Captives of the Mellah?: Moroccan Rural Jewry in the Colonial Postcard

By Aomar Boum
Submitted to Session P4823 (Imagery in Jewish Morocco, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
“Type Indigene” and “Maroc Typique” are two brands of commercial postcards that emerged at the end of the nineteenth century. Many of these historical photographs and postcards are housed in many state and family archives around the world. They depicted exotic poses of Jews, slaves, and Berbers throughout French colonial North Africa. In addition to their stereotypical nature and racial features, these postcards present indigenous Jewish populations as isolated social groups and prisoners of “ghettos.” This line of thought follows the descriptions provided by European travellers about these ethnic minorities as territorially demarcated in-groups with distinct cultural values and tribal characteristics. I argue that from a historical perspective the postcard is a colonial photographic document that reinforces the ethnographic themes of the colonial travel narrative of the late nineteenth century. The Jewish neighborhood- mellah- epitomized from the colonial photographer’s perspective the Arab and Islamic oppression of Jews. Jews are depicted inside walled homes and within the mellah. The viewer sees little interaction between Jews and Muslims in the frames of these postcards; and therefore the postcard becomes an undeniable testimony of the miserable experience of Jews in the “Islamic ghetto.” At the same time I contend that Moroccan Jewish photographic collections after WWII demonstrate a different reality in many southern rural regions.