Note: by "Moroccan", I mean either the Moroccan dialect of Arabic or Moroccan Berber, although many of these words are unique to Morocco. The same applies for "Tunisian"

Abid (sing. abd) (Arabic)
Slaves/servants (of); Negro slave caste in Moorish society

Aid el Kebir (Arabic)
Literally 'the great feast'. Islamic festival held 50 days after Ramadan in commemoration of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac for the love of God

Ait (Arabic)
Literally 'children of', hence tribe

Alhamdulillah/i (Arabic/Hassiniyah)
'Praise be to Allah', commonly spoken at the end of a meal

Cousin and son in law of Muhammad. 4th Caliph of Islam (656-61AD), but considered the first by the Shiites

'Ameria (Moroccan)
Covered carriage for the bride on her wedding day

Amzil (Arabic)

Ash halak (Hassiniyah)
'How are you?'

Ashashin (Moroccan)
Opium poppy; juice thereof (often confused with hacheichi or hashish)

B'slama (Arabic)

B'stilla (Moroccan)
Millefeuille pigeon pie

Bab (Arabic)
A gate; door; entrance

Baboush (Arabic)
Pointed leather slipper

Baisa (Moroccan)
Soup made from fava beans (ful) in Chefchaouen and the Rif Mountains

Balise (French)
Desert road marker

Baraka (Arabic)
Divine or saintly blessing or aura

Barkhan (Saharan)
Fast moving crescentic sand dunes

Barrage (French)

Bayoud (Saharan)
Palm tree disease

Bazaar (Arabic)
Shop where a range of artisan goods is sold

Beni Hassan
One of several Yemeni tribes who emigrated to northwest Africa and the Western Sahara in the Middle Ages

Bidan (Hassiniyah)
Upper noble caste of Moors, comprising hassanes and marabouts

Bidonville (French)
Slum. Literally 'drum town', from the metal drums which when flattened provide material for roofs and walls

Bismillah (Arabic)
'In the Name of Allah' (spoken as grace before meals). Full version: Bismillah al Rahman al Rahim, 'In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful'

Bled el Bidan (Moroccan)
'Lands of the Bidan' (Mauritania)

Bled el Makhzen (Moroccan)
'Lands of the Treasury' (ie those governed by sultans)

Bled es Siba (Morocco)
'Lands of Dissidence' (until 1930s, Berber-dominated Rif, Atlas and Sahara)

Bled es Sudan (Moroccan)
'Lands of the Blacks' (the Sudan; Black Africa)

Bolong (West African)
Creek; waterway

Bonava (West African)
Meat and potato stew

Boné (Mandingo)
Bad luck

Bou (Moroccan)
Father of (=Arabic abou)

Boubou (Hassiniyah)
Light flowing Moorish robe

Brakna (Hassiniyah) 
Moors of southern Mauritania

Brochette (French)
Meat roasted or grilled on a skewer (kebab)

Bukhakes (Moroccan)
Species of flying darkling beetle

Caliph (Arabic)
Title of the successors of Muhammad as rulers of the Islamic world

Cana (West Africa)
Distilled palm wine

Chagi (Saharan)
Desert wind

Cheche (Saharan)
Face muffler; turban

Couscous (Arabic)
Steamed semolina, often served with meat or fish, and vegetables. National dish of Morocco

Damel (Wolof)

Desert rose
Crystallised sandstone in the form of flowers

Dhab (Saharan)
Large lizard. Its name apparently means 'sound of running fast'

Djebel (Moroccan)
Mountain; mountain range (dialectal of Arabic jabal)

Djinn or Djnoun (sing. djinni) (Arabic)
Supernatural spirits

Doum (Arabic)
Species of palm tree, often with several trunks

Erg (Saharan)
Range of sand dunes

Evil Eye
Curse; hex; envy

Factoria (Portuguese)
Slaving entrepôt

Fana (Arabic, Moroccan)
Literally 'annihilation', often used to mean the Day of Judgement, when the universe will cease to exist. Used by Moroccan Sufis to describe ecstatic communion with Allah/Paradise

Faneau (West African)
Cotton fabric; body wrap

Fassi (Moroccan)
Pertaining to Fès; citizen of Fès

Daughter of Muhammad and wife of Ali

Fondouq (Arabic)
Courtyard (usually with a purpose)

Foum (Moroccan)
Narrow river gorge

Fouta (Arabic)

Friq (Saharan)
Nomad encampment (up to about a dozen tents)

