magnificent last-ditch resistance of the Ait Sukhman to the French before their final surrender on September 3, 1933, the date which marked the end of the French 'pacification' of the Central Atlas). The Ait Dawud w-'Ali control both banks of the Wad 1-Abid River from Bu Tfarda to the Jbil Sghat, as well as being in control of the Anargi Pass, the Tizi n-w-Anargi, while the Ait Sa id w-Ali, the lowest-lying clan, form a territorial triangle the high point of which is supported by the Wad 1-Abid and the base of which is at Fum 1-Ansar (Tm. Imi n-1-Ansart) and at Bni Mallal itself, virtually on the edge of the flatlands where the massive wall of the Central Atlas begins to rise up. The reasons behind these present-day Ait Sukhman clan locations — and we shall consider the clan structure presently — can probably be summed up by the two socioeconomic and ideological imperatives of pastureland and politics. But before we take up these issues, we discuss that thrown up by the name Ait Sukhman itself; and that this is but the first of a considerable number of anomalies of a sociocultural, socioeconomic and sociopolitical kind — which serve to set the Ait Sukhman off from their other Tamazight- speaking Berber tribal neighbors - will soon become apparent. The etymology of the name Ait Sukhman is in no doubt, but its attitudinal repercussions are of some interest : for although the question may not be one which bothers or puzzles the tribesmen themselves, it certainly throws up a degree of ambiguity in the mind of the oustide observer. The name Sukhman is derived from Tamazight ismakh (pi. isimghari), or black, and the Ait Sukhman are hence people/ descendants of a black. Now this etymology, which is indisputable, is very curious on two counts. The first is that it seems to be known and invoked by only the members of the two highest and most inaccessible Ait Sukhman clans, the Ait Dawud w-'Ali of Anargi (also known as the Ait w-Anargi) and the Ait'Abdi and their close kinsmen the Ait Bindaq of the Kusar and the Zaimuzen ; and not to or by any of the others which inhabit lower-lying areas where under normal circumstances a rather greater number of blacks might be expected to be found. The second point is that even though Sukhman, the putative black ancestor and tribal point of definition, is locally held to have been a slave of the great saint Mawlay 'Abd al-Qadir al-Jilali (whose connections with Morocco and its people are legion, even though he himself never lived there and is buried in Baghdad), and even though the Ait Sukhman themselves tend, as Central Atlas Berbers go, to be rather dark-complexioned — a fact already noted by de la Chapelle ( 1 93 1 : 48, n. 1 0) — they do not look in the least negroid, or at least not to this observer, but rather as fully Caucasoid and Mediterranean as any of their
16 pages
Source : Persée ; Ministère de la jeunesse, de l’éducation nationale et de la recherche, Direction de l’enseignement supérieur, Sous-direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.

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David Montgomery Hart
The Ait Sukhmann of the moroccan central Atlas : an
ethnographie survey and a case study in Sociocultural Anomaly
In: Revue de l'Occident musulman et de la Méditerranée, N°38, 1984. pp. 137-152.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Hart David Montgomery. The Ait Sukhmann of the moroccan central Atlas : an ethnographie survey and a case study in
Sociocultural Anomaly. In: Revue de l'Occident musulman et de la Méditerranée, N°38, 1984. pp. 137-152.
