25 Pages

Origin Myths, Autochthonous and 'Stranger' Elements in Lineage and Community Formation, and the Question of Onomastic Recurrences in the Moroccan Rif

Despite the accent which Bedouin Arabs, for example, have always placed upon genealogy and patrilineal descent, the great majority of tribal groups in Morocco (and probably in most of the rest of north-west Africa), whether Arabic-or Berber-speaking, are composite and thus heterogeneous in origin, as Pascon, for example, has noted (Pascon 1971 , 1978). By this is meant that in terms of their own traditions or myths (and between these two concepts, for present purposes, no distinction seems necessary), either the tribes themselves as wholes or simply some of their component sections or segments see themselves as having come from somewhere else. Note at the outset that one striking exception to this rule, one that we have examined elsewhere in considerable detail , is that of the Ait 'Atta, Berber-speakers in the south-centre of the country ; but despite their vigorous insistence on descent from their ancestor Dadda (,Grandfather') 'Atta, their eponymous ancestor in the patriline who lived in the late sixteenth century, the Ait 'Atta are unable to demonstrate such descent on a step-by-step genealogical basis. Hence, despite its vigour, it must remain only an asseveration. But few if any other Moroccan tribes, or at least tribes made up solely of lay members, can make such a claim, for long and recitable genealogies, committed to memory, are both the prerogative and the stock-in-trade of holy lineages, those consisting of shurfa' (sing. sharif) or descendants of the Prophet, whose abundance in the country far exceeds (or has in the past far exceeded) the demand. Such asseverations, and the reasons for them, will be discussed in this article where relevant. Such is not at all the case for the much shorter genealogies of lay tribesmen, which even among the Ait ' Atta do not go above four ascending generations from the speaker, and always in the patriline (Hart 1981,1984).