Saving the art of words

My photo shows a halakis, or storyteller, in the Jemaa El Fna in Marrakech, Morocco. Every evening there are several halakis continuing the great oral tradition of storytelling in Marrakech's public space, and they are real performance artists who attract large local audiences of all ages. Storytelling was traditionally an important way of passing down ideas and legends in a society where 47% of the adult population are still illiterate and where the legacy of gender discrimination means that in the twenty-first century 60% of Moroccan women remain illiterate, a statistic that is missing from most of the 'lifestyle' coverage devoted to Marrakesh and other fashionable cities.

But despite this dependance on oral communication the art of words is under threat as young Moroccans turn to new technolgy for their entertainment. Spanish author and Marrakech resident Juan Goytisolo has eloquently pleaded the case for the storytellers and in 2001 UNESCO named Jemaa El Fna as 'a masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity' and it is planned to make recordings of the halakis available online.

More proof that words are the new music.
Photo (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Hello there. I didn't realize that I was supposed to be educating people on literacy in Morocco on my personal blog. My blog is personal stories about my life.

However, in my day job, I am a human rights and democracy specialist. I have run civic education programs tailored for Moroccan women, done extensive research on women and women's issues, provided grants to women's organizations, and studied the Moroccan women's movement. However, in order to not get into trouble with my work, I do not discuss these things on my personal blog.
Pliable said…
Maryam, thanks for that, different strokes for different folks.

Personally, I find it more difficult to separate personal stories and the bigger issues and found Marrakech to be a lot more than "a place for lifestyle and design".
Garth Trinkl said…
An incredible and scary -- and, bizarrely, award-winning -- blog from a rich American ex-patriot living in Morocco.

Your 'personal stories' about your 'life-style' and guest house construction now appear to be, at least in part, underwritten by the U.N., the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development, or an NGO ....
Pliable said…
My readers do have a knack for hitting the spot ...
Pliable said…
and more on democracy and gender discrimination in Morocco here -
Pliable said…
A reader has noted the counterpoint between these two stories:

“Maryam Montague, an American mother of two living in Marrakech, leads something of a double life. By day, she is the lifestyle editor of Last Exit, Marrakech's newest English language magazine, while her architect husband oversees the construction of their guesthouse in nine acres of olive grove and bougainvillea on the outskirts of the city.” …
(accessed 5/7/08)


“Maryam Montague has more than 12 years of experience running [U.S.A.I.D.-funded] democracy and governance programs around the world, in such areas as governance; elections processes; NGO and political party organizing; media and communications; transparency and ethics; women’s participation; and public opinion research ... Countries of expertise include Morocco, Egypt and Nepal”
(accessed 5/7/08)

I am unclear what your point is here. As your own research proves, my job is devoted to helping others (and has been for many years) -- I don't understand why that seems to be strangely the subject of attack here. The fact that I write on design and fashion on my blog does not mean that I can not devote myself to political rights, prisoner rights and children's rights in many countries around the world (Senegal, Kenya, Namibia, Tanzania, Egypt, Morocco and over 30 countries). Are people only permitted to be uni-dimensional?
Pliable said…
Maryam, it is essential to see all the dimensions in a complex society such as Morocco.

Your blog clearly explores one dimension.

It would certainly help me if you could share the links to your online resources where you explore those other dimensions you are involved with in your 'day job'.

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