Ful (Arabic)
Fava or lima beans. National dish of Egypt

Ganga (Moroccan/West African)
Drums played by Negro griots

Garro (Moroccan)
Cigarette vendor (from Spanish cigarro)

Gnawa (sing. gnawi) (Moroccan)
Clan of Negro griots originally from Guinea

Griot (West African)
Itinerant musician, praise singer and genealogist

Guedra (Saharawi)
Saharawi fertility dance; name of drum to which it is performed

Guelta (Saharan)
Water pool, usually formed in rock

Guerba (Saharan)
Animal skin water bag

Guetna (Hassiniyah)
Date harvest; date picking festival

Hacheichi (Arabic)
Literally 'hashish eater'; dope fiend

Haejuj (Moroccan) 
3-stringed bass lute

Haik (Arabic)
Arab woman's outer garment for the head and body

Hajj (Arabic)
The pilgrimage to Mecca (one of the five Pillars of Islam) that every Muslim is required to make at least once in his life

Hammada (Saharan)
Flat, stone strewn desert plain

Hammam (Arabic)
Moorish/Turkish bath

Hand of Fatima (in Arabic, khomsa)
Protective charm in form of hand and eye

Haratin (Hassiniyah)
Moorish caste of mulattos whose slave status was often unclear. Often used to mean slave or, nowadays, ex-slave

Harira (Moroccan)
Soup including chick peas, noodles, and tomato

Harissa (Moroccan)
Red chilli and garlic paste

Harmattan (Saharan)
Dry dusty wind from Sahara that blows towards the West African coast

Hashish (Arabic)
Cannabis resin, as opposed to leaves or flowers (kif)

Hassane (Hassiniyah)
Moorish caste of warriors. They claim direct descent from the Yemeni Beni Hassan tribe

Dialect of classical Arabic spoken in Mauritania. From Beni Hassan, a tribe of Yemeni nomads

Hejira (Arabic)
The flight of Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in 622AD; beginning of the Muslim era

Hijab (Arabic)
Literally 'protection'. Woman's veil; magical charm (amulet)

Hivernage (French)
Rainy season

Iblis or ebliss (Arabic) 
The Fallen Angel, seen by many as an aspect of Satan. Also means dust devil (a twisting spout of dust); the devil of carnal desires; the charms of a young woman

Imam (Arabic)
Leader of a Muslim community; leader in prayer

Imazighen (Moroccan/Saharan)
Literally 'Noble ones' (Berbers or Saharans free of the control of sultans, kings, etc)

Insha Allah (Arabic)
'If Allah is Willing' - a common exclamation

Jellaba (Moroccan)
Loose woollen cloak with hood, worn by men

Jizya (Arabic)
Poll tax paid by non-Muslim subjects, particularly Jews, as a form of protection

Jrad (Arabic)
Locust (cricket)

Juju (West African)

Sacred pilgrim shrine of Islam, contains the Black Stone believed to have been given Abraham by the archangel Gabriel

Kaftan (Arabic)
Long coatlike garment; in Morocco, a looser woman's version with wide sleeves

Kasbah (Arabic)
Castle or citadel of north African cities

Kefta (Arabic)
Spicy mincemeat, meatballs, meatloaf.

Khram khram (Saharan)
Spiny prickly seed grass of Sahel which marks the southern limit of hyper-arid desert

Kif (Moroccan)
Marijuana mixed with black tobacco. From Arabic kaif, pleasure

Kif kif (Moroccan)
Literally 'pleasure-pleasure', meaning no preference; equal; quits; fifty-fifty

Koubba (Arabic)
Mausoleum of saint (marabout

Ksar (pl. ksour) (Arabic)
Fortified desert village made of mud

Labass (Moroccan/Hassiniyah)
'No evil?', said as a greeting

Litham (Saharan)
Cotton face muffler

M'zaza (Moroccan)
Mad, insane

M'zien (Moroccan)

Madrasa (Arabic)
Qur'anic school

Mafé (West Africa)
Meat stew, usually eaten with rice

Mansouria (Arabic)
Woman's gown, worn under the kaftan

Marabout (Marabout)
Saint; religious sage. The word also means stork, which have the habit of nesting on top of saintly mausolea

Marhaba w'sahala (Arabic)
'Be welcome and feel at ease'

Medina (Arabic/Moroccan)
Old quarter of city (from Medina in Saudi Arabia, the Prophet Muhammad's refuge in 622AD)

Méréyé (Saharan)
Low waves of dunes in parallel ridges set a few hundred yards apart

