Hsain Ilahiane

Weatherhead Resident Scholar


The Power of the Dagger, the Seeds of the Koran, and the Sweat of the Ploughman: Ethnic Stratification and Agricultural Intensification in the Ziz Valley, Southeast Morocco

The Ziz Valley, situated between two rivers on the edge of the Sahara Desert in southeastern Morocco, offered Hsain Ilahiane an ideal setting for the fieldwork supporting his dissertation—a political-ecological account of ethnic changes and their relationship to farming intensification. Surrounded by arid desert, the valley houses a dense, rapidly growing, and ethnically diverse population of Arabs, Berbers, and Haratine. Irrigated farming of cereals, olives, and dates, along with livestock raising, has dominated the lives of its inhabitants for centuries, with transhumant groups herding camels, goats, and sheep in the surrounding dry lands. Not incidentally, the Ziz Valley is also Ilahiane's homeland.

Fluent in Arabic, French, and English in addition to his native Berber, Ilahiane supplemented ethnographic accounts, oral histories, and colonial archival records with socioeconomic and ecological findings based on a household questionnaire strategy. This multilevel approach allowed Ilahiane to situate the valley and its inhabitants in the historical events of the past century as well as locating them in their geographical and ecological setting. One Arab farmer told him, "If our ancestors would rise from their graves and walk among us they would not recognize the place they left. In less than four decades, almost everything has changed."

In the dynamic situation of the Ziz Valley, Ilahiane found that the Haratine, traditionally sharecroppers, brought back cash from working abroad and—for the first time in the valley—have become landowners. "The combination of foreign cash turned into land acquisition has provided the Haratine with a solid political block in the community, allowed them participation in the politics of the village and the entire valley, and equipped them with an ethnic consciousness capable of refurbishing and innovating the old Berber and Arab stocks of traditions," said Ilahiane. His dissertation, "The Power of the Dagger, the Seeds of the Koran, and the Sweat of the Ploughman: Ethnic Stratification and Agricultural Intensification in the Ziz Valley, Southeast Morocco", provides a rare study of the Haratine, whose voices are almost nonexistent in North African scholarship.

Although Ilahiane expected to find that the Haratine were the most productive farmers per unit in the Ziz Valley, his study showed the Berbers to be slightly more successful. "This can be explained by the difference in land quality," he said.

"By focusing on ethnicity," Ilahiane explains, "this study demonstrates the inability of the major theories of development to explain the agrarian situation in the multiethnic communities that typify much of the developing world."

In addition to completing his dissertation during his fellowship year, Ilahiane wrote a paper on Estvan, the sixteenth-century Moroccan explorer of New Spain, and identified several areas of future research. They include the use of remote-sensing technology to track temporal, environmental, and social changes in the Ziz Valley, the impact of globalization on traditional agricultural technologies, and a case study of how date palm disease has affected the oasis environment.

"At the School, I found a nurturing and mentoring environment," Ilahiane said, "ranging from the mechanics of dissertation and proposal writing to guidance on professional networking."

Affiliation at time of award:
Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Anthropology, University of Arizona

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