Traditional trades and crafts in the Moroccan city of Taza during the French occupation: The unchanging and the changed
Craftsmen and artisans generated trade and attracted inhabitants to urban regions in Morocco and throughout the Islamic and Arab world. Craftsmen and artisans made up a significant proportion of the population in Moroccan cities, and they made important contributions, second only to agriculture, to the country’s economy by generating trade and taxes.
However, in Taza, this sector underwent changes when the city became a French protectorate. Immediately after the city was occupied in 1914, many European immigrants flooded to Taza, among them affluent traders who brought capital that they used to establish various industries. These industries benefited from the support of the French administration, which sought to reduce the expense of imported goods and build a solid foundation to serve its interests. As a result, the economy of the city changed, but it affected traditional crafts and trades negatively. So, what was the fate of local crafts and trades after the occupation of the city?
European trade brought products that negatively impacted traditional trades and crafts. While it is true that some crafts adapted during the early years of the city’s occupation, and these artisans maintained their status, these crafts benefited from their location within the old city at a time when the new city was still growing. Statistics from 1926 confirm that some traditional crafts survived the shift; there were 116 weavers, (which shows that the textile industry was thriving), 7 saddle cloth makers, 3 tanneries and 37 blacksmiths.
However, a number of crafts disappeared, while many other crafts were negatively affected because they could not adapt to the new circumstances. The most heavily impacted crafts were tanning and soap-making. In 1936, Moussard noted, “The professions of tanning and soap-making have been lost and there are 26 weavers... and charities are trying to help 26 weavers and manufacturers of decorated leather products.” The demise of tanning and the damage to the textile industry can be explained by the dramatic invasion of lower priced imports; soap making was negatively impacted by soap imported from Marseille.
Tracking the status of craft in Taza at the time of the French administration shows major shifts that affected its productivity and its economic role. With the exception of some professional trades such as carpet making, traditional trades experienced a crisis when they were forced to compete in the new economy. Moreover, the social role of crafts declined after many manufacturers and craftsmen went bankrupt, thus making the craft industry only the second largest employer. This strengthened the colonialists’ control of the economy, and economic power shifted from the old city to the new city, where Europeans built new and sophisticated industries.
Jalal Zayn Al Abdin