Critical analysis of «The Zemmour: Tribal history essay» of Marcel Lesen

Posté le 16 juillet 2017 par Fatiha Aarour dans Non classé

  • By Fatiha Aarour

zemmour

“The Zemmour: Tribal history essay” [1] is the title of a research which was conducted by the French sociologist Marcel Lesne. The research published by the “Muslim West and the Mediterranean Review”[2] in 1966, was originally presented as a complementary PhD thesis of literature at the Faculty of literature and Human Sciences in Paris in 1960.

The M. Lesne’s thesis whose original title was “The Zemmour, evolution of a Berber group” [3] concerns the diversity and behavior of the Zemmour group which is presented as an unstable molecular structure.

Marcel Lesne’s research bears out the hypothesis predicting that “Zemmour” who is a powerful group of Berber-speaking tribes was hostile to the Alaouite dynasty in Morocco on one hand, and to the all the strangers on the other. But at the same time, M. Lesne’s claims that this group was deeply divided and plagued by the conflict which was constantly re-emerging.

Moreover, Lesne asserts that the Zemmour tribe brought to arabized plains their warlike ardor and the harshness of the morals of the Berber mountain at the beginning of the twentieth century. No stranger could cross their territory without ensuring against “Mezrag” payment[4].

It should be noted that M. Lesne (1916-2012) comes from a family of miners; he became a teacher and inspector of Muslim Education, then he was been appointed head of the Department of Technical Education in Morocco between 1946 and 1959, where he conducted his PhD thesis about the Zemmour tribes.

In 1959 Lesne was appointed as Director of the Educational Social Centers in Algiers until 1962. In 1961 he was appointed again as lecturer at the Faculty of Ethnology and Ethnography of the Maghreb in Algiers.

The method used in Lesne’s research is the document review research which includes the collection of written sources. It seems that M. Lesne relied on a large body of literature, especially the traditional Moroccan sources, such as “A survey book” ofAhmad ibn Khalid al-Nasiri al-Salawi[5], “The history of Ibn Khaldun”, Leo Africanus[6], Abu al-Qasim Al-Zayani[7] and others. Also, Lesne exploited foreign literature, particularly the monographies carried out by the civil affairs officers, the Center for advanced studies on Africa and the modern Asia[8] and the archives of French Interior Ministry.

M. Lesne divided his thesis into three chapters. The first one concerns the diversity of the components of the Zemmour confederation; the second one is related to the Movement of the Zemmour tribes towards the Atlantic plains and the last chapter concerns the relationship between Zemmour and Alaouite Mekhzen[9].

One of Lesne’s main arguments is that the Zemmour tribes are characterized by their ethnic diversity. Form his opinion, this tribes group has neither common ancestors nor general genealogical fiction. According to him, the group has several centuries of existence and despite its division; it could ensure the survival of the tribes which compose it; and its cohesion, however weak it may appear. Those elements allowed the group to preserve a “dangerous” position at the head of the Berber-speaking groups in the Atlantic plains. In spite of that, the Zemmour confederation remains clearly distinct by its customs and manners compared with its neighbors.

Lesne, likewise, asserts that the war alliances, agreements for the protection of persons and free crossing, pacts of friendship and non-aggression which are characterized by a magico-religious nature, ensure within the group and the tribes that compose it certain cohesion which compatible with the total freedom of the group.

Also, the author argues that the group originally came from the Moroccan desert to reach the proximity of the Atlantic Ocean crossing the mountains of the Middle Atlas. Its departure towards the North dates from about 1650. The journey was painful, and each of the stages traveled so marked its history, temperament and behavior.

The Mekhzen policy attempted to oppose the tribes even more to each other and to use their natural rivalries. Placed at the tip of the Berber-speaking stem from the Middle Atlas, the Zemmour tribes were thus led to participate in the political and warlike game of the reigning dynasty, according to M. Lesne.

Another argument defended by the author concerns the pacification of this group which was imposed by French occupation. The main idea is the cessation of the millennial movement towards the northwest and the pacification imposed favored its settlement on the ground, open to populations still imbued with rude mountain habits and access to modern life, even it had preserved its ancient rhythms of existence.

M. Lesne maintains that the isolation accompanied by indebtedness of social structures, aggressive hostility to any constraint coming from outside, which characterized the “bled siba”[10], may have led to think of a kind of Zemmour “particularism” which had become an enemy of the Alaouite dynasty, whereas it is just a specificity which was expressed not only within the Berber-speaking bloc but also within the confederation itself.

One of the most important findings asserted in Lesne’s thesis is related to the influences which the Zemmour group has undergone over the years. At the beginning of the twentieth century, once they had settled within clear territorial boundaries, the Zemmour tribes were subjected to the evolutionary action of the new central power, influenced by the urban Arab civilization, penetrated by strangers, and exposed to the action of new concepts and destructive forces of every excess of particularism.

It seems that Lesne’s research is a kind of monographic study as he tried to approach the different aspects of the Zemmour confederation life. Yet with the regard to the methodology and the discipline, the work is sometimes confusing. Also, even if it is presented as a historical essay, the Lesne’s thesis is much close to the anthropologic and ethnographic study.

M. Lesne has been limited to the document review research as a method while the study tried to approach many aspect of the Zemmour life, which requires depth field survey in order to avoid the prejudices.

Furthermore, the author attempts to convince us that Zemmour tribes suffer from tensions and rivalries. He presents them as racial groups marked by specific characteristics distinguish them from the others, which make him fall into the trapped categorization of race. Added to that, the thesis includes a lot of contradictory information.

Nevertheless, “The Zemmour: Tribal history essay” remains one of the most important sources which could be useful for the researchers on this group of tribes, especially to my research about the “Ait Hkem confederation” in so far as it has also tried to approach this confederation of tribes as part of this large group.

Fatiha AAROUR


[1] Les Zemmour: Essai d’histoire tribal

[2] Revue de l’Occident musulman et de la Méditerranée

[3] Les Zemmour, évolution d’un groupement berbère

[4] customary form of protection

[5] A Moroccan historian (1835 -  1897)

[6] A Moroccan historian , his original name is Al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Wazzan

[7] A Moroccan historian

[9] A term means the Moroccan State and the Moroccan regal institutions

[10] A typically Moroccan term which means « anarchy land »;” Siba/ anarchy” it is a form of political and social contestation and is opposed to the Moroccan system Known by the term “Makhzen”.

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