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Murder in the Market: Penal Aspects of Berber Customary Law in the Precolonial Moroccan Rif

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This article focuses on the penal customary law of the Aith Waryaghar tribe of the Moroccan Rif in the immediate precolonial period during the two-plus decades prior to the emergence from their ranks of the former qādī bin ʿAbd al-Krim, the leader of the Rifian War of 1921-1926. In it are discussed the results of my fieldwork on the related subjects of alliance, bloodfeud and vendetta in the region, with particular attention to the enormous ḥaqq fines levied by the tribal councillors of both the Aith Waryaghar and adjacent tribes for murders committed in the weekly tribal markets. These fines are compared with the contents of five Aith Waryaghar qānūns, customary law documents drawn up in Arabic, deriving from the same period and originally published by Col. Emilio Blanco Izaga in Spanish translation in 1939. Here, the qānūns are presented in order to provide written documentation for the reconstructed accounts given by my elderly informants in the period 1953-1965. The fit between the two sets of accounts is very close, particularly in the spirit of the law if not in the letter. For the major feature of these qānūns is precisely these same heavy fines. The contrast between them and the trifling ones for theft of livestock, for example, is also examined, as are other aspects of feud and vendetta. Finally, the reforming role of bin ʿAbd al-Krim is summarized along with his successful wartime endeavor to substitute the Shariʿa for customary law in the Rif in all major spheres, thereby preempting any Spanish follow-through on the French declaration of the Berber Dahir of 1930 in their own zone of Morrocco.

Affiliations: 1: Honorary President, Berber Cultural Association, University of Granada


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