Migratory flows (16th–19th century)

Morocco as a land of migration and escape

The interest the Spanish authorities took in Moroccan shores as a haven for migrating and expelled populations belongs in a broader strategy framework. The fragility of the Moroccan government affords it no prospect of any effective intervention beyond the Strait of Gibraltar. Indeed, between 1415 and 1497, Spain was setting up on the North-African coast a string of bastions – at Ceuta, Ksar Sghir, Asilah,Tangier and Mellila – that would ensure that she could deal with any potential reaction on the part of those who had left El Andalus under duress and who might muster the means to return by force. Indeed, an informal truce between the facing sides of the Mediterranean coincided with the period of Morisco expulsions. Ultimately, the Crown of Spain is looking to their melting away into the autochthon population, the Morisco entity vanishing into thin air. As for the wishes of the migrating/expelled populations, they fluctuate and conflict with each other. Should they live in the hope of a return to the “promised land” ? Or, conversely accept a final insertion into the new society ? Would contributing to economic growth be the best way to achieve the former or the latter aim ? The fact is that, for the most part, in decades, nay centuries to come, Jews and Moriscos alike keep themselves apart geographically and socially. It remains that this would not stop the latter from setting their culture as a model for the Moroccans, starting with the townfolks.

Some tens of thousands of exiles arrived in successive waves. In 1492, the expelled Jewish populations split roughly down the middle between Fez on one side and Asilah and Salé on the other. The relationship between the Jews and their former Christian sovereigns varied a great deal. Some took part in the capture of Safi and Azemmour by the Portuguese in 1508 and 1513 before John III[1] forced them out towards Fez in 1542. Others were killed joining in the fight against the conquest of Tripoli and Bougie by the Spaniards (1509 and 1510) or instantly expelled when, for instance Charles V[2] took over Tunis in 1535. Such events as the destruction of Charles's fleet at large of Algiers in 1541 or the victory of Sultan Marwan Abd Al-Malik[3] won over King Sebastian of Portugal (1578) are cause for celebration and the organisation of the Purim Edom[4] and the Purim de los Christianos which highlight through prayer, poetry and libations the critical nature of these events for the Jewish community henceforth established on the southern shore of the Mediterranean (cf. Haim Zafrani). Yet, it is at the price of humiliations and levies that those Jews succeed in fitting in this new society, notably by becoming the financiers of the Sultans and of high ranking dignitaries.

As for the way the Moriscos from Spain were received, sources – and the historians in their wake – differ on the appreciation of their Muslim identity and of the authorities' political outlook. One group of writers stress the situation's religious dimension : the Muslims' responsibility is to fight the Jihad against the “infidel” and the “unbelievers”; abandoning this task is equated to a betrayal. Conversely, another group of writers delves into the complexity of the issues, showing how the religious dimension is closely woven into strategic, political and economic considerations. The Moroccan authorities, caught between the fear of internal destabilisation and a double external threat adopt two distinct approaches: in the first instance they take advantage of the massive Morisco influx to strengthen their power and circumscribe as much as they can the newcomers' autonomist propensities ; in the second, in order to neutralise the forces by somehow evening out their military power, they surreptitiously ally themselves with the Spaniards to stall the inroads of the Ottoman empire. At this game, there is a heavy price to pay : Al Daghali, one of the military leaders hailing from Andalusia and who had served a good few sultans was murdered for rejecting this option.

