A careful scrutiny of the Moroccan culture and tradition reveals, through such a rich and complex combination, a Berber background, an Arab contribution, an Andaloucian style, and some Turkish traces, with a Subsahara-African seasoning. The Hispano-Moorish influence is present, not only in the architecture, but also in the traditional citadin’s dress, food and music, known as the “Andaloucian tarab”, and in the Arabo-Spanish appellations, such as
"Vargas” barely arabized into "Bargash, Jesus into “Guessouss”.
Well devoted to the “qaïda” or custom, the Moroccan is also well attached to such virtues as bravery, sense of honor, tolerance and, above all, hospitality. Hospitality, both generous and discrete, expressed by the symbolic offering of dates and milk, or of a glass of tea, as a sign of welcome. The Moroccan opens wide the doors of his house to his guests, and with it he opens generously his heart and his wallet.
Fridays are special days in Morocco, during which, Muslims have the opportunity for accomplishing the Islamic prescription of congregating in the mosques, not only for prayer, but also to maintain contact and strengthen the bondage among the members of the community. Friday is also an occasion for the Muslims to visit the cemeteries where they meditate upon the tombs of their relative defuncts, over which they sprinkle water and place sticks of olive branches, while verses of the Holy Koran are recited in memory of the dead.
Friday is also a day on which, sanctuaries and Mausoleums are frequented for meditation, and sometimes, for prayer, especially by those seeking for the “baraka” or the blessing of the holy shrine.
Body cleanliness is observed in Muslim society with much care, moreover, it is a discipline recommended by the Islamic religion, which advises cleanliness and purification. And that is the utility of the hammam. The hammam is divided into three rooms, and a person, clad in his underwear, would go, first, to the hot room, where he would lay to the ground for sweating, and later for a thorough scrubbing of all the body, either by a masseur or by a relative. A washing of all the body with hot water follows, in the warm room. Shampoo and soaping have lieu in the third room, which is cold, and where the person, if interested, would have a massage. If so, his body would undergo delicate twisting and pulling, and every centimeter of his body would be massed by expert fingers, before complete washing, giving to the body a sensation of wellbeing.
After that, the person, well polished and vitalized, leaves the bathing rooms for the grand resting saloon, where he would lay, for a while, to cool down. It is the moment of rest and of relaxation, during which, compliments and news of every kind are exchanged with the others, while sipping a bowl of soup or a soft drink. Hammam is recommended, at least, once a week, for which men and women have different timing, and would never mix. By the way, it is in the hammam, where, traditionally, a mother wishing to marry her son, would discover the daughter-in-law she longed for.
Tradition and religious prescriptions advise that all Muslim male children should be circumcised. The age of circumcision having not been fixed, this one is established by the parents according to their ancestral habits. Some parents circumcise their boys at a very tender age; others delay it until the boy is seven years old. Like the marriage ceremonies which consecrate the passing of the young girl to the stage of a woman, a ritual, rich in symbols, leads the ceremony of circumcision, which marks the beginning of manhood of the child.
According to customs, the child would, first, have his hair cut by the barber, on the eve of his circumcision. The hair cutting is followed by the lying of the blessed henna in his hands and feet. A small pocket, holding blades of herb and stones, supposed to have protective powers, is tide up to his right ankle. The next day, day of his circumcision, the child, dressed in pompous gown (Jabador), made of a gold embroidered green velvet, covered with a white cape, and wearing an embroidered green fez, and covered with a white cape, is carried outdoors on horseback by a rider for a parade. The child, in a resounding procession, and accompanied by a band of musicians, would proceed, through the streets of his neighborhood, to a mosque or a mausoleum, around which the cortège would circumvent seven times, to invoke the divine protection.
Different rituals are observed during the circumcision. These rituals are reputed to ensure protection and safeguard to the child, as they are supposed to attenuate his pain during his surgical circumcision. It is the mother of the circumcised child who is involved, most of the time, with these rites, or rituals. During the accomplishment of the circumcision, and according to local customs, the mother would keep on staring to a mirror, and exert herself not to blink, until the barber concludes the child’s surgery.
Somewhere else, another mother would have her feet sunk in a pan of hot water, while singing a ballad reserved for her circumcised child. Women of some Berber tribes let their hair loose, which they would wave, while dancing, and blow off with their hair the light of a candle, which would simulate the extinguishing, of any pain that their circumcised child may feel during the surgery.
During the ceremony of circumcision, the barber cuts the foreskin of the circumcised child, and then he smears the cut with a special antiseptic ointment made of butter, olive oil and egg-yoke. The egg-yoke stops the bleeding. After the surgery’s ceremony, the child, less pained and proud, would take part in the festivities organized in his honor, very happy with all the gifts and candies offered to him by his parents and guests.
The engagement: Decades ago, it was the mother who choose the fiancée for her son. Her choice could be guided by the tradition; then, cousins would have the first priority before any other pretenders. But often, the mother would look for that gentle and cautious young girl she have noticed in a reception, or for the beautiful well-made girl she met in the hammam.
The mother may also refer to her friends or to a matchmaker, for the finding of a good match for her son. Anyhow, the choice of the fiancée, then, was never an initiative of the young man, who, as it is said, had no idea about his bride, before the marriage, except through the description made to him by his mother, sister or some relatives.
Tradition did also bring about early pre-arranged marriages among relatives and close friends. Children were promised to each other before they reached the convenient age of marriage. But normally the parents would wait, before they celebrate the marriage of their children, till the young boy reaches the age of seventeen and the young girl the age of consent.
When the mother has made her choice of the fiancée, she notified her husband, and if he approves the choice, the son would then be informed of the decision. Afterwards, the parents would start the proposal of marriage, the (Khotba). And one Friday, the mother of the young man would make the first step, and dressed in her most precious finery, and accompanied by her close relatives, she would go render a visit to the parents of the chosen young girl.
Meanwhile, the father of the bride would start, if necessary, an inquiry about the concerned family, (economic status, lineage, nobility) and about her honesty. The most elementary things were set by the two families that day.
The fathers of the two families came on, next. And one Friday, the father of the groom would meet, in company of some relatives, the father of the bride in his house. The meeting begins normally with a rich meal, after which, two of the guests would take a part the father of the young girl for a traditional marriage talk which begins more or less like this: “Sir, the purpose of our visit is to ask in marriage your most gracious daughter for the son of our friend so and so”. What was not previously set, and which is always cause of a real debate, was the amount of the dowry (Sadak) the future husband had to pay to his wife. The matter was negotiated between the fathers of the groom and the bride, in a quite room, where silence was barely broken by the whisper of intermediaries, who walked back and forth between the two fathers, in an attempt of reaching and agreement between the two men. A performance the Tharaud brothers named nicely “the dowry’s ballet”.
Everything was decided then, and the parents could finally fix the date of the official engagement. The mother of the young man would visit her future daughter-in-law, carrying for her some gifts, (fabric, dates, candles, perfume and henna). The ceremony of the official engagement was celebrated the next Friday, in a mosque of the vicinity by the fathers of the groom and the bride, just after the end of mid-day prayer. There, and in front of a number of witnesses, the fathers of the two fiancés would hold the right hand of each other, while reciting the first sourat of the Qoran (the Fatiha) to seal the agreement of marriage between the two families. Afterwards, the two fathers received the congratulations from the persons present in the mosque. The reciting of the Fatiha is the only religious act, which marks the engagement ceremony. Afterwards, the parents fixed the period of engagement between the fiancés, and, according to circumstances, this lasted between six months up to two years prior to the celebration of the wedding ceremony.
