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The Moroccan oasis of Figuig: farmers cling to their traditional livelihood – our life – culture

Abdel Majid Boudi stands among green gardens, expressing his pride in cultivating this “inherited from father to grandfather” land in the desert oasis of Figuig on the Moroccan-Algerian border, in a testament to the past glories of a region that was previously a major hub for commercial caravans.

Following in the footsteps of his ancestors, this 62-year-old farmer lives by selling the dates he produces in two fields in the middle of “Qasr” Zenada, which is the name given to residential neighborhoods fenced with high walls in Moroccan oases, located mostly on the eastern slopes of the Atlas Mountains on the outskirts of the Sahara Desert.

Farmers here preserve the manual techniques inherited from their ancestors in pollinating flowers and harvesting fruits, gracefully climbing the palm tree trunks without disturbing their balance.

“Our culture is very related to agriculture,” Bode said. “Life in an oasis is a way of life in its own right.” This farmer also assumes the tasks of “Zarifi”, a vital function in the life of the oasis based on distributing the rations of water intended for irrigating the fields through a carefully prepared irrigation network inherited from the ancestors.

His cousin Raja added, “The people here are tied to their land. Our veins are watered by these roots.” Like many of the descendants of the oasis, she left this forty-year-old school, Figuig, to work, but “returns whenever possible” to visit her family.

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But immigrants also contribute to the survival of the oasis by investing in new palm groves in its historical surroundings, as noted by historian Mustafa Lali, who held responsibilities in Figuig municipality between 1992 and 2016.

The residents of the oasis live “amid close solidarity with each other,” according to Yamina Haqqo (58 years old), who is the owner of a tourist hostel who enjoys accompanying tourists to wander through the orchards, water basins and houses built according to a special urban pattern that mixes stones with mud and palm wood.

In the Zenakah neighborhood, which is cut through narrow, intertwining alleys, which is one of the six walled neighborhoods of Al Qasr, all residents know each other and speak Berber. “We preserved our language and resisted everything,” said Muhammad Jilali, the head of a local association.

In recent decades, however, the oasis has lost about half of its population, while nearly a third of its orchards have become neglected, while about 2,000 old homes have “deteriorated or become ruins,” according to a university study.

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Mustapha Lalli brings the star of this main caravan route back to 1845, when the border between Morocco and Algeria was drawn.

Although the region escaped relatively from the devastation of the bombing launched by the French army on it from Algeria in 1903, and also from the repercussions of the “war of sand” between Morocco and independent Algeria in 1963, it has been affected by the trade depression due to the closure of the borders between the two countries since 1994.

The oasis was also affected, in particular, due to the shrinking of its “vital area”, formed for centuries by scattered palm trees, surrounding a valley that has become the border between the two countries.

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