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Juxtaposing Time : an Anthropology of Multiple Temporalities in Morocco

Des temps juxtaposés : une anthropologie des temporalités plurielles au Maroc
Leila Abu-Shams et Araceli González-Vázquez
p. 33-48


Trois calendriers différents, grégorien, musulman et agraire, coexistent dans le Maroc contemporain. Chacun d’eux régit des temps rituels, des fêtes, des événements et des activités de la vie quotidienne. La coexistence de ces trois calendriers établit tout à la fois une stratification et une juxtaposition des mesures du temps. Au Maroc, le temps et les temporalités constituent des approches pertinentes pour comprendre certains aspects des cycles de vie, des rythmes sociaux et du travail. Dans cet article, nous analysons la façon dont ces différents régimes de temps coexistent ainsi que les dynamiques historiques qui ont façonné la pertinence de chacun d’entre eux. Nous évoquons également le rôle des discours et des pratiques sociales qui assurent la stabilité de ce régime de temporalités hétérogènes et multiples. Compte tenu de la multiplicité des marqueurs de temps, des cadres temporels et des calendriers en usage, les façons de dire le temps ainsi que la capacité à passer de l’un à l’autre de ces registres apparaissent comme des aspects particulièrement importants. À partir d’exemples ethnographiques marocains, nous voudrions contribuer à une meilleure connaissance sociale et culturelle du temps.

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« To place side by side » (Merriam-Webster Online)

« Place or deal with close together for contrasting effect » (Oxford Dictionary of English)

1Time and temporalities are key research topics in the social sciences. Anthropologists and sociologists have long been interested in personal and social attitudes toward and representations of time. Time has thus become a central topic of research and debate in anthropology and sociology, discussed by many authors both as a subject of inquiry and as a complex object. Among the most discussed topics we find time-reckoning, time-keeping, time consciousness, time apprehension, time-marking, time-framing and time-shifting.

2Anthropology has long been interested in the variability of the concept of time across cultures. A hundred years ago, French sociologist Émile Durkheim in The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (London, 1912) demonstrated that time could not be understood as a universal a priori assumption. His followers, in particular Henri Hubert and Marcel Mauss, in their article, « Étude sommaire de la représentation du temps dans la religion et la magie » (Paris, 1905), continued Durkheim’s pioneering research on that issue. More recent approaches include the works by Johannes Fabian (1983), Alfred Gell (1992) and Gavin Lucas (2005). In 1992, Nancy Munn critically reviewed much of the published literature relating to the « cultural anthropology of time ». That same year, Alfred Gell published one of the most influential works ever done on the subject, The Anthropology of Time: Cultural Constructions of Temporal Maps and Images. In 2005, Wendy James and David Mills edited a volume entitled The Qualities of Time: Anthropological Approaches. In that work, both editors emphasised the relevance of historical and anthropological perspectives when thinking about the relationship between time and history.

  • 1 In our article, Arabic and Berber-language transcriptions are observed as given by each of the cite (...)

3One of the few works referring to Morocco that could be framed within an anthropology of time is the article published in 1977 by North American anthropologist Dale F. Eickelman, « Time in a Complex Society : A Moroccan Example ». In the article, the author presents the concepts of time and of time-reckoning held by the Beni-Battu, a semi-transhumant, Arabic-speaking tribe from western Morocco1. Other interesting references to North Africa and Islam include the work of Pierre Bourdieu on the Algerian region, Kabylie (Bourdieu, 1963; 1977), recent articles by Ali Amahan (1988) on a village of the High Atlas, and Hsain Ilahiane (2005) on the Upper Ziz Valley. More generally, we can add the work by Fadwa El Guindi referring to Muslim-majority societies, By Noon Prayer: The Rhythm of Islam (2008) and the collection of essays Les Ottomans et le temps (2011), edited by François Georgeon and Frédéric Hitzel. In a relatively recent work published by North American anthropologist David Crawford, Moroccan Household in the World Economy: Labor and Inequality in a Berber Village (2008), the author provides a detailed study of the rhythms of life in Tadrar, a Moroccan Berber village. In his book, Crawford shows how different temporal orders are integrated, considering « modern time » not as an historical period, but a modality, a complex of trajectories and periodicities within the broader view normally subsumed as « history » (2008: 5). Apart from works written in colonial times by French linguists such as Alexandre Joly (1905), Émile Laoust (1920) and Évariste Lévi-Provençal (1918), the issue of time has not been addressed specifically in the anthropological literature on Morocco. Instead, it has been dealt with generally in relation to other cultural and social issues.

