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Friday, 22 February, 2002, 09:59 GMT
Feast-day brings sheep farmers to town
Sheep on sale for Eid al-Adha
A good time of year for livestock farmers
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By Eileen Byrne in Rabat
The sheep have come to town.

For the past week the Moroccan capital Rabat has been under siege from a small army of ovine invaders, picketing street corners under the gaze of patient shepherds and grazing wherever is a patch of green.

They are patted and prodded by urban folk eager to re-connect with rural roots.

Some are magnificent specimens and their producers pose beside them with quiet pride and the happy expectation of a significant boost to their income from the feast-time sales.

Post-sale, the animals charge off at the end of a piece of string, dragging their new owner behind them - only to be heard later, bleating plaintively from apartment balconies.

Country comes to town

This surreal invasion of the town by the countryside helps build the buzz of excitement ahead of Saturday's Eid al-Adha feast.

Good Muslims are enjoined to slaughter a sheep on the day, in imitation of Abraham's sacrificing of a lamb - a story that features in the Koran as well as the Bible.

But such is the social pressure on even the poorest Moroccan families to keep up with their neighbours, that the public has sometimes to be reminded that there is no shame in opting for a cheaper goat, or even a chicken.

Swallowing pride

In a shanty town near Temara, south of the capital, Sadia Laksia is a mother of three whose husband makes ends meet with odd jobs.

Sheep arriving at market in Rabat
Families save to afford a sheep, rather than a goat
She is pleased this year to have negotiated a hefty reduction on her feast-day sheep, bargaining it down to 1,000 dirhams ($85).

Morocco's official minimum wage - in fact, for families like hers, an unrealisable goal - is equivalent to 418 dirhams a week.

In this part of the shanty-town at least, no-one will have to swallow their pride and accept hand-outs of lamb kebabs and meatballs from the better-off.

"If you are lucky enough to live near a nice neighbour, they will help you out" with a contribution towards the cost of your own animal, Laksia explains.

Neighbours emulate each other by chipping in to help those hard-pressed, and one way or another the money comes together.

Trading up

The high demand for sheep wields economic influence well beyond the world of agriculture.

In the city centre, retailers of electro-domestic goods cash in as well, as the feast-day causes a yearly spike-up in sales of refrigerators and other kitchen goods.

A prize draw at one supermarket awards a bonus sheep to one lucky customer each day.

Sheep grazing in Rabat
Every green space becomes grazing space
Civil servants staffing Rabat's ministries have received their next month's pay-cheque ahead of time, and consumer credit companies offer special deals on sheep purchases.

The Eid also inspires street vendors, who sell packs of hay to feed the sheep in its final days, and barbecue charcoal. In working-class districts, knife-sharpeners have set up little street stalls.

It is only in the upper reaches of the middle-classes that some families are confident enough to buck the trend by choosing to splash out on a weekend away, rather than investing in mutton.

Dodging the drought

At the Souq al-Kalb market across the river from Rabat, sheep-rearers and middle-men have brought animals in rented trucks from the Middle Atlas Mountains, more than 100 miles away to the south.

Hadawi Bouaza sits on the back of a pick-up truck holding two sheep by their heads. He is relaxed today, in what is clearly a sellers' market as the days tick by towards the feast.

But next season he is going to buy fewer lambs to rear, he says, due to the shortage of pasture.

Morocco is in its third consecutive year of drought, a factor that the farmers say has pushed up the prices for sheep, because the lack of grazing means extra outlay on buying fodder.

But it also makes them keen to sell. The estimated nationwide sales of 4.5 million sheep and 300,000 goats destined for Eid al-Adha barbecues are a welcome seasonal boost for the rural economy.

King Mohamed VI himself will participate in the reassertion of social cohesion that Saturday's sacrifice represents.

In his palace, surrounded by white-robed courtiers, he will enact the traditional slaughter of two sheep, one for his own family, and one, symbolically, "for the Moroccan people".

See also:

08 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Morocco
27 Dec 01 | Africa
Morocco floods kill 15
21 Aug 01 | Africa
Morocco launches 'war on slums'
03 Aug 01 | Business
IMF upbeat on Morocco
26 Apr 01 | Africa
Morocco downplays EU fishing row
07 Mar 01 | Media reports
Turkish media horrified at Eid slaughter
06 Mar 01 | Europe
Moscow courts its million Muslims
01 Mar 01 | Europe
Outbreak threatens Muslim holiday
16 Mar 00 | Middle East
In Pictures: Feast of the Sacrifice
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