Mauritania forms a geographic and cultural bridge between the North African Maghrib and western Sub-Saharan Africa, consisting of a transitional zone between the Berber populations of North Africa and the African peoples of Sudan. Hence, Mauritania has a unique culture blending together different traditions of the many indigenous ethnic groups and reflecting influences of various foreign cultures as evidence of the country’s colonial past. The Muslim religion shared by almost all ethnic groups in the country has served as the major force in creating a national culture. The Berbers were some of the first people to inhabit this region, descending on the land from North in the 3rd century, followed by the Arab population in the 8th century. For about 500 years, the country remained one of the most important trading grounds in the Sub-Saharan region. The early 19th century saw the arrival of the French, but, differently than other French colonies, it was controlled through Islamic leaders. Many believe that this helped to preserve much of the country’s traditional culture. Until the drought that affected most of the area in the 1970s, a large proportion of the population was still nomadic. Moorish society is proud of its nomadic past as well as its Arab and Muslim heritage, boasting of its appellation of “the land of a thousand poets”. As a matter of fact, the composition and recitation of poetry by musicians known as iggawin have traditionally been among the distinguishing marks of high culture in Saharan desert societies.
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