Guides of the Atlas - Tourism, or: The Challenge of Scope in Moroccan Mountains
Simon Holdermann (University of Cologne)
Paper short abstract:
In the Moroccan High Atlas social status, political and economic influence that were once reserved for saints, shifted to tourist guides. Tourism presents itself as a resource and strategy, but at the same time also as a challenge of scope that actors try to overcome with new media technologies.
Paper long abstract:
In the Moroccan High Atlas, tourism constitutes a promising resource for actively shaping one's own future. On the one hand, successful touristic entrepreneurs invoke predominant imaginaries, which are mostly digitally mediatized and widely circulated. In order to increase one' s own scope, the use of new media technologies is crucial, through which existing networks can be maintained and new cooperations forged. On the other, for the locals that engage in tourism practices and discourses it is not so much about imaginaries, but rather about aspirations. Even more, it is about actively 'making the conditions of staying' in an otherwise demanding environment - especially regarding job opportunities or medical care. The combination of ethnographic research with historiographic accounts reveals the continuing significance of visitors for the region as well as social and infrastructural transformations. In his seminal ethnography, Ernest Gellner (1969) described the exceptional role of religious leaders, or saints, in the High Atlas. They functioned as arbitrators, accommodated guests and administered religious heritage or access to pastures, thus, consolidated the region as 'center out there'. While the history, cultural identity and holy lineages continue to be of great importance for the region -and its tourism-, there has been a radical change. Today, the saints vanished and various secular forms of tourism largely replace pilgrims and visitors with religious purpose. The prestige and status that once were reserved for the saints shifted to mountain guides. Consequently there has been a change of what counts as meaningful, politically influential and socio-economically profitable.