MARRAKECH 27.9.38

The other local daily paper read here is La Presse Marocaine, which is somewhat more right-wing (at any rate more anti-Russian and more pro-Franco) than the Petit Marocain.

There are said to be about 15,000 troops in Marrakech. Apart from officers and N.C.Os, these will all be Arab or negro troops, except for a detachment of the foreign legion.[a] The latter are evidently looked on as dangerous ruffians, though good troops, and are debarred from visiting certain parts of the town except with a special permit. The Arab cavalry (from their badges apparently the 2nd Spahis) look pretty good, the Arab infantry less good, probably about equal to a second-rate Indian regiment. There is a large number of Senegalese infantry (called tirailleurs – presumably rifles – the badge is an anchor,[b]) here. They are of admirable physique and said to be good marchers. They are used for picket duty at certain parts of the town. In addition the local detachment of artillery (do not know how much, but recently saw a battery of largish field guns, probably larger than 75mm., on the march) is manned by negroes. They only act as drivers etc. under white N.C.O.s and are not taught to aim the guns. Arabs are not used for this purpose, obviously because they could not be prevented from learning too much. All the troops here are said to be standing by and ready to move at a moment’s notice. On the fortified hill immediately west of the town there are guns which command the Arab quarter “in case of trouble”. Nevertheless the local French show an utter lack of interest in the European crisis, so much so as to make it impossible to think that they believe war will break out. There is no scramble for papers, no one broaches the subject of war unless prompted and one hears no conversations on the subjects in the cafes. A Frenchman, questioned on the subject, says that people here are well aware that in the case of war “it will be more comfortable here than in France.” Everyone will be mobilized, but only the younger classes will be sent to Europe. The re-opening of schools has not, as in France, been postponed.

It is not easy to be absolutely certain about the volume of poverty here. The province has undoubtedly passed through a very bad period owing to two years drought, and on all sides fields which have obviously been under cultivation recently have reverted to desert conditions, utterly dried up and bare even of weeds. As a result many products, eg. potatoes, are very scarce. There has been a great to and fro of refugees from the dried up areas, for whom the French have made at any rate some provision. The great French wheat estates are said to be working largely with female labour, and in bad times the unemployed women flock into the towns, which is said to lead to a great increase in prostitution. There is no doubt that poverty in the town itself is very severe by European standards. People sleep in the streets by hundreds and thousands, and beggars, especially children, swarm everywhere. It is noticeable that this is so not only in quarters normally frequented by tourists, but also in purely native quarters, where any European is promptly followed by a retinue of children. Most beggars are quite satisfied with a sou (twenty sous equal a penny halfpenny). Two illustrative incidents: I asked a boy of about 10 to call a cab for me, and when he returned with the cab I gave him 50 centimes (three farthings, but by local standards an overpayment.) Meanwhile about a dozen other boys had collected, and when they saw me take a handful of small change out of my pocket they flung themselves on it with such violence as to draw blood from my hand. When I had managed to extricate myself and give the boy his 50 centimes a number of others flung themselves on him, forced his hand open and robbed him of the money. Another day I was feeding the gazelles in the public gardens with bread when an Arab employee of the local authorities who was doing navvy work nearby came up to me and asked me for a piece of the bread. I gave it him and he pocketed it gratefully. The only doubt raised in ones mind about this is that in certain quarters the population, at any rate the younger ones, have been hopelessly debauched by tourism and led to think of Europeans as immensely rich and easily swindled. Numbers of young men make a living ostensibly as guides and interpreters, actually by a species of blackmail.

When one works out the earnings of various kinds of petty craftsmen and pieceworkers here, carpenters, metal-workers, porters etc. it generally comes to about 1 or 2d an hour. As a result many products are very cheap, but certain staple ones are not, eg. bread, which is eaten by all Arabs when they can get it, is very expensive. 3/ 4 lb of inferior white bread (the European bread is dearer) costs 1 franc or 11/2 d. It is habitually sold in half cakes. The lowest sum on which an Arab, living on the streets with no home, can exist is said to be 2 francs a day. The poorer French residents regard 10 francs, or even 8 francs a day as a suitable wage for an Arab servant (out of this wage he has to provide his very own food).[c]

The poverty in the Jewish quarter is worse, or at any rate more obtrusive than in the Arab quarters. Apart from the main streets, which are themselves very narrow, the alleys where the people live are six feet or less across and most of the houses have no windows at all. Overcrowding evidently goes on to an unbelievable extent and the stench is utterly insupportable, people in the narrowest alleys habitually urinating in the street and against the wall. Nevertheless it is evident that there are often quite rich people living among this general filth. There are about 10,000 [d] Jews in the town. They do most of the metal work and much of the woodwork. Among them are a few who are extremely wealthy. The Arabs are said to feel much more hostility towards the Jews than towards the Europeans. The Jews are noticeably more dirty in their clothes and bodies than the Arabs. Impossible to say to what extent they are orthodox, but all evidently observe the Jewish festivals and almost all, at any rate those over 30, wear the Jewish costume (black robe and skull-cap.) In spite of poverty, begging in the Jewish quarters not worse than in the Arab quarters.

Her in Marrakech the attitude of the French to the Arabs is noticeably more like the Anglo-Indian attitude than, eg., in Casablanca. “Indigene” exactly corresponds to “native” and is freely used in the newspapers. The French here do not, as in Casblanca, do menial jobs such as cab-driving, though there are French waiters in the cafes. In the Jewish quarter there is a very poor French population some of whom appear to have “gone native”, but these are not altogether distinguishable from the Jews, most of whom are quite white. There is an immensely higher proportion of French-speaking Arabs than of English-speaking Indians, indeed every Arabs who is much in contact with Europeans speaks a certain amount of French. The French almost always tu-toi the Arabs in speaking to them, and the Arabs do so in return whether or not understanding the implication (2nd person in Arabic has not this implication). Most French people of long standing here speak some Arabic, but probably not a great deal. A French officer speaking to his N.C.O. speaks in French, at any rate some of the time.

