National Geographic : 1955 Feb
It was the Black Sultan who decided to build at Meknes a city rivaling the Versailles of his contemporary, Louis XIV. With 30,000 Moroccan prisoners and 25,000 Christian slaves he built palaces and government build ings of enormous size. "He was the most bloodthirsty ruler Mo rocco ever had," said our friend. "He prided himself on his swordsmanship. For practice he used to cut off the head of the slave who held his stirrup while he mounted. His harem held thousands of women, but never the one he wanted most. "He asked Louis XIV for the hand of his widowed daughter, the Princess of Conti, known as the most beautiful princess in Europe. There is a story that Louis offered to consider the matter if Moulay Ismail would become a Christian and convert all Morocco. You can imagine how far that idea got." Meknes is no Versailles, but it is prosperous. And a few miles north of the city we visited one of the most interesting projects in Mo rocco, the Dkhissa area of the Secteur de Modernisation du Paysanat, a French Govern ment agency devoted to improving the farm ing methods of the Moroccan tribes. Farmer Drives American Combine Jean Darre, a lanky young Burgundian graduate of the French Institute of Agricul ture, greeted us at the headquarters of the 10,000 acres under his control. We climbed into his jeep, and a few minutes later stood beside a field of ripe wheat, where a turbaned tribesman operated a new American combine. "The people here love machinery," said Darre. "They learn to operate it quickly and give it excellent care. When we started here in 1945, we had trouble getting them to accept modern methods. Now our trouble is getting enough equipment for the whole tribe." The Dkhissa, a Quech tribe numbering about 4,000, came from eastern Morocco 150 years ago. Fierce warriors, they were brought to Meknes by an Alaouite sultan to defend his imperial city. In return, they were given 15 square miles of rocky land covered with palmetto and camel thorn. The French began their modernization pro gram in 1951. The first year's yield from the modern methods amazed the Dkhissa. It amazed even the French experts! "We were lucky to get good rains at the right time," Darre explained. "Made a yield of better than 35 bushels of wheat to the acre on land where even goats had found trouble grazing. When the Dkhissa saw what could be done with the soil, they flocked to learn." With the farming revolution well estab lished, the SMP brought in a team to work on the social side of the problem. A doctor, a nurse, and three schoolteachers set up shop. The Dkhissa took to the medical care with wild enthusiasm, but were leery of the school. "Only a few children came the first year," a teacher told us, "but their parents were so pleased with what they learned that they be came our best salesmen. Now we're building a second school."