Africa & Middle East

An Introduction To Mauritania

An Introduction To Mauritania


Jewel of the Sahara
Mauritania is located in NorthWest Africa and is home to a fantastically rich culture composed of indigenous African, Berber, Islamic, and French elements. Mauritania attained in independence from France in 1960 and has experienced king periods of rule by military rulers interspersed with periods of democratic government. The vast majority of Mauritanian citizens are Sunni Muslims Although Indigenous beliefs have been incorporated into folk religious practices. Half of the population relies on subsistence farming to make a living. The country experiences a desert climate and is home to a large number of well-known African wildlife and plant species. Mauritania is a home to a fascinating array of ancient cultures, a crossroads of humanity that is an intriguing destination for any traveler looking for a bit of adventure!

Beginning in the 5th century, North African Berber tribes migrated into present-day Mauritania where they encountered The Bafours, the original inhabitants of the land. Over the next few centuries Islamic warriors known as the Moors conquered Mauritania in a series of invasions. In the 19th century, French colonizers advancing north from the Senegal River began to exert influence on the area and by 1912 France had overcome arab resistance and the area became part of French West Africa.

Mauritania since Independence
During French rule, most of the population kept their nomadic lifestyle, but some people began to move into cities. In 1960, Mauritania attained independence and the new capital Nouakchott was founded. Ethnic tensions broke out between those who considered Mauritania an arab country and those who emphasized its African roots. The issue of slavery also became an issue for the new government, and slavery, while illegal, continue to be an issue Mauritania faces today.

A Cultural Crossroads
Mauritanian culture is shaped by its overwhelmingly Sunni population that is made up of black African groups, Berber/moor people and a large mixed Afro-Berber population. The area that is now Mauritania has been A Cultural Crossroads for millennia, with traders and nomads bringing goods and ideas across the desert, linking Africa to the Mediterranean and beyond. Islam is one of the unifying forces in the country. Mauritanian traditional music reflects the country’s diversity in its traditional grouping into 3 different “ways”. Al-bayda, the “white” or more Arabic way, Al-kahla the “black” or African way, and la-gnaydiya the “mixed” way. These musical styles are highly ritualized and differ in the type of rhythms employed and melodies used, while all styles use a complicated system of modes that are very untouched by western influence.

Desert Nation
Mauritania shares borders with Algeria, Western Sahara, Mali, and Senegal with the Atlantic Ocean west of it. Only one tenth of a percent of the land has planted crops- 99% of the country is unsuitable for farming with most of the country lying within the Sahara Desert. The landscape is largely flat with some hills and plateaus dotting the terrain. Mauritania is one of the least densely populated countries in the world, with only three million people, or roughly the population of Chicago living in an area three times the size of New Mexico! Most of the population lives in the capital city Nouakchott and in the south near the Senegal border.

Environmental Challenges
Deserification and erosion are major issues facing Mauritania today. The land that is arable in this Desert Nation is all dangerously prone to droughts, and the future of water supplies in a changing climate combined with a rapidly growing population are challenges facing the nation.

Wildlife of Mauritania
Mauritania has a wide variety of the enchanting wildlife a traveler expects when coming to Africa, with Elephants, Baboons, Leopards, Cheetahs, and Gazelles all making their home here. African Elephants in particular are an endangered species with poaching for ivory being the chief threat to their existence. Many international groups have focused efforts on ending poaching through awareness efforts and attempts to inform governments of the value of preserving a nations wildlife for tourism rather then letting species be lost.

Mauritania’s Cuisine
Just as the countries people have absorbed the ideas of different cultures, Mauritanian Cuisine is an exciting combination of African, Arabic, and French dishes. Typical middle-eastern and North African cuisine can be found such as Lamb, Goat, couscous, and delicious dates. A variety of restaurants including Lebanese, Chinese, and French can be found in Nouakchott. Travelers should know that while alcohol is prohibited for Muslims, bars can be found in hotels in the capital. Mechoui, whole roast lamb, is a mouth-watering specialty. Zrig, or camels milk, is the national drink, and anyone looking for a cooling refreshment can find it in the sweet arab mint tea that is common throughout the nation.

Mauritania is a desert country with very little rainfall. Travelers should take note that temperatures can become very hot during the day yet cool quickly at night. Light clothing that protects one from the sun should be brought as well as a jacket or warm sweater for the possibility of a chilly night.

Politics In Mauritania
The legal system In Mauritania is Sharia Law, a system of islamic justice interpreted from the Qur’an. Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz is the current head of state, who as part of a military junta took over the democratically elected government in a coup on August 6, 2008. Mauritanian Politics has always been dominated by tribes and strongmen more than political ideologies. Conflict between white and black moors, and indigenous non-Moorish ethnic groups continues to be the largest threat to national unity.