Country Listing

Mauritania Table of Contents


Artisans and Entertainers

The two most prominent occupational castes in Maure society are skilled craftsmen (or artisans) and entertainers (or storytellers). Artisans practice blacksmithing and ironworking, jewelrymaking, woodworking, tanning and leatherworking, potterymaking, shoemaking, weaving, and tailoring. All crafts but weaving and tailoring are performed by men. Although the hassani, zawaya, and zenaga regard artisans as their inferiors, the elite values their products and services, and craftsmen are sometimes allowed to live among the elite on a nearly equal basis.

Entertainers, poets, and musicians constitute a special group. Maure society, like most Islamic societies, places a high value on poetry and music. At the same time, some Maures fear poets and musicians, to whom they attribute occult knowledge and mystical powers that can be physically or politically threatening. Accordingly, noble families often become the patrons of entertainers; thus, the nobles are able to demonstrate their elite status while obtaining both entertainment and protection. Fishermen, salt miners, and nomadic hunters are economically and socially marginal to Mauritanian society and are generally considered outside the caste system.

Data as of June 1988