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Baker at Rissani as spiritual being with his bread-motif hat, like a halo. I just love this image: technically, compositionally, thematically and creatively. Cara


The marabout @ Sidi Kaouki, by the sea

Recently, while leading a small group tour, I stayed at a village called Sidi Kaouki for a few days. It was an amazing place and imprinted on my mind forever is the man, dog and wild donkey running along the sea’s edge in silhouette, a little like a shadow puppet show, as the sun set behind them, atop the glassy, silver sea; so free. I remember it as a silver, not gold, sunset, that evening at that moment.

At this village, named in his honour, there is also the tomb of a marabout, or venerated holy one, overlooking the sea. The ladies in the group and I clamoured around the edifice’s edges and walked up a few steps until we thought it safer to go no further. There was a bit of modern graffiti on it and it was in a terrible state of disrepair.  It was certainly a building, more like a mausoleum and not just a tomb; albeit an extremely dilapidated one. I heard about people actually staying there for periods of time, and I wondered where they would do their ablutions, and did they feel fear at night, resting near the dead, as the ocean’s waves close by rhythmically crashed onto the shoreline, like a slow chant.

However sometimes when a person tells me something, I resist the urge to cross examine them on it, as I don’t want to be that little boy about whom Eric Fromm wrote in one of his books, who pulls off the beautiful butterfly’s wings, just to satisfy his curiosity to know.

I am digressing somewhat, so turning back to the topic at hand.

Staying again at Sidi Kaouki and actually visiting the marabout, also made me wonder so much more about the role of marabouts (both the holy men and women, and the tombs) in Moroccan history and culture.


The marabout in the Jbel Saghro (mountain) range on the way to the Erg Chebbi dunes

I had driven past other marabouts in the past and was to do so again on this group tour when we were crossing the Jbel Saghro (Jbel meaning Mountain) range. We were on our way from Agdz, home of the grand Kasbahs of rammed earth for which Morocco is famous and towards Erfoud, date and fossil capital of Morocco. The latter is also commonly regarded as the gateway to the desert there, including the Erg Chebbi dunes close by. These dunes were said to have been created by Allah when, in a fury, he whipped up a sandstorm to bury the local inhabitants. This was as punishment for their refusing hospitality to a virtuous widow in great need, who had come to the region and had asked the locals in vain, for charity. Charity is of particularly high value in Islam.


The hermit Palm tree amidst the immensity of the Erg Chebbi dunes, symbol of the Maternal, both beneficent and brutal.

Nothing on this earthly plain lasts forever. A child’s abandoned slip-ons at the Erg Chebbi dunes.

This second marabout of my story here, at Jbel Saghro, was located on a lonely, windswept, bare hilltop and was much more modest than the one at Sidi Kaouki. The driver simply said in response to my enquiry: “Just some old marabout from a long time ago”. I wanted to stop to take a photograph but I didn’t want to annoy the ladies on the tour, who I didn’t think were so interested in such things. Besides it is sort of like the face of God isn’t it; that is to say, you can’t see or transcend the truly sacred and if you could, it would become merely of the profane.

A short time later we stopped at high altitude to have lunch with a local family scratching a living out of the mountains and out of the passing, albeit sporadic, traffic. As I look at the photos I took of this place now, and the glorious panorama they capture, I recall the feeling of ascetic spirituality and how it seemed fitting that a marabout was resting close by.


Drinking a tea in the celestial sky at Jbel Saghro

On close inspection the ladies in the tour group and I agreed that this was a fascinating art work by these simple people, proving how the most sophisticated and the most simple meet. Because of the light mainly, it was hard to photograph well, but its components symbolised Moroccan identity and in particular these nomad people in the mountains. There were animal horns, a horse or donkey shoe, a stone that looked like the Atlas lion, a stunted palm tree, a tagine that could also have been a mountain, a model of a mosque, teapots stacked to resemble a nearby mountain; many other fascinating things. Art, identity and spirituality on a mountain top.


When I finally got back to Australia a few weeks later, I decided to do some research of some academic articles about the marabout phenomenon and write this blog post.


The Marabouts of Morocco: A brief history and explanation

First, I better get my definitions of what I am talking about, straight and in historical context.

Sometimes “marabout” is a word applied to the venerated holy one himself (or herself), rather than to their final resting place. Indeed marabouts can be living or dead.

They are particularly associated with Sufi Islam although not actually mentioned at all in the Koran and sometimes one sees their veneration referred to as an Islamic “cult”.

The source of this veneration of marabouts is their purported acquisition of significant baraka, meaning blessing or divine favour

As loci of baraka, this in turn meant, according to Rasmussen (2004), that marabouts have also always been seen to have the power to provide amulets for protection against theft, from the ‘evil eye’, and the destructive power of angry artisans.

Syliwoniuk-Wapowska (2023) notes the marabouts are seen as mediators, not only between God and humans, but as arbiters who are above suspicion and with the power to solve local disputes effectively.

