Regardless of the passage of time, craftsmen from southern Morocco have always played a predominant role in the daily lives of Berber populations.
Initially mainly domestic, crafts were first developed in pottery for the manufacture of dishes, jars and jugs necessary for daily life and in weaving wool for carpets, clothing, including djellabas or blankets, khaimas: nomad tents.
Then it was with the arrival at the beginning of the first millennium of Jewish Berbers from Kabylia and Jewish communities from ancient Judea that the Berbers of southern Morocco were trained in metal and silver work. A beautiful transmission which made it possible in particular in the valley of Todra to mint a currency as of the 8th century with the effigy of Idriss 1st.
From this heritage was also born the manufacture of the magnificent Berber jewels and the famous Azlag daggers, from the name of this douar located at the exit of Kelaat El M’Gouna and the valley of the roses. The Arabization and Islamization allowed Berbers to deepen their know-how in the work of copper, leather, reeds, wood. Moroccan cabinet-making has been enriched by Arab-Andalusian influences.
Even if this age-old know-how is still transmitted mainly by descent, the role of crafts has evolved over the centuries with increasing tourist numbers from the second half of the twentieth century, becoming for thousands of families a significant economic lung.
This common heritage also gives its raison d’être to the colorful charm of the souks, essential in the Moroccan tradition, for the greatest pleasure of tourists who love to stroll in the noisy and picturesque animation of these bewitching alleys, to discover these small temples dedicated to manual work that are these shops and workshops where the smells of leather, wood, spices mingle and conjugate to infinity.
If in all the Moroccan medinas and cities a souk is dedicated to them, it is in the Moroccan South, in Taroudannt, Tiznit or Rissani that this heritage bequeathed by Jewish craftsmen has kept its fullness.
Of a specific cultural character, whether they are gold or silver, these finely carved jewels are essential elements to traditional life and used by Berber women for all kinds of ceremonies, weddings, moussem…
In the Anti-Atlas, the small fortified town of Tiznit has made it its specialty. Its souk of jewellers being known throughout Morocco.
Emblematic of this art, the silver fibula, as a symbol of protection for women, is an elaborate staple used to fix the end of their tunics or dresses. Very appreciated by them, they are triangular in shape with fine chasing, decorated in their center with a silver ball, sometimes several are joined together by a small chain.
The necklaces are often made of coral, pearls; separated by silver watermarks, they can also be used as headbands or headbands, held back by hooks or chains, the strips adorned with coins falling down on the sides of the face. These ornaments can also define the tribal origin of the detainees.
Other essential elements during family celebrations, the bracelets, in gold or silver, equipped with a hinge, often superimposed they nicely decorate the wrists of the ladies. Fewer are the women who wear khalkhas, these magnificent anklets decorated with beautiful silver chains.
But unforgettable, the one they prefer is the double ring we like to put on their fingers. Made of gold or silver, finely and slightly twisted, it is decorated with a beautifully worked stone.
Pottery and ceramics
Traditionally domestic and for the preservation of food, olives, butter, spicy meats, the artisanal production of baked pottery was made from white clay. Dishes, jugs, salad bowls, tajines were then simply decorated with henna patterns reproduced manually.
The village of Tamegroute in the Draa valley is one of these repositories of this traditional knowledge. Grouped outside the village, these craftsmen have their workshops in small low mud houses, with walls drilled to ensure good ventilation of the heat provided by their old ovens.
After modelling the clay, it is fired a first time, the colouring will then be obtained from metal oxides which will be spread on the white background of the clay, a second firing will ensure the fixing.
To give these bright colours, the ceramist will use chrome for yellow, cobalt for blue, copper for green and manganese for brown.
Thus garnished, these objects: vases, salad bowls, tajine, dishes will be used more for decoration, the Moroccan families preferring to use the potteries “beldis”, without additions colorants for a purely food use.
It is at the foot of the valley of roses, at the exit of Kelaat El M’Gouna that the craftsmen of the Azlag cooperative perpetuate the manufacture of these daggers bequeathed to them by Jewish craftsmen.
Unlike those targui or sahraoui which are straight, the daggers of the Moroccan South are curved, not by aestheticism, this form rather favouring the seizure of the dagger which carried in shoulder strap could thus be wedged in the crotch of the carrier.
The steel blade is topped with a handle that can be made of apricot, cedar or poplar wood, sometimes camel bone. The sheath, often in silver, was always richly decorated, decorated with artistically carved motifs. Once used as a weapon, it has now become more a male ornament symbolizing as before courage and nobility.
Now if it is only planted by a few elders maintaining the traditions. It complements the costumes used for fantasia, ahidous or ahwach still widely practiced in southern Morocco.
Leather and skins
Leather work is rightly called “leatherwork” in French, because it is from Morocco that the etymology has been derived.
From a traditionally nomadic or semi-nomadic way of life, the populations, especially of the Atlas or the pre-Saharan regions have always known how to work the skins and the leather which, with the weaving of camel or goat wool, were used to make khaimas, these tents which sheltered them all year round during the transhumances.
This craft continues in Taroudannt where tanners appreciated throughout Morocco for the quality of their work have gathered in a place called simply the tannery near Bab Targhount.
But the city like Tafraoute in the Anti-Atlas is also very appreciated for making slippers, these comfortable leather slippers called belgha in Moroccan Arabic, ikourbine in Berber, slippers being a term of Persian origin used by Europeans.
Also very appreciated by men, the shoukharas, these leather bags made and embroidered by hand, sometimes with a silk cord to perfect the decoration and originality. Like the daggers, they were part of the traditional Berber costume and were used by the men when they went to the souk to put their identification or other documents.
Weaving and carpet
Among the craft achievements of southern Morocco, the weaving of wool and carpets is perhaps one of the oldest.
This knowledge is still very often transmitted by female descent, from mother to daughter, the men acting more in the marketing of these famous tazerbit as they are called in the regions of the Atlas or southern Morocco. The young girls must memorize very early the techniques of this know-how as well as the motives which compose them.
In southern Morocco, the Berber carpets, often small, are recognized by their patterns always geometric shape, often abstract design, some can remind the tifinagh, the Berber alphabet.
Assorted bright colors often, orange, blue, brown, green, red, their palette is broad. It is in the High Atlas and in the Ouarzazate region that they are mainly manufactured.
The most famous and sought after, the “ouzguidas” are woven by hand in Aït-Ouaouzguit, a small douar a little off the N10, in the eastern foothills of the Siroua massif, between Taznekhat and Aït-Benhaddou. Over the years, this small semi-mountain village has acquired an international reputation for the quality of its achievements.
Weaving has therefore always had an enormous importance, but not only for carpet making. Primordial, weaving has been used since time immemorial to make clothes, hats, djellabas, warm tunics.
Although weaving also plays a part in the manufacture of khaimas, it is an essential art for the elaboration of “hanbal”, finer and lighter than carpets, generally of bright tones, often red associated with yellow and brown tints, they come from pure wool of camel, goat or sheep and are used as blankets, thick sheets or wall hangings for decoration.