June 18, 2024

Jo Mai Asian Culture

Embrace Artistry Here

a tribute to a Moroccan heritage with deep roots and an extensive history

6 min read
  1. Mata Festival, a world heritage site 

The Mata International Equestrian Festival will hold its 12th edition from 17 to 19 May, under the High Patronage of His Majesty King Mohammed VI. The event will be held under the slogan: “Mata, ancestral intangible heritage and a space for the exchange of human cultures”. 

The Mata International Equestrian Festival returns for a new edition that will run from Friday 17 May to Sunday 19 May 2024, in the village of Zniyed, Municipality of Larbaa Ayacha, Circle of Moulay Abdeslam Ibn Mashich, Province of Larache. 

This year’s edition is distinguished by the inclusion of the intangible heritage of Mata within the Islamic World Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (ISESCO), on behalf of the Kingdom of Morocco. 

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On this occasion, the president of the Festival, Nabil Baraka, stated how this recognition was achieved thanks to the high royal patronage that the festival is honoured to receive in all its editions. In the same context, he stated that the preservation of Morocco’s intangible heritage, including the Mata Festival, is carried out under the attention and guidance of the Sovereign, who emphasises that “culture is not only an expression of creativity, but also a reflection of civilisations and a fundamental necessity in our daily lives, as it is food for the spirit and thought, and unites the past with the present. It also creates a link between the individual and his or her society,” as reflected in the extract from the Royal Message addressed to the participants in the work of the 17th session of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. 

Nabila Baraka - Festival Mata
Nabila Baraka – Festival Mata

Likewise, the preservation of Mata’s heritage stands as a continuation of the important trajectory initiated by the Naquib of Chorfas Alamiyines Hadj Mohamed Baraka, and the late Sidi Abdelhadi Baraka Naquib of Chorfas Alamiyines. 

The president of the festival, Nabil Baraka, stresses that the inclusion of the intangible heritage of Mata on behalf of Morocco on the ISESCO list is a historic achievement of great importance, which has been achieved thanks to the high patronage and support of partners who support the editions of the festival in its different cultural, developmental, economic and social spaces and facets. It is a well-deserved recognition of the riders of Mata, and a tribute to the mountainous regions that are home to a rich and diverse spiritual and cultural heritage.

The festival chairman wants to emphasise the importance of holding on to the spiritual aspect represented by the festival for the Chorfas Alamiyines and the followers of the Shadhiliya Sufi school.  

On this occasion, which brings together prominent personalities in the fields of thought, religion, culture, art and politics, he urges to work to spread the values of the call of the Qutb, Master Moulay Abdeslam lbn Mashich, among mankind. Furthermore, he asks everyone to raise their prayers for peace, security and tranquillity in areas of conflict and war, especially between the children of Palestine and Israel, as well as in the war between Ukraine and Russia.  

Nabil Baraka, en el Festival Internacional Mata - PHOTO/GEMA LÓPEZ 
Nabil Baraka, at the Mata International Festival – PHOTO/GEMA LÓPEZ 

He also wants to reaffirm the attachment of the Chorfas Alamiyin and the followers of the Sufi Shadhiliya school to the noble directives of the leader, the Emir of the Believers and Protector of the community and the religion. 

The president of the Mata International Festival would like to point out that this year’s edition will feature a full programme of races and exhibitions of Mata horses and jockeys. In addition, an international conference will be organised under the motto “Mata: space for the exchange of human cultures”, which will be moderated by researchers from various national and international institutions, in honour of the heritage that has become a meeting point for promoting dialogue between cultures and civilisations from all over the world.

Festival Mata
Mata Festival 

Emphasis will be placed on strengthening and consolidating the ties of communication between the two shores of Africa and Europe, represented in the geographical and historical meeting points between Morocco and Spain, and between the other continents of the world. Also worthy of note is the important role played, and which continues to be played, by various media institutions that enrich the presence of the festival with their significant weight. 

For her part, Nabila Baraka, president of the Alamia Laaroussia Social and Cultural Action Association, places the Mata Festival within the framework of the ongoing discussions on the Family Code, which enshrines the role of Moroccan women, who have been and continue to be active in Moroccan society. She also highlights the role of the women of the Jebala tribes in the celebration of this rich Moroccan heritage, something that is reflected in all the spaces of Mata. Of particular note is the figure of the horsewoman Zorah riding among the horsemen.  

Festival Mata
Mata Festival 

In addition, the festival serves as an opportunity to highlight the strong links between the northern region and the culture of the Moroccan Saharan tribes, a permanent guest in the festival spaces, represented by cultural and media institutions, community cooperatives and traditional crafts. 

The president of the Mata International Festival will take stock of the previous edition in 2023, where a great success was achieved on all cultural, social and economic levels. This was reflected in the participation of more than 300,000 national and international visitors, as well as in the creation of a competitive environment between more than 330 riders from different tribes of Jebala. In addition, more than 90 agricultural and handicraft cooperatives participated in the festival, exhibiting their products to the visitors. 

An artistic show was also organised in honour of the authentic Moroccan heritage, featuring prominent artists such as Bachir Attar, Faycel Sghir, Ikram El Abdia, El Messari, Imane El Hajeb, and comedians Hassan & Mohssin. During this event, tribute was paid to the pioneer of Jebala art, Hajji Srifi, and other cultural personalities. 

These achievements reinforce the position of the Mata Festival as one of the leading equestrian festivals in the region, and contribute to promoting Moroccan culture, as well as boosting tourism and economic development in the area. 

Festival Mata
Mata Festival 

Mata Festival, a world heritage site 

Around Jbel Allam, the locals welcome spring by playing a particularly original game that requires courage, dexterity, flexibility, delicacy, intelligence and finesse from its practitioners. It is a game in which horse and rider, in perfect symbiosis, celebrate a legendary complicity and, above all, the ancestral culture of an extraordinary region. The Jbalas have called this game the Mata Festival. 

Festival Mata
Mata Festival 

Even today, the tribes of Bni Arous jealously preserve the tradition and scrupulously respect the rules of the game. After the harvesting of the wheat fields, first in the village of Aznid, then in other villages, the girls and women of the tribe in charge of this operation accompany it with their songs, their youyous and their famous a’iyou’, to the sound of the bagpipes and drums specific to the region. It is these same women who make, with the help of reeds and cloth, the doll for which the most courageous riders of Jebala country, a region where the art of riding, breeding and training horses is specific to their culture, will compete. Riders participating in the Mata game must ride bareback, dressed in the ancestral jellabas and amamas. 

According to oral tradition, the winner of the Mata game is the one who, using his skill and daring, manages to snatch the doll from the other riders and carry it away. He is then awarded a supreme reward: he is married off to the prettiest girl in the tribe. 

Festival Mata
Mata Festival

The Mata game is probably inspired by Bouzkachi, a similar but more violent game imported, according to legend, by Moulay Abdeslam lbn Mashich during his visit to Ibn Boukhari. Bouzkachi, practised in Afghanistan, has as its stake the carcass of a goat for which riders fight in brutal jousts that result in numerous injuries. 

This annual event celebrates a culture in which the sense of honour is rehabilitated, faith is rooted; patriotism is a Sufi school, a spiritual school and a universal value; all the humanist wealth bequeathed by the great Quotb Moulay Abdeslam Ibn Mashich to the Chorfas Alamiyineses, to the Tarika Mashichiya Shadhiliya and to the inhabitants of this exceptional region. 


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