[Orwell’s notes]
[a] Apparently there were some white troops as well as the N.C.Os.
[b] The anchor is the artillery.
[c] Female servants receive 3-5 Fr. A day.
[d] 13000

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16 Responses to MARRAKECH 27.9.38

  1. All right! A walk-through of Marrakech, 27 September 1938, complete with aromas, demographics and swarms of beggars.

    Still no mention, though, of a furtive Peter Lorre scurrying from shadow to shadow.

  2. JimmyGiro says:

    So the Arabs were too smart to be trusted with the cannon?

    Will such a comment have the Guardian readership drop Orwell from their list of quotables? As it is tantamount to saying: the Blacks were seen as too thick to be dangerous.

  3. I haven’t noticed George being overly shy about using abstract-yet-objective characterizations from the very first post—nor in any other of his writings—he is an equal-opportunity user of the stereotype. The Adjective Police were only just beginning to march west, I suppose, at that time. Facts regarding the multi-tiered hierarchy required for the command and control of artillery pieces are inoffensive in and of themselves and need not be taken personally.

  4. The Ridger says:

    Possibly not so much that the blacks weren’t smart enough, but they were more trustworthy? After all, they were foreigners like the French.

  5. Andrew says:

    Right- in colonial times this was the only realistic attitude that could be taken. The blacks and arabs had been conquered by the French, were perceived to have different qualities, and were made use of according to their perceived utility. Of course they weren’t going to be seen as equal with Frenchmen – their susceptibility to conquest demonstrated their inequality, in the imperial-colonial mindset. We know that Orwell was one who rejected this mindset; I suppose Orwell is simply speaking in the plainest idiom available for understanding what he sees, call it a stereotype or otherwise.

  6. Arnold Mousetrouser says:

    Orwell’s reference to an Arab who asked him for a piece of bread when Orwell was feeding the gazelles in the public gardens as doing “navy work” seems to be a misprint or a mis-reading of what he wrote. It would more likely be “navvy work”. A navvy was a labourer who did heavy manual labour (mostly pick-and-shovel work) for councils and private contractors and so on in England. It makes better sense. AM (Australia)

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  8. smith3000 says:

    Fascinating post and vintage Orwell reportage. Those ripening blackberries seem so long ago now!

    The devil here is in the detail: the guns permanently overlooking the arab quarter, the idea of a place being debauched by tourism .. marvellous stuff.

    I’m with AM on navvy work. Makes a lot more sense (it comes from ‘navigators’, the Irish labourers who built Britain’s canals in the 18th century).

  9. Fay Shirley says:

    I actually read “navy” as “navvy” so I agree with Arnold here. Perhaps this work should have been marked as an original error, with a 0 superscript!

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  11. RobertB says:

    To my surprise, I can add an explanation to one of Orwell’s statements!

    “The French almost always tu-toi the Arabs in speaking to them, and the Arabs do so in return whether or not understanding the implication (2nd person in Arabic has not this implication).”

    The French word for “tu-toi” is indeed tutoier, and it’s hard to translate into English because it (like Arabic, apparently) doesn’t differentiate between “second person singular/informal” and “second person plural/formal”. It means that the Frenchmen were using an inappropriate level of informality, implying that they were above their Arab neighbors in station. By itself, using “tu” instead of “vous” probably isn’t a big insult, but it’s likely part of a pattern of discrimination.

    We in the US can easily find an example. Southern culture is known for its genteel nature, but until recently, any black person (regardless of age) would be addressed as “boy”. Those who still use the derogatory term justify it as being simply a familiar greeting, but again — it’s part of a larger pattern.

  12. Paul S says:

    Very interesting RobertB. The concept sound similar to the Spanish use of “Tu” vs. “Usted” (which makes sense because the languages are closely related).

  13. Mélanie says:

    I went to Morocco 2 years ago, I visited Agadir and Marrakech… I’d like to mention 2 things: Morroco was NOT a French colony, like Algeria, but a “protectorat”; most of the French-speaking Arabs do “tutoient” everybody… All the North African Arabs I met were really friendly and hospitable. Morocco and Egypt are genuine “must-see” spots to visit…

    @ RobertB: using “tu” is NOT an insult, but “vous” is always appropriate whenever you address to a person who’s not familiar to you… at the same time, you can be quite close and familiar to someone, but still using “vous”, in certain snobish(aristocratic) families, husband and wife “vousvoient” each other:-)!!!

  14. Gilles Mioni says:

    Milestone.
    Your text is a great text. This golden tuesday sept. 27,1938 is born a chronicler, really. So, you devote your life and your joy to denounce reigns without ends.
    Now, I am sure you were knowing that fact, in Morocco during 20’s decade whole your destiny was already written.
    In the middle of sands of the desert, spanish troops led by Franco with help of French colonial regiments, légion étrangère”and bataillons d’Afrique directed by Pétain himself have pursued without pity the nationalist rebels of Abdelkrim Al khatabi rebel army. (War of the Rif – 1921/1927)
    As your burmese experiment taught you the real nature of colonial domination, how it marks bodies and ruins minds of natives, you described so well the signs of the tender by a passive violence.
    You were watching and writing for us how layers of poverty was organising a disparate and dominated society.
    Means of perpetuating colonial power is lying in the leavens of division.
    Your voice was silent a while ago but war always burning as embers in south Morocco.

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