The acquisition by a marabout of this essence called baraka was achieved either through virtue and miracle working, or, by apparent lineage connection with the Prophet, his daughter Fatima or her husband Ali.

Those with the lineage connection are called Shereef or sharif.  Of course, there have also always been charlatans feigning a family connection to a famous marabout in order to seek benefits from the gullible.

It appears that when the current Alouite dynasty took power, some centuries ago, they preferred to emphasise the lineage aspect of baraka. This was to prevent uncontrolled dispersion of power to various individuals claiming baraka through reputation and miracles and with whom the traditional elite, (elite by virtue of their common, exalted lineage), did not share close ties. Because at times in history, marabouts wielded political power and operated what you might call “Kinglets” in what is now known as modern Morocco. Like the moon, this power waxed and waned. However, even up to and including the time of the French protectorate, marabouts continued to wield some power as collaborators of the French. I am not aware of them having any real political force at all in modern times, although I wonder if “prominent families” with influence, particularly in the religious city of Fez and also in Tangier, are their modern incarnation.

Further, Musems, which are yearly festivals celebrating a particular marabout and his or her supposed descendants, still occur. As do pilgrimages (Ziyara), to gather at a shrine of a particular marabout, because of traditional ties or because of some particular kind of baraka for which that marabout is known. At these events specific rituals are required to be performed. These may include entering the Horm or territorial saintliness of the tomb, (akin to the Christian concept of a church as sanctuary), touching the tomb itself and perhaps obtaining something from that place such as soil or a souvenir of the place, bought close by.

Usually any request from a pilgrim (or zayir) is followed by an ‘offering’ distributed among the marabout’s family. Thus the descendants of the holy ones and any of the charlatans mentioned before, claiming a false family connection, continue to benefit socially as an extension of the marabout’s baraka, and to some extent materially.

So perhaps there remains after all a flickering at least, of political power at the local level and not just sociological and traditional influence, that resides with the Marabouts of Morocco, at least for now. As always with Morocco, it is a bit hard for a foreigner such as myself to really know, as there are so many layers.

Incidentally, the phenomenon of Maraboutism is not restricted to within the borders of modern-day Morocco. You can find lists of marabouts all over North Africa on the internet.

In Sidi Kaouki they told me their marabout is venerated even by groups of particular Jews, who come from overseas to pay their respects from time to time.

Sometimes, as we said earlier, instead of referring only to a person, the term “marabout” refers to the shrine where a venerated holy man or woman is buried. Sidi Kaouki marabout for example refers to the mausoleum, where the venerated holy person called Sidi Kaouki is buried and what we explored that day, during our walk along the shoreline.

On the other hand, Zawiya is a shrine where the saint once lived rather than where he is buried. It is not accessible in the usual course by non-Moslems.

It is all coming together now because in the blue city of Chefchaouen a green door, green being the colour of Islam, symbolises that a descendant of the Prophet either lives there or is buried there. It must be a sign of baraka and respect and it is no wonder that the Royal family has close ties with Chefchaouen. I imagine Chefchaouen is a strong supporter of the Royal family.


If you are also interested in the Marabouts of Morocco, let us know

I think a tour of the Marabouts of Morocco might not have much appeal and many guides will not know as much about them as appears in the academic articles that inspired this blog post.  If you might be interested in, for example a tour of the UNESCO world heritage sites of Morocco (we actually will be offering this as a tour on our new website, coming imminently) we can also include a marabout tomb or mausoleum or more en route, particularly in the north where there is a happy confluence of world heritage sites and last resting places of marabouts.

Our UNESCO World Heritage tour will follow this route through Morocco. 2026 as a group tour and anytime as a private tour. Please feel free to send us an expression of interest so we can gauge uptake.


There are many marabouts, for example, laid to rest in the western part of the Rif Mountains near Tangier, Tetouan and Chefchaouen. I read about some interesting pilgrim rituals associated with the Holy Person, buried on the route between Tangier and Chefchaouen, known as Moulay Abdessalam.

Siblings and a tomato plant, all growing on the side of a mountain in the Jbel Saghro (mountain) range. We obtained permission from their father to take this photograph. Maybe the second best lunch of our entire tour.


If you’d like to read the main source academic articles for the terminology and information in this blog, they are listed below.


Suolinna, K & Lahtinen, T 2002, ‘Holiness, holy places and the El-Baqqali family in Northern Morocco’, Temenos, vol. 37-38, pp. 209-226.

Rasmussen, SJ 2004, ‘These are Dirty Times: Transformations of Gendered Spaces and Islamic Ritual Protection in Taureg Herbalists and Marabouts’ Albaraka Blessing Powers’, Journal of Ritual Studies, vol. 18, no. 2, pp. 43-60.

Syliwoniuk-Wapowska, A 2023, ‘Sainthood as a form of Capital: The Case of Maraboutism in Morocco’, Asian and African Studies, vol. 32, no. 1, pp. 38-59.


Published January 2024



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