I picked a grand taxi from Fez and arrived in Sefrou on Sunday 27TH 2022 with two other students of my own age. We went to Sefrou with a specific task planned and that is to interview Sefrioui residents and see if they can talk about multiculturalism in the city. Not only talk about but we wanted to see if they feel and experience multiculturalism. On arrival, we meet members of the Sefrou Association for Multidisciplinary Arts (SAMA) who exchanged with us some of their projects and ways of doing ethnographic research in Sefrou Medina. We drank Moroccan mint tea and had the opportunity to interview some of Sefrou’s people, namely Mr. Hmamouch, Khalid, and Mustapha El Heidi who is a famous weaver from the old medina of Sefrou. We were eating lunch and discussing at the same time different topics, for example, Mustapha spoke about his experience with the Jewish community of Sefrou and he said: “We were on good terms with the Jews and I have a good memory of my father sending me to drop something at a Jewish house and the Jews gave and put food in my pockets”. Mr. Hmamouch shared with us one of his experiences, mainly his movement from Sefrou to Fez. He spoke with us about his short travel from Sefrou to Fez in order to sit at café La Renaissance which he describes as a school in which he learned the French language and many things.
After lunch, we had a brief discussion about which questions to use in our ethnographic study. We were three groups and each group went to a different place, for example, the first group went to the sanctuary of Sidi Ali Bousrghine, my group did its study in El Haddadin narrow streets and the last group was heading to a place called Rfaif.
The shrine of Sidi Ali Bosrgin. The saint is to be found at the peak of a formidable hill and it offers a beautiful panoramic view of Sefrou.
Yassin and Ikrame (two of SAMA members) and myself interviewed the first person inside funduq Al Ghazal (hotel) and we asked our interviewee different questions, for example, if you could represent Sefrou in an image what would it be? Might it be an object, a landscape, a portrait or a combination? and the response was agriculture. They said: “land here is good for planting”. The second question we asked our informant was what comes to your mind when
you hear the word Sefrou? But the question seemed to confuse our informant so we asked him about the Thursday suk (market) and he said: “the suk has changed and we no longer feel the suk nowadays”. We moved to the third question which was about what characterises Sefrou from other cities, mainly in architecture, cuisine, music, people, etc. Our informant jumped to talk about people and mentions: “through people I hear different accents like Sousia (one of the dialects of Anti Atlas) Arabic and Tamazight. (Elderly man Sefrou).
The second informant is very telling. This person was happy to answer our questions and was informative. The first question was the same question we asked the first interviewee and the response we got is: “nature here is great and people are so mixed”. Second, we asked also what comes to your mind when you hear the word Sefrou? and the person mentioned Riffian (The Amazigh people of the northern Morocco), there are Jbala (People of the north who can be either Amazigh or Arab) and he mentioned some other groups like Ait Yussi which is a place in rural Sefrou. We then asked what is the smell of Sefrou? and we were told: “Sefrou is Les Jardins du Maroc”. This, answer, however, is recurrent in our journey of interviewing Sefrioui residents. After this question we asked our interlocutor would you tell us what characterizes Sefrou’s buildings? And we were told: “the buildings of Sefrou have a special tranquillity and the air here is good. Not only this but also Sefrou has a special touch, mainly in using Tafza (type of rock) and wood in constructing houses. The informant spoke also about the coming together of Jews, Arabs and Amazigh people in the Thursday market. (Elderly man Sefrou).