doi : 10.3406/remmm.1984.2050
http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/remmm_0035-1474_1984_num_38_1_2050Résumé
Résumé Comprenant 26000 âmes selon le recensement marocain de 1960, les Ait Sukhman dans la
province centrale marocaine de Béni Mellal chevauchent les chaînes du Moyen- Atlas et du Haut-Atlas
Central. Typiques en beaucoup d'aspects socio-culturels des tribus transhumantes des Imazighen dont
ils forment un groupe, ils sont néanmoins atypiques en beaucoup d'autres : 1) Dans le fait qu'au moins
deux de leurs clans-clefs réclament leur descendance d'un esclave noir de Mawlay 'Abd al-Qadir al-
Jilali (et ceci dans une région où les noirs et les Haratin sont vus traditionnellement par des Berbères
blancs comme leurs inférieurs sociaux), bien qu'il ne s'y manifeste aucune trace visible d'ascendance
noire ; 2) dans le bizarre système économique d'un de leurs groupements-clés localisés, les Ait 'Abdi du
Plateau du Kusar (Koucer), qui gardent des chameaux à une altitude de presque 3 000 mètres, où ils se
trouvent sous la neige pendant neuf mois de l'année, pénétrés de l'idée qu'ils en ont besoin pour le
transport des grains ; 3) dans l'existence, sur leur territoire (et dans ce cas, chez les Ait *Abdi
d'Aghbala) d'un grenier collectif dont l'entrée est gardée par des serpents venimeux, dans une
montagne presque inaccessible ; 4) par le fait que même s'ils ont cinq clans, lesquels pour la plupart
sont discontinus et redoublés au point de vue territorial, ici comme ailleurs dans la région, ils n'ont
aucune notion du principe de khams khmas ou « cinq cinquièmes » qui apparaît avec une certaine
régularité comme un facteur assez majeur dans la composition et l'organisation des tribus marocaines ;
et finalement 5) dans le système inutilement embrouillé d'élections annuelles pour le chef local, encore
chez les Ait *Abdi du Kusar. En d'autres aspects traditionnels socioculturels comme par exemple le
mariage préférentiel entre cousins parallèles patrilatéraux, l'organisation et la profondeur des lignages,
la segmentarité, le droit coutumier, les serments collectifs, la vengeance, le prix du sang et la guerre
traditionnelle (surtout avec les Ait Hadiddu) ainsi que s'agissant des arbres et des lieux saints, des «
marabouts », ou encore de leur mentalité reconnue par tous leurs voisins et par eux-mêmes comme
«arriérée» et «sauvage», ils ressemblent étroitement aux tribus qui les entourent ; mais dans leurs
aspects déjà énumérés ils s'en détachent suffisamment pour fournir une exception qui prouve la règle.
The article which follows is based on approximately two months of anthropological fieldwork among the
Ait Sukhman during the summers of 1959, I960 and 1961. The fïeldwork was carried out in connection
with a wider overall project on the sociocultural anthropology of Moroccan Berber-speaking tribes which
the author worked on from 1959 to 1967, and which was kindly funded by the American Museum of
Natural History in New York, to which institution he extends his thanks. His thanks must go equally to
Professor Ernest Gellner of the London School of Economics for having introduced him to the highland
Ait Sukhman at Anargi (Anergui) in the Moroccan Central Atlas in 1959. The Ait Sukhman are a
Tamazight Berber-speaking tribal group of Central Morocco, consisting largely of transhumants and
located in a single territorial bloc straddling the Middle Atlas range to the north and that of the bigger
and higher Central High Atlas to the south. They are bordered on the northwest by the Ait r-Rba' and the
Ait Sri, on the north by the Ait Ishaq and Ishqirn, on the east by the Ait Yihya and the Ait Hadiddu, both
of the Ait Yafalman confederacy (with the latter having traditionally been among their principal enemies),
on the south by the northernmost wing of the supertribe of the Ait 'Atta, the Ait Bu Iknifen n-Tlmast, as
well as by the local groups of the Ait 'Atta at Usikis and Msimrir, and on the southwest by the Ihansalen
and by the Ait Ishha of the Ait Massad confederacy (Maroc, Carte des Tribus: 1.500,000e, Rabat, 1958
and 1962). From an administrative standpoint they fall entirely into the province of Bni Mallal (Beni
Mellal circle of 1-Qsiba and three rural communes of Aghbala, Fum 1-Ansar and Tizi n-Isli, circle of
Wawizakht and two communes of Anargi and Tagalft, and circle of Azilal and commune of Zawiya
Ahansal, with a population in 1 960, by our interpolation of the Moroccan census of that year, of 6,614
nuclear families and 26,182 total population (Royaume du Maroc, Service Central des Statistiques
1962: 162, 166, 167-8, 169-70, 176, 178-9) (1). Figures derived from any subsequent censuses have
not been available to us. There is no question but that the Ait Sukhman, or their ancestors, as well as
their neighbors, or the latters' ancestors, were integrally involved in the great and disorganized push of
Berber tribal groups from the Jbil Saghru and southeastern Morocco northwest across the Central High