The desire to lead a Jihad against Spain did indeed consume some of the Moriscos forced into exile. To this end some offered their support to the Saadians who stood against the rapprochement between the Wattassids and the Spaniards. “Ali Aqrass tribal chief and Mujahid was of that ilk : he received from Mohammed ech-Cheikh, whom he had approached instructions towards seeking to free Mellila. The Al Mandari family who chose exile before the expulsion decree also shared those views. Heir to a distinguished line, Mohammed ben Ali Al Mandari[5] kept a force of around one hundred horsemen on the banks of the Martil River during the war against the Portuguese in Cueta. He asked of Sultan Muhammad al-Shaykh permission to rebuild the city of Tetouan, but could not establish himself there because of the hostility shown the newcomers by neighbouring tribes friendly with Spain. Al Mandari then turned to the Sultan of Fez who lavished on him the protection required to complete the reconstruction of the town. Thereafter, Tetouan had the status of a semi-independent principality, enjoying a fair margin of manoeuvre towards Spain. This town, which owes much of its character to its long standing immigration, illustrates the entanglement of the threads on which hung the fate of some of the Jews and Moriscos come from the Iberian Peninsula and beyond. Fighting a sea-borne Jihad that bestowed on the guerre de course inaugurated in the Middle Ages a religious dimension, the newcomers did not overlook the strictly economic side of the operation thus serving the interests of the host society in the process. We are speaking of human trade, that is the traffic of prisoners whom Catholic religious orders such as the Trinitarian Order or the Order of Our Lady of Mercy were dedicated to ransom, reinforcing thereby a more and more lucrative practice. The ramifications of the market of Christian prisoners ranged as far as Fez. The Moroccan authorities were also benefiting from the traffic.

So the experience of exile and migration cannot be reduced to a mere desire for revenge or an uncompromising exercice of the jihad. Period documents, whether scriptural or archaeological, show that the incomers did not get swallowed up by the host society. Distinctive traits would survive, some of them for a very long time. Although in the case of the Jews, they were essentially of a religious nature, they are no less extant also for the Muslim. Here, their expulsion notwithstanding, the Andalusians[6] may continue to be perceived as Christians by the local Muslims. There, they might have adopted a scornful attitude which made them keep aloof from, or indeed distance themselves from their brothers in faith. So issues of identity don't get resolved through shared religious faith alone: distinctive cultural features show up these Muslims whose history is shared for a part and different for another. The case of Salé is emblematic. Founded thanks to the arrival of an important Andalusian community at the beginning of the 17th century it promptly fell under the domination of Mawlay Zidan. However the Hornacheros[7] decided to build a Kasbah[8] and to gather Andalusians from Morocco's other regions. To that end they even undertook to fund the removal costs and to fix them inside the ancient Almohad fortifications: a new Salé – present-days Rabat – thus emerged alongside the old one. In spite of Zidan's negative response, three republics came into being : The Homacheros' in the Kasbah, seat of power ; the Andalusians of Rabat, and old Salé. The Andalusians went so far as to reproduce the power structure used in the Iberian Peninsula: power was assigned for one year, to a leader elected by a divan[9] of sixteen members. Cohabitation did not run smoothly as the 1627-1630 confrontations indicate.

Privateering offered both Rabat and Salé whose inhabitants were mostly Andalusians the option to found city-States independent, to all intents and purposes, from the Sultans of Fez and Marrakesh, to such an extent that European capitals included them in their diplomatic systems. This initiative was owed to the Jews and the Catholic religious orders acting as intermediary in the payment of prisoners' ransoms. Neither were the latter's activities restricted to religious and humanitarian ends ; economic and geopolitical considerations also had their part to play against a background of profound enmity with the Dutch and the English suspected of seeking if not a rear alliance at least bases to attack Spain ; The memoirs of Father Jorge de Hanin show that this priest supplied Philip II[10] with detailed information on the Moroccan situation inciting him to invade this or that port. Also recorded amidst that data, we find the activity of a Fez Jew, Samuel Pallache who travelled several times to the United Provinces to establish trading links between them and Morocco based on import (of weapons)/export (of sugar).

The overall picture needs nuancing. In a way, expelled because they formed minorities considered unacceptable in the Iberian Peninsula, Andalusian Jews and Muslims still formed unassimilated religious, cultural, social minorities in a Morocco working at the construction of its national identity. This marginalisation, owed to a fierce sense of identity on all parts and to the overwhelming hold of traditional structures, thus endured on both sides of the Mediterranean. Morocco, to the Andalusian mind, would long remain but a land of temporary exile. On occasions differences exploded in the political field when the Moroccan authorities would not be recognised or would be challenged for internal motives or because of agreements passed with Catholic Spain. These passed events are not to be cast in a dualistic paradigm of shock of “civilisations” defined by an exclusively religious criterion : complex feelings of identity belonging, diverging or converging economical interests, strategic alliances adjustable according to the victories or defeat of the major powers led to very variable individual and collective engagements.

