Jewelry Making in Southern Morocco
Jewelry Making in Southern Moroccoby Abderrahime el Haddad
Jewelry making has long been the specialty of Jewish Amazigh artisans in Morocco. It seems that this monopoly dates back to a very ancient period. In rural areas of Morocco, the inhabitants obtained their supplies from the jewelers living in the Mellahs, or Jewish quarters. Ornamented fibulae, necklaces, rings or sturdy bracelets in solid silver, pieces of great beauty which make the reputation of Amazigh goldsmiths and silversmiths. Zagora, Morocco, is one of the strongholds of this secular craft.
The work of silver is inscribed in a silversmith’s DNA. For generations, the men activate the forge, melt the metal and design unique jewelry and products. The pride of the region, which they owe however to another community, once settled these lands. This craft that we practice here has a very ancient history.
It was the members of the Jewish community who practiced this art in the region. And as our ancestors worked alongside them, they stayed; when the Jews left the region, it was our ancestors who took over the activity and the profession. The massive departure of Jews from Morocco during the 1960s favored the resumption of their craftsmanship as jewelers by their Muslim neighbors who lived near the former Mellahs. We, their children, we took this opportunity, we learned this work from them, and it has been passed down from generation to generation ever since. Carefully, the same gestures are reproduced. Despite the decades that follow one another, this know-how continues to be practiced by the artisans of Zagora, without having lost any of the ancestral processes.
How do we work with the silver? We start by bringing sand, a quality of sand that we call here "Talight". We moisten it, then we prepare our mold, and we draw the motif of our choice, for a necklace for example or a bracelet, or a ring or any jewelry that we make. The first step in making the traditional necklace is to model a rough replica of the cross. This form is then coated with clay and passed in the oven. The temperature fires the clay, leaving a hollow terracotta mold from which the template has been removed and in which the metal (copper / silver) is poured. Once the metal has cooled, the mold is broken and the jewel is recovered. It is then hammered, sanded and struck with files, punches and nails, to give it its final shape. The patterns are blackened by passing the jewel over a candle.
While we cannot label this cooperative "fair", we can nevertheless recognize the artisanal, local and familial nature of this work. The ecological impact is minor, as the manufacturing method has remained unchanged for centuries. The mold is made of clay and the designs are hand sculpted.
The quality of this remarkable craftsmanship is not questioned, yet the artisans struggle to make a living from it. To remedy this, and to increase recognition for their work and fight against the disappearance of their heritage, the craftsmen of Zagora have decided to unite their efforts. We found it difficult that our products were not easily marketed, and so we had the idea of forming a cooperative so that our creations go forward. Hence the creation of cooperative, almost a family, because the majority of artisans come from the same family.
Faced with many challenges, the silversmiths of Zagora breathe new life into this craftsmanship from another time, which has spanned ages, cultures and communities. They pass the torch from father to son, and make sure to always nourish this flame.
This cooperative is located on the outskirts of Zagora in southern Morocco, at the gateway to the Sahara desert. It brings together the know-how of different craftsmen. Women make traditional fabrics and weavings there. Carpenters and inlayers restore old solid wood doors from Kasbahs or traditional dwellings. Some of these doors are diverted from their original use, and thus become mirrors or small tables.
Within this cooperative is a family of artisan jewelers. The know-how, transmitted from generation to generation, within the family, emanates from the nomadic tradition. Necklaces, bracelets and earrings of different shapes and sizes are made in this workshop. Some of the signs struck on the jewelry refer to a region, a territory, or an ethnic group. The southern crosses that are made in Zagora are unique and if you happen to find them in the markets in other cities in Morocco, they all come from there.
These jewelers made ornaments from the surrounding tribes; they let us sell procedures and designs adapted by each tribe. In the regions of southern Morocco, one can easily count some of the most famous artisan jewelers in Tiznit, Tafraout, Tahla and in the south-east Tillite, once a center of influence for Amazigh jewelry par excellence.
Amazigh women placed great importance on jewelry both as utilitarian objects on the one hand; on the other hand, as elements necessary for a good ornament. The importance of jewelry in Amazigh culture is also manifested as a family heirloom, which is passed on from mother to daughter. The Moroccan woman considers jewelry as a sign of glory and well-being by choosing adornments with bright colors. Moroccan jewelry is passed down from mother to daughter and to little girl to ensure the continuity of traditions from one generation to the next.
Moroccan jewelry is noble and sumptuous, made in southern Morocco, the Middle Atlas and Sousse, renowned for their quality and finesse. The Berber jewelry offered in our online store is made of silver or gold encrusted with semi-precious stones, engraved or honeyed, openwork or modeled, their manufacture using unchanging technical processes and inexhaustible artisanal creativity.
A multitude of typical objects such as pottery, daggers and rugs, and their places of manufacture are some of the activities offered to you in Ouarzazate, Zagora and Tinghir and their surroundings. Their real authenticity and cultural richness are waiting for you!