Morocco,  Recent

Mystical Scottish Berbers and Taroudant, ‘a very typical Moroccan town’

Did you know that there’s a connection between the Scottish and the Amazigh (Berber) tribes of Morocco? We had a fascinating stay in the small city of Taroudant and found out about this fascinating and rather fantastical connection.

We landed in Taroudant in need of a bit of a longer stay and chose it almost exclusively based on where we found the best Airbnb (this one – thank you Veronica!). However, this was a serendipitous decision and we spent a very pleasant eight days enjoying the town.

Located under both the Atlas and Anti-Atlas mountains, about one hour from Agadir, our landlady, Veronica, described Taroudant as ‘a small, untouristy but very typical Moroccan town’. A description I agree with.

The city consists of a medina surrounded by 7km of walls. The market is a classic covered market. Taroudant seems to be a special location for shoemaking, as there are an extraordinary number of shops and producers. One shopkeeper we spoke to made particularly fancy footwear – kind of medieval replicas – which he sells in Germany.

The Museum Claudio Bravo was highly recommended to us (we didn’t go but it looks interesting).

A Typical Day in Taroudant

One evening, we met Omar, which turned out to be the highlight of our trip. We were walking into town to get something to eat, when Omar, walking the same way, struck up conversation in the usual manner, asking where we’re from. He commenced speaking fluently in German, no longer a surprise to us but nevertheless, still impressive.

I wasn’t really fully committed to this conversation at the start. After spending a few months in Morocco, you end up having many, many similar conversations when you’re going about your business.

Omar suggested we try a restaurant in the square – promising good food for a fair price. We went along with his suggestion which turned out to be a great idea. We shared atay whilst Omar explained lots of interesting things about Moroccan life. He also tried his best to teach us some Amazigh (Berber language, also called Tamazight), Italian and Finnish. We asked him how many languages he could speak (his English was excellent, he definitely speaks French, Arabic, Amazigh and German) and he replied 47. We are not 100% sure if he was joking or not. I think the Berber people speak every language in the world.

Afterwards, we had a look round the Jewish cemetery (in the dark). It’s locked but the phone number of the guardian is painted on the wall and you just call it if you want to have a look (obviously he doesn’t speak English though). The guy kindly got up and let us in even though it was about 21.00 at night. That’s Morocco for you.

A few weeks later, we told Veronica and her husband about Omar. Veronica’s husband said he found Omar once passed out drunk and had to help him home. That’s also Morocco for you!

The Berber connection to Scotland

Something that stuck in my mind was that he said “Berbers are Scottish”. I heard someone else saying this before and I thought it was some joke but after research, there’s a brilliant yarn…

The story goes that around the late 1300/early 1400, a Scottish man, named MacDowall, was shipwrecked on the coast of Morocco, somewhere near Essouira. At that time, the Amazigh tribes were usually very aggressive to outsiders but in this case they spared his life because he was able to communicate with them due to similarities between Gaelic and the Amazigh dialect spoken in Morocco.

MacDowell went on to be a respected member of the community and when died, a shrine was erected for him named Sidi Magdool (Sidi means something like saint in Arabic).

You can read the full story in this article by Amazigh World News. It’s a tantalising tale – but questionably accurate. However, like all stories, there is probably a kernel of truth in there…

Are Gaelic and Amazigh Similar Languages?

Gaelic and Amazigh languages are not similar. Amazigh language (Tamazight) is of the Afroasiatic language family and Celtic languages are Indo-European. It’s not likely that Macdowall and the tribesmen could communicate on this basis alone. However, interestingly, there is some connection between Gaelic and Amazigh, although subtle.

This article from the Orkney Science Festival describes the work of highly accomplished Swiss linguist, named Wagner, who studied the Celtic languages. He identified patterns in the way verbs are formed that are “translated” into various dialects across languages. From this he postulated that there was some exchange between the ancient languages of the Berbers, Basques and the Celts.

What about Sidi Magdoul?

There’s debate over who Sidi Magdoul was too. Some sources say that he was Moroccan of Berber origin. Others that he was originally Scottish. Even the original name of Essaouira, Mogador, is a subject of debate. The name certainly is similar to Magdoul and could plausibly originate from the name of the shrine. However, the UNESCO website says it comes from ‘the Phoenician word Migdol meaning a “small fortress “‘.

Genetic Evidence of Scottish Berbers (or more accurately, Berber Scots)

There’s certainly some genetic evidence of interaction between the Scots and the Berbers: the Scottish DNA project identified that 1 in 100 Scottish people have a gene previously

only found in the Berber and Touareg tribes of North Africa.

This DNA evidence actually leads back to another myth from Irish and Scottish folklore, going back as far as the 12th Century. This story claims that Scotland and Ireland were actually founded by the daughter of an Egyptian Pharaoh named Scotia. It’s another wild tale with the Gaelic language being created “by combining the best features of the 72 languages then in existence”.

So, there you have it. Myths and legends, science and folklore, are all convinced there’s some link between Berbers and the Scottish. We met Amazigh people who were delighted to tell us all about their Scottish ancestry, and perhaps they’re not too wrong.

Planning a Trip to Morocco?

Check out my other posts on our journey through Morocco from Tangier to Tetouan and Chefchaouen; south to Fes and Meknes; through the desert and finally along the Atlantic coast.

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    • HopelesslyNomantic

      Hi Paulina, thanks for your message! The Jewish cemetery in Taroudant is walled. Inside are the graves of Moroccan Jews – the gravestones were all white (maybe marble). They have inscriptions in Hebrew which I can’t read. The cemetery is taken care of by the guardian. It was night already when were there so we didn’t see too much!

      There are actually Jewish cemeteries and Jewish quarters in most of the old cities in Morocco. There used to be a fairly large Jewish population but since the 50’s, they’ve mostly emigrated elsewhere.

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