The dowry and the writ of Marriage: The payment of the dowry or part of it made an end to the period of engagement. It was the first step of the wedding ceremony which began by the drafting of the act of marriage by two notaries. The parents then fixed the date of the wedding feasts. Normally, two or three weeks, after the drafting of the act of marriage. The two engaged families had to prepare the wedding feast and issue invitations to hundreds of peoples.
The two notaries take note of the agreed amount of the dowry, cash and kind, given by the groom to the father or the tutor of the bride, after which, the notaries would draft the final act of marriage, which stated the amount of the dowry paid and the other element and conditions laid down by the two families to safeguard the rights and interests of the concerned persons, such as not forcing the future wife to live with her family-in-law, or the right for the wife to pronounce her own repudiation (al Issma’h), in case her husband took a second wife.
The preparations: The date of the wedding feasts is fixed after the paying of the dowry; afterwards, the parents began the preparations of the party. Fifteen days earlier, the young bride, would go to the hammam every second day, to carry on with the rituals of the seven ablutions. The last ablution was marked by the ceremony of "Taqbib" (the washing with seven buckets); after which the fiancée was draped in new white embroidered gown. This was a ritual of purification and of transition. The young bride was about to step to a new phase of her life. Back home from the hammam, the bride is taken to an empty room where the tattoo maker "Rekama", would trace on her hands and feet, with henna, the special bride’s sketching, which reproduces the Fassi embroidery. From now on, and until the conclusion of the wedding festivities and rituals, which would make of her a married woman, the young bride was to lead a lonely life. Five days before the wedding evening, the matchmakers begin the arrangement of the bridal suit in the house of the groom. The alcove is decorated with embroideries, rugs and tapestries.
During the women’s wedding party, the bride would be shown to the guests, heavily made up and dressed in the finest caftans of velvet and silk brocade, and wearing heavy gold jewelry. Two matchmakers led her slowly and veiled through the glistering and shining circle of guests, while intoning praises to Allah and to his Prophet.
The groom, on the other side, led an unusual life. After having accomplished the rituals of the ablution in the Hammam, the groom is taken home, where in the evening the barber would cut his hair and shave his face, while a Faqih, smeared henna in his right hand, in the middle of an assembly of guests who intone praises to God and to the Prophet.
The Bridal ceremonies : Then comes the day of the official wedding ceremonies. The two houses prepared the festivities with much care, paying no heed to the expenses. But it is in the house of the bride where the principal scene had lieu. The guests should be surprised and bewildered by the extravaganza of the ceremony. Food and sweets of all kind were served to the guests. The rooms of the wedding house swarmed, from noon till down, with women and girls dressed in their best finery in silky caftans and jewelry. Like in a fashion contest, the wedding receptions were the best occasion for many women to boast of their beauty and display their taste and their wealth.
A similar reception was given to men in the house of the groom. At two o’clock in the morning, just after dinner, a bridal procession is formed in the street, with the singing of the guests and the rhythm of folkloric band of musicians. The bridal procession was formed mainly by the male parents and close friends of the groom, followed by the matchmakers and by the bride, which was carried in a baldachin over a horse. The bride was accompanied by her parents and by her close friends. Once near the nuptial house, the procession dispersed. Only the women accompanied the bride to her new house. The matchmakers led the veiled bride to the bridal suite, where a table full of dishes of dates, nuts and candy, and glasses of milk and juice was set by a large bed.
The two matchmakers, then, led the groom to the nuptial alcove, where the bride was waiting for him. Finally alone, the groom and the bride were to face their destiny. The groom had to discover what is behind the veils, and the bride would finally see if her husband was as she imagined. By the unveiling of the face of the bride, the two spouses had the opportunity of seeing each other for the first time. It was a pathetic moment for the two persons, especially after that unreal and tense dilemma they have experienced during the past weeks.
The matchmakers, then, relieved the bride of all her heavy finery, cleaned her face and left her alone with her husband, dressed in a fine white gown and a white short, symbol of virginity. The next morning, day of the marriage’s consummation, the husband handed a blood stained piece of cloth to the matchmakers, to prove the virginity of the bride. The parents of the bride and of the groom took pride in showing the bloodstained fabric to their neighbors and relatives. The bride honored her parents by safeguarding her virginity, which if lost, would have shed dishonor and shame on her and her parents, and would have made of her a rejected and cursed person.
There were cases of marriage’s dismissal because the bride was not found virgin. Her parents then had to restitute the dowry and all the presents the groom made her. But it happened that the parents of the bride bribed the groom to hide the fact, and prevent a scandal.
Morocco’s complex ethnic heritage, its diversified climate and geographic landscape explain the rich wide range of the country’s traditional clothing. The traditional custom ranges from a combination of a Djellaba, a Fouqya (long white shirt) and a Serwal (large pants) of Persian origin, to the Kaftan and the Selham (cape), but that is not all. The richness of the country’s traditional and ceremonial clothing is dazzling, and varies from zone to zone, specially the city's traditional clothing of women.
Countryside, in the southern picks of the High Atlas and the Daraa Valley, the shepherd, wraps himself in the “Khnif”, a heavy black woolen cape, whose lower part is red woven and decorated with multicolored embroidery. In the same area, the blue and red mosaic leggings’ embroidery of the Beni Mguild’s women, put below their ample and candid woolen blanket, the “Handira” housecoat, contrasts with the multicolored silky scarf, and the “Serdal” a headband of silver coins covering their heads. A little further southeast, in the Ziz Valley, the beautiful amber-colored women, the Hartaniat, drape themselves in the “M’laya”, a dark-blue or black shroud. Farther south, by the Todrha Valley, the ladies of the Aït Hdiddou’s Berber tribe, wear a fine white silky netted shroud and drape with a “Taskunt”, a red or green striped woolen cloak. A little bit further south, the beautiful girls of Keleat M’gouna of the Valley of Dades, drape themselves, like dolls, in a dark blue embroidered cloth, worn, like a long tunic, fixed below the shoulders by silver broach fasteners, and cover their heads with beautiful tiaras made of silky embroidered scarves.
The typical dress of the noble horseman consists of a white Djellabah over a white long Foukiya and a white cape, all wool woven. The head is covered with a plain white or yellow striped turban and would wear yellow slippers. A long silk woven cord would hang over his shoulder, with a silver knife. In the southern region of Goulimin and Sakia el Hamra, the "guinée", the blue indigo is paramount, like in Mauritania or in Yemen, the population of this area wear blue garments. Women wrap themselves in blue stands, while men wear blue kandouras and blue or black turbans.
For ceremonies, luxury and extravaganza, sometimes, has no limits among Moroccan women. The young bride, casting off the heavy woolen cloak or the fancy Djellabah, would wear, in Tetouan or Sala, a garnet-red gold laced velvet Kaftan, while in the city of Fes it would wear a vast gold lamé silky Kaftan.
The Kaftan is a Persian fancy rich garment introduced during the 12th century to Morocco from Andaloucia. The silk and brocade fabric from which this dress was made used to be woven in Fes.
Jewelry is another luxury, which in rural areas plays an important socio-economic role. In the regions of the Atlas Mountains, jewelry is massive and made mostly of silver, ornamented with coral, amber and niello enamels. The rural silver necklaces, chest collars and bracelets are bulky, because they represent ready cash for the family, besides being a luxury. And it could be sold any time, in case of need, to be restored in time of plenty. The countryman is mostly motivated by other kind of jewelry which could range from a knife with an ivory handle and its silver engraved sheath to a silver engraved rifle and a silver gunpowder mug. Together, with a white djellabah and a white cape, the set would make of him a richly dressed good-looking nobleman.
