In Morocco, to recreate the kind of cavalry their ancestors used during raids, a group of Berber men participates in an equestrian competition known as Tbourida or Fantasia, which has become known as the gunpowder festival unique to the Maghreb region. Tbourida is a male-dominated sport but in recent times, women have been competing in this dangerous sport and beating their male counterparts with pride.
Fantasia is symbolic of the military cavalry that was employed when the Arabs were invading Morocco in the eighth century. The Vanguard’s duty was to maneuver and charge at their enemy together in a single file and discharge their weapons. It was the biggest scare tactics to impart fear into the enemy camp.
That is what Fantasia tries to recreate today when a sorba or group of six to fifteen people line up on a horseback, charge at full speed firing their rifles and gallop on the festival grounds boldly showing off their masculinity.
Bear in mind that Morocco is a patriarchal society and men had been the sole keepers of the equestrian tradition. Women dared not venture into that territory and even when they did, they joined the men and covered their faces to hide their identities. These women developed a love for the sport because their father, brother or cousins were into it.
Many see the sport as unfeminine, and there are folk tales that say non-virgins drain the strength of the stallions. This explains why there have been pushback to the women of Fantasia but the resistance, according to them, empowers them to pursue the sport harder.
There were instances where men told the women at events that, “you are a woman, your place is not here, your place is in the house with your children and at the bedside.”
In 2004, Princess Lalla Amina, King Mohammed VI’s aunt, began a campaign to get more women to participate in equestrian sports in general, especially in Tbourida or Fantasia. Princess Amina has a love for horses and overcame prejudice and was the president of the Moroccan Federation of Equestrian Sports until her death in 2012.
She was the one who created a class for women to compete in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, at the Nationals in the Hassan II Trophy. For seven years the women excelled at Nationals. However, towards the end of 2011, someone accused one of the female groups of being immoral.
Morocco is an Islamic state, so such an accusation was not taken lightly. The princess and the King ruled that if the women could not comport themselves, then their class would no longer be eligible to compete at the national level. They can only compete in the regionals.
All the same, the women are not backing down. They compete alongside the men and win the prize money. The men usually dress in white linen robes, but the women are louder with their clothes.
They wear flamboyant clothes full of color that get the desired attention they intended. They could wear orange, gold and green with long pants and scarfs on their heads.
At a competition, the riders mount their horses, listen to their leader, and make sure they are in sync because once they start, there is no going back as the horses tend to move together with their moukkala or rifle, which weighs between 2 to 3 kilos and are 1.2m high. The group takes off in a dead sprint at the signal of their leader and then everyone discharges their rifle.
The skill of the cavalry charge “is in the speed and tightness of the charge and the synchronicity of the troupes firing, which should sound like a single gunshot,” according to a report by Culture Trip.
Women can now only compete at regionals and if any of them dares to complain, it will indicate they are displeased with the royal family. Although that will not be tantamount to punishment, it will be deemed unpatriotic and if reported or heard, they will never be invited to the festivals.