Atlas and the Middle Atlas toward the Atlantic coastal plains, from the sixteenth century (or earlier)
through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, what Terrasse has described as « la poussée
(montagnarde) venue du Sud, fait essentiel de l'histoire marocaine» (Terrasse 1949-50, cited by
Couvreur 1968: 13; also Brignon et al., 1967: 259-62). According to Couvreur, the Ait Sukhman mayhave been established at Anargi in the Central High Atlas, which is generally regarded as their point of
origin and where they were first divided up, as early as the thirteenth century (though in our view this
date seems too early), and certainly by the sixteenth (1968 : 13-14) ; and two clans which were possibly
Ait Sukhman or had become so, the Ait Hamama and the Ait Sa'id (w-'Ali ?), figure among those who
sold land to Sidi Lahsin w-'Atman of the Ihansalen in the latter's famous land deed of 1598 A. D./ 1006
A.H. (Ithier 1947, unpublished), hence buttressing the sixteenth century date. Couvreur also notes that
in the first instance there is a contradiction which a legend tries to resolve : Dawud w-'Ali, the ancestor
of one of the Ait Sukhman clans, had a first-born son from the region but then adopted a second son
who had come from the south. In this fact we may have a memory of the mixture of two groups of
different origin (ibid. 14, n. 13). At any rate, Couvreur adds that apart from the Zawiya Ahansal land
deed of 1598, an additional Arabic manuscript from another Ihansalen zawiya at Askar has them
chasing out the last stranger groups from Anargi and consolidating their own position in the Anargi area
around 1650-70 (ibid : 15). In any event, as Tarrit already noted in colonial times (Tarrit 1 923 : 53 1), it
has come to be that if one speaks of the Ait Sukhman in the area of Bni Mallal and Wawizakht, it is
generally admitted that one is dealing with these same Ait Dawud w-'Ali, while the Ait Sa'id w-'Ali, the
Ait'Abdi and the Ait Hamama are all specified as such. The Ait Hamama came to occupy the right bank
of the Asif n-Wirin, after they were pushed out of the Azagharfal by he Ait'Abdi, while the latter occupy
its left bank up to and including the crests of Ijbartan, Imghal, the Amalu n-1-Kusar and the Amalu n-
Zaimuzen, the twin massifs of the Kusard and the Zaimuzen. (It is no accident that the Kusar massif and
plateau, at a height of almost 3,000 meters, was the scene of the magnificent last-ditch resistance of the
Ait Sukhman to the French before their final surrender on September 3, 1933, the date which marked
the end of the French 'pacification' of the Central Atlas). The Ait Dawud w-'Ali control both banks of the
Wad 1-Abid River from Bu Tfarda to the Jbil Sghat, as well as being in control of the Anargi Pass, the
Tizi n-w-Anargi, while the Ait Sa id w-Ali, the lowest-lying clan, form a territorial triangle the high point of
which is supported by the Wad 1-Abid and the base of which is at Fum 1-Ansar (Tm. Imi n-1-Ansart)
and at Bni Mallal itself, virtually on the edge of the flatlands where the massive wall of the Central Atlas
begins to rise up. The reasons behind these present-day Ait Sukhman clan locations — and we shall
consider the clan structure presently — can probably be summed up by the two socioeconomic and
ideological imperatives of pastureland and politics. But before we take up these issues, we discuss that
thrown up by the name Ait Sukhman itself; and that this is but the first of a considerable number of
anomalies of a sociocultural, socioeconomic and sociopolitical kind — which serve to set the Ait
Sukhman off from their other Tamazight- speaking Berber tribal neighbors - will soon become apparent.
The etymology of the name Ait Sukhman is in no doubt, but its attitudinal repercussions are of some
interest : for although the question may not be one which bothers or puzzles the tribesmen themselves,
it certainly throws up a degree of ambiguity in the mind of the oustide observer. The name Sukhman is
derived from Tamazight ismakh (pi. isimghari), or "black", and the Ait Sukhman are hence "people/
descendants of a black". Now this etymology, which is indisputable, is very curious on two counts. The
first is that it seems to be known and invoked by only the members of the two highest and most
inaccessible Ait Sukhman clans, the Ait Dawud w-'Ali of Anargi (also known as the Ait w-Anargi) and the
Ait'Abdi and their close kinsmen the Ait Bindaq of the Kusar and the Zaimuzen ; and not to or by any of
the others which inhabit lower-lying areas where under normal circumstances a rather greater number
of blacks might be expected to be found. The second point is that even though Sukhman, the putative
black ancestor and tribal point of definition, is locally held to have been a slave of the great saint
Mawlay 'Abd al-Qadir al-Jilali (whose connections with Morocco and its people are legion, even though
he himself never lived there and is buried in Baghdad), and even though the Ait Sukhman themselves
