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'The slougui in Morocco, yesterday and today'

Dr Yassine JAMALI

 

The slougui - a lord among hounds and a hound among lords. This axiom has long been a truth, up to the point of becoming a cliché: as can be seen from the many proverbs and traditions in the rural environment, the slougui occupies a privileged place among domestic animals, particularly in relation to the "common" dog or cur.

 

Quoting Emir Abd el Kader, Daumas speaks of slougui pups being breast-fed by women. Before being able to measure the significance of such a gesture, it is necessary to understand the symbolic power of "milk brotherhood" in North African society. In this manner, a boy and girl breast-fed by the same woman become brother and sister and therefore may not marry each other under pain of committing incest. In the old days, in order to seal a peace treaty or cooperation agreement between two tribes or villages, a dish of cereals in milk would be prepared, to which would have been added a small amount of woman's milk so that the guests all become milk brothers, thereby in principle ruling out subsequence violence on either side. This "milk motherhood" therefore confers an almost "human" status on the slougui.

 

More recently, a hunter waiting on the look-out for game could sometimes be seen holding their slougui back with an improvised leash made from their turban. I have actually witnessed such scenes during the 70s and 80s. Here again, the significance of such a gesture is huge - the turban covers a man's head and is therefore the noblest as well as the most typically "masculine" part of his attire.

 

Another semi religious association between man and slougui: the slougui is often painted with henna, either for decorative purposes or for protecting against the evil eye with the imprint of a hand, or also for healing the soles of their feet after a chase. Other than the slougui, only the horse can be decorated in this way, except for the sacrificial ram in a festive or religious ceremony.

 

The difference between slougui and dog can be found in spoken Arabic: the word "slougui" is not followed by "hachek" which is the equivalent to "with all due respect".

 

On the other hand, one will hear "A donkey, a dog, with all due respect..." or "the cattle, with all due respect", but never for the slougui or the horse.

 

One also speaks differently to the slougui or to the dog: to tell a dog to go away one says "Khâss", while for a slougui it would be "Sleg" which is constructed on the same ternary root
s-l-g.

 

In the same way, a sonorous "Rrrâ" would be pronounced to tell a donkey to go forward, while a horse would be entitled to a "Riii" - less guttural and more respectful. Indeed, it could be said that in Morocco the slougui is to the dog what the horse is to the donkey.

 

The slougui's superiority over the dog is also attested by this saying attributed to the jackal: "Better seven mongrels than a single jarret-noir" - jarret-noir (black-hock) being a nickname for the slougui that is so feared by the jackal.

 

However, society is changing and casting doubt on almost all its historical values.

 

Today, Morocco has become an urban society in which the slougui no longer has the privileged place formerly reserved for it in rural areas. Like any deposed aristocrat, the slougui is now a rather laughable figure, with its stark outline being easy to ridicule. its nonchalance looking more like laziness, its leanness and above all its long nose providing material for proverbs and comparisons (but mocking proverbs or derogatory comparisons such as "bony as a slougui", "lazy as a slougui", "slougui nose") aimed at ridiculing an adversary during verbal sparring or an argumentative discussion.

 

Several facts may help to explain this change in meaning. First of all, people who live in towns no longer hunt, or in any event not with slouguis. They know nothing of the slougui in action, of the slougui in its natural environment. Its rather extreme appearance can no longer be linked to its abilities. It has therefore become an object of scorn like everything else related to a rural past, so close and yet so strongly denied by these recent town dwellers.

 

Secondly, the introduction of European breeds such as the German Shepherd, Rottweiler, Pit-bull, or Cane Corso has overturned the canine hierarchy as well as the values that hold it together. The slougui now finds itself relegated to the rank of "beldi" dog, i.e. local, alongside mongrels and Atlas shepherd dogs. On its home ground, the slougui has little by little fallen back, absorbed by the Galgo - more impressive, a better sprinter and benefiting from an aura of being more exotic or "roumi" because of having been imported from Europe.

 

Last but not least, the French law of 1844 banning all hunting with sighthounds (in force in Morocco under the protectorate) was not abolished once the country became independent. Any slougui is therefore the potential source of a fine by park rangers. This hound which used to confer an air of nobility on the most impoverished of shepherds can today throw him into a nightmare situation of administrative red tape, at the mercy (on his own tribal territory) of a set of rules that he does not understand and a civil servant who is all-powerful. This has led to a relative loss of interest even in country areas and the very birthplaces of the breed.

 

Curiously enough, many town-dwellers of all ages and backgrounds still recognise the slougui as soon as they set eyes on one. But there are also many (even in rural areas) who invite you to come and see their slougui, and proudly lead you through courtyards and backstreets to.... a quivering setter or pointer.

 

In its birthplace today, the slougui is following an erratic return path via dog shows and associations. It is gradually rediscovering its symbolic function and identity, in collective terms. However, in town it is a long way from dethroning the Labradors, Westies and German Shepherds in the more well-to-do neighbourhoods. In the countryside, its position remains under threat, since its function has been banned ever since the 1844 law.

 

This lord among hounds who once made any man into a lord remains in a virtually unnoticed decline while the image of a shepherd in his long woollen cloak, with a few slouguis surrounding him, on the alert or just lounging around, is now no more than a cliché that has disappeared forever with the turn of the century.

(Translated by Susan BAMFORD)

 

 

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EMAIL: Julia@falconite.co.uk