4In this article, we attempt to demonstrate that different time regimes and multiple temporalities coexist in Morocco and explore the historic power dynamics that have shaped each. Further, we assess the role that certain discourses and social practices play in the existence of a regime of heterogeneous and multiple temporalities. Given the multiplicity of time markers and time frameworks, two important and highly performatory aspects of social life in Morocco are time-telling and time-shifting. Time-telling refers to the communication of information about time. It refers to the telling of time and, more widely, to the ways in which Moroccans linguistically and materially convey ideas about time. Time-telling is an interesting feature; an examination of public and private time-telling from a historical perspective can help us identify different ways of using the human voice and human words, and different earthly materials, objects and things as cultural mediators. Time-shifting not only refers to the juxtaposition and overlapping of calendars, but also to the specificities of time-space relationships. Time-shifting means not only shifting between two or more competing measures of time, but also switching from one code to another.

5To better understand how time-reckoning regimes shape people’s perceptions of reality, we shall focus on the different representations and references to time in rural and urban spaces, stressing that modernisation and globalisation processes have a determining influence on time-marking and on personal and collective experiences of time. Drawing on several ethnographic examples from Morocco, we shall shed light on the social and cultural constructions of time. As we shall show, in Morocco, time and temporalities bring a unique cultural lens to the understanding of various aspects of the lifecycle and of social and working life.

6In this article, we talk about juxtaposition and stratification to explore the relationship between the global and the local, in particular with the idea that it is necessary to pay attention to the centre and the peripheries, to the endogenous and the exogenous, to the rural and the urban, to the traditional and the modern, and also to factors such as class and gender. The juxtaposition and stratification of time provides insight for understanding the dynamics of power in Morocco. Furthermore, in speaking of a regime of multiple temporalities, our objective is to address not only Koselleck’s idea of the plurality of historical times (Koselleck, 1985), but also multiple different chronicities and the coexistence of multiple periodicities (Shove, Trentmann and Wilk, 2009: 3). By implication, and as Shove et al. point out, we should not overlook the lack of coordination between scales and registers of temporal order. In his insightful monograph Objects of Time: How Things Shape Temporality, Kevin K. Birth pays attention to contemporary cases of multiple temporalities, such as those found in Trinidad, and finds them useful for considering « how temporalities not structured by the clock or calendar might work », « how they would be reckoned », and also for recognising « the limits of homogeneous uniform time in modernity » (2012: 102). This article develops that idea and suggests that one of the characteristics of modernity in Morocco is temporal heterogeneity.

7Any anthropologist working on Morocco must understand the complex timings of social life and recognise that a sense of social time is made and re-made according to social practices. In the last 150 years, there has been a radical restructuring of the nature and experience of time markers, but the sense of what could be called « traditional time » has not disappeared. Certainly, when considering the period of the French and Spanish Protectorates, it is difficult to deny that there was a radical restructuring of notions of time. We shall explore, nevertheless, a number of historical dynamics, some of which took place in previous centuries, others of which are a reflection of post-colonial times. In present-day Morocco, multiple temporalities and rhythms interact in very complex ways. In this inevitably introductory article, we shall identify a number of these temporalities including the tools for measuring and recording these, and finally, the related social practices to the present time.

Juxtaposing time: the measurement of time and its tools

8As John Postill stated, « the spread of clock and calendar time (CCT) from the North Atlantic region to the rest of the world is an understudied phenomenon » (2002: 253). While Postill argues that this spread began in the 19th century with the Industrial Revolution, our Moroccan data allows us to antedate the transfer to an even earlier period. It is well-known that European imperialism and colonialism acted implicitly on cultural notions of time, both as forerunner of modernity and as a tool for cultural dominance. Cultural transformations of time were accompanied by the importation as well of time-keeping artefacts including wall clocks, longcase clocks, table clocks, pocket watches and wristwatches, all of which seem to have been appendages of the elites as objects of prestige, long before colonization. Clocks were placed in public places, in particular on minarets and later on buildings erected by the colonisers.

  • 2 For more information on the period see, for example: Muhammad al-Du´ayyif al-Ribati, Tarikh al-dawl (...)