tend, as Central Atlas Berbers go, to be rather dark-complexioned — a fact already noted by de la
Chapelle ( 1 93 1 : 48, n. 1 0) — they do not look in the least negroid, or at least not to this observer, but
rather as fully Caucasoid and Mediterranean as any of their38, 1984-2 R.O.M.M.,
THE AIT SUKHMAN
OF THE MOROCCAN CENTRAL ATLAS :
AN ETHNOGRAPHIC SURVEY AND A CASE STUDY
IN SOCIOCULTURAL ANOMALY
par
David. M. HART
Résumé
Comprenant 26000 âmes selon le recensement marocain de 1960, les Ait Sukhman
dans la province centrale marocaine de Béni Mellal chevauchent les chaînes du Moyen-
Atlas et du Haut-Atlas Central. Typiques en beaucoup d'aspects socio-culturels des tribus
transhumantes des Imazighen dont ils forment un groupe, ils sont néanmoins atypiques en
beaucoup d'autres : 1) Dans le fait qu'au moins deux de leurs clans-clefs réclament leur
descendance d'un esclave noir de Mawlay 'Abd al-Qadir al-Jilali (et ceci dans une région où
les noirs et les Haratin sont vus traditionnellement par des Berbères blancs comme leurs
inférieurs sociaux), bien qu'il ne s'y manifeste aucune trace visible d'ascendance noire ;
2) dans le bizarre système économique d'un de leurs groupements-clés localisés, les Ait
'Abdi du Plateau du Kusar (Koucer), qui gardent des chameaux à une altitude de presque
3 000 mètres, où ils se trouvent sous la neige pendant neuf mois de l'année, pénétrés de l'idée
qu'ils en ont besoin pour le transport des grains ; 3) dans l'existence, sur leur territoire (et
dans ce cas, chez les Ait *Abdi d'Aghbala) d'un grenier collectif dont l'entrée est gardée par
des serpents venimeux, dans une montagne presque inaccessible ; 4) par le fait que même
s'ils ont cinq clans, lesquels pour la plupart sont discontinus et redoublés au point de vue
territorial, ici comme ailleurs dans la région, ils n'ont aucune notion du principe de khams
khmas ou « cinq cinquièmes » qui apparaît avec une certaine régularité comme un facteur
assez majeur dans la composition et l'organisation des tribus marocaines ; et finalement
5) dans le système inutilement embrouillé d'élections annuelles pour le chef local, encore
chez les Ait *Abdi du Kusar. En d'autres aspects traditionnels socioculturels comme par
exemple le mariage préférentiel entre cousins parallèles patrilatéraux, l'organisation et la
profondeur des lignages, la segmentarité, le droit coutumier, les serments collectifs, la
vengeance, le prix du sang et la guerre traditionnelle (surtout avec les Ait Hadiddu) ainsi
que s'agissant des arbres et des lieux saints, des « marabouts », ou encore de leur mentalité
reconnue par tous leurs voisins et par eux-mêmes comme «arriérée» et «sauvage», ils
ressemblent étroitement aux tribus qui les entourent ; mais dans leurs aspects déjà énumérés
ils s'en détachent suffisamment pour fournir une exception qui prouve la règle. D. M. HART 138
The article which follows is based on approximately two months of anthropological
fieldwork among the Ait Sukhman during the summers of 1959, I960 and 1961. The
fïeldwork was carried out in connection with a wider overall project on the sociocultural
anthropology of Moroccan Berber-speaking tribes which the author worked on from 1959
to 1967, and which was kindly funded by the American Museum of Natural History in New
York, to which institution he extends his thanks. His thanks must go equally to Professor
Ernest Gellner of the London School of Economics for having introduced him to the
highland Ait Sukhman at Anargi (Anergui) in the Moroccan Central Atlas in 1959.
The Ait are a Tamazight Berber-speaking tribal group of Central
Morocco, consisting largely of transhumants and located in a single territorial bloc
straddling the Middle Atlas range to the north and that of the bigger and higher Central
High Atlas to the south. They are bordered on the northwest by the Ait r-Rba' and the Ait
Sri, on the north by the Ait Ishaq and Ishqirn, on the east by the Ait Yihya and the Ait
Hadiddu, both of the Ait Yafalman confederacy (with the latter having traditionally been
among their principal enemies), on the south by the northernmost wing of the supertribe of
the Ait 'Atta, the Ait Bu Iknifen n-Tlmast, as well as by the local groups of the Ait 'Atta at
Usikis and Msimrir, and on the southwest by the Ihansalen and by the Ait Ishha of the Ait
Massad confederacy (Maroc, Carte des Tribus: 1.500,000e, Rabat, 1958 and 1962). From
an administrative standpoint they fall entirely into the province of Bni Mallal (Beni Mellal
circle of 1-Qsiba and three rural communes of Aghbala, Fum 1-Ansar and Tizi n-Isli, circle
of Wawizakht and two communes of Anargi and Tagalft, and circle of Azilal and commune
of Zawiya Ahansal, with a population in 1 960, by our interpolation of the Moroccan census
of that year, of 6,614 nuclear families and 26,182 total population (Royaume du Maroc,
Service Central des Statistiques 1962: 162, 166, 167-8, 169-70, 176, 178-9) (1). Figures
derived from any subsequent censuses have not been available to us.
