By Rachid Khouya
By Rachid Khouya
Morocco World News
Es-Semara, Morocco, March 14, 2012
The Sahara is not just sand dunes, sand storms, hot weather and dry land. It is not only a place where nomads and shepherds wander for days in search of water and grass for their cattle. The Sahara is not just a battlefield for a prolonged conflict between two factions vying for control and supremacy over a strategic and mineral rich area.
The Sahara is a divine library full of books on history, sociology, philosophy, poetry, and religion. It is a Godly creation inviting the curious mind to try and understand a divine message and interpret its hidden meaning. The Sahara is a gallery, in a massive museum of anthropology and archeology, that is full of messages and “rock-mail” left by our ancestors and forefathers. It is a story that is engraved in stones and awaits present and future generations to decipher its secret symbols and codes so that they appreciate its eternal significance.
The region of Es-Semara, in southern Morocco, is home to more than 44 sites of rock art. The open gallery of Assli Boukarche is full of engravings and rock art that date back nearly 8000 years. Anthropologists believe that the rock art was left by several groups and nations who passed through the region. According to Mr. Biba Mohamed Mouloud, president of Mirane Association (an organization that works to preserve rock art in Es-Semara , “these beautiful pieces of engravings are the early languages of our ancestors, used to express their emotional, intellectual, cultural and religious beliefs and a translation of their daily life.”
To quote Sid Mohamed Illies, a specialist in rock art from Niger, the rock art “can be compared to an ancient library, recoding the thoughts and feelings of people who have lived and passed through the desert over millennium.” Mr. Illies explained that “they represent much of how these ancient people perceived the world, their habitats and the creatures that inhabited it as well.”
Whenever I visit the sites of rock art, not far from Es-Semara, I feel as if the ancient ancestors are talking to me through their rock engravings. When I lay my head on the rocks, I hear the ancestor’s voices talking to me from distant places, sending me messages that sometimes, if not most of the times, are too difficult to understand. They encourage me to be inquisitive and pose questions. I try hard to imagine just what it is they are trying to convey to me, these ancient relics who lived thousands of years before my time. I try to imagine them at the moment of engraving their messages: what was their lifestyle like? how similar or different was it from ours?
The rock art breaks up the feeling of loneliness. It makes us, mentally, bring back to life our ancestors and think about the hands that engraved the eternal messages and letters on rocks. Immediately, as you begin the mental exercise, you no longer feel the vast emptiness of the desert. You begin to hear of voices utter strange yet enjoyable noise. You begin to dance to beautiful music and you start to see the souls of the ancestors happy and merry.
Driss Chraibi, in his forward to “Southern Moroccan Secrets” poses the question, “since time immemorial, philosophers have been struggling with this enigma: is the desert the reflection of our solitude in the heart of the universe?” He later replies, “I am not a philosopher and that’s why I reply: solitude is everywhere, except in the desert.”
For Mr. Biba Mohamed Moloud, “Rock art represents who we are, who we were and it guides us to find out who and what we will be”. He told Morocco World News that “rock art in Es-Semara is being damaged because of human and natural factors as they are threatened by vandalism and theft and also degradation from urbanization, construction of roads and housing on sites of rock art.” Mr. Moloud, who is consumed by the love of rock art and works with limited funds and support, spends most of his time giving lectures and conducting workshops to make people aware of the value of rock art. He works tirelessly to stress the need for everyone’s involvement in protecting and preserving this cultural heritage. With growing interest in rock art tourism, there is great potential of this cultural treasure to be a source of local investment and sustainable development if it were used properly.
More importantly, Mr. Moloud believes that rock art is the collective memory of Moroccans, Amazighs and Arabs, as well as all Africans. Rather than preserving and protecting these sites from erosion and vandalism, we are leaving them vulnerable to degradation and theft. The degradation comes in two forms. First, natural deterioration results from seasonal weather patterns that bring rain, heat, floods and strong winds and alter the surfaces and the exterior structure of the engravings and rocks. Second, deterioration is caused by humans who break the rocks and take the engravings to their homes as decorations. There are also those who vandalize the engravings and sell them to collectors, tourists and others who unconsciously participate in this criminal process. Finally, degradation also results from people walking on the engravings, consequently breaking them and causing them great harm.
As former South Africa President Nelson Mandela said: “Africa’s rock art is the common heritage of all Africans, but it is more than that, it is the common heritage of all humanity.” He further added, “For our children’s children to experience, study and contribute further to the knowledge of our distant past, African rock art must be preserved and protected.”
© Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved