This summer, Terra Adorn will be embarking on a journey to Morocco! Join us on a virtual trip of this stunning country through our new Moroccan blog series. This week, we will delve into the rich crafts of the Berbers, or, as they refer to themselves, the Imazighen (singular: Amazigh).
Morocco is located in northwest Africa. The country has fertile plains and encompasses famous geographical elements such as the majestic Atlas Mountains and the scorching Sahara Desert. While temperatures differ between parts of Morocco (e.g. southern Morocco has higher temperatures and coastal areas are cooler), overall, the country has a subtropical climate.
Morocco has a population of about 33,986,655 (as of July 2017). The majority of this population (99%) is Muslim. Moroccans mainly speak Arabic and Amazigh, the country’s official languages, as well as French (which is often used for government, business, and diplomacy dealings). In terms of residency, most Moroccans live in cities. Some of the more well-known cities include Morocco’s capital (Rabat), Fez, and Marrakech. It is also home to the city where the romantic film of the same name, Casablanca, takes place.
In 1912, the French and Spanish each established a protectorate in Morocco. In 1956, Morocco gained independence from these protectorates (although Spain still controls the cities, Melilla and Ceuta). With these foreign occupations and its closeness to other countries, it is no surprise that today, Morocco is a mix of many cultures including Arab, Jewish, Moorish-Andalusian, French, Roman, and Amazigh.
The Imazighen are an indigenous, semi-nomadic group from North Africa whose history dates back 9,000 years. Today, most Imazighen live in Algeria, Niger, Mauritania, Libya, Tunisia, Mali, and Morocco. Since the Imazighen are spread out across multiple countries, it is easy to see that they do not compromise a monolithic culture; each Amazigh group differs from others in various ways. For example, motifs, costumes, and jewelry can vary with each tribe. However, the Imazighen share some broad commonalities, such as a deep connection to their land, community, and spirituality (like the broader Moroccan population, the Imazighen are predominantly Muslim).
Imazighen in Morocco
The Imazighen are the main inhabitants of the country’s rural regions and mainly reside in or near Morocco’s mountainous regions.
Despite their large presence, nationwide recognition of Amazigh culture and their contributions to Morocco has been severely stunted. However, even in the face of cultural erasure, the Imazighen have continued to assert their importance and preserve their culture in a number of ways. Although it seems inconsequential, rejecting the name given to them by other cultures (the more well-known “Berber”) in favor of a name they chose for themselves is an empowering act of resistance in itself. Fittingly, “Imazighen” translates to the “free” people.
As with craftsmen from other indigenous groups (like our Wintukua artisan, Gorawin Torres Chopporo), Imazighen also keep their culture alive by continuing to create traditional goods. For the Imazighen, this includes leather, swords, knives, and much more. To showcase such fine artistry and Amazigh culture in general, the Berber Museum opened at the Jardin Majorelle (Majorelle Garden) in 2011. The museum celebrates many of these crafts, including jewelry.
Traditional Amazigh jewelry is silver. Other materials used include glass, coins, shells, beads, coral, and amber. Imazighen use these items to create jewelry such as bracelets, necklaces, earrings, brooches, and head ornaments.
These jewelry pieces are often passed down from mother to daughter. Soon-to-be husbands can also give Amazigh women jewelry as a portion of the bridewealth.
Amazigh artisans employ a variety of jewelry-making techniques including, chiselling, casting, using cabochons (a non-faceted gem that is convex and polished), and engraving. Some of these techniques reflect the multiculturality of Amazigh heritage. For example, the Greeks brought filigree, piercing, granulation, repouseé and engraving to the craft. Romans introduced interssaile and niello.
Jews also had a huge affect on Amazigh jewelry through gilding and and enamelling. They also influenced the craft through some of the aforementioned techniques also associated with the Greeks and Romans. As with the Greeks, the Jews impacted Amazigh jewelry through their well-known work in filigree. Like the Romans, Jews brought niello to Amazigh jewelry as well.
For the western Amazigh group known as the Ida Ou Semlal, bracelets are either shaped like an arch or are fastened on hinges. Amazigh bracelets from groups in this region are usually silver and are adorned with red, yellow, and green enamelled pieces. These enamelled pieces often surround a piece of cut glass that accordingly shines as it projects out from the bracelet’s overall flat surface.
Left: Pair of fibulae (tizerais), 19th–20th century. Morocco. Silver, enameled glass, H. 46 1/2 in. (118 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Marguerite McBey, 1981 (1981.5.2). Right: Pair of ear ornaments (tikhrazin or douwwah), 19th–first half of 20th century. Attributed to Morocco. Silver (?) filigree and glass, 3 1/2 x 2 x 1/8 in. (8.9 x 5.1 x .3 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Helen Winslow Durkee Mileham, 1954 (55.111.40 and 55.111.41)
Ear ornaments such as khoras kbach/khoras amara and tikhrazin are large. To support their weight, many of these ornaments are not attached to one’s ears. Instead, they are fastened to chains that are connected to a jewel on a headscarf or a diadem, or to the wearer’s hair.
Perhaps the most iconic piece of Amazigh jewelry is the tizerzaï or fibulae, a large pair of triangular, silver clasps that includes pins and rings to secure women’s wrappings and veils. These clasps can be enameled, decorated with fine filigree, or engraved with geometric designs.
The tizeraï can also incorporate a decorative band or chains that connect at a bead known as a tagmout. The connection of these pieces create a pectoral that artfully drapes over the wearer’s chest.
As shown with the tizerzaï, Amazigh jewelry is not only an adornment; it has functional purposes as well. For starters, the southeastern Moroccan Amazigh tribe, the Aït Atta, has star-shaped self-defense bracelets. Additionally, since jewelry is an Amazigh woman’s private property (that they can therefore sell), owning jewelry serves as a source of women’s economic power. Of course, creating jewelry also empowers women economically.
Amazigh jewelry is also purported to work as protective talismans and charms. The pointed shape of the tizerzaï is said to have powers that destroy the evil eye. Certain shapes used in Amazigh jewelry are also believed to ward off disease. Some materials, like coral, are thought to bring a bounty of blessings.
For the Amazigh and other North African groups, women’s jewelry represents milestones like marriage. Jewelry also signifies wealth, social status, and are indicators of specific tribal membership.
Besides Amazigh jewelry’s general symbolic meaning, many artistic symbols are present in its designs. Such artistic symbols include the egg shape of tagmout beads, which represent women’s fertility. In line with this feminine connection, triangular shapes represent a variety of figures such as the goddess Tanit, or a woman’s bodily form.
Symbolic colors are employed in Amazigh jewelry as well. Most notably, the silver that it is traditionally crafted out of represents purity.
Loss of Tradition?
Despite these changes and imitations, traditional silver jewelry (such as a the taounza, or diadem) still continues to play an important role in weddings. It is so crucial that brides sometimes go to the length of borrowing pieces from family and friends. In addition to the Imazighen who uphold tradition by wearing silver jewelry (even if it is occasionally), there are still some Amazigh artisans who continue to create these stunning, culturally rich pieces. Even in the midst of change, the beauty of Amazigh craft tradition and the strength of their people lives on.
Be sure to look for our next exploration into more of the brilliant artisans and crafts of Morocco!
Author: Jazzy Celindro, Terra Adorn Ethnographic Writer