9Historically, various instruments were used to measure time in Morocco, such as the sand clock (ramlîya, Prémare, 1999, 5: 213), the water clock or clepsydra (mâgâna al-ma’, Dozy, 1881, II: 617 ; Prémare, 1999, 11: 237) and the sun clock or horary quadrant (mâgâna d-ǝš-šǝms / šǝmsîya, Prémare, 1999, 11: 237; 7: 183). The most outstanding examples of water clocks are now conserved in Fes and Agadir. The â ǝl-mâgâna clepsydra in the Fes medina dates from 1357 and belongs to the mǝḍṛâa Bu-´Inânîya that can be found in one of the medina’s main streets. In 1924, Prosper Ricard wrote an article entitled « L’Horloge de la Médersa Bou-Anania de Fès » (1924: 248-254) explaining how the clock worked. Also in Fes, and located in the minaret of al-Qarawiyyîn mosque, there is a small room called dâr ǝl-mûwâqqît (Renaud, 1942: 41-63). It is the workplace of the mûwâqqît, the astronomer in charge of setting prayer times, indicating the direction for praying, announcing the sighting of the crescent moon marking the beginning and end of Ramadan, and so on. This figure is otherwise known as ǝddǝl (Prémare, 1999, 9: 48). The Al Lajaï clepsydra can be found in this room, which was installed there in 1361 (Essakali, 1983: 66-69). The Agadir-Lehne clepsydra can be found near Tata and was used to measure the oasis irrigation times. Regarding horary quadrants, these were apparently used to calculate prayer times in mosques and imperial palaces at least until the 19th century2.

10Besides these tools inherited from Antiquity, the call to prayer by the muezzin was soon understood as a time marker by the Europeans who visited Morocco in modern times. In 1649, French Trinitarian, Friar Pierre Dan called it the horloge barbaresque (Barbary clock) (1649: 268) and, in 1726, French redeemer of captives Jean-Baptiste de La Faye called it the horloge du pais (country’s clock) (1726: 68). In 1708, the Spanish Franciscan missionary Francisco de San Juan del Puerto referred to other time markers and said, in his writings, that « el modo que tienen para governarse en el conocimiento de las horas, es por relox de arena, huyendo de otros, por no combinarse con los de campana » (« in order to know what time it was, the way they governed themselves by sand clock, fleeing from other kinds as they did not match chiming clocks ») (1708: 32). That Moroccans did not possess bells or clocks is a fact that several European sources of that time underscored: in these discourses, the lack of these elements excludes Morocco from Western modernity and stresses their value as modern European techniques.

11Nevertheless, European captivity narratives provide us with some interesting testimonials referring to the reign of Moulay Ismail (1672-1727). In 1724, French redeemer of captives Jean-Baptiste de La Faye said that he had given « une montre d’Angleterre à répétition des plus magnifiques, dont il parut content » (1726: 80), as a gift to a Moroccan pasha. In 1725, English captive John Windus, author of a text entitled A Journey to Mequinez, wrote that Prince Muley Alli « had a room well stored with clocks, watches and fine large Chine Jars », adding that the ambassador had given him « a handsome gold watch with a chain and a seal » (1725: 182) as a gift. Before his death in 1727, Sultan Moulay Ismail received four longcase clocks (comptoises) from King Louis XIV of France, which are conserved in his Meknes mausoleum. At the end of the century, in 1793, William Lemprière offered more information about the presence of timepieces in the court of the Sultan of Morocco by saying that « two of the [Sultan’s] eunuchs each had a silver watch » (1793: 417). Lemprière also pointed out that Muley Absulem, in whose service he had remained in Morocco, paid for his services with a « gold watch » (1793: 133). By way of these and other sources, we know that Europeans offered gold and silver watches to various dignitaries of the Moroccan « courts », and also that they believed that Moroccans used these artefacts merely as body ornaments or objects of prestige.

12A 1731 text by the English diplomat, John Braithwaite, provides a good summary of what Europeans then thought of time-marking in Morocco:

13On ne connoit pas dans ce Pays l’usage des cloches, des horloges, ni des cadrans solaires : quand on veut apeller le Peuple aux dévotions, des Prêtres commis à cet effet montent au haut du clocher, où ils exposent un petit pavillon au bout d’une longue perche. Cette pratique, inusitée chez les Turcs, ne s’observe qu’en Barbarie. Le signal donné, le Marabou se tourne du côté du midi, vers lequel la Méque est située, & mettant ses doigts dans ses oreilles, il dit à haute voix ces paroles, Lahilla Lah, Mahometh ressoul Allah, c’est à dire, Dieu est Dieu, et Mahomet est son Prophéte. Il fait la même chose aux autres ouvertures du clocher. A ce drapeau, à ces cris, les Mores connoissent de jour & de nuit l’heure qu’il est. Aussitot que le Marabou de la principale Mosquée a commencé l'apel, toutes les autres suivent sur le champ.

