The Village Powered by Divine Light
In the village of Tahala, solar panels not only improved the agricultural economy – they also helped residents connect with God.
A remote region
Tucked away in the Anti-Atlas mountain range, southern Morocco’s Tafraout region doesn’t attract many tourists. Those visitors who do brave the winding roads from cities like Tiznit do so to participate in the almond-picking festivities in spring, to climb the granite mountainsides of the Jebel Lekst and Adrar Mkorn and to purchase some of the world’s purest argan oil.
A traditional way of life
In the remote Tafraout village of Tahala, an ancient culture continues to thrive. Here, the Amazighs – an indigenous people of Morocco, as well as Algeria, Libya and elsewhere in North Africa ? cultivate the land as they have for thousands of years.
Amazigh means ‘free man’ in Tamazight, the Amazigh language, and independence is highly valued. Local life has remained relatively undisturbed by outside influence – until recently.
A new addition
In 2016, Greenpeace introduced solar panels to Tahala, which was previously subject to frequent power cuts due to a lack of energy funding from the central government. The panels have had an immense – and surprising – impact on the local community.
A prized commodity
Before the panels were installed, the region was subject to frequent power cuts, causing irrigation systems to stop working. Now that the power issue has been resolved, the village’s groves of argan trees are flourishing.
Locals say high altitudes and relatively dry soil contribute to the excellence of Tafraout’s argan oil, and Tahala’s residents pride themselves on its purity. Here, argan oil is extracted by hand: villagers crack the tree nuts to remove the kernels inside, which are then roasted and ground to release the oil.
The power of the divine
But for a small group of Tahala residents, the panels have had a more spiritual impact. Islam is the primary religion in the Tafraout region, although not everyone practices the same form. Since the 17th Century, Tahala has been home to the Attika Madrassa, a convent devoted to Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam that stresses a union with God as its chief aim.
The town’s Sufi mystics believe the solar panels channel a higher power: that of the divine.
A symbolic light
For hundreds of years, students at Attika Madrassa have studied the texts of prominent Sufi spiritualists like the 13th-Century Persian poet Rumi, regarding the sun as the all-encompassing light of God.
“Stop trying to be the sun and become a speck!” Rumi wrote. In that vein, the Sufis strive to annihilate their egos and become one with nature and the universe. Their distinct whirling dervishes are an imitation of planets spinning in the sun’s orbit.
A village encompassed in light
By literally channelling the sun, Tahala’s solar panels realise this key metaphor for Attika Madrassa’s community, who view them as channelling God’s power to their village. To the Sufis, the solar panels are holy.
Following the sun
The solar panels have drastically improved life in Tahala without disrupting the village’s culture. The argan oil business is more sustainable than before, and although the panels have not altered the ways Sufism is practiced in Tahala, the members of Attika Madrassa feel a closer connection to God.