The Red City

Life is like a rug,

Intrinsically woven by hand

each thread binding the

wisdom of its people.

Story-lines that echo

through the Mountains,

Rivers and the Seas.


As the melodic call to prayer evaporates into the air so too the whispers of the ancestors that once filled the medina in this ancient city of Marrakech. Stories folded into alleyways hung like doorways absorbed by the heat trapped within the clay walls built some 1000 years ago. Berber culture embodies the fundamental teachings of what it means to live communally, family is the heart of society and although the women are seldom seen they are very much the blueprint of this rich history. A matriarchal people shrouded in mystery, kindness, and simplicity as the children play football on this holy day Friday the mosque echos with scripture shaping the beauty of this now Muslim community. This feeling is familiar to me, this sound, this frequency is stirring my blood memory, this parallel universe presenting itself to teach me again what I came here to relearn or rewrite. Home. The deepest sense of connection is found here, connection to self, and to each other, this connection shatters the reality of the west and its expansion of domination, separation, and Islamaphobia. Everyone seeks a connection like this it’s our birthright to relate to our environment, our community and especially our cultural identity yet most have become colonized to the wisdom of our very own nature. Maori have always looked to the environment to learn, mapping the cycles of the seasons and navigating stars and bodies of water to carry the old cultures into the new, but the taniwha of the west has very much rared its ugly head imprinting the traditions of my people. The Berber was traditionally known as the Amazigh or free and noble people pre Arab culture and although Morocco was colonized their mother tongue is still very dominant, like Maori their knowledge base and cultural practices were exchanged through oral transmission, their traditional way of being was very much preserved. This North African city fashioned with the clays of this mineral-rich red earth my people call her Kokowai, the Berber call her home.

Photo Troy Martin
Photo Troy Martin
I felt myself gravitating toward the souk every few hours just to observe and feel the movement of the people, as travelers weave their way through alleyways the young men draw you into their grasp through their deepened eyes. They either bargain their way through handmade textiles or adorn you with charming proposals, either way, I was drinking up all the Berber whiskey I got! It truly is something to observe a Maori wandering the streets of Marrakech, my skin blended in with golden hues of earthly tones, terracotta, and turmeric, ochre, and cinnamon extending out into the medina dust. A Pacific sister cannot venture to the desert without being affected by the dryness of the heat, when you travel from the subtropical soils of Te Moana Nui a Kiwa your body attunes slowly, constant oiling of the skin draws you back into the red flesh of Papatuanuku (Earth Mother) and I was still dryer than iv ever been. The apothecaries bursting with color are somewhat overstimulating, it’s hard to find the words to articulate the sheer vibrancy that dances through the medina as argan oil pressed by the hands of a young Berber woman moved me to sit and be still. Addictive is a word ill choose to express the want and need to bask in such medicine as I commune with a fourth generation herbalist he explains remedies passed down to him from his grandfather, in which was lifted from the lips of his father as the migration of wisdom finds its place upon his breath.

Photo Troy Martin
In less than forty-eight hours my heightened sense of euphoria was rivaled by a deep pang of grief, this heaviness hung like spider silk hanging from the beaten earth in front of me. So astoundingly beautiful yet shrouded in sadness, how has this people of such gentle greatness managed to preserve its traditions through centuries of war, it was like i had traversed millennia, crossed timelines as i observed in awe how truly loved this people make you feel, robed in djebellas stringing sentance’s in both Arabic and Berber and too French as languages collide to tell their stories. Marrakech is like the wharekai of ones home, the gathering place for food and stories to be shared, the Sunday lunch with extended family, where everyone is welcome and all are free to eat. No food goes to waste, carts pulled by donkeys collect food scraps from every home and every cafe to feed first the homeless and second all of the animals in the Medina. No-one goes hungry! The western world could learn a thing or two from this peaceful loving community in the far reache’s of Northern Africa because we all know how disgraceful many of the practices are when it comes to agriculture and its effect’s on both planet and people. The textiles alone send you into sensory overload as your eyes are lifted through the rainbow of colors, and smells, and scents, the craftsmanship is unlike anything I have ever seen as brothers carve and conduct and the women weave and hold the frequencies of their ancestors memories, there isn’t enough room in my suitcase for the abundance I am investing in. To meet the artisans kanohi ki te kanohi, face to face is one of the greatest ways we can honor a maker, creator or business cutting out the middle man drunk on profiting. We adorn ourselves and our homes with beautiful things without tracing the whakapapa of its origins. We order foreign product online bypassing our friends and family who create with such love, we support big brands and the fashion industry overlooking local designers that build ethically. The Berber or should I say Amazigh are some of the hardest working people I have ever met, working some seven days a week 12 hours a day and still they smile from the depths of their being, still they serve with little complaint. And this is partly why my heart was heavy “I don’t need you to serve me, my brother, please let me help with these dishes, I am not above you and although I paid for your services I would much rather stand beside you.” The demand for tourism and consumerism weighed heavy on my soul as I wandered the medina in search of stories, my eyes reaching far and wide to connect with the tangata whenua ‘Berber they would call, you are Berber’ and I could feel my spirit lifting to meet my relations from afar, from a far off life somewhere along the storylines woven into these tapestries in these streets filled with medicine that activated my cellular memory. In these streets of Marrakech.

Photo Troy Martin
This is the first of a three sequence storyline of my travels and exploration of Morroco. In search of stories pertaining to the traditional methodologies of the Amazigh people and their medicine and markings.