14Le vendredi est le jour de leur Sabat, & cette solennité attire beaucoup de monde dans les Mosquées, surtout l’après-midi. Il est défendu de travailler, & les boutiques sont fermées pendant le Service, lequel fini, on étale, & chacun reprend les occupations journalières (1731: 450-451).

15Beginning in the 19th century, the European presence in Morocco greatly increased the number of references to the use of time-measurement instruments in the country, both local and European in origin. From these, we know that the minarets of mosques were a favourite place for positioning these timepieces. From his stay in Fes, the Catalan traveller Ali Bey El Abbassi (Domingo Badia i Leblich) told us that they could be found on the tower of al-Qarawiyyîn « tres malos relojes para arreglar las horas de la oración » (three bad clocks to fix the times of prayer), and that on the terrace « hai dos pequeños gnómones ó cuadrantes solares horizontales para observar el punto de medio dia » (there are two small gnomons or horary quadrants to observe the point of midday) (1836: 100-110). In 1844, Sir John Drummond Hay, the British consul in Tangier, wrote about the clock of Jamah Kébir, Tangier’s biggest mosque. He said that it was fixed to the damaged tower wall, adding that « un docteur de la loi, entre autres, déclara gravement qu’un djinn ou mauvais génie avait probablement élu domicile dans l’horloge » (1844: 189). In 1859, the Spaniard, Rafael del Castillo reported that « los pocos relojes que existen en el país, se hallan solamente en las principales mezquitas de las grandes poblaciones » (the few timepieces that are to be found in the country are found at the main mosques of the large towns or cities) (1859: 552). In 1905, Charles René-Leclerc reported that muezzins, while staying at the top of the minarets, « se servent du cadran solaire, de l’astrolabe et des tables de logarithmes pour déterminer l’heure exacte » (1905: 128).

16Besides information about public clocks, we also have reports of those found in private collections. Among other gifts to the Sultan, the French embassy of Saint-Amand to the court of Moulay Ismail gave two « pendules de cabinet » or table clocks and two dozen watches (Roxis de Flassan, 1811: 53). In the late 18th century, Louis de Chénier and William Lemprière referred to the table clocks that decorated the private apartments of the Sultan of Morocco. In the mid-19th century, Spaniards writing about the occupation of Tetouan referred to the existence of table clocks in some homes. In 1859, the Spaniard Salvador Valdés writes that « hay algunas casas con espejos y aún con relojes de sobremesa » (some houses even have mirrors and table clocks) (1859: 38).

17In 1872, Basque Friar José Lerchundi, in his Rudiments of the Arabic-Vulgate of Morocco wrote that « Moors who understand the hour of the clock count them in the same manner as Europeans, and express them using cardinal numbers » (1900: 398). In 1879, the English physician and traveler Arthur Leared, in his book Morocco and the Moors, writes that in the city of Marrakech « a few of the wealthy Moors possess clocks and watches, but they are so accustomed to the division of time provided by the mosques as to regard them as superfluities, and rather as playthings than for use » (1879: 266).

18In the early decades of the 20th century, Spain and several other European countries began to export not only gold and silver watches to Morocco, but also wall clocks, table clocks, pocket watches and wristwatches. In 1927 for example, a North American magazine noted that French Morocco was a « growing market for clocks » (Commerce Reports, 1927: 169). In the time of the Spanish Protectorate, watches were highly appreciated. For example, we know that the Spaniards offered monetary rewards and silver watches on chains as prizes to the best pupils in some schools (Boletín Oficial, 1913: 453).

19The examples given above allow us to suggest that processes of colonial domination, modernisation and globalisation emphasised certain dynamics tending towards the establishment in Morocco of a regime of multiple temporalities. The changes were not limited to those already mentioned, but occurred over a much broader spectrum, including time-measurement instruments located in public places, especially in urban areas, more watches, more colonial controls (directed from the metropolis in its original Greek sense) and monarchical state controls of civil and ritual times and a progressive complexification of the temporal organisation of daily life. Over the past 60 years (1956-2013) the transformations have intensified. The digital media and technologies are themselves becoming modern time markers, while historical regimes are changing and new categorisations of past, present and future are emerging. In short, more importance is being placed on synchronicity and more stress is being put on diachronicity and linear notions of time. While time-keeping and time-marking technologies are proliferating (public and private clocks, mobile phones, television, radio and the Internet, to name but a few), less importance is given to seasonality and cyclical time in expanding urban areas and growing sectors of the population now disconnected from agriculture.

