This week, we travel to Northwest Africa and visit Mauritania.
Located on the Atlantic coast of Africa, Mauritania forms a geographic and cultural bridge between the North African Maghreb (including Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia) and western Sub-Saharan Africa. Much of the country is part of the Sahara desert, and a large proportion of the population was nomadic until a large drought affected the land in the 1970’s. Mauritania is also known for its mineral wealth, including large reserves of iron, copper, and gypsum.
In November of 1960, Mauritania won its independence after a long period as a French colony in the 1900’s. At this time, 90% of the population was still nomadic and Nouakchott, the capital, was founded as a village. Livestock provided milk and meat, and camels, oxen, and donkeys provided transport. Tents were made from dyed sheep’s wool, and tanned goat skin was used to make waterskins.
Severe drought in the 1970’s led to a rapid urbanization of the population. The nomadic lifestyle was largely eliminated, and dams were built to conserve floodwaters. In 2008, the government was overthrown in a military coup by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. Aziz left the military to run for president in 2009, which he won.
Arabic is the official language, and Fula, Soninke, and Wolof are its national languages. The Moors speak an Arabic dialect that is a mix of Arabic and Arabized Amazigh words. Most Arabic speakers have also been exposed to colloquial Egyptian and Syrian Arabic from radio and television. Since the 1980’s, Arabic has been the primary language of instruction.
Almost all Mauritanians are Sunni Muslim. Religion shared by all ethnic groups created national culture in Mauritania, and it celebrates holidays observed by other Muslim countries, such as ʿĪd al-Fiṭr (the end of Ramadan).
While written literature is limited, Mauritania has a rich collection of oral literature, including a variety of epics, riddles, folk tales, poetry and prose. Storytelling is one of its oldest traditions.