Posted by R. John Howe on 09-15-2003 11:12 AM:

Are There Designs or Techniques in Moroccan Rugs That Came from the Wider Islamic Tra

Dear folks –

Looking, again, for something else, I came in Hali 52, onto an article about Moroccan carpets by James Jereb, of whom I do not know, but who is described there as an artist, art historian and gallery owner in New Mexico, here in the States.

If you have this issue, you should likely stop here a read what Jereb has said, but I'll mine him a bit for others here.

Jereb’s treatment provides still another perspective on the debate about whether it is more appropriate to see the Berber culture of Morocco as “isolationist,” or more “internationalist,” in its character, the latter being needed to admit the possibility that Moroccan weaving reflects Islamic usages from afar.

This article is also of interest because it presents some Moroccan weavings that are very attractive and interesting.

Jereb’s historical account suggests that the Berber’s were very active traders in North Africa but were initially largely oriented to the black societies to their south. But with the arrival of the Arabs, they became middlemen in a trade that went as far East as the “frontiers of Eygpt.”

One of the questions I have had in this salon, is whether there is either design or structure evidence in Moroccan weavings that suggest that Moroccan weavers were influenced by the broader, distant world of Islamic art.

Jereb believes that the pre-Islamic beliefs of the Berbers were not entirely displaced by their conversion to Islam, and that far from not knowing any longer what some non-Islamic designs in their weavings mean, that such notions as the “evil eye,” continue to have great motive force. He shows a particularly interesting cape with a large red “eye” of the sort often used.

Now it may be claimed that since the notion of an “evil eye” is prevalent in many Muslim societies and is often seen as a prophylactic against “djinn” that this usage is specifically Islamic, but my reading suggests that this exclusiveness of ownership remains to be established. Nevertheless, the evil eye might be seen in part as one instance of design influence in Moroccan weavings that came from the wider Islamic society.

Jereb also holds that “During the entire process of yarn production there is an awareness of the spirit world.” That “Alone among African and Islamic weavers, the Berbers believe that their finished weavings evoke a power capable of protecting not only with weaver and her family but the textile itself.”

In his discussion of weavings from the Tennsift area, which he says is, by traditions, seen to be inhabited by Bedouins from the East, there are, “after centuries of intermarriage,” designs in their weavings “which refer to both their original and their adopted cultures.” He does not elaborate on which designs here make which reference but offers another very beautiful textile as and example of this phenomenon.

Perhaps others can decode its designs for us with regard to such influence.

In a discussion related to the “evil eye” reference above, Jereb notes “the hand of Fatima” and says that this design is common in many Islamic countries and “can be represented by a variety of stylizations, including crosses, either at right angles or diagonally, triangles, lozenges (eyes) or wasm.”

This reference affords me the opportunity to show you another very attractive piece that appears on the cover of this Hali issue. It offers crosses, among other designs.

It may be that Jereb has successfully pointed to some instances in which designs from the wider Islamic world are reflected in Moroccan weavings but there is something dissatisfying about its specificity. Should we, for example, be looking for similarities between, say, Moroccan textile designs and those produced by the Mamluks? The minuteness of detail one sees in Mamluks does seem to resemble that one sees in some Moroccan designs, but a more systematic demonstration of such similarities seems to me still to be needed.

OK, what about structural features? Are there distinctive structural features in Moroccan weavings that seem to signal usages taken again from the Islamic world at a distance? Jereb points to a number of distinctive Moroccan structural features, for example, the “skip plain weave” in which the flatwoven face is seen as the front and what most might see as the pile side is the back. And there is a distinctive Berber knot, but it is not used by weavers in other countries.

Jereb offers one Moroccan structural usage that seems to have originated in the distant Islamic world. He quotes Reswick at indicating that “the earliest Moroccan weavers used the hoop cut or uncut loop in their weavings; both these knotting techniques were probably introduced by the Arabs during the 7th or 8th centuries. The ‘akrus’ or clove hitch is similar to the technique used in the urban rugs of Rabat: it resembles the symmetric knot---looping around two warp threads---and is used in both the Middle and High Atlas weaving although it is common to the Middle East generally.”