Time regimes: calendars and temporal rhythms and their practices in social life and rituals

20The current plurality of time regimes is certainly the outcome of an historical process resulting from the instability of « local » and « traditional » time regimes caused mainly by colonialism and capitalism. Multiple temporalities already existed in Morocco, but French and Spanish colonialism, modernisation and globalisation have contributed considerably to the diversification, stratification and hierarchisation of time regimes.

21Clocks and calendars represent only two of the multiple temporalities coexisting in Morocco and the more salient of the dominant modes of time-reckoning. It is well-known that the three main calendars, Gregorian, Muslim and Agrarian, referred to as Julian or Berber by different authors, overlap in contemporary Morocco. These three competing frameworks exist side-by-side, determining ritual and feast days, public events and everyday activities with a high degree of specificity. Thus, national holidays are set according to the Gregorian calendar, popularized under French and Spanish colonisation, a use that has continued into post-colonial times. The public holidays are, according to the Gregorian calendar: 1 January (New Year’s Day); 11 January (Proclamation of Independence); 1 May (Labour Day); 30 July (Enthronement of the current king Mohammad VI); 20 August (Revolution of the King and the People); 21 August (Birthday of King Mohammed VI / Youth Day); 6 November (Green March); 18 November (Independence Day). Other legal holidays are also determined according to the Gregorian calendar. The Muslim calendar determines religious feasts, such as ´âšûa, ´îd l-mûlûd, âmâân, l-´îd -ġî or l-´îd lǝ-kbîr. Not all religious holidays are recognized as public holidays which include: 1 muarram (â l-´âm), 12 and 13 âbî´ ǝl-uwwǝl (´îd l-mûlûd / l-mîlûd / l-mǝwlîd), 1 and 2 šuwwâl (l-´îd -ġî / ´îd ǝmân / ´îd lǝ-fû), and 10 and 11 dû-l-ižža (l-´îd lǝ-kbîr / ´îd lǝ-wâla) (Abu-Shams, 2011: 148-153). Rites of passage, such as birth rites, circumcision, engagement, marriage, pilgrimage and funerary rites are also set according to the Muslim calendar, although urban inhabitants tend to favour the Gregorian calendar. The Agrarian calendar, the fǝllâi or ´âjâmi in Arabic, determines agrarian cycles and associated solar feasts including yinnâyǝr (1 January) and ´ǝnṣṛa (24 June). In addition, Moroccan Jewish communities have made use of the lunisolar Hebrew calendar, in particular to celebrate their religious feasts and rituals.

22The coexistence of these calendars establishes a strong stratification and juxtaposition of measures. One of the points of divergence in the three calendars is the difference between the lunar and solar years. Whereas the Muslim calendar is lunar, the Agrarian and Gregorian calendars are solar. Time-shifting is very important to Moroccans because there is a 14-day difference between the Agrarian and Gregorian calendars, and a 11-day difference between the Muslim and Gregorian calendars.

23The institution of these different calendars has a long history. Different power dynamics can be identified, as calendars were intertwined with politics, religion and economics. Logically, many tensions have arisen between the defenders of these multiple time-markers. There is some consensus on the fact that the Moroccan Agrarian calendars of the Arabic and Berber-speaking populations are considerably influenced by the Julian calendar introduced into North Africa by the Romans. This calendar has lost its influence in built-up and industrialised areas. The establishment of the Muslim calendar is due to islamization and arabization (Aguadé et al., 1998). French and Spanish colonisation is the source of the Gregorian calendar, adopted by the Moroccan state following independence for civil purposes. As an example, time management in schools, the work place and in business-related contexts is governed by a French-inspired model. Today, Morocco’s strategic position next to Europe and the importance of trade between Morocco and various European countries have reinforced the everyday use of that calendar. As a result, there has evolved a specialisation of use for each of these calendars. Friday, for instance, is the Muslim religious day of rest while Sunday is the civil day of rest according to the Gregorian calendar. The state administration sets holiday periods in accordance with the Gregorian and Islamic calendars. Citizens then must also make personal choices. In the month of Ramadan, civil timetables are adapted to religious ritual times, sometimes making the working day shorter so that people can fulfil their religious obligations. Regarding trade, rural souks are held any day of week apart from Friday, while big shopping centres usually choose to close on Sunday. However, many shops have decided to stay open seven days a week.

