Traditional Moroccan weaving: Women’s culture
In the social fabric of the Ait and Rayin tribes in Morocco, a woman’s status is based on her experience and her social role. At the economic level, she plays an important role by helping her husband with income-generating crafts and trades. She works in the fields, easing the burden on her husband, the main breadwinner. In these tribes, weaving and knitting are among women’s most prominent income-generating activities, driven by necessity. Women used to combine textile making with other everyday tasks such as parenting, breeding livestock and preparing meals; they usually weaved or knitted in their free time.
In the past, weaving was considered women’s work in the Arab countries, particularly in North Africa, although this work is increasingly being taken over by men. Weaving and knitting were common activities for the women of the Ait and Rayin tribes, according to their financial needs. How were women able to weave and knit, given their other responsibilities? How advanced was the knitting? What tools did they use? Were knitting and weaving art forms or means of generating an income for the women of the Ait and Rayin tribes? What techniques did they use? What kind of textiles did they make? Were traditional textiles affected by globalization and modern technology? This paper focuses on such questions.
Traditional textiles are regarded as the most important legacy of the Ait and Rayin tribes and their most important historical record, especially as the textiles were made by women. Textile making played a significant role in the social life of these tribes, and in the daily lives of these women. This role, which has received little attention in academic and social studies, merits greater consideration by the researcher.
Like other Berber (Amazigh) tribal women in Morocco, the women of the Ait and Rayin tribes weaved to meet their families’ immediate financial and social needs. Their husbands would sell their creations; textiles were considered an important part of tribal culture and they commanded social respect. Women weaved woolen blankets and garments because of the cold.
Today’s women no longer value or even think about traditional weaving because they lack time and the necessary skills; these skills died out with the traditional women of these tribes, according to Jacques Berque.
The gradual decline of this industry began when modern technology came to the Moroccan desert, and society started to change. Weaving was no longer associated with the desert when cities gained modern means of production. The family was no longer the main source of weaving. As a result, weaving is no longer considered artistic in the tribal system; the focus shifted to production, marketing and profit-making. Natural decorations and dyes were replaced by chemicals, the laboratory replaced the tent, and family workmanship was replaced by factories.
Like Jacques Berque, we wonder whether the modern technology that led to the decline of this traditional craft could return it to its former status, where there were significant decorative styles and geometric shapes inspired by the natural landscape.