There is no question but that the Ait Sukhman, or their ancestors, as well as their
neighbors, or the latters' ancestors, were integrally involved in the great and disorganized
push of Berber tribal groups from the Jbil Saghru and southeastern Morocco northwest
across the Central High Atlas and the Middle Atlas toward the Atlantic coastal plains,
from the sixteenth century (or earlier) through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,
what Terrasse has described as « la poussée (montagnarde) venue du Sud, fait essentiel de
l'histoire marocaine» (Terrasse 1949-50, cited by Couvreur 1968: 13; also Brignon et al.,
1967: 259-62). According to Couvreur, the Ait Sukhman may have been established at
Anargi in the Central High Atlas, which is generally regarded as their point of origin and
where they were first divided up, as early as the thirteenth century (though in our view this
date seems too early), and certainly by the sixteenth (1968 : 13-14) ; and two clans which
were possibly Ait Sukhman or had become so, the Ait Hamama and the Ait Sa'id (w-'Ali ?),
figure among those who sold land to Sidi Lahsin w-'Atman of the Ihansalen in the latter's
famous land deed of 1598 A. D./ 1006 A.H. (Ithier 1947, unpublished), hence buttressing
the sixteenth century date. Couvreur also notes that in the first instance there is a
contradiction which a legend tries to resolve : Dawud w-'Ali, the ancestor of one of the Ait
Sukhman clans, had a first-born son from the region but then adopted a second son who
had come from the south. In this fact we may have a memory of the mixture of two groups
of different origin (ibid. 14, n. 13). At any rate, Couvreur adds that apart from the Zawiya AIT SUKHMANN 139 THE
Ahansal land deed of 1598, an additional Arabic manuscript from another Ihansalen
zawiya at Askar has them chasing out the last stranger groups from Anargi and consolidat
ing their own position in the Anargi area around 1650-70 (ibid : 15).
In any event, as Tarrit already noted in colonial times (Tarrit 1 923 : 53 1), it has come
to be that if one speaks of the Ait Sukhman in the area of Bni Mallal and Wawizakht, it is
generally admitted that one is dealing with these same Ait Dawud w-'Ali, while the Ait Sa'id
w-'Ali, the Ait'Abdi and the Ait Hamama are all specified as such. The Ait Hamama came
to occupy the right bank of the Asif n-Wirin, after they were pushed out of the Azagharfal
by he Ait'Abdi, while the latter occupy its left bank up to and including the crests of
Ijbartan, Imghal, the Amalu n-1-Kusar and the Amalu n-Zaimuzen, the twin massifs of the
Kusard and the Zaimuzen. (It is no accident that the Kusar massif and plateau, at a height
of almost 3,000 meters, was the scene of the magnificent last-ditch resistance of the Ait
Sukhman to the French before their final surrender on September 3, 1933, the date which
marked the end of the French 'pacification' of the Central Atlas). The Ait Dawud w-'Ali
control both banks of the Wad 1-Abid River from Bu Tfarda to the Jbil Sghat, as well as
being in control of the Anargi Pass, the Tizi n-w-Anargi, while the Ait Sa id w-Ali, the
lowest-lying clan, form a territorial triangle the high point of which is supported by the Wad
1-Abid and the base of which is at Fum 1-Ansar (Tm. Imi n-1-Ansart) and at Bni Mallal
itself, virtually on the edge of the flatlands where the massive wall of the Central Atlas
begins to rise up. The reasons behind these present-day Ait Sukhman clan locations — and
we shall consider the clan structure presently — can probably be summed up by the two
socioeconomic and ideological imperatives of pastureland and politics. But before we take
up these issues, we discuss that thrown up by the name Ait Sukhman itself; and that this is
but the first of a considerable number of anomalies of a sociocultural, socioeconomic and
sociopolitical kind — which serve to set the Ait Sukhman off from their other Tamazight-
speaking Berber tribal neighbors - will soon become apparent.
The etymology of the name Ait Sukhman is in no doubt, but its attitudinal repercus
sions are of some interest : for although the question may not be one which bothers or
puzzles the tribesmen themselves, it certainly throws up a degree of ambiguity in the mind
of the oustide observer. The name Sukhman is derived from Tamazight ismakh (pi.
isimghari), or "black", and the Ait are hence "people/ descendants of a black".
