Amazigh (Berber) Textiles
Driving from Fes to Ifrane, I spotted patches of red amongst a green patch of land. On closer inspection, I realized there were Berber women gathered dying wool in the shallow river-bed. As we drove, I saw some women running towards buses. They carried buckets overflowing with red, freshly-died yarn. I wanted to take their picture, but felt unsure about invading the moment with a camera. To be a good photographer, I suppose you must be invasive. The sight of the women and the red yarn in the green riverbed is a picture I continue to wish I had taken.
I found this wonderful article Amazigh textiles and dress in Morocco: metaphors of motherhood online and thought it worth sharing. It covers Berber history and the role of women in maintaining Berber art and culture.
Amazigh, which means free-people, is the word Berbers use to describe themselves. Berbers account for 40%-60% of the population in Morocco and consider themselves ethnically, linguistically, and culturally distinct from Arabs. The conflict (some may argue there is no real conflict, only a perceived conflict) between Berber and Arab culture in Morocco is a sensitive point. It touches on economic, racial, and historical topics that can be debated by people more informed and more involved than I am. What is certainly true is that Berbers have continued to live according to their own culture and beliefs for centuries, through Phoenician, Roman, and Arab rule, inhabiting the mountainous regions in Morocco.
Women, specifically mothers, have played a crucial role in transmitting Amazigh language and culture to future generations. Berber women are artists known for their carpet and textile production in Morocco.
When driving to Chefchaouen, I took a photo of the Berber woman above as she walked up the moutain near the hydroelectric dam. She is carrying livestock feed, she later explained. When I asked if I could take her picture, she said no, she was too old for a photograph. I told her she was beautiful, strong, and independent. She will only be older tomorrow. I wish I could show you her face as it was that day. Her skin was tanned, her eyes resilient. She had the aura of a woman who is concerned about much more than working for a living. She reminded me of my perpetually busy mother, grandmother, and grandmother-in-law.
Berber women, as explained to me by my Moroccan friends, have a more central role in family affairs than their Arab counterparts. As the picture shows, women certainly work in the mountains. Beyond the economic and cultural necessities that make women valuable in Berber societies, I believe Berbers beliefs have maintained a cultural connection to mother Earth and sense of female divinity. At the very least, women, mothers, are the source of the next generation of Berbers. This article explains how Amazigh women perceive textile creation as similar to the ultimate creative act of giving birth. Thus, it illuminates explains the role of art and women in Berber societies.
The article on Berber textiles and dress is very a detailed account of women and textile-making and contains proper references, making it a good read for anyone interested in the subject or Moroccan arts, Berber history, or women’s rights in Morocco.
I’ve provided an excerpt below.
“Although Arabs arrived in northern Africa as early as the seventh century, it was not until the thirteenth century, when large waves of Arabs arrived from the Middle East, that the majority of Berbers accepted Islam; some learned the Arabic language and were assimilated into the Arab culture. Yet many Berber groups, such as those living in inaccessible areas the mountainous regions of Morocco or its desert fringes, continued to speak their own languages—referred to collectively as Tamazight in Morocco—and maintained their cultural autonomy.”