Gold, on the other hand, is a privilege of cities, where jewelry is more elaborate than the rural’s silver of the Berbers. The gold jewelry of the cities is finely engraved, and shows more refined shapes and patterns of floral and arabesque filigrees, and set with precious stones, such as emeralds, rubies and pearls. The “lebba”, a large gold necklace, is among the most valuable city’s jewelry, which every bride dreams of wearing on the day of her marriage. The necklace is a two faces gold collar, one face set of emeralds and rubies and the other studded with emeralds and pearls. Like the Berber silver jewelry, some gold jewelry bear magic signs that would protect the bearer from evil and bring him good luck, such as the hand of Fatima (el Khemissa), or the collar of the five stones or pearls. The dream of every city woman is to fulfill her fantasy of acquiring sets of gold bracelets and large gold belts “Mdemma” with their intricate chiseled floral and arabesque motives, that would fit with the beautiful embroidered Kaftan, worn in the big ceremonies of marriages.
Other women, wishing sometimes to look more attractive in the ceremonies, and judging their ceremonial outfit modest, would refer to a category of women, the "Negafat" to rent for them from other ladies fine gold jewelry composed of a belt, bracelets, necklaces and fine dresses.
Berber’s traditional tattoo was shaped in the form of stippled designs, made either with a knife or with a needle by local women specialists called "Rekama". This practice had several functions, among the different Berber tribes of the country. The tattoo could be utilitarian, prophylactic or erotic. Tattoo was appreciated, mostly, by white Berber women; and. was widely used in all the country, except in the far south, where women had dark skin. Tattoos had different geometrical and floral shapes applied mostly in the faces of the Berber women, such as diamonds, branches and flowers. Sometime, cabalistic signs from the Libyc alphabet were also used. These had the forms of crosses, dots, dashes, and intricate lines, among other contours. The cabalistic signs represented names of different divinities such as "Annou" a Numidian God "Lla" supreme divinity, duality, good and evil; beauty and ugliness, "Iëro", Libyan divinity, "Iësse" the old sun-god of the Berbers, "Ie" the blast, the striking force, "Iétte" the symbol of God’s eye, and the star.
According to Berber tradition, tattoos had different social functions, and every function had a tattoo with its specific contours. The circular tattoos were useful against evil eye, the quadrilaterals were and are still being used against some disease, and the dash-dotted tattoos were either cabalistic or erotic signs. Prophylactic tattoos are a sort of vaccines which were applied in the back of the hands, in the forehead and feet to cure articulation’s diseases, hepatitis and migraine. The other kind of tattoos were applied somewhere in the face of the woman and had either a beauty function, or protected against evil.
Many Berber tribes of the Atlas and the Rif Mountains kept centuries old tattoo codes, which identified their women’s lineage or clan, but this practice had been abandoned decades ago.
The Arab medicine reached the summit of its glory during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, by the perseverance of important Arab scientists and physicians. The traditional Arab medicine was inspired by the Galien theory which stated that matter was composed of four elements: "fire, earth, water and air", and that each of these elements had its own attributes, which it held and produced at once. Heat for fire, cold for earth, dryness for air and moisture for water. Every single body is constituted of a different combination of the four elements. In fact, it is the proportion in the mixture of every element that composes the nature of each body and its properties.
This reasoning was applied to the human physiology, and brought forth the principles of temperaments (amzija), of the natural attributes (tebâa) and of the moods (khalk). Normally, the four moods matching the four natural attributes are in a condition of perfect balance or harmony, but this condition depends on many other factors, such as race, place, season, age, organ, etc. Each of these factors has its corresponding sort of harmony, and the individual’s health would depend on the condition of this harmony or balance. A perfect balance between moods and the four elements would signify good health. A physical trouble would mean, on the other hand, a drift of this balance from its normal state (inhiraf el mizaj).
Nature had always showed a perfect balance in all its elements, which man has either ignored or misinterpreted. Only able physicians and mystical persons had the art of penetrating the mystery of nature and deciphered some of her secrets, a quality acquired through meditation and through the science of remedies. The Arab physicians extracted remedies from every plant and stone available, and looked for new drug used by other people to cure some diseases. Till today, traditional medicine is practiced in parallel with the conventional medicine in the country. This consists on a sort of magic/spiritual medicine, rooted for centuries in the country’s culture. Practiced by some religious maraboutic brotherhoods and theosophists, the magico-spiritual medicine was connected to paganism and to mysticism, on which the sign coexisted with the thing, and the substance with the ritual.
The universe and its constant visible and invisible movements were enough enigmas to wonder about. And man had always tried to attain the spiritual state of constant alertness, to communicate with the invisible moving forces. Various rites were used to attain that state, including singing, dancing, meditation, fasting, physical torture and drugs. The objective was the reaching of the state of hyper lucidity, the opening of the third eye, and the traveling beyond the ordinary consciousness, where everything is illusion and prolongation of dreams. Magic is but a process of prayers and submission to these forces or divinities, and an incantation whose objective is to unchain an occult but appeasing action for the distressed souls. Magic is too complex, and when the Faqih talks to a stone, to fire or to the wind, he behaves with them like if they were living entities at his service, through which he provokes the creation of either positive or negative forces. The brain is a source of power that man does not know how to use, and only a few enlightened persons do really control. The Sheiks of tarikas (rules) of some brotherhoods, such as Gnaoua, H’macha and Oulad Bouya Rahal, together with some scholars (fouk'ha) are an exception. Some of these persons, of very simple aspect, could detain control over the cosmic force and the divine spirits, which he might manipulate as he pleases. These facts belong to the world of mysticism and parapsychology, and go beyond the limits of any logic.
In magic and spiritual medicine, the amulets and talismans are elemental and should be mentioned first (tbared, hjuba, tlasim). These things were and are constituted either of Quranic or of cabalistic writings (verses of Qoran, magic squares), sketched over different mediums: paper, cloth, and eggshell, fragment of bones, of clay. Other ingredients, reputed to protect from evil, such as chebba (alum), morjan (coral), red amber, aïne el-hudhud (eye of the hoopoe), rain water, fassukh (oleoresin), and rosemary are used as a mixture for fumigating a person or a place (tebkhira). Many other instruments and objects operate in the complex processes of magic, geomancy and medicinal divination. These things comprise melted led, rusted knifes, legs of hyenas, porcupine’s spike, bones and tarot cards.
Then there is the dreaded black magic or sorcery, reputed for its evil harming effects. This evil sorcery is based on close physical proximity, but it does also have remote effects. In this cabalistic practice, dark forces act on the person through any of his belongings (cloths, hair, nail clippings).
The Faqih, generally speaking, is a scholar who has memorized the Holy Quran and its interpretation. Often, the Faqih would expand his theological knowledge, much further, in some famous monasteries or “Zaouïas”. He would study the famous mystical book of Sidi Khlil, the astronomy’s book the "Moqnie Al Marghiti", and mathematics works of Al Qualasadi, and Ibn El Ghazi’s “Mouniat Alhoussab”. The Faqih’s main obligation is the teaching of the Holy Quran, the Islamic theology and tradition, or astronomy and astrology, mathematics and grammar, in Quranic schools, universities and in mosques. To become a healer, the Faqih had to be initiated through some complicated rites, still in use till today. The initiation is accomplish in secret schools, located in the Rif and in the Souss provinces, where the Faqih would retreat, leaving behind all the temporal and material obligations of this world, to devote himself to a mystical life, haunted by ghosts and spirits.
