The Amazighs have lived in Morocco for more than five millennia. The origin of carpet weaving by the Amazigh people also goes back several millennia. The Amazigh carpet is emblematic of the culture, these carpets are handmade by women, their patterns and meanings are part of a very old tradition. The hand-spun fabric they created was named after the tribe concerned, and they used natural fibers to create coats, rugs and other fabrics.

Amazigh carpets originated in the Middle Atlas and the plains around Marrakech. It is said that their origins date back to the 2nd century B.C. These carpets are the traditional rural art practiced by the women of nomadic or semi-nomadic peoples. They are made from the virgin wool of the sheep and goats of their herds. The women make them in their rare leisure time to use as mattresses and blankets. It is their most precious possession and their pride. In short, it is their work of art through which they could express their creativity.

The history of Moroccan Amazigh carpet weaving

Moroccan Amazighs have a long and illustrious tradition of making hand-woven rugs and carpets.  With one of the largest Amazigh populations, Morocco is today one of the most prolific producers of rugs. Each of the forty-five or so Amazigh tribes scattered throughout the country has its own distinctive design as well as its own style of weaving and embroidery and its own art. However, all the carpets of the different tribes share two common characteristics: the simplicity of the design and the richness of the colors, especially red and saffron.

Traditionally, carpets have been woven more for their utilitarian use than as decorative pieces. Carpets made by tribes living in the Atlas Mountains region are thick with a heavy pile, while those made by tribes living in the desert are light and flat woven, implying that the nature of the climate has an effect on the azetta, the weave of the region.

The Amazigh carpet, cultural and artistic creation

Like any cultural, artistic and folkloric act, the Amazigh carpet is an art object based on a knowledge of the ancestral civilization of the peoples who have, throughout history, expressed their knowledge by decorative means: sculptures, pottery, carpets, jewelry, drawings, etc., by oral literature: poems, tales, proverbs, etc. or by music, song and dance.

The Amazigh carpet is therefore an art object made in families with a strong pastoral tradition and who generally live from livestock and agriculture (i.e., rural families). The manufacture of these traditional carpets, in all their forms, requires the presence of certain conditions, means and basic materials, including:

  • Pure and good quality wool, as a raw material that will be transformed into threads of different sizes and properties,
  • Natural and organic dyes at one hundred percent;
  • A suitable material (loom) in different shapes, depending on the desired use; and
  • Skilled personnel who are familiar with traditional weaving techniques and decorative patterns.

The weaving of Amazigh carpets is an essential activity in certain contexts because it plays a vital economic role in the subsistence of families. It is part of a traditional marketing system based on barter. In a household, the man and the woman work in cooperation. The wife takes care of weaving and modelling carpets and the husband takes care of marketing in the weekly markets, and on the other hand, buys the food and other products they need to live.

From an artistic point of view, the best Amazigh carpets are still made in some regions from local natural products (wool, dyes, patterns, etc.). The decorative motifs used are an expression of the culture of the tribe from which the product originates. These motifs are linked to the spirit of cohabitation that has always existed in these Amazigh tribes from a distant history with people of different beliefs and civilizations (Muslims, Jews, Berbers, Christians). The Berber tribes are the most striking example of this spirit of tolerance and cohabitation.

The mastery of the art of carpet weaving is passed from mother to daughter, which is a tradition of learning in rural areas.