The second and third interviews took place in the streets of El Haddadin. The third interview is also informative, for our interviewee was friendly and was all ears. The recurrent answer I spoke about earlier is that this informant also says: “Sefrou when the French were here is called Les Jardins du Maroc”. Moreover, when we asked this street vendor about the thing that comes to their mind when they hear the word Sefrou, their answer was: “In the past people of Sefrou knew each other but now with the coming of Sehraoui people (people from the southern parts of Morocco), Sousi and Amazigh people, everything is mixed. The second, question, however, was very insightful, for when asked about what characterizes Sefrou’s buildings, the interlocutor says: building or constructing houses in Sefrou was small and people used Tafza but now that way has changed and now red hollow brick and hollow concrete brick are used”. Our interviewee spoke also about religions and said that there was only Islam in Sefrou, the church was in the mountains and Jews in the Mellah (Jewish quarter). The interview took place at the entrance of the oldest mosque in Sefrou (The grand mosque). What was and is still significant about this interview is that at a certain moment the informant can no longer command his words and he said: “we cry for the past”. And presently there was silence and we saw in his eyes and through his silence that nostalgic sadness of the past of Bled Sefrou. (Elderly man Sefrou).
The fourth interview, I suggested for my group, takes place in a café house and we agreed to this because our research needed to be diversified in terms of, gender, place and generation, etc. When asked, if you could represent Sefrou in an image what would it be? Might it be an object, a landscape, a portrait or a combination? and the response we got from the café keeper was: “the
city of a vague future”. The informant has also mentioned that Sefrou was Les Jardins du Maroc. We then asked about the smell of Sefrou and were so moved by the response we got when he said: “whenever I travel by a car, there a certain point in the road in which I put my hand out of the window and through the air in my hand I know that I am approaching my city”. There was also a mention of two churches and we were told when asked about the different religions of Sefrou that there were Muslims, Christians and Jews. Another significant response we received from our informant when we asked them about the Thursday suk is: “we only know that it is the suk day when we see Amazigh people around” and from the response one asks why when we see a different ethnic group, we know that is market day in Sefrou?( middle aged man sefrou).
The interview before the last took place inside the hammam (public bathhouse). The historical hammam where we did one interview has one main building which has specific hours of operation for each gender. At that time, we found women to be the category who was using it and because me (Oualid) or Yassin cannot have access to that space, I encouraged my colleague Ikrame to get in and get us one interview done inside the hammam. She was confused and hesitant and that was the time when I remembered what Paul Rabinow says in his book Reflection on Fieldwork in Morocco. Rabinow writes: “the accessibility of fieldwork discounts its potential value” and, I think, the confusion Ikrame had at that time is what makes our ethnography significant. Ikrame got in and we were waiting for her outside. The following photograph was taken by Yassin and it shows myself waiting at the entrance of the hammam for Ikrame to finish her dialogue with a woman.
The photograph shows the hammam where we interviwed a woman from Sefrou.
The interviewee spoke about Sefrou in a way that is almost different from the previous encounters. When asked about, if you could represent Sefrou in an image what would it be? Might it be an object, a landscape, a portrait or a combination? the response we got from her
was: “Sefrou is known by the fruits not its nature” and from her answer, I think, she was thinking about the famous cherry festival of Sefrou. Then she answered what characterizes the city of Sefrou in terms of its buildings from other Moroccan cities and said: “In Sefrou people use bricks and the paint is white”. Ikrame asks the woman a third question about the different ethnic groups in Sefrou and she mentions that there is an Amazigh culture but she and her people did not benefit from them because everyone lived on their own. I should like to note that in all the interviews conducted, whenever we asked people about Sefrioui music, they spoke about Ahidous (A style of Amazigh music which is performed collectively in weeding ceremonies but also in gatherings) (young woman from Sefrou).
In summary, The street survey we conducted was meant to understand how Sefrioui residents understand multiculturalism through photos, food, objects, sounds. The study, however, shows different responses from different generations, different responses from both genders and different answers received in different places and, I think that it is this difference that creates, makes us see, understand, feel and experience multiculturalism in Bled Sefrou. Another thing is that certainly a long stay in Sefrou is needed for a more understanding of how people understand and feel multiculturalism. But though the stay was short, we learnt a lot from the experience and it is certainly an opportunity of fieldwork to use in the upcoming fieldwork visits.