The Faqih would, during his period of initiation, be able to adjoin to himself a servant spirit, a genie or the (Khidem), who would fulfill all his magic wishes, and execute his instructions. But to reach this stage, the Faqih must go through a cycle of hard and shivering experiences, which lasts hundred and one days, during which he remains isolated from any human contact in a dark cell. During all this period he would neither shave nor wash, and would live on dates, milk and non-jested barley bread. He would burn a mixture of salt, harmel (peganum harmala), alum and snake skin, at dawn and sunset, during the hundred and one days.
On the last day of his mystical retreat, he would, by the light of a candle, look into a Mirror. Normally he would see the silhouette of a ghost, the image of the servant-spirit, the khidem reflected in the Mirror. Once reaching this phase, the Faqih is consecrated a wizard. Then he should learn how to coexist with the genie, and for that, he would undergo another cycle of training, to master the secrets of witchcraft, and learn how to communicate with the spirits through a special language, whose formulas are enigmatic.
Some Faqihs are dreaded and respected because of the mystical powers and reputation they have acquired along the time. A Faqih could be a conjurer or an evil wizard, manipulating, talismans, amulets, exorcism and conjuration. The different rites and occult ceremonies performed by the Faqihs or by the different mystical brotherhoods have much to do with the "voodoo" and its initiating practices. The Faqih could be of noble tendencies of divine obedience "rabbani", and then he would never associate with black magic or sorcery, banned strictly by Islamic teachings. He would, at the contrary, use formulas and means tolerated by the Islamic religion, to help a sick person. Otherwise the Faqih would be of evil tendencies or "sheitani". Having made terms with the Devil, this sort of wizards are supposed to detain frightening evil powers.
The Faqihs, generally speaking, use spiritual magic writs or “kteba” as a healing medium. The writ is traced in a piece of paper, an eggshell or in a piece of clay, with a special ink made of saffron and wool’s ash. The writ or “kteba” could then be put to dissolve in a bowl of water, under the lights of the stars, on a specific determined period and time, according to the position of a specific star or planet in the Zodiac, to undergo the influence of the cosmic radiation. The dissolved mixture could, afterwards, be either sprinkled over the body, the soil or be drunk. The magic writ could also be used as a protective amulet or "hjab" and be carried by the concerned person during a lapse of time, or forever. The Faqih could also act verbally, through the use of magic formulas and incantations. Using the power of suggestion, he would invoke the Might of God, and the assistance of Angels and saints, to act against the powers of evil.
To perform some of his mystical ceremonies, the Faqih, sometimes, is compelled to break in a cemetery by night, during a certain phase of the moon, either to pick a particular grass or to desecrate a grave. He would then perform his rituals, and might prescribe animal sacrifices to such saint or such cave, in such time of the day or of the night. He might claim either a reddish or a black rooster; sometimes he would demand a black calf, a bull, or the shell of an orphan porcupine, hunted during a black night.
Beside the Faqihs, there was, in the past, the “salih", a sort of a living saint, who detained, in addition to others gifts, that of curing certain diseases. He was a pitiful man of high virtues and bravery, and of proverbial integrity. Both wise and learned, he was credible for the community of the faithful, which acknowledged his extraordinary powers of relieving physical, moral and psychical pains, both alive and post mortem. When one of these holy men was dead, a sanctuary was erected over his tomb. These are the places called “Sadat, Salehen, Mrabtin”, which, according to local tradition, are endowed with the powers of healing, protecting, blessing, of correcting sterility, or even bestowing chance to the unfortunate. The architecture of these sanctuaries is almost the same. A sort of a square chapel, topped by a cupola, more or less sumptuous.
If the Arabs and Berbers spread Islam and the Arabo-Islamic civilization among the peoples of Black Africa, they, in turn, brought with them some of the Negro practices and customs. One example is the superstition, which dominates some of the people’s beliefs, till today. The revering of caves and barrows, such as the cave and “rocky camel” of Moulay Brahim, in the High Atlas, the consecrating of certain trees, and the devotion shown by Muslims and Jews to some saints, have their origin, but, in the Negro superstition. And these practices became extremely tied to local customs, and spread through all the country.
The holy sanctuaries became places of meditation or refuges, where people looked for relief and made their sacrifices. A religious brotherhood was, sometimes, founded around a saint, such as the brotherhood of Aissaoua, followers of the holy saint "Sidi El Hadi Ben Aïssa" whose sanctuary is located in (Meknass), the brotherhood of Jilala, followers of "Sidi Abdelkader Jilali" whose sanctuary is in (Baghdad), the brotherhood of Haddaoua, followers of "Sidi Haddi" the saint of the hippies, whose sanctuary is in (Beni Arouss), the brotherhood of Gnaoua, followers of the saint Moulay Brahim (Marrakech) and Hmacha, followers of the saint Sidi Ben Hamdouch.
The Marabous are popular saints or scholars, whose shrines are, often, located in a place immortalized either by the presence of a tree, a well, a spring or a cave. Certain Marabous where feared because, by their curses, they sometimes, have dried up rivers or blinded people. They were renowned and venerated for their natural endowment of healing and of administering the "Baraka" or the blessing. The Marabous know and important rush of both the illiterate and the cultured people seeking for a miracle or a curing. Here are some of the reputed Marabous.
Sidi Makhlouf: Marabou in Rabat. This saint is of Jewish origin who embraced Islam, and is reputed for having walked over the waters of the river Bouregreg. This Marabou is venerated for his virtues of curing limbs’ paralysis.
Moulay Ahmed El Ouazzani: Marabou in Meknass. He was a paralytic, who, touched by God’s grace, recovered the use of his limbs. His sanctuary became a place of meditation for the mentally troubled people. These would sojourn seven days and seven nights in the sanctuary, during which they would meditate and follow certain rites which would help their healing.
Moulay Bouchta El Khammar: Marabou near Fes. According to legend, Moulay Bouchta was a deranged saint, whose prayers God fulfilled by dispensing rain on the lands of the Fechtala tribe, after suffering from a long drought. Moulay Bouchta was an abnormal saint musician and poet, and is supposed, by paradox, to dispense sanity for the deranged people, the mastering of the violin by the musician and the softening of the voice of the singers.
Moulay Bouselham (Abu Saïd Essoufi El Massri): This Marabou is located in the Gharb, close to a cave whose stalactites are sucked, with no harm, by patients suffering from intestinal diseases. The stalactites abound in seawater.
Moulay Abdessalam Ibn Machich El Alami: This Marabou is located near Beni Arouss, in the north. Moulay Abdessalam is the Patron Saint of the Chorfas Alamienne, whom he protects by his Baraka. He granted them with the ability of curing eyes’ and other diseases. Every year, on the eve of Nes'kha, an occasion which has lieu on the 15th of the month of Châaban of the Hegira calendar, during which people from the kingdom and from abroad flow in pilgrimage to the sanctuary of Moulay Abdessalam in quest either of a curing or of the Baraka.
Moulay Brahim: Near Marrakech in the High Atlas. This Marabou is the Patron of Gnaouas’s brotherhood, and is reputed to heal women’s sterility and cure rheumatoid arthritis.
