Image of Moroccans in 16th and 17th century Spain: “lack of hygiene in daily life of Moroccans”
By Samir Bennis
Morocco World News
New York, June 18, 2012
As stated in the previous article, in parallel to the disparagement of the religion of Moroccans, Spanish chroniclers attacked aspects of their customs. Thus, for most Spaniards at the time, the best reflection of the hardiness and the brutality of their opponents was the ramshackle appearance of their habitats, their way of dressing and eating, etc.
The other target of vilification of Spanish authors involved the alleged lack of hygiene in all aspects of the daily life of Moroccans. According to them, this lack of hygiene was worsened due to the absence in Morocco, as elsewhere in the Muslim world, of doctors and practitioners comparable to those existing in Spain, in addition to the superstitious practices, which were used as medicine among Moroccans. According to Juan de Persia, these practices consisted mainly of treatment with herbs and the Koran.
“When it comes to healing sicknesses, like other barbarous nations, they use herbs and prescribe remarkable diets. But they use indentations in acute diseases, such as the “esquinancia” and “pleurosis”, as well other diseases. They are superstitious, and take pride in predicting events of disease. They consult many mosques where there are bodies of Sofis, and Sultans, who they believe they were saints.”
The purpose of these chroniclers was to denigrate Moroccans and show to the Spanish, “good Christians”, that while they were struggling to progress and develop their knowledge of medicine and other fields of science, that Muslims, because of the precepts of their religion and their “primitive” way of life, were still living in ‘barbarism’, “and could not free themselves of their moral defects” and thus have, in their eyes, the status of a full human being. This contrast between the “barbarity” of Moroccans and “refinement” of the Spaniards was confirmed especially when these authors attacked traditions and the diets of their antagonists.
These authors saw in the diet of Moroccans one more reason that proved the “refinement”, “morality” and “chastity” of Spaniards, to the “hardiness”, “greed” and ” bad taste “of those whose main concern was to eat constantly, regardless of the quality of their food.
Greed and lack of refinement in Moroccan cuisine were thus presented as defects inherent to Moroccans, from which the Spaniards were freed thanks to the morality and chastity inherent in their religion and their way of life guided by the foundations and values of the Christian dogma.
As evidence that the Spanish authors did not ignore any aspect of daily life of their southern neighbors, they also emphasized their greed and the lack of variety in their food. According to these Spanish authors, this defect pushed the Moroccans to be too stingy with their money, in such a way that the poorest Christians could eat like the richest of the Moroccans, if not better.
Moroccans’ eating habits were not spared denigration and offensive attacks. Spanish chroniclers added this as further evidence that showed barbarity and lack of refinement, since, unlike Spaniards who tended to eat with silverware in line with all conditions of hygiene, the Moroccans ate on the ground with their hands, shared the same dish, and did not do not wash their hands after eating. In his book, Relación del origen y succeso de los Xarifes y del estado de los reinos de Marruecos, Fez y Tarudante, Diego de Torres provides an extensive description of his perception of the eating habits of Moroccans:
“For lunch they help themselves with both hands, and it is only that right hand that is used. As they keep this arm naked while eating, they dig it up to the elbow in couscous and some dishes, which are often deep. In most cases they dig their arm up to the wrist. It is common to see them joining those small grains of couscous, in the manner of a ball, which they shoot so well to their mouth, with good aim. When it comes to cutting meat, each person snatches his/her piece.”
“In the table they do not cut bread or meat with a knife, they eat with their right hand all kinds of foods, even when they are in need of a spoon. Their table, which they call Taifor, consists of a piece of fabric and leather unfolded on the floor. They clean their hands with napkins, which is the dirtiest thing ever.”
Finally, in terms of wine consumption, the Spanish chroniclers showed the hypocrisy of Moroccans, who despite the fact that wine is forbidden in their religion, showed no embarrassment in consuming it. According to these chroniclers, what was even worse, with the exception of certain Berber tribes of the Moroccan Atlas who consumed wine in moderation, the excessive tendencies of Moroccans led them to abuse the consumption of wine.
According to Luis del Mármol Carvajal : “Moroccans do not drink wine in public. Those who do it in secret, drink more with the goal of getting drunk than for pleasure. They consume it only in order to lose consciousness. They drink wine when they find it. They get very drunk, especially when they go to war, which for them is not reprehensible. More often than not they do it on purpose when they gather for a fight or rush to make any assault. When they don’t find wine, they eat an herb called opium.”
 Juan de Persia, Relaciones de… dirigidas a la Magestad Catholica de Don philippe III, Rey de las Españas y señor nuestro. Divididas en tres libros, donde presentan las cosas notables de Persia, la genalogía de sus Reyes, guerras de Persianos, Turcos y Tartaros, y las que vido en el viage que hizo a España, y su conversión y la de otros dos Cavalleros Persianso. Año 1604. Valladolid, Iuan de Bostillo, 1604. Edición de Narciso Alonso Cortés, Madrid, 1946.
 Diego de Torres, Relación del origen y suceso de los Xarifes y del estado de los reinos de Marruecos, Fez y Tarudante, Sevilla, Francisco Pérez, 1585. Edición de Mercedes García Arenal, Madrid, 1980.
 Luis del Mármol Carvajal, Descripcion general de Africa, Granada, René Rabut, 1573. Reimpresión facsímil del tomo I, libro primero y segundo, Madrid, 1953. Libro tercero, segundo volumen. Biblioteca de Filosofía A, Universidad Complutense de Madrid.
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