Moroccan rugs, a millennial history
Since the Neolithic revolution, rugs have played a significant role in human history. Their usefulness resides in the warm they provide when people walk in a certain area. Its apparition might have come at the same time as clothes. Made of sheep wool, this floor covering had been gradually feeding history to become a common, everyday object. And also developed as a carrier, refined and proud, of the cultural singularities of its creators. In Morocco, in the northern metropolitan areas like Fes, Rabat, and Tetuan, just like in the rural areas, Moroccan rug became art crafts. Their reputation challenged the great traditions of weavers in other parts of the world, like Persia, Europe, India, and the Far East, by showing high and forth their Berber identity.
Presentation of Moroccan rug
Moroccan shag rug making developed into two different ways. First, the northern cities, following the fall of Andalusia in 1492, received a bunch of refugees who brought with them their oriental inspirations in crafting. On the other hand, there is the Berber rug, whose roots go further back in time. The particularity is that each tribe came up with its particular model. More than just a utilitarian artifact, it became banners, showing proudly belonging to one’s tribe, in their different ways, specific to each.
For centuries, crafters have been making according to the same traditions, on the same types of looms. The different models and ornaments all have a symbolic origin related to the religion, beliefs, and imagination of Berber culture. The authentic Moroccan rugs are unique pieces handcrafted for domestic use and in the purest tradition.
Women and Berber rug craft making
One of the particularities of the Berber rug is the crafter, women, passed down through generations from mother to daughter. In some Moroccan rugs, they would learn to craft motifs of their family heritage or pictures of their surroundings. This includes horizons and animals, with particularities depending on the regions. They would show a personal aspect in crafting, or just a particular motif, like white and black. It is their way to tell a story. That way, no rug resembles another, especially the handmade ones. Another aspect would be the brightness of the colors, to express happiness. They adapt to any home, giving it more shining.
Back in the days, some of them even made a business out of weaves rugs, for survival purposes. Capitalism was not a thing yet, agriculture being the only activity and survival was hard, especially in Morocco with its recurrent drought. People would sell their ancestor’s knowledge to survive.. Nonetheless, they made it out of savoir-faire, while keeping the methods and ingredients proper to each tribe secret or centuries, until recently.
As an example, we can talk about the High Atlas tribes, in the region of Ouarzazate, around Jbel Siroua. More specifically, the tribe confederation of Ait Ouaouzguite. Thanks to geography, they had good wool and knew how to use it. Out o it, they would make light, elongated, and flexible rug, and mix it with natural colorants. Berber women used to dye wool themselves using vegetable and mineral products. Tradition has it that the weaver who performs the dyeing process purifies herself beforehand by taking a ritual bath. It is still a Moroccan style rug, but with the regional particularity of the Draa region.
Concerning the color, they obtain the yellow from a kind of broom called Achfoud which grows wild throughout the Siroua massif. The yellow flowers of this shrub are picked and dried in the sun to then serve as a dye. They use a mordant to fix the color to the woolly fiber. It is alum, locally called Azarif, an ore also found in Siroua. They obtain red from madder, called Taroubia, which grows wild in the region. The roots of this plant are removed and dried in the sun to serve as a colorant. Alum is still used as a bite. Also, they obtain blue from the indigo tree, called Nila, and whose stem reaches 80 cm in height.
The use of other complementary products to craft this Berber rug made it possible to better prepare the tincture recipes. This is how they used often henna, cultivated in the Drâa valley. It was just like crushed apple bark, dried date pulp, turnip, dried fig but also forge slag, black smoke, or slaked lime.
The best-known rugs come from the tribes located east of Siroua. The carpets of the Aït Tamassine tribe with multicolored weft bands and great weaving fineness, the carpets of the Aït Ougharda tribe with very fine wool silky and the carpets of the Aït Makhlef tribe with black and silky backgrounds.
Another example would be the Béni Ouarain tribe rug, which is undoubtedly one of the most emblematic of Berber carpets. 100% pure wool you will generally find it predominantly white with fine black geometric patterns. This tribe is originally from the Middle Atlas. Thanks to the cold nights, sheep develop high-quality wool, dense, flexible, and thin. They became a world-class attraction, with buyers coming from Europe, North America, the Middle, and the Far East. In addition to those, the local Moroccan elite felt pride wearing those and putting them in one’s house as decoration.
In their designs, this specific Berber rug would be white with black lines forming diamonds in its central area. Its simplicity won the world public, which means the product lost quality. Nowadays, women from the Béni Ouarain tribe are no more the only one making it, but by manufactories and capital investments. It became a modern business, like anyone else. Nonetheless, curious buyers can find these Berber rugs if one looks for them specifically, and even might travel to the Middle Atlas, to meet the people that inherited it from their ancestors and know how to master it. And their market value is even higher.
The Azilal region, also in the Middle Atlas, has it’s saying on the matter. Until 1990, the Moroccan kilim rug of the region, in the elevated, rocky, remote and difficult to access parts of the Atlas, was a secret, an unknown treasure. At the bottom of the mountain, nobody knew the work of art that was to be called Ourika, or Azilal rug. 30 years later, the attention is no longer the same.
In galleries in Paris, Tokyo, and the United States, the Azilal carpet is displayed as pure art. Like the other noted Moroccan rugs such as the Beni Ourain, the Azilal carpet is woven by the women of the region. And just like with Beni Ourain rugs, women in the Azilal region weave rugs from their own life experiences. The most common symbols found on carpets are maternity, birth, and marriage. Symbols of happiness and prosperity are also common. Crafter makes these Moroccan Berber rugs from the wool of sheep from the Azilal region. The beautiful bright colors that adorn the Azilal rugs are natural and come from the plants and berries that grow in the region.