Located between Senegal and Western Sahara, Mauritania is the bridge between sub-Saharan Africa and the Arab countries in North Africa. The people in this desert country are mainly nomadic, however their general choice of location also reflects the cultural and ethnic divide within the country, with more black Africans living in the south and Arab-Berber people living in the north.
Mauritania is an important place in relation to the spread of Islam in Africa, but was also a considered a valuable acquisition for European countries. Although many countries attempted to take control of it, Mauritania became a French protectorate during the 18th century, only gaining independence in 1960. In 1976, when Morocco’s King Hassan II tried to divide and control Western Sahara, Mauritania came under attack from the Polisario Front guerillas, prompting several years of violent upheaval. In 1981 Mauritania became the last country to abolish slavery, followed by a coup in 1984 where Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya seized power and ruled with a heavy hand until 2005, when he was deposed by a bloodless coup. In 2008 another coup brought General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz to power and he ushered in a military council government. Although it is one of the poorest countries in Africa, current offshore reserves of oil and natural gas yield hope for future prosperity.
A unique feature of Mauritania is its contrasts, not only in its people, but also in its landscape and way of life. Culturally, the striking combination of differences has made Mauritania an interesting setting for films, books, musicians and artists. The most well-known films and documentaries that were filmed there are Fort Saganne (1984), The Books Under the Sand (1997), Life Without Death (1997), Winged Migration (2001) and Heremakono (2002). Some famous books related to Mauritania are Skeletons on the Zahara by Dean King and The Garden of Their Dreams by Brian Griffith. The music in the country is mostly derived from the Moors; the largest ethnic group here. The most famous musician here is a woman named Dimi Mint Abba.