Berber carpets, like paintings, hold secrets

Thursday, 01.12.2016

Omar Bihmidine
Levant TV Exclusive

There are innumerable kinds of carpets the world over. Yet, what makes Berber carpets one of the exotic and unique products ever hand-woven is their long history in North Africa. As a young resident of Tafraout, a southern Moroccan town, which has long been home to Berber people, I still vividly remember English, French and Spanish tourists falling in love with local Berber carpets, not only because of their high quality, but also because of the history they hold. Their history lies in the style, colours, texture, distinctive manufacturing and the mixture of designs and shapes. Even though they are expensive, many tourists say they are worth it. They are the product of Berber women’s hands. Originality and creativity flow abundantly from their hands as they weave. How transfixing and uplifting!

Berber tribes began to weave such carpets centuries ago, according to history books. North African towns and villages where Berbers live are full of carpet shops. Women spend hours upon hours weaving carpets and making them as endurable as possible. “Oh, this must be a Berber carpet,” guests would tell us in Tafraout. People who are aware of the history of these carpets recognize them instantly from the make-up. They are time-consuming to manufacture, but endurable in harsh weather. It is no wonder then Berbers live in mountains, gripped by chilly weather in winter and scorching sun in summer. Talking to Levant TV, my mother once said, “My dearest son, these carpets protect us from the cold ground and last a long time”. ” Our forefathers have left us this relic. And we must take care of it,” my Mum added.

Tourists coming to Morocco spot the carpets, thanks to the beauty of the product and the booklets they have read about this cultural aspect of Berber tribes. Among the major citites and towns where there are carpets shops are Marrakech, Zagora, Chefchaouen, Tiznit, Ouarzazat, Fez and Tafraout. “I can’t sit comfortably on any other carpets except on this one, ” my late grandmother would tell us. At the time, we didn’t care about the uniqueness of these rugs. Being exotic and enthralling, they have long attracted rug and carpet designers across the world. Our grandparents feel more comfortable praying on these rugs than on any other fashionable ones. In Amazigh homes, you may spot Berber rugs hung on walls. In them, you may see woven Argan trees and rivers with reddish mountains and grassy hills. How marvellous!

According to some history books, such rugs and carpets date back to the Paleolithic era and the Stone Age. Long known as farmers, mountain dwellers, and traders, Berber people used to wear woolen clothes similar to their carpets. Some carpets are made of camel hair, while others are made from silk. Yet, what they have in common in the beauty of the design, the well-knit knots and pools and the effort and time Berber women put into manufacturing the rugs. This is one of the things Berber tribes have long prided themselves on. Generations pass them on to other generations.

Today, these rugs are well-known around the world for being exotic, resistant and endurable. It wouldn’t be exaggerating to claim they are unparallel. The geometric designs and grids make them unique compared with Western carpets. Talking to Levant TV, an aged man named Hajj Hammou in my village once said that the carpets served as protection against all climates. In Berber homes, women do the chore of weaving and designing carpets like any other household chores. Hajj Hammou added that women must preserve what has become to known as a relic to many tourists.

During ceremonies, Amazigh tribes would offer carpets as gifts. They hung them in living rooms and mosques as adornment. Staring at them may remind one of the nature of the lives tribes are leading and the different climates and ways of life they have been exposed to. Not only do the rugs tell stories of the past but they also bring back days of warmth, hospitality, get-togethers, simplicity and humility. As Amazigh women say, weaving a rug teaches them patience as it takes nearly a year to finish one single well-designed carpet. Being of Amazigh descent, I would say these carpets must remind us of pieces of art. Berber carpets are paintings that hold not only the secrets of our past but also different interpretations of the history of Berbers.

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