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Slavery in the Sahara

For its first weekend trip, the IES Rabat program went to Merzouga. Merzouga is frequented by tourists because of its proximity to the Chebbi Sand Sea. But Merzouga is also a small residential town close to the Algerian border known for its Gnawa population. The Gnawa people are the descendants of African slaves, and their music and culture has a strong influence in Morocco. Just outside Merzouga, there are abandoned mines, which the French used as labor camps to extract lead and quartz until 1965, when they stopped being profitable. There is still some artisanal mining today, but the mines have largely been abandoned. Gnawa music is characterized by its mixture of Islamic tradition and Sub-Saharan West African influence. The use of qaraqabo, heavy iron castanets, is meant to imitate the sound of slave shackles.