Falconry, a thousand-year-old heritage of Arab culture in Morocco

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Falconry, also called Tabizayt in Morocco, is a thousand-year-old tradition imported from the Arabian Peninsula and practiced long before the Hijra in the Gallo-Roman world. Honored in Islam, this practice has been maintained for nearly a millennium.

In Morocco, falconry became part of popular culture in the 13th century during the era through its introduction by the Bedouin tribes of Banu Hilal.

The Barbary Falcon.

Thanks to the presence of a local breed of falcon called Barbary falcon, falconry will develop rapidly and become popular among sultans, caliphs, but also among nomadic and semi-nomadic communities.

Considered a cavalier groupe of people and part of the tent civilization, nomadic tribes favored large areas of hunting ground. Falconry is at the same time a means of entertainment, physical exercise, and dietary diversification that Moroccans excelled at.

Several historians attest to this practice for a long time, such as the Sheikh Ibrāhīm Ben 'Abd Al-Jabbar al-Husseini, famous Arab poet and falconer of Figuig from the 16th century, which testifies to the presence of this practice through his works.

Falconry therefore plays an important role in Moroccan diplomacy and ancient texts attest to the interest of Moroccan sultans in this practice.

At the very beginning of the last century, hunting was “a sport in honor” among the Doukkala people, who had taken the art of training birds quite far. Some Moroccans had even trained eagles to hunt gazelles. Some great lords, such as the famous Qa'id of the 'Abda, Si Omar Ben 'Aissa, were big fans of falcons and did not back down at any cost to get these birds of prey. — Edmond Doutté, Historian.

Historian by profession and former Moroccan ambassador in Iraq and to UAE, Abdelhadi Tazi has devoted books to the role of the falcon in the history of Moroccan diplomacy. Thus he explains in ”The Falcon Hunt between the Mashrek and the Maghreb ” published in 1980:

The falcon represented the most precious gift and was intended to create a climate of relaxation or served to strengthen diplomatic ties between countries.

Indeed, in the 14th century during the Marinid era In Morocco, the sultans of Fez were investing in falcons. The Sultan Abu Al-Hassan owned dozens of them and offered them to the rulers of Egypt.

In Andalusia the praise of falconry is shown in poems, proverbs, songs, manuscripts, and even in architecture. The falconers of the emirs of Alhambra (Granada) were housed in a reserved area near the castle and some Iberian treatises bear witness to this oriental impregnation. The Arab influence appears in the lexicon of Roman works: the Book of the Hunt of Don Juan Manuel published in 1325 in the Marinid period.

Throughout the second millennium, the sultans of Morocco had diplomatic exchanges with the kings of Europe (especially those of France, England, Spain, Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark Austria, Sardinia, Naples and Portugal). And in the Renaissance era, the appeal of The East has intensified exchanges between the two shores of the Mediterranean, in particular between Sicily and North Africa.

Falconry around the Mediterranean was prosperous and well developed, giving rise to several exchanges: both on a practical level, knowledge and diplomatic gifts (falcons, accessories, etc.).

The Barbary Falcon was highly appreciated by the majority of European courts. Hawks were included in royalties and taxes, some tribes in the region of Doukkala (Atlantic coast) donated falcons as an annual fee to the Portuguese trading posts established on some coasts between the 15th and 17th centuries. The Wattassid sultans and the dignitaries of Maghreb in general imported numerous falcons from Europe in the 17th century.

Moulay Ahmed Qasimi, falconer to Caïd Moulay Mehdi Al-Khalifa of Tetouan, 1930.

Thus, in 1533, the French king François sent to the Moroccan Wattassid sultan, Ahmed Ben Mohamed, various falconry objects: 30 bird gloves enriched with pearls, about six dozen chaperones each decorated with pearls and other silk gloves. Numerous exchanges of sand accessories for falcons took place between the Princes of Orange of the Netherlands and Moroccan sultans around the 17th century.

In 1789, the Alawite sultan Mohamed Ben Abdellah also received from the danish King Frederick beautiful falcons. In the book "History of falcon hunting in Morocco ", it is explained by R. al-Hassani that the Alawite Dynasty even created the function of royal falconer during the reign of Moulay Ismail. In addition, Sheikh Muhammad Ben Abdullah had a hospital for birds of prey in Fez.

Today, Morocco is the only African country to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site among the nations leading in the recognition of Falconry as an intangible cultural heritage for Humanity. The Arab tribe of Quwwasim, near the city of El Jadida, is the only one in Morocco to be the subject of a royal decree authorizing it to keep and train falcons. The falconers of Doukkala are now renowned in the Arab world for their skill and their mastery of this ancestral art.

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