03 Sep TEDx Marrakech : Co-existence or no existence
By Mandy Sinclair
It’s a warm summer day in Marrakech when I step inside the recently opened Heritage Museum Marrakech to meet with Maha Alouani-Bibi, the young woman who has recently returned from London to operate her family’s cultural initiative. But in the cool courtyard of this traditional riad, surrounded by centuries-old antiques from the various tribal and ethnic groups that have crossed through Morocco, the temperature feels just right.
The museum opened in June 2015 and Maha returned in time for the opening with the intention of staying in Marrakech for the summer. But as things unravelled, she decided to put her Master’s degree on hold and continue with operations.
“I think now is the time for me to comeback to connect to my heritage. I was lacking knowledge about who I am, who my ancestors are, what they’ve left and what this country has to offer. I figured that this would be the best opportunity to find that out and help my parents out.”
With a mixed family heritage – her grandmother is from Rabat, so from Andalusian origin by way of the Balkans and Ottoman empire. Another side of her family came from a village that was Jewish before it was Islamized. And then there is a her African heritage from my paternal great-great-grandmother, “to be Moroccan is to be all of those things at once,” she says with a laugh.
As we sat in the courtyard, we’re surrounded by a collection that includes Ancient pottery and Islamic manuscripts. Jewish ceremonial items, Andalusian embroidery, jewellery, coins from the Roman era, a traditional living room and a collection of that her parents have been collecting for decades, Maha explains that the experience has been eye-opening.
“The underlying message that I got is that Morocco has always been a host country, that it’s always been the access of interchange. It’s at the end of the Silk Road, it has known many empires, the cultures that have lived here have been numerous and there has always been this difference but rooted in overlooking the differences to live together. I think that this issue is something that other countries have no t found the answer, but it’s always been within us.
Co-existence or no existence
On October 8, Maha will speak at TEDx Marrakech on 8 October where 13 speakers will gather to speak under the theme co-existence or no existence. Without revealing too many details, Maha intends to speak about “what our ancestors have been trying to tell us about co-existence through the workmanship they’ve done: How Jewish artisans specialized in jewellery making, but they catered to both Jewish and Muslim clients which is evident in specific patterns that they’ve used; evidence of Jewish life within Berber tribes, also presence of Romans in coins, and Christians in rugs with Christian crosses throughout.
“Moroccans have mastered bringing two things together,” she says.