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Agadir – Id Yennayer, January 12, marks the first day of the Amazigh (Berber) agrarian calendar.
This year the Imazighen New Year celebrations will fall on Tuesday. Id Yennayer is celebrated across Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Western Egypt, and this year it will be their 2971st Yennayer or “Amazigh New Year.”
Amazigh people celebrate Yennayer with traditional food, music, and dance. Amazigh activist Ibrahim El Hiyani told Morocco World News that Yennayer “is associated with the god of fertility and agriculture.”
As with most Moroccan celebrations, couscous remains central to Yennayer festivities. While festive meals are relatively identical from one town or village to the other, Amazigh activist Lahcen Amokrane said there are some differences on minor details. One such (major) difference, he explained to Morocco World News, is that the Amazigh people in southeast Morocco traditionally hide a date stone or an almond in the plate couscous.
“The Amazigh people of the southeast prepare couscous for the night of January 12, every year, as a cultural ritual celebrating ‘Id Suggas.’ Traditionally, they put ‘ighs,’ a seed of dates or ‘alluz,’ a piece of almond, as some prefer to do recently, in couscous,” Amokrane said.
“The person who finds this seed of dates or piece of almonds is to be entrusted with the keys of ‘lakhzin,’ a room reserved for storing the family’s food, and that person is believed to be ‘blessed’ throughout the whole year,” he further clarified.
Among other dishes traditionally consumed are “tagola,” a corn kernel, butter, ghee, Argan oil, and honey combination, or “irkmen,” a thick soup of simmered fava beans and wheat.
Amazigh villages also often host parades, accompanied by traditional music and dress, and the green, yellow, and blue of the Amazigh flag. While every community has their own traditions and rituals for Yennayer, a common history unites Amazigh people across North Africa.
“This Amazigh New year coincides with the flowering of almond trees, which makes it a good starting point for men and women alike to begin their agricultural activities,” community organizer Abdelmajid Nidouisaadan told Morocco World News in a recent interview.
Traditions that accompany the Amazigh New Year include dancing and singing. Typically, Amazigh people welcome the new agrarian year with songs of love, fertility, and prosperity. In the rural areas, they put special emphasis on socializing, exchanging food, and seeking resolution of outstanding misunderstandings and disagreements.
Yennayer celebrates fertility and signifies longevity, so people often include familiar activities in their celebration rituals. Amongst them are getting married under the good omen of Yennayer, or agricultural initiation rites such as sending their children to the farm to pick themselves fruits and vegetables.
According to the activists who spoke to Morocco World News, the Yennayer originated with the Amazigh victory over Egypt, in 950 B.C. El Hiyani explained how “Under the leadership of ‘Chachanq’ known also as ‘Cheshung,’ the Amazigh people established a new monarchy that ruled from Libya to Egypt. This glorious victory marked the beginning of the Amazigh date” 2971 years ago.
The politics of Yennayer
Even though the Amazigh New Year is widely celebrated, it has not yet been recognized as a national holiday in Morocco.
As the holiday draws near, every year Amazigh activists try to bring attention to their cause. And while there has been significant support for national recognition of Yennayer, it also has its opponents. Researchers such as Abdel Rahman Farkish have argued for Amazigh requests to be dismissed, going as far as to question the holiday’s historical validity.
In a 2018 interview, Morocco World News asked Abdelwahed Dirouche, an Amazigh activist and member of the House of Parliament, his opinion about such comments. He responded by pointing to the social significance of the holiday. “You cannot just say it’s a French invention,” he emphasized.
Driouche went on to explain the cultural significance of Yennayer. He said that it is important not only to Amazigh people in Morocco, but also to Moroccan society in general.
“Yennayer promotes religious and cultural pluralism in a world today plagued by terrorism and extremism,” Dirouche stressed. “Yennayer is not a holiday with religious rituals, but one that celebrates the natural wonders of children and the environment.”
Morocco created the Royal Institute for Amazigh Culture in 2001, and since then Moroccan leaders have met growing demands for cultural and historical recognition of Amazigh people.
Over the past two decades, some major achievements have been the inclusion of Tamazight on road signs and in school curricula, and the unprecedented national recognition of Amazigh’s culture and traditions.
Despite these major inroads, there remains a lingering frustration among Amazigh activists that, for now, a holiday as socially significant as Yennayer is still written off as “unhistorical.”
As the Amazigh people prepare for this year’s celebrations, activists’ efforts to recognise Yennayer as a national holiday in Morocco will continue.