Berber and Moroccan Carpets, Colours, Motifs
"You may see a lozenge. The weaver sees an eye. The ethnologist sees a vulva."
These carpets can be seen as a collective memory: a display of secrets which expose a world of dreams. They are the essential stories of rites of passage in daily Berber life and are given a reality with images and symbols of animistic beliefs which have otherwisebeen lost for centuries.
Some carpets are created by one woman, others by a few. In a few regions there would often appear to be a plan, a collective idea, that controls the final design, balanced and geometric. Even then variations in the intensity of colours and in the background will often change in the course of the weaving. In other examples there is little evidence of any 'system': rather they display daily, weekly, monthly or seasonal explosions of emotion: true, untrammelled outsider art.
An attempt to read the stories told by each carpet: The tale begins with the initial knots. These may be a step into the unknown or a repitition of an attempt to read the stories told by each carpet: the tale begins with the initial knots. These may be a step into the unknown or a repetition of what has been handed down by forebears, with sometimes little knowledge of symbolic significance or simply using motifs as a system of decoration. Indeed much of the symbolism to found in these textiles can be seen reproduced in other cultures: the Navajo and Hopi, or discovered images dating from ancient Chinese history.
The predominant symbols that appear in Berber carpets and other textiles are those that deal with fecundity of the women and the fertility of the earth itself, signals against the 'evil eye'. For example the tree of life, first noted in Asia, then Africa, then Europe and America, is a religious symbol that has been translated by successive peoples and travelled with them: Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Christians, and Muslims; It is little wonder that it should appear woven into creations of weavers in the remote corners of north-west Africa as a central motif: the concept of man at the centre of his universe, or as a source of light, life and union.This centre of order is often surrounded on carpets by the zigzags that represent water.
Frequently-used symbols are:
The square: representing the earth itself and symbolising the four ages of man (childhood, adolescence, maturity, old age), the four winds, the four seasons, four phases of the moon and so on. All these may help identify the basic story of a weaving.
The chevron: both a symbol of movement, such as of water and of protection against malevolent forces or jnoun
The battlements: relate to the ridges of the mountains and the traditional walled towns (ksour) or castles (kasbahs)
The cross: symbolic of the earth and its four quarters
The 8-pointed star: the ring of Salomon is a symbol of protection and also a source of light and the presence of God at night
The eye: as another symbol of protection and a light source
The snake: the continual contact between life and death and also a symbol of fertility, regeneration and immortality
The scorpion: a motif indicating vengeance and protection against evil forces
The lion: strength and bravery
The camel: a symbol of good fortune as the principle desert vehicle
The hourglass: the eternal passing of time, or the reversal of time to suggest a return to the past
The comb: can represent the five pillars of Islam and a protective hand; also having magical properties including the retrieval of forgotten memories!
The lozenge or rhombus: is clearly often a vulva or uterus. If closed it represents a virgin; two triangles united vertically to form the rhombus is symbolic of sexual union; an open lozenge reflects a married woman ready to give birth.
|White||colour of purity and death|
|Black||colour of humidity and fecundity (rainclouds & fertile earth)|
|Red||colour of protection against illness and accidents|
|Green||colour of plant life, the Prophet, peace and good luck|
|Indigo||colour of wisdom|
|Yellow||colour of light, the sun and eternity|