Mauritania - Culture
A combination of Islamic, French and traditional African influences, Mauritanian culture underpins society, but rarely raises its head in ostentatious ways. There is virtually no literature or theatre in Mauritania, so those looking for overt displays of 'Africanness' often leave disappointed. Traditional music, on the other hand, is unmissable and never fails to leave an impression. Characterised by a tidnit (a four-stringed lute), sometimes an ardin (harp) and usually a wailing vocalist, it can be nerve-shattering to the unaccustomed ear.
The Moors' social activities often revolve around the traditional glass of Arab tea with mint. Customarily three glasses of tea will be served over about an hour. Sweet and strong, the tea has a punch to rival a strong coffee.
With 99% of the population Sunni Muslim, religion provides a superficial unity between Moors and Black Africans. Race riots occurred in 1989, showing this unity to be, at best, extremely fragile. And as the brutal 1993 attack on two Catholic priests shows, there is a small but increasingly militant band of Islamic fundamentalists operating. On the whole, however, the brand of Islam is open and liberal.
Traditionally nomadic, decades of drought and the growing desert has led to the disbanding of many clans and a population shift to the cities and bigger towns. Mauritania is the only country in West Africa ruled by people with a nomadic heratige.