Blankets and Berbers

Winter is here!

And just in the nick of time we have posted all the cozy blankets we picked up from responsible sources in Morocco. Many of these exhibit interesting designs unique to the Berber tribes of that region so here we are to provide some more background info about the people who wove them.

Berbers are the tribal peoples indigenous to much of North Africa who originated from ancient Egyptians and spread west to Morocco. There they lived for thousands of years before being colonized on a large scale in the 7th century by Arabs from the Middle East. Morocco’s strategic location at the Straits of Gibraltar brought the locals into contact with a wide variety of other cultures, including Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, and Vandals. In more recent times they were colonized by the French, Spanish, and Portuguese and France fought wars against Berber holdouts into 1930’s!

In their own language, Berbers call themselves Amazigh. The label “Berber” shares roots with “barbarian,” a name for people who spoke any language other than Greek or Latin. Throughout history conquering forces have used suppression of native languages as the most effective way to subdue a populace. While most Moroccans today are considered to be ethnically Berber, nearly all have adopted Islam, speak Arabic, and live throughout the country. However, you can still meet people who speak an Amazigh language at home, often in addition to Arabic and French with a smattering of other tongues. 

Despite all this traffic and conquest Moroccan Berbers have managed to maintain some of their cultural identity, by withdrawing into the Rif and Atlas Mountains and by integrating into Arab population. 

Nowadays the Amazigh languages are starting to reemerge from the mountains to be taught in schools and used in public signage. This resurgence follows a new movement of Amazigh pride that promotes their cultural heritage in the mainstream. As lovers of diversity, we were always happy to see the Amazigh emblem Ж displayed in the cities on a flag, t-shirt, or necklace. 

Of more importance than the t-shirts are the traditional arts still practiced by varied groups of Moroccan Berbers. The weaving, embroidery, crafts, and style of dress that have survived through the ages result in a colorful buffet of culture that can even make you forget the most recent invasion - tourism!

Our collection of Moroccan items features Berber traditional crafts almost exclusively. They differ from classical Arabic art by including symbolic representations - often seen are human figures, animals, plants, hands, and eyes. These motifs likely predate Muslim influence, hailing from the past when Berbers practiced an animist religion.

This is our main mission here at FOLK, to promote and preserve these ancient and ageless traditions, to share their stories and beauty with all people, and to protect artists from being left behind by the modern industrial world. 

What follows are a few explanations of Amazigh styles found in our collection of blankets, rugs, and textiles.

Akhnif: A cloak worn to keep warm in the mountains, this term applies to some of our Berber rugs that are woven in a similar style on an upright loom and were traditionally used as blankets and wraps as well as floor coverings.

Beni Ourain: A tribe from Morocco’s Atlas Mountains known for producing a certain style of rug from the undyed wool of a special sheep breed. These textiles usually display black and white geometric patterns on a shag pile. Some of our Beni Ourain pieces have rare examples of color, such as the rust and charcoal blankets and some upcoming vintage red rugs.

Glaoui: Referring to the Glaoua warrior tribe from the High Atlas Mountains, whose history includes many interesting stories of bloody battles, betrayal, and riches gained and lost. Typical of this tribe’s taste, our Glaoui knotted carpets are intricate and contain varied earthy colors. 

Pom-poms: Perhaps the most iconic symbol of Moroccan Berbers is a straw hat decorated with multicolored wool pom-poms and somtimes thick yarn ropes. Our wool and cotton blankets edged with colored pom-poms are a continuation of this recognizable style.