Now this etymology, which is indisputable, is very curious on two counts. The first is that it
seems to be known and invoked by only the members of the two highest and most
inaccessible Ait Sukhman clans, the Ait Dawud w-'Ali of Anargi (also known as the Ait
w-Anargi) and the Ait'Abdi and their close kinsmen the Ait Bindaq of the Kusar and the
Zaimuzen ; and not to or by any of the others which inhabit lower-lying areas where under
normal circumstances a rather greater number of blacks might be expected to be found.
The second point is that even though Sukhman, the putative black ancestor and tribal
point of definition, is locally held to have been a slave of the great saint Mawlay 'Abd
al-Qadir al-Jilali (whose connections with Morocco and its people are legion, even though
he himself never lived there and is buried in Baghdad), and even though the Ait Sukhman
themselves tend, as Central Atlas Berbers go, to be rather dark-complexioned — a fact
already noted by de la Chapelle ( 1 93 1 : 48, n. 1 0) — they do not look in the least negroid, or
at least not to this observer, but rather as fully Caucasoid and Mediterranean as any of their 140 D. M. HART
Berber tribal neighbors, who are entirely free from such origin traditions ; and they appear,
furthermore, to have the same essentially denigratory attitudes toward the negroid Haratin
populations of the Pre-Saharan oases on the southern slopes of the Atlas as do all their
neighbors. In the light of the Gellner's remark about the Ait Sukhman founder having an
"oriental but no particularly prestigious ancestry" (Gellner 1969: 101) seems rather an
understatement.
Couvreur ( 1 968 : 43), pushing for the verification of the "black" etymology, suggests
that fully one-third of the Ait w-Anargi are blacks ; but having personally noticed only three
or four blacks at Anargi, we would submit that this is a gross exaggeration. Everywhere in
the region the members of certain occupational groups, notably blacksmiths (imzilen) and
potters (iqaddareri), are blacks, but these amount normally to only two or three families per
market community and can hardly account for a whole tribal or even a whole clan group.
De la Chapelle ( 1 93 1 48, n. 10) bears this out in part by observing that only the Ait Dawud
w-'Ali and the Ait Sa'id w-'Ali qualify as "true" descendants of Sukhman, which is not
entirely in accord with our own material, according to one version of 'Ali u-
Sukhman, the son of Sukhman and the tribal point of fission, had two wives. By the first
wife he had two sons, Sa'id w-'Ali, the progenitor of the Ait Sa'id w-'Ali, and Dawud w-'Ali,
the grandfather of the A it Dawud w-'Ali ; and by the second, he had one son, 'Abdi (w-'Ali),
the progenitor of the Ait 'Abdi (w-'Ali, understood). How this situation matches that of,
say, the Ait Sammag (also "black", from Tashilhit ismag, pi. isimgari), of the Western Atlas
and the Id aw-Blal ("sons or descendants of Blal", a name traditionally given to blacks and
commemorating Bilal, the first muezzin in Islam, who was black) of the Bani vis-à-vis their
own neighbors we do not know ; but among the ordinary rank-and-file Ait Sukhman
tribesmen it seems clear that whatever black genes may have been present originally have
not been reinforced over time, de la Chapelle's ingenious contention (ibid. : 48, n. 10) that
they may be descended from oasis Haratin or from slaves (Couvreur 1968 : 13) driven up
into the mountains by successive waves of nomads notwithstanding. The evaporation of the
putative original black genes would also seem to be borne out by the prevailing trend
toward preferential patrilateral parallel cousin marriage with the father's brother's daught
er, both as a safeguard toward maintaining the purity of the agnatic lineage and as an
exercise in shfa'a priority rights, those which under Berber customary law agnates are
expected to claim over both land and women. In addition, there is also the fact that the men
of the mountain Ait 'Abdi all seem to look so much alike : short, dark, rather hook-nosed,
thin-lipped, but toothy, wispy-bearded, jug-cared and pronouncedly prognathous. In sum,
they are not particularly handsome — despite the fact that they are also lively, intelligent
and often most amusing companions — as Tamazight-speaking tribesmen go (especially if
compared to the Ait 'Atta or the Ait Hadiddu or the Aith Waryaghar of the Rif). However,
on a more appreciative note, many of the girls are surprisingly lovely (and this point they
share with their 1st 'Atta, 1st Hadiddu and Rifian sisters (2)) — even though most
neighboring tribes unflatteringly view Ait Sukhman women as prostitutes.
