Moroccan Rugs craftsmanship in Taznakht: a specific activity and product

September 09, 2022 10 min read

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Moroccan Rugs craftsmanship in Taznakht: a specific activity and product

All the chroniclers who have passed through the territory of the Aït Ouaouzguite, at the foot of Jebel Siroua (province of Ouarzazate), have mentioned the importance of the production of carpets and weavings and the beauty of the products. This craft, intended both for domestic consumption and for sale, has therefore constituted, for generations, an essential activity of the tribes as a subsidiary resource for the majority of families, who all have a weaving loom. The name "Ouaouzguite" also means "the people who work the wool to weave carpets", and the twisted and colored yarn used in the weaving of carpets is locally called "Zguite". The production of carpets is thus one of the expressions of the identity of the Aït Ouaouzguite territory, an identity that includes that of the douars (where the carpets are woven) as much as that of the mountain from which the wool comes, and refers in memory of the generations of breeders and weavers who slowly and jointly developed the product. However, each sub-tribe has also developed its own style, which results from the weaving methods, the use of colors or patterns, and these different carpets are often referred to by the name of the sub-tribe: the Aït Touaya use a single pattern, repeated over the entire carpet, which can be monochromatic or use several colors; the Aït Khouzama, influenced by the carpets of Rabat, use a field centered by one or more medallions and horizontal edges set with spandrels; the Aït Ouagharda tribe produces the finest and most original carpets, with the use of undyed black wool; these carpets are inspired by the akhnif (heavy men's cloaks made from black wool and decorated with colorful patterns, in the production of which the sub-tribe was once specialized) and bear their name. Aït Ouaouzguite rugs (now commonly called "Taznakht rugs") are renowned throughout the country and beyond its borders. Their production is based on know-how held mainly by women, and it comes mainly from several douars of the territory: it is therefore a production that is as rural as it is feminine.

The Taznakht rug is a high wool rug with knotted stitches: a canvas fabric made up of warp and weft threads on which knots are mounted according to specific patterns combined according to the inspiration of the weaver. Each rug is a unique specimen that above all reflects the sensitivity of the weaver, or the message she sends to the person for whom she intends the rug. The technical aspect remains subordinate to the artistic and personal expression. The hanbel (also called akhnif) is a carpet formed solely from woolen weaving, without the addition of knots.

The raw material: wool from Siroua

In Taznakht, as in the whole of Amazigh Morocco, wool is perceived as a gift from heaven and takes on a sacred character. It also protects against bad influences. Its treatment is therefore carried out with particular care.

The wool used in the production of these carpets comes from sheep of the Aït Barka breed, raised on the high pastures of Jbel Siroua. The specific attributes of this breed as well as the vegetation of high altitude pastures dependent on snowmelt water guarantee the excellence of the product: a silky and shiny wool with fine and long fibers. There are different qualities of wool, depending on whether it comes from living or dead animals, and depending on the age of the sheep (the smaller they are, the finer the wool and the higher the price). Only the white wool is used for the carpets, rarer and more resistant, being reserved for the production of tents and clothing.

The preparation of the wool

The preparation of the wool is a long process (washing, carding and combing which serve to separate the long fibers from the short ones, spinning, to obtain strong threads – for the weft – and soft threads, dyeing) which is based on fine observations of the base product and requires, especially for spinning, specific dexterity. Until recently, raw wool was dyed using vegetable bases (madder for red, pomegranate bark for intense beige yellow, saffron for light yellow, indigo and dates for deep blue, henna for brown, or even eucalyptus roots, charcoal for black rugs, walnut bark, mugwort, rue, fenugreek). Dyes of the same intensity can be combined at will and always give a harmonious color composition, never garish.

The manufacture of the carpet

The production of carpets requires obedience to rites still observed today by the weavers.

The making of the rug begins with the weaving, carried out on simple vertical looms, easy to assemble and transport, consisting of a frame of wooden beams, reed stems and cords. The patterns are inscribed on the chain so as to constitute a model which will be reinforced or attenuated by the last stage of manufacture: knotting. The density of the knots depends on the technical quality of the rug, but also on its aesthetic value. This density depends on the size of the rug, but it is above all a function of the precision sought in the reproduction of the patterns. The height of the pile also contributes decisively to the sharpness of this transposition of the pattern and makes it possible to conceive in advance the softness or the hardness of the contrasts between the colors as between the designs.