Merguez (Tunisian)
Tunisian style sausages

Moqqadam (Arabic)
Village headman; official

Moussem (Moroccan)
Commercial and religious gathering about the shrine of a marabout

Muezzin (Arabic)
The man who chants the call to prayer from a mosque minaret

Muhammad (c.570-632AD)
Prophet and founder of Islam, born in Mecca on the Arabian peninsula. The Qur'an was revealed to him by God. Fled from persecution to Medina in 622AD. Last in the line of prophets including Adam, Moses, Abraham and Jesus

N'srani (Arabic/Moroccan)
Nazarine, meaning Christian (used derogatively for Europeans and non-Muslims)

N'zala (Arabic)
'Setting down place', caravan encampment

Narghili (Arabic)
Water pipe (hookah)

Ornières (French)
Tyre ruts in sand

Oued (Arabic)

Oulad (sing. ould)
Sons (of)

Pillars of Islam
The five obligations of Muslims: recitation of the creed; worship five times daily facing the holy city of Mecca; almsgiving; fasting sunrise to sunset during Ramadan; pilgrimage to Mecca (= the Hajj)

Pirogue (French)
Double-prowed canoe, traditionally dug-out

Pisé (French)
Form of adobe: sun-dried mud packed with straw, palm fronds or spliced tree trunk, used for building

Piste (French)
Track, trail

Polisario Front
Saharawi guerilla organisation founded 1973. Acronym for: Frente Popular para la Liberacíon de Saguia el Hamra y Río de Oro

Qa'ida (Arabic)
Code of conduct/manners for gentlemen

Qur'an (Arabic)
Literally 'the recitation' or 'reading', the Word of God as conveyed via Muhammad in the year 610AD

One of the five Pillars of Islam: 30 days in 9th month of the Hejiran calendar, during which strict fasting is observed between sunrise and sunset

Razzia (Saharan)
Nomad attack/raid on village or caravan

Reguibat (Saharawi) 
Powerful tribe of Western Sahara, to which Sidi Mohamed Ma el Aïnin belonged. Founded by Sidi Ahmad al Rgibi

Rhaïta (Moroccan)
Droning oboe/flute (also called nay or zukra in other Muslim lands); the fluted flowers of the datura tree which they resemble in shape

Collective name for Western Saharan nomads, including Reguibat, Oulad Delim, Tekna, and Chnagla

Salaam Alaikum (Arabic)
'Peace be on you'. Reply is Alaikum Salaam

Sebkha (Moroccan/Saharawi)
Salt lake/pan (dry)

Sebkhet (Hassiniyah/Saharawi)
Salt lake/pan (dry)

Shaitan (Arabic)

Sharif (Arabic)
Descendant of Muhammad through Fatima; honorific title accorded to any Muslim ruler

Sibsi (Moroccan)
Long pipe for smoking kif

Sidi (Moroccan/Saharawi)
Honorific title like 'Sir', always used to prefix saints' names

Signares (West African)
Half-caste élite of West African coastal cities

Souk (Arabic)
Marketplace (usually open-air)

Sura (Arabic)
One of 114 sections of the Qur'an

Tajakant (Hassiniyah)
Moors of northern Mauritania

Tajine (Moroccan)
Earthernware dish; stew cooked in it

Tarboush (Arabic)
Fez (felten cap)

Tawarik (sing. Targui) (Saharan)

Tayammum (Arabic)
Religious ablutions using sand when no water is available

Tié bou dienne (West African)
Literally 'rice with fish'

Toq toqa (Moroccan)
Disreputable Riffian dance for young boys

Toubab (Wolof)
Literally 'to convert'; used derogatively for white man / foreigner

Trarza (Hassiniyah)
Moors of southern Mauritania

'Ud (or oud) (Arabic)
11-stringed lute

Wadi (Saharan)
(dry) river bed

Yallah (Arabic)
Exclamation: 'come on!' 'hurry up!'

Yamba (West African)

Zaouia (Arabic)
Religious retreat

Domesticated ox with humped back and long horns

Zenaga (Hassiniyah)
Middle caste of Moors including semi nomadic herdsmen, cultivators and artisans

Zrig (Hassiniyah)
Mixture of water, sugar, sour milk culture and milk


Chasing the Lizard’s Tail - across the Sahara by bicycle
Copyright Jens Finke, 1996-2003

also by Jens Finke
Traditional Music & Cultures of Kenya - a multimedia encyclopaedia - fine art photography