Perhaps along the same train of thought which led to the original claim for black
ancestry, a contention advanced by a number of elderly Ait Sukhman informants to the
effect that polygyny in Islam is theoretically unlimited, provided every fifth wife (i.e., fifth,
tenth, fifteenth, twentieth, and so on) is black, may be dismissed as pure concubinal fantasy, THE AIT SUKHMANN 141
with no basis whatsoever in Islamic law : none of these informants was himself other that
monogamous (the normal rule), whit a white ut-Sukhman or ut-'Abdi wife who was also
very likely his father's brother's daughter, whether real or classificatory. This must there
fore represent a classic case of wishful thinking along the lines of a change of color
signifying a change of luck !
There are also at least two striking further anomalies with respect to the economic
organization of the Ait Sukhman, and of the highland Ait 'Abdi in particular, which are
worth considering before we move on to their sociopolitical structure and organization. It
was noted earlier that the Ait Sukhman are for the most part transhumants. Hence they
generally make two well-defined moves per year, up into the mountains in spring to pasture
their sheep and to live in black goathair tents, and back into the valleys to pursue
agricultural tasks and to live in permanent mud-and-stone houses in the autumn. But some
of them, notably the Ait 'Abdi of the Kusar and their Ait Bindaq neighbors to the north
— who are also themselves Ait 'Abdi — above Anargi, are transhumants in limited but
interesting ways. Their permanent houses are high up on the Kusar escarpment and
plateau, the most difficult are of access not only in the whole tribal territory but perhaps the
whole of Morocco, at an altitude of nearly three thousand meters. As Gellner has noted
( 1 984 : 3 1-3, in Ahmed and Hart 1 984) that they were exiled to this most unhospitable spot
for having defied the authority of Sultan Mawlay al-Hasan I ( 1 873- 1 894), although in fact it
is almost certain that their occupation of this area goes back to before this time ; and indeed
some informants held, to the contrary, that the Kusar was the starting point for the Ait
'Abdi. At any rate, they are snowed in on their plateau for close to nine months a year, and
therefore theoretically insulated, so to speak, from their numerous and hostile neighbors,
such as the Ait Hadiddu. However, they spend the summer months scurrying around the
various tribal markets down below and off their escarpment (such as Mondays at Zawiya
Ahansal and Saturdays at Tillugwit n-Ait Ishha, for their are no suq-s on the plateau) and
laying in provisions for the long, cold winter ; and in order to this, they claim that they need
camel transport to carry sacks of grain, etc. So we have the bizarre spectacle of baggage
camels maintained at altitudes of well over two thousand meters, in a very cold Alpine
climate, with the male animals carefully confined to and huddled in the ground floors of the
houses during the rutting season, which occurs in January — for they would die of cold if
left outside (3).
The other economic anomaly lies in the existence at Awajjgal or Awajjyal, which
depends on the "bureau" of Aghbala, of a huge collective storehouse, known as the Tihuna
n-Uwajjyal, consisting of some 350-400 individual cubicles, and belonging to all the Ait
'Abdi of the upper Wad l-'Abid. To be sure, collective storehouses (igharm, pi. igharmari)
are a standard feature of Berber socioeconomic life in the Central Atlas, but this is the only
one, to the writer's knowledge and as supported by the evidence of Jacques-Meunié (vol. 1,
1951 : 161, 163, 165, 186; vol. 2, 1951 plates 95-6), which is guarded by poisonous snakes !
The storehouse is so inaccessible, Jacques-Meunié tells us (vol. 1, 1951 : 161)thatin 1860a
makhzan army which came into the region with the object of dislodging the Ait 'Abdi from
their fortress could not even find it, much less dislodge them from it. (Whether this episode
may be related in any way to their presumably subsequent exile on the Kusar plateau to the
south is not specified). It seems that the snakes, which are probably vipers, keep the cubicles D. M. HART 142
of the granary free of rats and that only the Ait 'Abdi (in this instance, the sub-sections of
the Ait Bindaq, Ait Bulman, Ait r-Ba' and Ait Waghad) know how to approach it — by
making special calls about half a kilometer from the cave entrance — without being bitten.
This special relationship between man and snake is not duplicated anywhere else in
Mococco, although at Ushti the Ait Bindaq (Ait 'Abdi) also have a similar storehouse, as do
the Ait Khuya Hmad (also Ait *Abdi) at Zarshan in the Kusar — and parts of this last were
destroyed in 1933 during the French "pacification". But these last two are evidently
snakeless.
