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Who hasn’t heard about the “donkey hat”? An ordinary hat to which were added two erect appendixes meant to figure a donkey’s ears?
It was only used in schools where a teacher could force a noisy child or one who did not work well to wear this hat. This custom has not survived but originally it was not meant to humiliate the pupil in front of his schoolmates; on the contrary, the donkey has always been considered as a very intelligent animal and by putting on the donkey hat, one hoped for the intelligence of the donkey to pass on to the child.
Why in Morocco the IHmar (donkey) is so unfairly treated by humans? One speaks with scorn of the donkey like in the phrases: “stupid as a donkey”, “ignorant like a donkey”, and “stubborn like a donkey”; instead of acknowledging its qualities of a determined tireless worker one mistreats it.
Moroccan people love their donkeys and they use them a lot! Near Meknes, every year for the past nine years the donkey has been celebrated and honoured in a festival with numerous manifestations: the inhabitants thus pay tribute to this devoted animal and express their gratitude to it. A strange but relevant custom when one knows that donkeys are indispensable in this village like in the whole country as they allow people to move from one place to the other and to move their goods as well.
According to the data published by the Ministry for Agriculture, the rural population has been estimated as 18 million people, which represents 49% of the national total number of families.
This animal is everywhere in the countryside, dressed with its multicoloured hemp pack saddle: it is often the only means of transport to access the most remote villages. On souk days thousands of donkeys go the market as vehicles and carriers of goods and in every souk a “car park” is reserved for them. In 2000, Morocco had over one million donkeys i.e. roughly one donkey per inhabitant.
In the last elections the party of the Moroccan Democratic Donkey was represented exhibiting its symbol proudly!
The donkey is present in numerous tales and legends, in particular in the work of Driss Chraïbi, a Moroccan author from El Jadida. His tales for children present a main character, the Donkey Khâl with its deeply seated Moroccan traditions who elaborates on how to use a donkey well. Khâl is similar to one of his other characters, the Inspector Ali, a ludicrous hero in the parody thrillers written by Chraïbi, who possesses many traits of the personality of this learned soliped, the author’s aim being to rejoice children’s hearts and not to enlighten them.
The donkey deserves to be known and protected as it is an animal closely linked to Moroccan social life and for its essential part in the countryside!