  1. John III (1502-1557)

    King of Portugal (1521-1557), he inherited from his Father Manuel I an empire spread over three continents. His project was first to spread Portuguese domination then to consolidate it by reinforcing the kingdom's administration.

  2. Charles V (1500-1558)

    Charles V, ruler of the Burgundian Netherlands (1506-1555), King of Spain (1516-1556, King of Sicily (1516-1554) and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire (1519-1556), Charles V saw himself as the champion of the Catholic faith. His grand-parents on the maternal side were Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, which explains his interest in the Iberian Peninsula. He was crowned Emperor by the Pope in 1530, fought the Reform and regularly found himself in conflict with the kingdom of France. The Ottoman Empire's advance stalled before Vienna but Charles V did not succeed in checking the Barbary corsairs' domination of the Mediterranean.

  3. Abd al-Malîk

    Abu Marwan Abd Al-Malik 5th Saadian Sultan 1576-1578. He took refuge in Istanbul during the reign of his brother Abdallah al-Ghalib (1557-1578), he enjoyed the backing of the Ottomans and succeeded in ascending the throne in 1576 after numerous battles against his nephew Mohammed Al-Moutawakil a.k.a. Abdallah Mohammed (1574-1576). Considered a shrewd politician, he pursued an even handed policy with the Iberians and the Ottomans. He also established sound relations with England under the reign of Elizabeth I. He died at the battle of Wadi al-Makhāzin (4 August 1578) following a plot from the Turkish outfit that had helped him seize power.

  4. Purim Edom

    Purim is a festival through which the Jews commemorate their ancestors' delivery from lethal threat when they formed a tiny minority of the Persian Empire under Ahasuerus (cf. Book of Esther, III, 7). Purim Edom goes back to the year 1541 during which Charles V fleet appeared before Algiers in order to sack it as it had just done in Tunis. The project was scuppered by a violent storm that destroyed part of the imperial fleet.

  5. Abou Al-Hassan Mohamed Ben Ali Al-Mandari

    Granada commander from Andalousian stock who re-built, or re-founded the city of Tetouan of which he was the governor for several years.

  6. Andalusian

    Term used in the Maghreb to denote the immigrants from the Iberian peninsula (“Al-Andalus”). They were also referred to as the Nasara (“Nazarene”, that is Christian) to indicate in a dualistic context that they were not true Muslims.

  7. Hornacheros

    The Hornacheros were the Muslims hailing from the Iberian province of BadaJoz. Once in Morocco, they would be the moving force behind the Sea-borne jihad, notably through the provision of weaponry.

  8. Kasbah

    In North-African countries a Kasbah or Qassabah is a citadel or chieftain's palace, for instance the Kasbah of the Udayas in Rabat (Morocco). By extension the word also refers to the heart of North-African cities, whether fortified or otherwise. In this second sense, the word is almost synonymous with medina.

  9. Divan

    Board of directors or executive council.

  10. Philip II (1527-1598)

    Born in Valladolid, he was given a strict education and is known for his ascetic piety. He shouldered political responsibilities from an early age. In 1556, a few months after his father Charles V's abdication, he inherited an immense empire embracing Spain and its colonies. At home pushed for centralisation and unification. Abroad he waged war against France, then England and he had to quell a rebellion in the United Provinces. He incarnates both the Spanish Golden Age and the weaknesses which were the downside of might : costly wars, population flight to the American continent's colonies, Morisco exodus. King of Spain from 1556, he succeeded his father Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire. During his reign he fought the European Protestant powers, notably England but his attempt to invade the country by sea (with the Invincible Armada) failed.

AccueilAccueilImprimerImprimer Abdelkrim Madoun, Professeur à l'Université d'Agadir (Maroc) Paternité - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de ModificationRéalisé avec Scenari (nouvelle fenêtre)