The basis of the segmentary organization of the Ait Sukhman is provided by the
follwing two diagrams, figures 1 and 2. As is apparent, these are quite different from each
other, for as informants the Ait Sukhman are vociferous and excitable, quite unlike the Ait
'Atta or the Rifians of the Aith Waryaghar, and not only do they all tend to talk at once, but
they also tend to contradict each other — and indeed the same informant may easily tend to
contradict himself as well, at two different stages in the interview.
Figure 1
Level 1. SUKHMAN
I Level II : 'ALI=O N° 1
Level III : SA'ID DAWUD
I I
Level IV : AIT SA'ID W-'AL1 AIT DAWUD W-'ALI
Level I: SUKHMAN
LevelII:'ALI=ON°2
Level III 'ABDI
I
Level IV : AIT 'ABDI (W-'ALI is understood)
Figure 2
Level I: SUKHMAN
Level II : 'ALI
LeveHII: DAWUD 'ABDI SA'ID HAQQI IJAMMI
Level IV: AIT AIT 'ABDI AIT SA'ID AIT 'AMR AIT HAMAMA
W-'ALI (atAghbala, W-'ALI W-ISHSHU (at Aghbala)
(at Anargi and ' Anargi and (at Fum (at Aghbala)
Tagalft) Zawiya Ahansal) l-'Ansar THE AIT SUKHMANN 143
The identification and location of the Ait Sukhman clans as given in figure 2 appears
quite straightforward. The tricky aspects of the matter will only emerge at the lower
segmentary levels not as yet discused, when we get into the question of election of chiefs
— although of course how, in figure 2, a son of 'Ali u-Sukhman could presumably leave as
his own son or descendant one 'Amr w-Ishshu is not explained. We should note too that
whereas figure 1 surports to "explain" only three of the major Ait Sukhman clans, figure 2
attempts to explain all five of them. But what is indeed odd and anomalous is that although
the Ait Sukhman have five clans, they seem to have no knowledge at all of the principle and
structural advantages of the type of organization, quite widespread in Morocco, known as
khams khmas or "five 'fifths", which we have discussed elsewhere, and in detail (Hart 1984 :
66-105, in Ahmed and Hart 1984). For this reason they stand at the opposite of the scale
from, for example, the Rgaybat nomads of the Western Sahara (Hart 1962 : 515-27), who in
no sense can be regarded as being divided into five primary units, but some informants of
whom, nonetheless, flying in the teeth of the evidence, insisted that they did or do have a
khams khmas-type organization. (They do not have it, of course, in the literal sense but it
could possibly be argued that they do have it in the figurative one of power and the notion
of power relations and pressure which it conveys).
As our information on the internal subsegmentation of the Ait Sukhman clans is in
fundamental agreement and corresponds closely with that of Gellner (1969: 100-03), we
give here in further detail only that of the Ait 'Abdi, to which we will need to refer in order to
discuss the annual election of clan chiefs, which was traditionally carried out here, as
elsewhere throughout the region, but the twin processes of rotation and complementarity
among the participant units. The Ait 'Abdi as a whose were segmented as follows, as
indicated in figure 3.
It will be quite apparent from the foregoing diagrams that the Ait Sukhman, in
particular the Ait Dawud w-'Ali and the Ait 'Abdi clans, show a high degree of internal
territorial discontinuity and reduplication of their various member lineages, most of which
have members and land in at least two localitities : Tagalft and Anargi for the Ait Dawud
w-'Ali, and Aghbala, Anargi and Zawiya Ahansal for the Ait 'Abdi, the last-mentioned
being the "bureau" on which the Kusar group depends. This is no anomaly, but is rather
characteristic of other Berber-speaking tribes elsewhere in the region, and indeed elsewhere
in Morocco. We have not recorded the segmentation of the Ait Dawud w-'Ali clan in depth,
as our own information here is in full accord with Gellner's ( 1 969 : 1 00) that there are seven
subclans and on the identity of each. What is of more interest is that each of them in
pre-French times had its own chief or amghar, elected annually in the usual manner by
rotation and complementarity, as discussed both by Gellner ( 1 969 : 8 1- 1 04) and the present
writer (hart 1981: 76-89) in previous publications, though a quick recapitulation is
obviously in order.
If a named group (tribe, clan, subclan or whatever) has, for example, three subgroups,
A, B and C, it will be the turn of A to provide the chief one year, while B and C do the
electing from among the members of A. The next year it is B's turn, whith A and C doing the from the of B ; and the third year it is Cs turn, with A and B doing
the electing from among the members of C. In the Ait Dawud w-'Ali case, the amghar of