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As I embarked on my adventure to explore Morocco, the country's rich tapestry of history and tradition, the art of weaving was one tradition that stood out, a craft woven into the fabric of the nation's life and culture. You could feel its impact stretching far back into the country's past.
A Practical Beginning Weaving in Morocco began with a simple, practical purpose. The early Berber communities spun textiles for everyday use. However, the fabric soon became more than just utilitarian - it acquired a spiritual and magical resonance. It was believed to possess protective properties, to ward off evil. Over centuries, its significance expanded, and it became a social symbol, a mark of identity.
A Rich Tapestry of Traditions Today, even though modern techniques are making headway, I was awestruck by the stunning handmade creations I came across, both urban and rural, among the most remarkable on the African continent.
Berbers and Weaving: An Ancient Relationship The Berbers, I learned, had a long-standing relationship with weaving. Their journey with this craft started in 1500 BC, when they migrated to Africa. Even at that time, they were familiar with primitive weaving techniques, which they employed for practical and religious purposes.
An Evolution in the Craft The Phoenicians, who arrived in the 12th century BC, were the first to bring advancements to this craft. It was from them that the Berber women learned the art of dyeing, a more advanced weaving technique, adding new artistic symbols to their animist repertoire.
Textiles and Trade The Islamic invasion in the 7th century led North African traders to engage with the distant capitals of the Middle East. I found out that the city of Sijilmassa was a hub for trans-Saharan trade back then. This period witnessed the emergence of new materials and patterns; textiles became an integral part of the Moroccan economy.
Enter Embroidery The Berbers began trading with the Portuguese in the 15th century, around the same time that embroidery made its debut in the cities. It was likely brought in by refugees of Jewish, Arab, or Berber origin from Andalusia.
A Lasting Legacy Despite changes in textile production, the craftmanship of these artisans, as well as the aesthetics and symbolism intrinsic to the Berbers, remain vibrantly alive.
A Personal Encounter In some cities of Morocco, I frequently came across men wearing a white turban (razza), the length of which was double the height of the wearer, and width, their arm span. This long-standing custom is based on the principle that every Muslim should be buried with dignity. Given that death often occurred far from home in a time when travelling 100 km required a week's journey, it made perfect sense to wear one's shroud!