• To View the other tales in this series please follow the links below:

    No. 1 - The Navajo Medicine Ceremony

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  • The Berber horsemen charge across the red earth, firing their rifles at the midday sun. Behind me a toothless women, shadowed in a black shawl, flicks her tongue in loud ululations as the gunshot rips through the valley, drawing all eyes to its sound. The crowd press forward. Galloping hooves kick up dust, shrouding us in a mist of blood-coloured sand and dirt. I am too close. I can smell the heat of the muskets; the sweat ripped from the riders brows. Panic, like spider legs, creeps slowly across my chest. This is Berber country – the wild, rural Morocco unseen by tourists – but it feels like I am immersed in another world entirely.

    By chance I have stumbled into a remote, rural Fantasia: a traditional Moroccan festival of horsemanship that has been celebrated here for centuries. Teams of elaborately adorned riders, representing different local villages, take it in turn to sprint the length of a 500ft flat plain while firing, in perfect unison, a jezail musket above their heads. At the end of the festival points are awarded for synchronicity and presentation with the winning village granted annual bragging rights and a cash prize. It’s a serious business: in a region where water is scarce, the horses are showered twice a day.  

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    I walk deeper into the crowd. In the distance, where the muezzin’s chants fill the emptiness of the desert with Koranic verse, a labyrinth of open-sided canvas tents and steaming pots of tagine has sprung up beside the show. Stalls of fresh honey, olives and sweet toasted almonds nestle beside hooked goats heads and enormous dried cow tongues; the scent of cinnamon and turmeric mixing with freshly gutted offal. People are shouting, thrusting hand-woven rugs and live chickens in my face. I see a skinned sheep strung up to the side of a blood splattered slaughter tent and another being led calmly in. People stare at me.  I am dizzy. A maelstrom of raw sensation, too brutal and unfamiliar to understand, swirls around me like a horde of bees. Panic creeps higher up my neck and tingles the tips of my sweating palms. 

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     But then something happens. As the next row of Berber horsemen move forward, muscled legs kicking the dirt in anticipation, a woman places a newborn baby on the lap of one of the riders. I watch his eyes immediately lighten, watch him whisper secrets in her ear. I know this. This warmth, this tiny being, this new love, this protection. The intangible grasping at something infinite and almost understood. The clasp of an entire hand around the tip of my little finger. We look at each other and smile. Some things need no language to be understood. 

    And then the fear disappears. I become the maelstrom: the toothless lady’s eyes, the press of the crowd, the gunpowder smoke. I become the riders, the charge, the smell of sweat and blood and feast. I let go and let this world in. 

    The Berbers are a welcoming and gentle people. But the warrior runs in their blood.  Their name derives from the Latin ‘Barbari’, or barbarians - a title given to them almost 2,000 years ago by invading Roman armies who were repeatedly attacked by a race of fiercely independent tribes.  Their symbol is a man holding his arms to the sky – a free man. A man who will not be conquered. And now I hold my arms to the sky too. There are no walls, I think, but the ones we build within ourselves. When we see goodness in others they see goodness in us too. The spider’s legs fade into the darkness and the Berbers charge across the dusty red earth again. 

     

  • A MOROCCAN FANTASIA                                                        Words and images by Aaron Millar


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  • Aaron Millar is an award winning travel writer, photographer and a Founding Creator of Baby Forest.

    Over the next six months, Aaron will share his tales of some of the most enlightening adventures on the planet: "stuff that I’ve personally done, professionally researched and know will make you smile, sweat, gawp and laugh out loud. But I’d also like to share what I’m learning along the way: how exploring the world can be a catalyst for personal growth, how to get the most from your adventures, and how to take that state of mind home, in order to live more connected to yourself and the world around you.”


    Explore more of Aaron's thoughts, theories and adventures here  

  • AARON MILLAR TRAVELLING LIFE