24Literacy is also an important factor. Knowledge of the Agrarian calendar is transmitted orally from one generation to the next, whereas knowledge of the Gregorian and Muslim calendars results from learning, where the very fact of existing in written form confers legitimacy and authority. Obviously, the use of clocks and certain calendars is linked to literacy and has facilitated various social transformations. The reconstruction and reformulation of the Berber calendars has emerged from slightly different power dynamics. In this reformulation, reference to the Agrarian calendar is very important. Its legitimacy partly stems from its acceptance by the Royal Institute of the Amazigh Culture (Ircam), founded in 2001.

25In an article published in 1977, entitled « The Past and the Present in the Present », Maurice Bloch established a distinction between ritual time linked to cyclical time, and everyday time linked to linear notions of time. In Morocco, time and temporality offer a unique entry point to the understanding of various aspects of the lifecycle and of social and working life. Rituals attest the importance of 3-day, 7-day and 40-day periods, which are very significant in birth, marriage and funerary rites. All these time markers govern bodily actions and rituals. Rites of passage, among others, serve to mark individual and collective time. The human body, as defined by biological time, is one of the most significant elements of temporality.

26Periods of seven days, such as the week, are also central to time frameworks linked to economic activities, such as those performed at weekly markets. Most of the feasts are associated with the Muslim and Agrarian calendars, though the growing phenomenon of « festivalisation », or the creation of new feasts or public holidays, emphasises the importance of the Gregorian calendar, as many of them are set accordingly. Some paradigmatic examples are the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music and the Rabat World Festival of Mawazine-Rhythmes du Monde. Most often such festivals are urban festivals.

27Regarding the cyclical nature of time, we should underscore the importance of seasons (in particular winter and summer) but also weekly market cycles, especially in rural environments. Lifecycles are also important time markers, particularly birth, circumcision, marriage and death. The succession of seasons is of course cyclic diving the year into four seasons, spring, summer, autumn and winter with various natural elements marking succession of the seasons. Seasonal cyclicality is also expressed by the word wǝqt as in wǝqt ǝ-îf, “in summer”, wǝqt ǝl-ǝt, “time to plough”, etc. In 1800, Austrian imperial interpreter Franz Von Dombay refered to such words as fasl er-reby (Ver.); fasl es-sita (Hyems); fasl es-saif (Aestas); and fasl el-charif (Autumnus) (Dombay 1800: 56).

Materialities of time: objects and things, words and bodies

28A very interesting feature of the juxtaposition of time in Morocco is the use of both objects and things and words and bodies (biochronology) to reinforce the current multiplicity of time regimes. Most of the practices implicated in time-marking involve the use of objects and things, and human and non-human voices/words and bodies. Interactions with material culture create temporal orders (Shove et al., 2009: 5). Traditionally, natural elements like the sun, the moon, light (sunrise and sunset, for example), water, sand or stone are used as time markers. Attention to the environment, its ‘natural signs’ and its cycles is a relevant issue. The climate is the basis for times set by the Agrarian calendar: l-lyali (nights) and ṣṣmayem (scorching heat), periods of 40 days each. Both the Quran and the Hadith contain the use of various material elements to set ritual times. One of the most significant is the practice of using a white thread and a black thread as time markers to indicate the beginning and end of the fast, or the daily Maghreb prayer. A material element of special significance used to mark daily rhythms is the human voice, in the figure of the muezzin, the call to prayer or the tǝkbî that takes place from the minarets of mosques. New technologies have acquired a special significance, include calls-to-prayer via loudspeakers or even via television and radio going so far as to interrupt scheduled programming. Animal voices and sounds seemingly random are also significant, especially in the rural environment, where a cock’s crow or birdsong mark the start of dawn. There are specific urban and rural sounds as well such as city traffic, people socializing, the bells of water-sellers, agricultural machinery, presses, the town-crier. Even gates in city walls are architectural elements of singular importance, just as the opening and closing of souks and shops represent visible markers of time. Sunrise and sunset, marked by the movement of the earth in relation to the sun, are important terms that mark the beginning and end of a daily routine, including agricultural activities or the five prayers prescribed by Islam.

