Rags to Richesse

Berber rag rugs from Morocco and their spontaneous compositions

The weaving of rag rugs (bocherouite) made by Berber (Amazigh) women in Morocco continues an ancient textile tradition based on the availability wool--and continues, spiritually charged, vivid in color and rich with tradition, based on the availability of rags.

Carpets are made for home use and are seen as indicators of a woman’s versatility and control of the hearth.  Textiles carry valences of fertility.  Metaphor and hidden meanings are intrinsic facets of storytelling.  Wool was so important when it was accessible that it became a metaphor of spiritual force itself.  It is symbolic of the benevolent functioning of Nature: wool happens because God gives rain.  Wool is an end result of God’s fecundating Nature.  This is why its recycling was always more than a mere economic factor.
 
The power of wool gives the act of weaving a ritualistic aspect.  Once the warp threads are attached the textile is born and now has a soul.  It moves through the phases of life in the weaver’s process.  Weaving is a life force.
 
It is instructive to understand the historical reality of Moroccan history in the Twentieth Century. Much of current Amazigh life is a response to French colonialism. Morocco has not been frozen in an Orientalist vision of Western standards of authenticity. The Amazigh people have to a large extent, remained freestanding of the Arab culture.  In this case the Mountain did not go to Mohammed.  They have maintained their language.  The center of this resistance and retention has been not of traditions, as much as identities, and it is a fact that the Amazigh women are still the foundation of that cultural identity.  For any number of reasons they have been the center of the language, the imagery, the rhythms of life despite uprooting, despite urbanization, despite deep Colonialism.
 
As the Amazigh, traditionally nomadic, moved toward urban centers and become sedentary, they lost their flocks of sheep, but the need for their weavings, on functional, cultural, and spiritual levels, continued. The rag they use is various and is comprised of wool, cotton, synthetic fibers, Lurex, nylon and plastic. A woman will make perhaps seven rugs over the course of a generation. Almost without exception, she avoids rigid symmetrical compositions. Along with the very practical comfort and warmth the weavings provide, they also serve an amuletic function. Should evil intention find its way to the doorstep, it will be confounded and confused, tangled in restless patterns and unable to perform its dark work.

The creativity expressed in the rugs is traditional and expansive; flux and change are a part of all life and necessary for survival and expansion. The allure of these fabulous weavings is such that they run the risk of becoming commercial, of being made to order by color lots and size. If this is the fate of these fabulous, joyous, individual weavings, then it will be up to the women to find another mode of expression that is as culturally rich and deeply personal, a challenge they have historically met with ingenuity and expansiveness.

Randall Morris has written several articles on the rag rugs of the Berber of Morocco. Shari Cavin has distilled the writings into the above essay. Twenty-five years ago they formed Cavin-Morris Gallery. More rugs can be seen on the gallery website: www.cavinmorris.com, which offers a link to two on-line catalogs on Boucherouite weavings.

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