Lala Zohra Bent El Kouch: This is a holy woman whose shrine is located in front of the Koutoubia mosque in Marrakech. This lady had lived during the reigning of the Almorabid Sultan, Ali Ben Youssef Ibn Tachfin. She was the daughter of an emancipated slave, which had the ability of turning into a hawk during the day and a woman during the night. Her Marabou is a lieu of peregrination and contemplation for sterile women seeking fecundity.
Allal Bou Jbira: This Marabou is located in Mhamid. This saint is venerated for his reputation of curing both human and animals skin diseases.
Sidi Mohamed Ben Aissa: Patron of the Aissaoua brotherhood. This saint whose mausoleum is located in Meknass is reputed to cure mental diseases.
Different religious grouping were constituted around a Zaouiya, between the 15th and the 18th centuries in North Africa. Then, these brotherhoods knew an exceptional expansion, and an important influence over the people. They were considered as a sort of associations whose goal was spiritual, destined to guide their adepts towards the salvation’s path. The Brotherhoods were many, and along the time, each one developed its own rules and precepts, in the aspect of their rites an in the way of recruiting new adepts. Finally, they became different in their socio-cultural composition. These brotherhoods organize spiritual sessions where we would observe the manifestation of true devotion and piety. Sometimes, people would refer to some of the many brotherhoods, when in quest of a favor from heaven. Their mystic séances are performed, preferably, by night, during which they would celebrate, through the sound of exciting rhythmic music, ritual dances. They would invoke God and the influence of the Marabous, while chanting magic formulas, till they attain a state of euphoria, in an atmosphere masked with emotion, esotericism and admiration, and where we could feel the presence of extrasensory forces.
This brotherhood is famous for its acrobatics and juggling. The adepts of this saint are skilled in the ignipuncture curing.
Ouled Sidi Rahal el Boudani: Marabou located in Demnate.(Marrakech)
The brotherhood of this saint whose Zaouïa is in Sraghna, is reputed for its long séances of mystical dances performed by its adepts, during which they would invoke God and their saint, till they go into a trance, then they would drink huge volumes of boiling water and would swallow red live coal. The adepts of Bouya Rahal are endowed with the gift of healing dementia.
The Hmacha : Adepts of Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch (region of Meknass):
The members of this brotherhood perform long sessions of mystic dances, and when they go into trance, they would martyr their body, braking huge jars of ceramic over their heads and cutting their limbs with knives, without suffering any harm. Moreover, no trace of cutting remains in their body the next day. The H’macha adepts are endowed with the gift of curing hysteria illness.
The origin of Gnaoua dates back to the 16th century, when the Saâdian dynasty conquered the Kingdoms of Ghana and Niger, and from where captives where conveyed to Morocco to be sold as slaves. Gnaoua descend from those early slaves. Their music, singing and dancing are considered mystical and originate from the Voodoo rituals. On request, they will celebrate nightly mystical ceremonies on specific days of the week, especially on Thursdays and Saturdays, which correspond to the planets of Jupiter and Saturn. During the performance of their rituals, they invoke names of saints, angels and spirits, while the dance goes on till trance is reached. Gnaoua are known to practice exorcism.
The sect of Aissaoua divides into two groups. The most impressive is the one named Dmina. Its disciples are known for their exciting ritual dances, which stimulates their spirit till they reach a state of trance, after which they start mortifying their bodies. They will eat cactus, cut their bodies with knives, and bleed their heads with hard object, then they would relax. What is mysterious about all these rituals is that no traces of injuries remain in their body the next day. The other group is that of the Snake charmers, the members of this sect are reputed for curing from poisoning and mental disturbance, and are supposed to tell the future. They get poison immunity by taking small doses of poison mixed with eggs very morning. One becomes an Issaoui by birth, that is, a parent should belong to the sect.
And what about the Jewish saints? The Jewish members have integrated, for long centuries, to the Moroccan society, both countryside and in cities, and merged in the movement of tradition and habits of the country. Their saints are many and their sanctuaries are scattered everywhere in Morocco. Rabbi Amran ben Diyan’s is located in Asjen (Ouezzan), Daoud Boussidane in (Meknass), Raphaël Hacohen near (Amizmiz) High Atlas, Mekhlouf ben Youssef Abihsira in (M'hamid) Deraa Valley, Rabbi Jacob Qnizal in (Fes), and Moul el Milah Rabbi Ishac in (Sefrou). Rabbi Mimoun Ben el Henche in (Ourika) near Marrakech. These saints are reputed to be miracle workers, and their sanctuaries are lieu of peregrination for both Muslim and Jewish communities. Large mobs of Jewish pilgrims flow at regular intervals, on Hiloula, or during a draught, from everywhere, to these sanctuaries, loaded with ziaras (offerings) and candles, to meditate and to pray.
The Rabbis Cohen: The Shrine of these two Jewish saints is located on the foothills of the High Atlas, near Marrakech. In this shrine, there is a water basin where some turtles dwell, and to which sterile women come to seek fecundity. Sterile women sacrifice either a sheep or a white cock, and let blood of the slaughtered animal drip into the water basin. Afterwards, the women would sink their feet in the basin, after rolling up their toes with dough. The turtles would come to eat the dough from the toes of the ones that would be blessed with fecundity.
The emotion is expressed, mainly, by spontaneous gestures, such as jumping, for joy, feet’s stamping, for anger, etc. In the elder days, man had lived in permanent contact with nature, which bestowed on him her blessings, and sometimes her anger. But he was unable to neither penetrate its mysteries nor understand the laws that regulated his existence. Nature seemed complex and powerful, and man had to conciliate with all her hidden forces, whenever he suffered a calamity (inclemency, disease, etc.). In the same way he celebrated the different stages of life (birth, marriage, death) courting the divinities’ favors and it was always through dancing and its slow or frenetic rhythms, and its humble or aggressive attitude, that he expressed his emotion. It was the Magic Dancing.
In the past, war and religious dances preceded every action, but these dances evolved for centuries, with the civilization’s progress. These dances have settled down, sometimes, in the form of traditions or rites that have survived, till today, through legends and folklore, and whose traces could still be noticed in some contemporary dances.
Some of these ritual dances lead to the state of trance and are executed with natural movements. They are cadenced from within by the feelings of joy, pain, bravery or distress, which might produce a strong excitement. Sometimes, the emotion of ecstasy and fervor attained, during the dancing, would combine with the waving of the body and with the radiated energy in the magic spaces. These movements which are translated to an accurate vocabulary of steps, gestures and attitudes, disperse beyond our dimension to penetrate the mysterious spaces, where they would trigger the mechanisms of the supernatural powers.
Some rhythms have their own virtues, and when combined to the gestures and movements of the body, they produce a magic alloy that would exert an attraction on the hidden forces. The high jumps would favor the growing of human beings and of plants, and of the ripening of crops. The clapping of hands and feet, with the screaming would chase the evil spirits. The ritual dances of Gnaoua, H’macha, Haddaoua and of Issaoua, are but some of the rhythmic collective dances that possess some magic attributes.
The mystical dance is like a drug; it would comfort, excite and stir up the emotions. It drives men and women to loosen, and to enjoy of an unmatched universe of disorder and of a profound stimulation. The dance of the Ghiatas of the East, (Taza and Oujda) is executed under the beats of drums and the sound of fifes. The dancers would shout rhythmical clamors, while juggling with their rifles, to infuse courage, before facing the danger. The dance of Taskiouen of Amizmiz of the H Atlas is executed on the eve of a battle. The dance is animated with simple small tambourines and flutes that synchronize the dancer’s movements of feet and shoulders garnished with gun powder horns.