29The human body is also a « time-keeping device » (Gingrich et al., 2002: S3). Life-course changes and dress are used as references of time. Dress is closely related to certain ritual moments: colours like white are associated with widowhood, thus marking a 40-day period of mourning time. Also significant are the use of ǝbûš, fes or âgîya by men, or the use the jǝllâba or îjâb in public places by women. There is a clear intersection between time, spatial issues and material issues in many of these practices. In Morocco, the passing of time is also grasped through the senses: aromas and flavours. One can tell ritual time by what is eaten and the time of year by seasonal produce; one can smell rîra, so it must be Ramadan since the bakeries work in the afternoon. Over Ramadan, streets are crowded with people shopping before breaking the fast, and deserted during the fast time of lǝ-fû. In some cities, the bang of the drum (bǝ) is used to wake people and get them up to eat during the dawn prayer (lǝ-fjǝ).

30The use of the Muslim calendar is governed by civil, religious, domestic, community and rite-of-passage festivities, whereas the Gregorian calendar is reserved for daily life. Food is often a time marker. The seasonal nature of some foods or produce and their ritual use mean that certain meals are associated with particular moments. Thus, for example, the consumption of couscous in Morocco is associated with a specific day of the week, Friday. Couscous and the Friday prayer become time markers: the length of prayer in the mosque gives mothers enough time to cook it. A sort of parallelism occurs between cooking time and prayer time.


31Drawing on ethnographic examples from Morocco, we have shed light upon a few of the social and cultural constructions of time. Since at least the 16th century, and in particular since the 18th century, there has been a one-way transfer of time frameworks and time markers from Europe to Morocco, first among the elite and then among other social classes. The process is intimately linked to imperialism and colonialism, and has intensified with modernisation and globalisation. Today, time-keeping in Morocco is characterised by the coexistence and juxtaposition of time regimes. Spatial and temporal dimensions cannot be disentangled (Munn, 1992: 94). The Moroccan situation is similar to the one experienced in other societies of the Arab world (Georgeon and Hitzel, 2011). As Sylvia Chiffoleau (2012) has underscored, determining time in the Arab world is marked by great complexity; so that a history of time, « loin de présenter un profil linéaire […] constitue plutôt un champ de concurrence, voire de conflits ».

32In this article we have tried to examine time and raised a number of issues regarding the recent history and politics of time in Morocco. Our article reflects upon the phenomenon of overlapping frameworks and the layering of meanings, placing these within a context of power dynamics, tension, hierarchy and conflict. The field is particularly rich in opportunities for the study of contextual frameworks and there is much that remains to be explored on the field.

33Kevin Birth has stated that « the current generation of temporal artifacts hides local timescapes in favour of mediating between the user of the artifact and an administrative system that maintains global standards » (2012: 159). In order to further understand Moroccan temporalities and local timescapes that remain obscure and largely unknown, we propose an ethnography potential for rethinking time and temporality. Ethnographic research on both « local timescapes » (Adam, 1998) and the « administrative system that maintains global standards » will provide researchers and practitioners with a better understanding of the implications of juxtaposition and dominance of time markers.

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1 In our article, Arabic and Berber-language transcriptions are observed as given by each of the cited authors. Our own transcriptions comply with the standards specified by the editor of the journal. Due to our lack of competence in Berber languages, most of the ethnographic examples provided concern the notions employed by arabophones.

2 For more information on the period see, for example: Muhammad al-Du´ayyif al-Ribati, Tarikh al-dawla al-Sa´ida (edition of Ahmad al-´Ammari, Rabat, Dar Al-Ma´thurat, 1986), an important source for the times of Sultan Muhammad ben Abdallah (1757-1790). We thank one of the anonymous reviewers of the article for suggesting this reference.

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Leila Abu-Shams et Araceli González-Vázquez, « Juxtaposing Time : an Anthropology of Multiple Temporalities in Morocco  »Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée, 136 | 2014, 33-48.

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Leila Abu-Shams et Araceli González-Vázquez, « Juxtaposing Time : an Anthropology of Multiple Temporalities in Morocco  »Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée [En ligne], 136 | 2014, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2014, consulté le 23 juillet 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Leila Abu-Shams

Faculty Member, University of the Basque Country UPV/EHU

Araceli González-Vázquez

Chercheuse associée au Laboratoire d’Anthropologie sociale du Collège de France

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Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

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