Salam Aleykoum! It’s the 1st Friday of the month and we’re back for another Moroccan Friday, a series in which I aim to shine a light on the country I grew up in. The series strives to explore various topics, swaying between reality and legends, geographical wonders and curious traditions. You can discover previous posts here.
Most of the research I have done for my novel will usually end up here. For the rest, you’re going to have to wait until it’s published! ;)
Berber kilims (or rugs) are usually a must-have for any tourist visiting Morocco, a souvenir bursting with colours and interlocking patterns. What many don’t know however, is that no pattern is accidental : every carpet tells a story.
It is said that each tribe is reputed to have its own style and string of patterns which gives a specific identity to the village and its inhabitants. If you know the symbols, you can “read” the kilim. Key symbols include the lozenge, chevron and the X-shape. If you were to create a map of patterns, the full meaning would vary from tribe to tribe.
From the monochromatic Beni Ourain rugs to the wonderfully intricate Zemmour kilims of the Middle Atlas Mountains, the themes will range from fertility and sexuality to protection and survival. The maellemas (master craftswomen) who weave those carpets are what I like to call illustrative writers – geometry is their alphabet and wool is their blank canvas.
The weaving process is a sacred endeavour, a highly respected and ritualised performance which goes like this:
- Sheep’s wool is carefully selected.
- It is then hand-washed in the river or with sand to mute the vibrancy.
- Afterwards, it is combed, spun and dyed.
- It is then woven on upright, vertical looms.
This ritual is passed on from one generation to another. Wool has baraka (blessing) and older women weave carpets not only to be sold but also to display in the main room of their household or to throw on the back of horses during marriages or local festivals. It is believed that a woman who makes 40 carpets in her lifetime is guaranteed a place in heaven.
Now, if you ever find yourself in a Moroccan souk, although haggling is part of the game, don’t forget you’re paying for hours of work and a one-of-a-kind piece.
Have you been to Morocco? Do you own a Berber kilim similar to those? Can you decipher what story it tells?
All pictures are sourced from Project Bly.