The patterns used in the area rugs are based on the arrangement of basic geometric patterns (the line, the square, the diamond, the triangle). More than a naive art, they constitute the grammar of a graphic and symbolic language. Each motif is in fact associated with a meaning stemming from a set of beliefs found throughout Amazigh art, and referring as much to protection against the evil eye (diamonds) as to "baraka" or to fertility (fig. 1).

Artistic expression and heritage production

The arrangement of the patterns on the handmade Moroccan rugs is the specific work of each weaver, a One of a kind.

On the basis of an invariant technical and symbolic framework, it therefore refers to the specific language of the weavers. Berber rugs are the result of a mix between tradition and creativity, and it is associated, beyond the know-how of the weavers, with their sensitivity and with what they seek to express through their production: a "writing of silence", a tale stemming from the patience and inner world of weavers.

The Taznakht  one of a kind Berber rugs can also be considered as a specific work of the Siroua mountain: in the midst of the austere gravity of this dry mountain, The carpet brings a note of luxury and gaiety. The patterns are common to the entire Amazigh world, but the dominant colors are specific to the region: if dark red dominates the carpets of the Middle Atlas, yellow sparkles here with all its fires (bright yellow, straw yellow, saffron). This liveliness of the colors, associated with the raw character of the wool and the inventiveness of the weavers, is the signature of the carpets of Taznakht. Beyond the personal messages contained in each carpet, all the pieces produced reflect all the states of the mountain and its valleys, its wheat fields, the golden head of its sunny houses . It is the result of a story, mythical and historical, of the tribe which refers to past generations, close or more distant, to their know-how as much as to their religious culture or their artistic inspiration. It appears as a particular narrative genre that actively participates in social construction in all its dimensions: cultural and ideological, economic, territorial.

Figure 1: The main decorative symbols of Taznakht carpets.

The main decorative symbols of Moroccan rugs

The large rhombus, timrit (the mirror), reflects the rays of the evil eye (fig. 1), the rhombus open towards the outside (the lion's paw) retains it (fig. 2). The herringbone line with outward continuations, lmanchra (saw), symbolizes the presence of the blacksmiths (fig. 3) who are looked upon with great esteem, because the metal protects against the jnouns. The timzin (grains of wheat) motif (fig. 4) represents fertility, and the small diamond with the symbol of five, tit n'tsakourt (partridge's eye) (fig. 5), is one of the symbols of beauty of the Amazigh woman. The elhatif (checkerboard: small triangles that form a large colored triangle) (fig. 6), tadchort (frog) (fig. 7), ikfer (turtle) (fig. 8) and taulit (spider) patterns ) (fig. 9) are associated with fertility and baraka. The pattern that looks like a tree (fig. 10) is likened to the snake, symbol of a holy agram that has medical and magical virtues.

What is changing?

Formerly a complementary means of subsistence, handmade Moroccan rugs making is becoming more and more frequently a main source of income. From material and symbolic domestic use, production is turning more and more towards marketing, which leads to significant changes both in the technical chain of production and in the creative aspect. This commodification has, for example, prompted the almost systematic use of chemical dyes, because the simplicity of their application, the shortened duration of the process and the ease with which they can be combined give them a considerable lead over natural dyes. However, as the market demands rather "old-fashioned" Berber rugs, it is often necessary to artificially reduce their shine by successive washings, or even by prolonged stays in mud or cow dung, to achieve a result similar to that obtained with natural dyes. This is therefore clearly akin to falsification.

Market pressure is also leading to a fundamental change in the use of patterns which, from meaning as they were, are reduced to being a simple decorative element. Each carpet is no longer a unique work carrying a message, but a stereotyped painting replicated (admittedly, always by hand and by the same weavers) at will.

Finally, the fame of this specific craft attracting more and more tourists and buyers, we find today in Taznakht one of a kind Berber rugs from the whole Atlas: kilims from the Middle and High Atlas, white rugs and blacks from the Beni Ouarain tribe of the Middle Atlas, thick rugs, madder red or indigo blue, from Chichaoua: a heterogeneous ensemble in which the specificity of local production dissolves, or remains visible only to true specialists. What's more, this "One of a kind handmade Moroccan rugs business" has led to a hypertrophy of the sector, the positive effects of which do not always go to the first interested parties: the weavers. The exhibition bazaars and intermediaries hide the production workshops where the latter are exploited.

