Man and dromedary have co-existed in what we call “desert civilization”. The great tradition of Beydan pastoralism developed over centuries, a time in which knowledge and know-how were evolving, helped by the growing ties between man and dromedary.
The people of the clouds are in a permanent search of generous rainfall. They would develop a remarkable capacity for finding fertile lands in desert, exploring and inhabiting these immense territories, all the while respecting as nomads the complex and unwritten Beydan social etiquette.
Nomadic tribes of Saharan Morocco are a stronghold of alliances, uniting with each other in a family-like relationship, and their transhumance routes are determined just as much by their social imperative, as they are by the virtues of the grazed pastures that they seek.
These pastures in which each nomad everlastingly evolves are in fact a herbarium in which he (as it was passed on to him from his father) knows the characteristics of each of the plants that are found : he knows which are beneficial for him and his herd as well as those that are poisonous and inedible, for example, talh (acacia radiana), askaf (nucularea perrinio), hadd(cornulaca monocantha), etc.
The aquatic plants, on the other hand, are completely neglected and are not cared for much by the pastoral nomad, who calls each and every one of them «hchich elma» (plants from the water).
Through oral transmission from father to son, the dromedary holds no secrets for the nomad. His footsteps in the sand are signs that his owner can interpret. Simply by the depth of the footprints, he can tell if it is a male or female. He can also conclude from the mark of the hooves at the front of the footprint, the animal’s origin : a long mark for a sandy soil origin and an eroded mark for animal evolving in rocky and pebbly soils. The nomad can also identify a dromedary’s breed and even the colour of its fur, all from the shape of its footprint. In fact, only the white or spotted dromedary has long, fine hairs, which can also be distinguished from the mark of the footprint left in the soil.
THE PRODIGIOUS ANIMAL
With its extraordinary adaptability in the arid environment of the Sahara, the dromedary is a prodigious animal. The nomad owe it for its habitat (wool) and its food (meat, milk), women owe it their opulent beauty, and Saharan Morocco’s craftsmanship owes it their flamboyant objects made of leather. The dromedary is the one that made journeying possible for the nomad, and without which the epic caravans of trans-Saharan commerce never would have existed. Saharan Morocco and its flourishing lands have long been the heart and soul of the prosperity of both Mediterranean and sub-Saharan Africa. The history of Morocco knows well the role of this "desert vessel" as it is a building block of the Almoravid empire, the great camel-riding nomads of the Sahara. Ibn Khaldoun has highlighted the importance of the camel-riding nomad, who leaves his land to explore new grounds, marking the beginning of a powerful dynasty.
EN-NAR, THE TRIBAL SIGNATURE
In the Beydan traditions of nomadic life, the dromedaries bears special signs, found on their long necks or on their hindquarters. Each sign, called en-nar, or lealama, is a distinct symbol linked to the tribe that the dromedary belongs to. All can decipher, through knowledge gained from daily pastoral practices, the multitude of tribal signs, and identify in the blink of an eye to which tribe each dromedary belongs. While livestock may get lost in the herd, one camel can never be confused for another : they are each marked through hot iron branding, from a very young age, and for life. Iron branding marks used by some Moorish camel-riding tribes, and a dromedary with a mark on its neck.
THE MOORISH RAHLA
The Moorish rahla, key feature in camel trapping, is the ultimate symbol of Beydan pastoralism : Théodore Monod says that this saddle symbolizes the invisible boundary between the Hassani speaking Moorish world and the Berber speaking nomads which have adopted the targui, the Touareg saddle. The Moorish rahla, a complex combination of materials, shapes and methods used for its design, demonstrate the ancestral know-how of Beydan craftsmanship. The division of the tasks in the fabrication is rigorous : some tasks are handled by men whilst others are reserved for women. The rahla has stood the test of time and is the pride of the camel rider who have often inherited it from his ancestors.
CAMEL MILK, THE BLESSED DRINK
Camel milk plays a vital role in the nomad’s nutrition. The camel milking is processed in the mrah (a vast space reserved for dromedaries in the Frigs) or at the heart of the pastures themselves, during the hour poetically called «the star of the camel» (nejmet ez-zwayl). In Beydan tradition, only men, shepherds, are allowed to milk camels. In a standing position, he collects the warm milk in a recipient made of wood (adars). The milk is served immediately after it is milked; warm and foamy (raghwa), yet it may also become lben once curdled or be more refreshing, when mixed with water (chnin or zrig). This milk is a symbol of prosperity and well-being. In the view of Beydan people, the whiteness of the milk is associated to healthy living and linked to positive vital energy. The milk can reveal a lot about where the camel has grazed : using their sense of taste, the Beydan can detect the herbs and the ferns ingested by the animal, and thus tell the pastoral routes used by their herds.
THE DROMEDARY AT THE HEART OF SOCIAL TIES
In the Beydan nomadic tradition, the camel is at the heart of all social relations. Offering a nhira (the sacrifice of a female camel) is to honour the host, to demonstrate respect, or gratitude. Offering the nhiras to a zawia or to a khayma (meaning to a Beydan family) is a remarkable demonstration of deference and of the will to forge stronger social ties. The taarguiba (ritual involving the presentation of a nhira in front of the tent belonging to an influential person) is a massive demonstration of the will of one tribe to ally with another.