The Qaids and the Dispossession of Tribes in “Intra-colonial” Morocco, part 2

By Mohammed Maarouf*

Qaids ruled the tribes in the name of organization and order, preventing social anarchy. That was a gradual transformation from tribal self-governing to a total submission to the administration of the Makhzen. Qaids did not only collect taxes for the Makhzen but also for themselves. In the same vein, Montagne maintains: ” Le malheur est plus grand encore lorsque le caid est un étranger à la tribu; tous sont alors “mangés” sans distinction d’origine, tandis que prospèrent autour de la kasba les parents et les serviteurs du maître, qui font même parfois sortir leurs richesses du territoire pour les envoyer dans leur propre tribu ” (1930, p. 384). Most Qaids accumulated fortunes thanks to their centralizing repression. Sometimes the Sultan might intervene and arrest abusive qaids. Mulay Al Hasan, for instance, appointed administrators called supervisors (oumana) to counterpose the power of qaids in a country where the chief had been for centuries the enemy of the collective assembly. As a matter of fact, qaids’ names became famous all over the country. They dispossessed tribes, misused power, and exerted all forms of repression on the population. It was called the “politics of the great qaids” like the politics of Al-Glaoui, Al-Gontafi and El-Metougi.

Si Hmida, a 60 years-old man from the region of Tarudant, speaks about the mistreatment of qaids as follows:

At night the Moqaddem would call each of us by name to the kulfa [a compulsory work duty]. Fathers sent their sons … I carried soil, water, and mortar. We carried the beams, and our mules and camels carried the wood. We also needed mules and camels to work the road and bridges … and when we returned to the village, we also worked for the caid … when our crops were ready; the first harvest had to go to the caid. Otherwise, you had to buy your freedom from the Moqaddem, the shaykh, or the caid himself. I lived through all of that … anybody who refused went to prison and was beaten. Have you seen the prison? It’s there in the house. Later there was the French prison at Taroudant…. We preferred that one. (Hammoudi, 1997, p. 103).

Such stories were very common all over Morocco during the colonial period. The underprivileged masses were drilled by sheer force to succumb to the domination of the administrators of the Makhzen. Small fellahs internalized their duty to serve the qaid and his retinue. Those who went against the official commands were tortured in public to terrorize the rest of the population and incapacitate their volition to act. Here is a recent example from Qal‘at Sraghna in 1954, showing that the ritual of torture is still at work:

During the summer of 1954, less than two years before independence, one of the Sraghna’s greatest caids – a friend of the pasha, a famed hunter of man and game, a polygamist, and a distinguished horseman – prepared himself to do justice in his court (mahkama), which dominated the weekly souk. In front of the caid, shimmering in the afternoon sun, a copper teakettle simmered. The caid’s retinue crouched about him on rugs. Musicians had just struck an ‘ayta when rumour of a bomb suddenly struck the crowd of plaintiffs with a panic that dispersed them in utter disorder. In the souk, the multitude moved back and forth like sea waves. Then the panic came to a halt. News that the bomb had been found buried under the galsa, the space in which the caid was seated, and had been unearthed and dismantled spread just as quickly as the first rumour had. A bit of smoke from the wick had seeped up from the ground and betrayed the bomb’s location. The caid proved to be unflappable. Moments later, two men with hands tied behind their backs were poked, pushed, and prodded before him. Everyone understood these were wataniyin (nationalists), suspected of having planted the bomb. As the huge crowd watched, the caid ordered the men to be “plucked” [amara bitaryishihim]. His militia forced them to their knees and pulled out their beards tuft by tuft; blood ran down their cheeks. Then they were thrown in a car and sent to Marrakech under heavy guard. (Hammoudi, 1997, p. 131).

This incident was a topic of much discussion in the ensuing months. Everyone was speaking about the emasculation of the nationalists. The public ‘shearing’ was considered an act of castration bereaving men of their tribal identity, virility and manhood. Young adults laughed over the fact that old men “put their honour in their beards.” This incident therefore assumed the same importance people might give to pressing topics like despotism of qaids, nationalism and the political situation in the Country (Hammoudi, 1997, p. 131).

Generally, the qaids, sheikhs (agents working under the qaid’s supervision) and muqaddems, who ill-treated the masses of peasants and usurped their land, were not tried for their crimes after independence. Al-Haj T’hami Al-Glawi was a good case in point. He was a qaid whose name, title and prosperity were carved in the memory of the population. In 1958, he possessed 12000 ha of land. He had shares in cobalt and manganese mines. He also monopolized the distribution of water in the region of Marrakech, imposing taxes on people and controlling the olive and almond crops commerce (Halim, 2000, p. 146). Despite the tortures and crimes he perpetrated during the days of Moroccans’ struggle for independence, he was not judged afterwards. He refused to be exiled and carried on living with Moroccans though in oblivion. Of course, secret agencies assassinated or kidnapped Al-Glawi’s accomplices and comrades like l-qaid Tyuti, but most of the members of this network (khulfan (caliphs), shuyukh (sheiks), muqaddamin (supervisors) and jarraya (collectors) have escaped judgment and accountability. (Hammoudi, 2000, p. 168-9).

Such historical oppression of qaids has socially constructed terrorized “intra-colonized” subjects (social identities shaped by internal colonialism) and a cultural phobia of terror from the politics of governance in the history of Morocco. The agents of the Makhzen who destroyed crops, dwellings and human beings have left an indelible scar in popular imagination. What filled people’s hearts with terror was not only the pillage and dispossession of tribes but also the decapitation of heads that was a common practice in the nineteenth century, think of l-Basha Hammou of Taroudant who died in 1900, and see the letter written in 1871 by Sidi Mohammed Ben Abderrahman; at the end of his report of a glorious victory over the powerful Rehamna tribe in the Marrakech region, he wrote: “And you will receive the heads of the dead for display at the gate of the city, to serve as an example to those who reflect on it and as a memory for those who can remember.”(Hammoudi, 1997, p. 63).

It is in the popular saga of saints that you may discover a rich archive of the ill-treatment of qaids and the masses’ armed and cultural resistance to domestic intra-colonial tyranny in Morocco (for further treatment of the psychological effect of ruling terror on peoples’ collective memory, see my previous article with Paul Willis on “Jinn possession as a form of cultural resistance”).

*Dr. Mohammed Maarouf, Chouaib Doukkali University, Morocco