Berbers in Al-Maġrib, North Africa
The heat of the sun and dryness formed the Sahara Desert, the world's largest desert, in northern Africa. Amidst the dry sand and dust, Morocco, located in the northwestern part of the Sahara, is known as "a cool land under the scorching sun."
Like the Central Mountains of Taiwan blocking the typhoon from the east, the Atlas Mountains in the north of Africa block the hot air from the desert, keeping the northern part of the mountains humid and comfortable. The region is called "Al-Maġrib", covering modern time Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. From the Al-Maġrib area to the Western Sahara Desert, there is a group of ancient inhabitants and traditional nomads called "Berbers".
"Berbers" are not referring to a single ethnic group. They are the general term for many tribal people there who are similar in culture, politics, economy, and lifestyle. Since ancient times, the Berbers have called themselves "Amazigh", which means "free people" or "noble people." The name Berber did not appear until years after the invasion of outsiders in the fourth century. "Berber" comes from the Greek word "barbari" (barbarian), but the original meaning of the word has gradually faded, and it has become the main common name for the nomadic people living there nowadays. ( see more about Berber cultural movement and Mouloud Mammeri)
Peaceful Life of Berbers
The Berbers are very proud of their culture and consciously preserve their traditions to a considerable extent. Their houses are mostly cave dwellings. They build them from mud, or dig holes in the mounds of the plateau, and live in the caves. Mud caves are warm in winter and cool in summer. Since the local climate is too dry for mosquitoes, screen windows or doors are not required.
The Berbers who insist on a frugal life make everything with their own hands from scratch. They build houses from mud, weave blankets from wool or camel hair, produce flour and bread from wheat, grow dates and olives, and even twist and dye fabric and cotton thread to make clothes. Every home raise cattle, sheep, and dogs. Camels are used as a means of transportation.
The Precious Tradition of leather crafts
The region is well-known for their soft leather, which has hundreds of years of tanning history. The relatively humid climate of Al-Maġrib allows the Berbers to raise cattle, sheep, donkeys, camels and other livestock. In addition to transportation and meat source, the fur and leather from livestock are fully utilized and thus laying a solid foundation for their leather craftsmanship. Leather products can be seen everywhere in the lives of Berbers. Besides the Babouche slippers, leather chairs and stools can also be found in their living rooms.
The Berber baskets
The Berbers live a simple and natural life. The plastic products are rarely seen. They use hand-woven baskets as daily storage and accessories. Berber women use palm, wheat stalk and other plant fibers to make baskets for storing clothes, wood, fruits, etc. The hand-weaving techniques are the wisdom passed down among generations of Berber women.
In Moroccan culture, bread is regarded precious and sacred. People cherish food. Discarding bread is extremely disrespectful. The Berber basket, at first, is a container to store the traditional crusty bread, Khobz. It is woven with palm fiber and wrapped with wool as decoration. Because each one is handmade and slightly different, every single basket is thus unique in design and pattern. Nowadays, the bread baskets are not only used for bread, but as multi-functional storage boxes for snacks, keys, potted plants, etc. They become part of the home furnishings.
Pillowcase and hand-woven wool blanket
The warm sunshine, sandy soil and climate of Al-Maġrib is perfect for the cacti. The cactus fiber and wool are woven with fine silk threads, and the delicate texture has become one of the most well-known local products in Morocco. It is dyed with natural dyes made from plants. Their colors might not be as bright as artificial ones, but the results are natural and beautiful. The simple patterns are inspired by the nature, mostly geometric figures or flowers, plants, insects and fish.
The soft woolen knitting is heavily involved with the traditional life of the Berber herders. The weaving of the blanket (Beni) is a traditional craft of Berber women. They weave their story into the blankets, combined with the Arab national customs and the Berber totems, and finally fill they home with these beautiful minimalist tapestries, carpets and cushions.