The Tifinak is the old Punic language, spoken by the ancient autochthons of North Africa, and which have left behind trails and messages of their disorganized movement stamped in the form of symbols and signs. And it is up to the curious to appreciate and decipher these messages. A number of intact or slightly modified signs, belonging to the far past and to the symbolic Amazigh expression, could hold secrets of old popular events or of a magic formula or den.
Consider the silver Berber brooch, a relic of the Phoenician epoch, its triangular shape symbolizes femininity. The reproduction of diamonds in staggered patterns symbolizes the watching eye that refracts evil. The rectangular patterns and the different crossing lines, symbolize energy, warmth and power. All these symbols are repeated in the different Berber arts in the Rif and in the Atlas Mountains. These and many other geometric, animal and floral signs are supposed magic, and would work against evil, and attract blessings and good-luck.
The other symbols are the esoteric graphics, which are signs used by wizards in their witchcraft, and in the writing of talismans and amulets. This practice, based on astrology, connects a number of letters and signs to the four elements of nature: "air, fire, water and earth", which in turn are represented by a specific color.
This practice, however, is also observed in the rituals of the Gnaoua, where signs, colors and incense combine to produce a certain reaction of the hidden forces.
In the esoteric world, when some symbols are combined with some colors, in a specific day and time, they would confine divine attributes of stars, angels and of other supernatural entities.
The most significant elements characterizing the Hispano Moorish art of construction are the streamlined columns, the horseshoe and semicircular arches, and the elaborate ceilings and copulas. The interior of the Moorish houses is extremely luxurious. And the efforts of the artists are mainly concentrated in the ornamentation of the coatings of wood, stucco and tiles, which embellish the interiors. The outside of the traditional townhouse is not so attractive, and when not whitewashed, it offers a miserable aspect. The house is often blind, with small holes piercing the upper side of the façade, such a citadel or a fortress. Below, a monumental wooden front door opens to a cold dark vestibule, through which, the eyes, surprised by the sunlight that immerses the patio, would blink. The sunbeam creates glares of light and shade in the white sculptured stucco, and in the polychrome mosaic which draws carpets in the soil, and whose intricate geometric patterns interlaces with the floral decorations of the ceilings, to give life to the enclosed space of the house. The wood used for roofing and for decoration is brought from the forests and from the Atlas and the Rif Mountains. The Middle Atlas and the Rif Mountains supply the cedar, a noble wood, used mainly for making doors, ceilings, and sculptured roofing. The forests of Zeaïr, in the area of Rabat-Sala, and of Essaouira in the south, supply thuya wood, used for making large beam supports. The Mâamora forest supplies cork oak whose wood is used, specially, for roofing. In the semi-tropical zones of the South, the trunks of the palm trees are used as beam supports and roof holders, in the building of the adobe Kasbahs. The marble, used for making tiles that pave patios and rooms, and for cutting columns and for making fountains, is supplied by the quarries of Casablanca and Agadir.
Berber architecture is original to the zones of the High Atlas and the Anti Atlas, where the typical building; the kssar or the Kasbah, is made of dry stone or adobe. This sort of building was made to function as a massive and powerful stronghold. Before, these buildings were designed to protect people, animals and food stocks against any attack. The structure of these buildings is reinforced by oak, poplar, thuya and palm timber that also supported the roofs. The foundations are made of river shingle or rubbish, and the building is crowned with up to four crenellated high towers. The Kasbah is based on a fortified granary. A narrow door would open either to a patio, or to the first floor, used as a stable. A staircase or would lead to the second floor which is used as granary, and the third floor is the living quarters. The kssar, in its basic layout, would house up to ten families. The structure of this building is wide and flat, and there would be about five dwellings on either side of a central covered alley, where the well would normally be located. The building is surrounded with blind walls that form a rampart, and is fortified by four towers. The single entrance is protected with a huge door, made, often, from walnut or cedar.
The Moroccan art did not acquire its originality until the 12th century, epoch of the Almowahids’ ruling, during which it took its own way and began to distinguish from the Middle East and the Andaloucian art. A series of extensive choices of ornamentation were adapted to, generally, shorten the designs and reduce the covered surfaces of a decoration. The new school relayed in the choice of the stone for the execution of the sculptured decoration, while the plaster, which would be replaced by the stone during the Merinid’s epoch (14th century), was mostly used for coating decoration. Thanks to these options, the Moroccan art carried the floral stylization, inherited, then, from Andaloucia, to its extremes. The panels of foliages were reduced, by juxtaposing geometric traceries, and the decoration was framed by epigraphic friezes of kufiq characters, which sometimes took geometric aspect. The painted geometric figures of overlays, under the Almorabids (11th century), would tend to become floral under the Almowahids. The floral, palmettes and other foliages would become the permanent themes of decoration of the 12th, for the Almowahid Monarchs. The palm would break away in various forms, and would take the shape of the Acanthus and of the Vine-leaves, and would invade all the decoration. With the elaboration of the Moroccan art of ornamentation, the directory of decoration became rich, and is assembled around large themes. And a skilled craftsman-decorator could transform any ordinary building into a real small palace. Relaying upon the old methods, and with a hammer and a chisel, he would transform the stone, the plaster and the wood into a puzzling piece of art.
The Tastir: This technique consists on a geometric tracery for designing polygonal shapes with small pieces of enameled ceramic of different colors and forms. The small pieces are lied, upside down to the ground, one by one, and only the craftsman could see the form and the design of the mosaic he is creating, and which takes life, progressively, in his head.
The final outcome would produce a perfect work, without any error, neither in the forms nor in the symmetry of colors. A zigzag of lines would mingle with interlaced hexagons whose extremities are bond to those of the multipointed stars.
The Taouriq: This is a floral and geometric decoration, known also by the name of "Tachjir", because of its painted motifs (zouaq).
Naksh: Is the sculpture of wood, stucco or plaster. Its decoration is based on calligraphy and floral motifs.
El Moukarnas: This is a tridimensional decoration, and is executed in wood and stucco. The stalactite motifs of the ceilings and mihrabs of religious monuments and palaces are an example of this theme. The decoration, which confuses the eyes of the curious, is executed completely, from perfect geometric figures and floral motifs. The square is cut in two triangles by a diagonal, the rectangle in an equilateral triangle, its half in a pentagon, and the octagon in a star. The seal of Salomon and the circle would undergo the same technique of transformation The floral decoration spreads out in the form of palms, palmettos and pineapples of different shapes and with coiled stems.
The artist could juggle, infinitely, with all these figures to display a figure, rather than another, by the arrangement of colors, until the motifs come to life. We would have a flat ceiling painted with a bunch of colors, and with intertwined branches, spreading over all over the timber. A succession of stars of five, eight and twelve points would form red and golden glowing suns that would shine with the slightest light beam. The ceiling is such a vault of the sky, glowing with thousand colors, or such a hanging garden, covering the rooms. The Moroccan traditional house is dressed up, like the young bride, which, on her bridal day embellishes with silk, precious stones and gold.
