Translated by Susan Bamford
in Morocco, yesterday and today
- 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.
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.
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
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.
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".
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
or the horse.
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.
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.
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
However, society is changing and casting doubt on almost all its
Today, Morocco has become an urban society in which the slougui no
longer has the privileged place formerly reserved for it in rural
Like any deposed aristocrat, the slougui is now a rather laughable
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.
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
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
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.
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
This lord among hounds who once made any man into a lord remains in a
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.