Unless I misunderstand, the symmetric knot itself is not claimed to be a specifically Islamic usage. It occurs, for example, in the Pazyrkyk carpet now carbon dated to the fourth or the fifth century B.C. But it may well be that the hoop cut or uncut loom techniques used by Moroccan weavers in earlier times, demonstrate early Arab and Islamic technical influence on Moroccan weaving.

I would ask our hosts whether they seen additional design or technical indications in Moroccan weaving of influence from the wider Islamic world.

Just one more nice textile for no reason in particular from Jereb’s article.


R. John Howe

Posted by Steve Price on 09-15-2003 12:38 PM:

Hi John

The "evil eye" is common to most (maybe all) Islamic societies, but is very much more widespread than that. You also find it in much of Europe, paricularly along the Mediterranean (in Italy it's referred to as "malocchio", or "bad eye"), and at least as far east as Japan. I don't know that the Japanese refer to it in the same terms, but it is part of their culture that things of value be concealed to prevent envy from others. No Japanese shop sells anything so inexpensive and humble that the shop owner will hand it to you unwrapped. There is a similar custom in Turkey, with a similar basis.


Steve Price

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 09-16-2003 06:16 AM:

Hi John,

It believe that the pieces shown in the current salon are made with the weft-substitution technique. Right?
Let’s see this, at least.

Marla Mallett writes in "Woven Structures" that the technique is used in Afshar, Baluch, Turkmen weaving as well as North African ones.

There are few structural limitations in weft-substitution designing, although the technique encourages banded layouts with small, repeated motifs…

Weft substitution has not been used, to my knowledge, in the Caucasus or Anatolia. Since it is not a standard textile construction worldwide, its appearance in Iran and Maghreb raises questions of cultural diffusion worth investigating.

Here is a detail from Boucher’s plate 51, a Baluch flat-weave, with "A magnificent frame of seven weft-float ivory borders" and medallions separated by "bands of weft-float".
Weft-float is another definition of weft-substitution.

Well, in those borders and bands I see some similarities with the Moroccan examples on this Salon.
What do you think?

Could the technique be responsible for the similarities?



Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 09-16-2003 06:46 AM:

Hi again John,

And what about plate 120 of J. Housego’s "Tribal Rugs"?
It is not known if it was woven by Baluch or Kirman (so, possibly Afshar) tribes and the technique is not mentioned but it reminds me of the rugs you posted in this thread.



Posted by R. John Howe on 09-16-2003 10:41 AM:

Hi Filiberto -

Yes, weaving structures that are used on a widespread basis that also includes Morocco might signal the influence of the wider world of Islamic art on such weavings.

I guess I was looking for markers that might be more specific. Something more like the "hoop cut or uncut loop" structures mentioned above, but perhaps that is unrealistic.

Different but related subject. You pointed me yesterday to a Hali issue with diagrams of knots including the Berber knot. Here it is just to make this usage concrete:

Starting in the upper left is what is called the "Arab-Spanish" knot (different from the Spanish knot which is tied over one warp).

Then iii and iv are, asymmetric knot open to the left and asymmetric knot, open to the right (usages rare in Morocco).

v and vi are "jufti" versions of these two asymmetric knot (they are tied around four rather than two warps.

viia and viib are the knots of most interest to us here because they are two versions of the "Berber knot."

The symmetric knot, which is widely used in Moroccan weaving, is not treated in this particular diagram.


R. John Howe

Posted by David R.E. Hunt on 09-19-2003 05:21 PM:

"Khamsa"= "Hand of Fatima"?

Dear John and All- My wife has just recently returned from home at El Kellah Des Sraghnas on the Marrakech Plain and within walking distance of the High Atlas, and brought with her an interesting assortment of jewlry/amulets produced by Berber craftsmen.

She, as with the Italian, refers to the "Bad Eye" as opposed to the evil eye. Note the variation in the drawing, some even containing actual eyes as opposed to representations, and in some cases the hand is rendered in an almost unrecognizable form, yet all are Khamsa, as she refers to them. I should note that the lower spade shaped pendant in the first photo is Tuareg and not Berber. All of the enamled pieces and the larger Khamsa are Berber, some of the others could have a different origin, as sometimes merchandise portrayed as Berber isn't.- Dave
P.S. It has been brought to my attention that the Tuareg are, in fact , a form of Berber.