Morocco accepted all the esthetic movements coming from Africa, the Middle East, Asia or Europe and assimilated them, by their integration in the local tradition, and remodeled them to create an Islamic, Moroccan and African style. Its is the art of living in an environment which reflects the blissful expression of the symbiosis of two esthetic movements. A rural artistic movement, which is rude and sober, born from the Berber tradition, and noted for its old rectilinear geometric adornment, and an urban elaborate art, all in exuberance, inherited from the Almowahids and the Merinids’ period, when the Hispano- Muslim tradition diffused the arabesque, the floral art and the epigraphic decoration.
The traditional Moroccan townhouse has, but, very little furniture and few permanent fixtures. Instead, the rooms are furnished with long sofas, cushions, carpets, mats and low tables. And this furniture could easily be displaced, rolled up and put away, to free a maximum of space.
The country’s merino livestock of thick fleece have supplied, for long centuries, fine wool, of which Moroccans made good use and produced wonderful weaving of hanbels and carpets, famous for their texture and their luminous colors. Carpet’s weaving, in general, is the occupation of women and sustenance for the family’s needs. Owning a carpet is not always a luxury, and its utility is twofold. In mountains and the semi-desert plains of the south where winters are rude and nights cold, the thick pile wool carpets are used as mattresses, and would isolate from the soil’s humidity. In cities, the long carpet would be the masterpiece, around which divans and sofas are arranged.
The Moroccan short-haired or knot-stitched carpet is marked by its originality, and its motifs and composition varies from one area to the other. The colors and themes differ from zone to zone and are mostly related to the ethnic origin and to way of life and to the environment where the producer lives.
Town carpets are characterized by their symmetrical composition and by their floral decorations; an Oriental inspiration. Finer and thicker than the rural, the town carpet is produced either in factories or in private homes, by quick fingers of agile girls and women. The city carpet is woven, according to the knot of Goërdes (the weft is knotted around the vertical yarn), and is known by Rabat’s carpet.
Synonymous with refinement and wealth, the woolen carpets of Rabat are an expression of an art rarely equaled, and the oldest of these are treasured as items of collection. Rabat carpet is not as old as the Berber, and its origin is traced to Asia Minor. The Moors of Andaloucia introduced its weaving technique to Sala and Rabat, during the 16th century, after the reconquista. The carpet evolved, however, over the centuries, and acquired the esthetic criteria of the country with definite Oriental attributes. The oldest examples date back to the 18th century.
The R’bati carpets take their inspiration from the architectural layout of a traditional Moorish house, with its center patio and fountain surrounded by rooms and porches. In the same way, the designs and motifs recall the stucco and mosaic artwork. The background of the R’bati carpet is brightly colored, varying between red, rust and old pink. The center evokes the “koubba” or living room where each corner has a triangular figure called “j’nah et-tire” or the wings of the bird, decorated with a variety of floral motifs. Or if inspired by a prayer rug, the central motif would represent the Mihrab, the niche facing Mecca in a mosque.
The other town carpets are those of Mediouna (Anfa) and of Fes. These types of carpets have the refined characteristics of the Persian rugs, and are more sophisticated and made of fine tight knots. They are woven in double knots of silky wool, and the wefts are twisted in and out around the wool warp. They are characterized by their large number of medallions and by the extension of their fields and their reduced framing. Their medallions of floral and geometric motifs multiply and interweave with each other, in such a way that would evoke colorful gardens.
Berber and Rural Carpets
Berber carpets, of a more original technique, distinguish by their simple asymmetrical composition. Berber carpets have much more distant, ethnic origins and are characterized by accurate geometric, linear designs, which represent mystical signs. They are woven with tick wool in a range of soft colors, and are used as mattresses and blankets. There are two categories of Berber Carpets, corresponding to two different geographic regions of the country: carpets of the Middle Atlas and those of the High Atlas.
Midle Atlas Carpets
These carpets which, formerly, were woven by men, are characterized by their robust texture, and produce a long woolen fleece of a brownish yellow gleam, which hides the composition of the designs.
Carpets of Monochrome ochre and red background tones are the specialty of Zemmour, Beni, Mguilda, Zayan and of Marmoucha Berber tribes. Their hair is short-piled, and their decoration is transparent. Simple geometric designs arranged vertically or horizontally create an impression of space and movement.
Carpets of white background belong to the tribes of Aït Alaham, Aït l'Youssi, and also to Marmoucha. Their decoration is very ornate in a range of brown, red and orange tones.
The High Atlas Carpets
Carpets of this area are characterized by their fine warp and by the glaze of their wool, and their edges are extremely neat. Small in sizes and of harmonious colors, this sort of weaving is sough after by collectors from everywhere. Carpets woven in villages of the Berber confederation of Ouaouzguita have, sometimes; the surface covered entirely by a diamond-shaped canvas, or with geometric figures, and with a central frame filled up with a medallion. The oldest carpets are either of a natural black background, illuminated with white or red tones or ornamented with blue, green or orange figures, or they are red cauldron or soft orange, and enlivened with blue, green and yellow-gold. Their decoration is characterized by the traditional geometric motifs to which human and animal figures are added.
The other rural carpets of the High Atlas and of the south are those of the Arab tribes. The carpets from the Haouze plains of Marrakech are characterized by their madder-red background and covered with arcane symbols. These are woven by the Arab tribe of Oulad Bou Sbaa, Chiadma and Rehamna, who settled along the Tesnift Valley during the 17th century.
The Art of Jewelry
Moroccan Jewelry is the manifestation of a real crossbreeding of peoples and races. And the tradition of Moroccan jewelry is essentially Berber, characterized by a tribal diversity, whose boundaries extended from the Rif to Egypt and from Tangier to the Niger. The traditional Moroccan goldsmith’s commodity is characterized by its variety and its originality. And the goldsmith’s art was transmitted from generation to generation in the Atlas Mountains, in the Oasis of the south and in the cities. The Moroccan Jewish jewelers, for example, were craftsmen from father to son, and they were not all refugees, expelled from Spain, but Berber autochthons of the High and the Anti Atlas.
The jewel, in its conception and shape, is the very identity of a tribe and her reference. And the wide variety of designs and shapes found in the rural Berber areas of the country is the legacy of the different adapted techniques. Metal casting, was the easiest and the simplest goldsmith’s process, employed in the zones of Todrha to produce a jewel, followed by the planishing, the trimming and the stamping. Formerly, Berber jewelry of the Middle Atlas and of the region of Taliouine, in the High Atlas, distinguished for their filigree patterns, today an exclusive specialty of Tiznit and of Essaouira.
The Berber goldsmith’s art is the outcome of a fantastic permeability to all the external contributions. And its strong capacity of assimilation marked this trade with a specific touch of magnificence, inherited from the early Middle Ages, where African and Mediterranean traditions combined to forge a more illustrious work.
The basic element of Berber jewels is silver, and the Berber tradition is, over and above all, rural, and then, the silver jewelry is made to be a match for the simple practical rural dresses. A striking example is the silver brooch fasteners, worn in pairs, joined by a chain hung with protective charms. This set is used by Berber women to pin their dress drapes at the shoulders.
The norms regarding the percentage of silver alloy in a jewel is of 800/1000. Jewels attaining this degree of purity are identified by a stamp of the 19th or 20th century. The African tradition, contrary to the European, attaches no importance to the antiquity of jewels, whose value decreases with age. The concept of antiquity in Morocco is relative, and the old jewels are doomed to scrap and recasting. The value of jewels, in Berber tradition, does not result from their age but from their weight. In fact, the jewel has a marked value, since its is considered part of the dowry of the young bride. The price evaluates the ¾ of its weight, while the finishing represents the ¼ of its value. The decoration is achieved by the stamping and engraving techniques, and is graced with enamels of baked glass paste. It refers to a rich geometric directory, issuing from the straight line and the circle, and to the simplest floral elements. The jewels do, often, bear prophylactic symbols (protective). Yes, the Berber jewelry is too busy with symbols, and it is worn more like an amulet of good luck than as a jewel. The examination of an old Berber jewel should be done on its two levels:- the signified or decoration, and the expression or symbol.
