A Visit to Douar Tafza, the Berber Ecomuseum in the Ourika Valley
By Colin Kilkelly*: As you come to the last corner at the entrance to the Ourika Valley, 35 minutes from Marrakech you can see on your right the little Berber village of Tafza. Before you decide to bypass its centre, you may want to know that it houses a priceless gem, the Berber ecomuseum of Douar Tafza.
This has been created after 16 months hard labor by Patrick Manac’h, a French art and cultural expert of rare insight and his business partner Hamid Mergani. They worked with the villagers of Tafza to create the ecomuseum by rebuilding a derelict house as a traditional Berber dwelling. The village council agreed with the scheme and the local authorities gave their full support. The house is used for gatherings such as weddings where 500 people have attended. The idea is that the ecomuseum is a living part of the village preserving and enhancing its Berber heritage. Patrick visited the first ecomuseum in France on the Breton Island of Ouessant, which recorded local culture and it gave him the idea for Douar Tafza.
The house has two entries, one for everyday use and the other for honored and distinguished guests. As you enter the downstairs yard, you see the food storage system dug deep into the floor where olives, oil and foodstuffs were stored. The walls of the house were rebuilt with the original adobe and painted in bright pink colors, which change as the sunlight changes through the day. The first floor has beautiful original carpets hanging on the walls. Berber carpets all describe the life cycle of marriage, birth and the womb. The inside of the house is the woman’s domain and women are represented by lozenge shapes on the carpet and men are long horizontal lines. Sometimes the lozenge shapes have little dots in them, which one can interpret as being babies. The whole rhythm of the life cycle and the relations of men and women are part of Berber art. The colors of the carpets vary from red to white and other colors. These are original old Berber carpets and a remarkable collection of pottery which also carries the same fertility designs. They include a remarkably phallic butter churner.
Also on the first floor is a fantastic selection of original photos of Berber tribes, with people dancing and singing. Recordings and musical events will be held there. Original 1935 photos depict Berber dancers and shortly original cine film taken by Daniel Chicault of the Seksawa tribe in the High Atlas in1957 will be showing on video. You can see three of Chicault’s films at Patrick’s main venture, “La Maison de la Photographie” which is a three floor converted fundaq or old trading house not far from the Medersa Ben Youssef in Marrakech’s medina. This houses original photographs posed, or street scenes from 1862 to 1957 with an incredible library of 3,500 photographs and documents including 800 original glass prints brought from France. This is a must for all who are interested in Morocco’s history.
Douar Tafza has two remarkable galleries of carpets and pottery interspersed with stunning original photography. The house owner’s room and his room for receiving guests is arranged in delightful detail and by a fantastic process of documentation, the original owner’s photograph is hanging on the wall in what would have been his living quarters. The top of the house has a veranda where guests can take a cold drink or mint tea and look out over the Ourika valley. Patrick is working with the local village to build a new school and ensure clean drinking water and at the entrance to the village a new and very well supplied spice and herb shop.
This is a remarkable example of sustainable ecotourism which is bringing life to this village and encouraging communal participation in this visionary project. It is a very welcome initiative amongst other private sector ventures such as Kasbah Toubkal and Virgin’s Kasbah Tamadot to name but two, which are helping to bring much needed revenue and opportunity to the Atlas village communities and is a sign of exciting developments in Morocco’s tourism sector.--------------------------------------
Colin Kilkelly lives and works in Marrakech and is a correspondent of The North Africa Journal