A booming sector

For a long time, the production and development of  one of a kind handmade moroccan rugs remained confined to the family circle, with a distribution of tasks according to gender: women were assigned to the preparation of wool and weaving, with an average of 6 hours spent every day, at home, on the loom; the men were in charge of carrying the production to the souk. This domestic entrepreneurship thus ensured a direct return of the profits of production to the family, in the form of cash or consumer goods purchased at the souk. The sale of carpets was the main source of household income. It is only recently that a dedicated sector has emerged, outside the family framework, and with a complex organization, with a multiplication of actors and places of production and sale. This sector is numerically dominated by women (according to the director of the Crafts Agency in Taznakht, the production of moroccan rugs and hanbels rugs supports more than 23,000 weavers), but remains largely in the hands of men, who accompany the production chain either upstream, for the production of wool or the supply of raw materials to weavers, or downstream, for marketing from the douars to shops and local markets, and for export outside the territory , the weavers never participating directly in the sale themselves.

Places and players in the sector

The souk

The weekly souk of Taznakht has always been the main platform for trade in crafts in the Siroua region, and one of the centers of the economic dynamics of the Draa Tafilalet region. It is held on Thursdays in the outskirts of the municipality. It is often the first point of direct sale. Until the mid-2000s, the men of the douars who were unable to present their products themselves for sale entrusted them one or two days in advance to criers. The owners set the selling price themselves; if the product was not sold, they rewarded the criers, according to their generosity, from 25 to 50 Dh per Moroccan rug. Before starting the bidding, the auctioneers said a prayer in which they asked God for prosperity and gain for both buyer and seller.

Today, vendors display their wares early. The buyers are either rare tourists, or intermediaries who will resell the carpets in the major tourist centers (Marrakech, Ouarzazate, Agadir), or traders.


Among the merchants, there are first of all those who market the products necessary for the manufacture of handmade Moroccan rugs (wool, dyes). Then come the owners of shops located next to the old souk in the center of the municipality, who often play the role of intermediary: they collect the carpets (offered for sale by the husbands of the weavers, bought at the souk or directly in douars) for roadside traders or those in major tourist centers. Finally, there are about ten exhibition shop owners. These are storage and sales points, located along the main road. The most beautiful pieces are exhibited every day on displays deployed in front of the shop to attract tourists. Some shops even offer potential buyers a weaving demonstration, and some have created their own website for distance selling.

The collectors

A large part of the collectors of handmade Moroccan rugs go directly to the douars. They are not content to buy the carpets from the weavers, but often supply the latter with the raw materials, then reimbursing themselves on the sale. When they know the weaver and are sure of the quality of her products, they can even advance the money from the sale to the head of the household, thus placing the family in a situation of financial dependence. Through these advance purchases, skilled weavers are gradually transformed into workers in the pay of itinerant traders. The latter resell what they buy either directly in the Taznakht souk or in distant tourist centers. Other collectors get their supplies from the souk.

Cooperative societies

According to the Local Crafts Agency, Taznakht has, in 2015, 16 cooperatives whose purpose is the production and marketing of handmade Moroccan rugs. These cooperatives are of little benefit to the weavers. Indeed, only one cooperative, created by the Copart project in 19894,The weaving workshop is really managed by women; the others, generally managed by men, are content to collect and market the carpets woven by the women of the douars. This situation is not easy to reverse: in addition to the fact that the passage from the domestic space to a semi-public place can be experienced by women as a "social ordeal", work is too weakly remunerated (see below). However, it should evolve, because nine cooperatives being set up are led by women and are dedicated as much to production as to marketing.

Craft businesses

There is no private weaving workshop registered in the legal form of a business (ie registered in the commercial registers) in the territory of Taznakht. On the other hand, five "associations", mainly from the Old Village or the Tallust village on the outskirts of Taznakht, seem to be companies in disguise. These are private structures whose origin is linked to tourist activities (transport, support, etc.). Their actors are mainly men who have worked in the tourist sphere in Marrakech or Ouarzazate and mobilize their networks in tourism to embark on an economic activity around weaving handmade Moroccan rugs.

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