The basic element of Berber jewelry is silver:
The predominant decorations in Berber jewels are either figurative, representing the sun, the palm tree, the scorpion, the lizard, or graphics, and then difficult to define. They could be made of calligraphic (Hebrew, Arabic, Tifinak) writing, or of floral and arabesque patterns. Symbols used in the composition of Berber jewelry go far back in time, and are the field of psychoanalysis, theology and traditional medicine. A sacred form, in religion, is always the recurring of an analogous form that binds the spiritual to the sensual. And we find the four main elements (air, earth, fire and water), transcribed in prototype forms by the art of Moroccan jewelers. An example is the circular form that symbolizes the return of the sun and the moon. The very structure of the jewel, that is, the matter which composes it, is believed to have magical and protective properties. The silver brooch, a symbol, long time present, however, in the Phoenicians and Carthaginian epoch, symbolized femininity and fecundity.
Silver is the favorite metal of rural zones that evokes sincerity, purity, and is considered, in the Moroccan tradition, as being a shield against evil spirits. Amber is another magic element that symbolizes love and unity, and is also useful against evil. Coral, “the sea-tree” protects against evil eye, and maintains the unity of lovers. Always in the Berber tradition, symbols would acquire mystical properties, when associated with some animal or vegetal entities: ram = baraka “blessing”, jacal = cruelty, salamander = fecundity, palm-tree = life, rose = balance, almond = immortality, health. Some geometric symbols are also supposed to detain power: square = the four elements, diamond = the Devin eye) etc.
Literally, the word ceramic means the horn, and comes from the Greek "keramos", which pointed out to the horns of some animals, and later to horn shaped cups made of dray clay. Clay is classified as an inorganic non-metallic matter, and its final processing requires a thermal heating of very high temperatures.
The Rural pottery
Moroccan ceramics range from the terracotta vessels and pots made in rural areas to pottery made in cities. The rural pottery shows a similarity with the antique Berber’s of the Rif, Tsoul and of Gzenaya in the North, and has the same black or red geometric traceries and motifs. The rural domestic pottery is shaped by women and is baked under a fire of branches. The same kind of pottery is made in Marrakech and in Ouerzazate by men. This terracotta is not thrown in a wheel and offers a variety of forms. Sometimes, black and red geometric designs are traced over a white background, and the motifs are always simple.
This kind of earthenware is made of marls of clay and sand, and is covered with a glaze made of tin, that would give a dim white. Enamels were obtained from imported minerals such as cobalt and tin monoxide.
It is in Fes where the earthenware’s industry developed, during the 11th century and later it established in Meknass and in Assafi. The old Moroccan china was marked by the purity of its floral and geometric decoration and by its elaborate traceries and the delicacy of its tones. The decorations where of floral inspiration (clove, daisy), animal (birds, turtles), architectural (archways) and calligraphic.
The enameling was made of a mixture of lead monoxide and quartz sand, and was combined to a base of sodium and potassium, and to a binder, such as magnesium, nitrate or saltpeter. The components were made opaque by the adjoining of metal monoxides, which colored them. Copper would give, according to the degree of oxidation, shades of green, red, black or turquoise. Silver would give yellow; tin would give white, cobalt the blue and manganese the purple.
The Moroccan potters practiced the cult of saints, and their animist beliefs and magic practices are observed till today by most of the traditional potters. According to superstitious beliefs, the piece of clay that a potter shapes is sacred and it should be treated with respect, as a living creature. That is why many potters would have fetishes (hand of Fatima, iron hors-shoe, horse skull, etc.) hanging here and there, to protect their workshop from evil.
The potters of Fes had, for many times in winter, appealed to the blessings of God and of the saints for some sun shiny days, to dry their raw pottery work. They invoke the saints Sidi Ahmed El Bernoussi, Sidi Ali Bou Ghaleb, and their saint patron, Sidi Maïmoun El Fakhar.
The tanning of Leather
The oldest gilt of tanners was constituted in the city of Fes, where the abundance of water contributed, largely, in the development of the tanning industry. This activity demanded plenty of water, needed for the long soaking of the hides and for their multiple washing and rinsing, and the city was crossed, right in the middle, by two rivers. Furthermore, the city of Fes was situated in a zone of breeding, and was encircled by a set of mountains abounding in fur game. And last but not the least, foreign experience of the exiles of Kairawan, Andaloucia and Iran contributed in the growth of the tanning activity in Fes and not elsewhere in Morocco.
The industry of leather made the living of large part of the urban population, and fed a wide market of raw materials and of a multiple industry of shoemakers, bookbinders, saddlers and other leather goods trade. According to the geographer, Leon Africanus, the city of Fes produced, annually, about 400,000 processed leather skins. But tanning was not limited to the only city of Fes. This industry was practiced in many other cities of Morocco, and flourished in the city of Marrakech, during the Saâdien period.
The processes of Leather Tanning
1 - Salting: the skins of sheep, goat, gazelles, dromedaries and bovines are the raw material of tanneries. If fresh, the hides would be salted in the tannery. The skins are thoroughly salted on both sides and lied to dry in the sun. The salting of the skins is repeated during four days.
2 –The fleshing and soaking:. When the flesh and fat are removed from the skins, these are packed and thrown to a vat of water which must be refreshed constantly. This operation does not only clean the skins, but it does also, slightly, swell them. A quick result is achieved with warm, in one day of summer, and four days in winter
3 – The hair plucking (tiqli): The third step consists on removing the hair or wool of the skins. The skin is lied over a perch over which it is shaved with a sharp knife of a specialist.
4 – On the fourth step, the skins are immersed in two different lime bathing. First, in a bath of slaked lime, on which the skins remain soaked during 15 days in winter and 10 days in summer. Then up to one week in a quicklime bath. The procedure is too simple, when the lime of the second bath looses its scathing; it is shifted to the first bath.
5 - Skiving (tamris): On the fifth step, the skin is scraped and stoned on the flesh side with a crescent-shaped knife.
6 – On the sixth step, the skins are piled in vats of clean water to be purged of the lime that impregnated them during the former bathing. The skins are washed for two hours and then thrown to a second deeper vat, where teams of two or three workers trample them regularly with their feet. This tedious process lasts up to three hours, during which the tanners work almost nude, during any season, and the residue of lime harms their feet.
7 – On the seventh step, the skins are washed thoroughly with clean water in the “quasriya” a wide deep vat. The skins are then bathed, first in a solution of pigeons’ excrement, or “z’bel” for up to eight days. This bath hardens the skins. The tanning process concludes with the immersing of the skins, for one week, in a vat containing a solution of oil and tannin or takaout, and then they are laid out to dry in the sun.
8-The Dying- The eight and last step consists on the dying of the leather. The skins are steeped in vats of dye in which vegetable pigments, indigo (blue), madder, cochineal, or poppy (red), yellow weed, wall-nut skin, safflower (yellow), cumin, meant (green) were mixed with mordant to fix the colors. The dyed leather was then laid out on the ground to dry in the sun. Today chemical products are used, instead, for both tanning and dying.