Moroccan Furniture History & Techniques

Learn more about the fascinating Moroccan furniture industry. From Moroccan furniture to Moroccan doors, the history of woodworking in Morocco is explored in this guest post by Abderahhim El Haddad:

Every Suwari child (a child from Essaouira, Morocco) has memories, and every person has a memory with a thorn. I have not forgotten my childhood. My father, may God have mercy on me, brought me in with the teacher, Moulay Al Taher, as well as the teacher Moulay Chukhar, may God have mercy on them. Essaouira has become famous thanks to the traditional industry, especially the Arar (woodworking) industry. The story does not end...

The history of the juniper/tamarix wood industry in the city of Essaouira goes back to the early days of this city’s prosperity, with the beginning of its construction by the Alawite Sultan Muhammad bin Abdullah during the 18th century AD, to transform it from a commercial port through which ships from Europe crossed in the direction of West Africa, to a place where travelers remained. The days of the "wars of recovery" against the Iberian Mamelukes during the 15th century AD, to the city of List Al-Bunyan, in order to use the juniper wood provided by the forests surrounding Essaouira in building their houses, building the roofs of their mosques and making the doors of their homes.

The traditional industry in the city of Essaouira was famous for its Arar industry, in which the craftsman relies on two basic techniques: composition and inlay. The composition industry requires making a mosaic of wood to cover the facades of furniture by gluing. As for the inlay technique, it requires employing a precious material such as ivory, bone, shell, metal and others on the juniper wood facade by drilling. 

Plants and geometric shapes constitute the traditional craftsman's inspiration for his decorative creations. The technique of plant decoration is known as tawariq, while geometric motifs are called underlining. Instead, tawariq derives its forms from nature: flowers, plants, stems. As for underlining, it depends on harmonious forms within the decorated field according to a specific plan. The thing that enables the diversity of plans and shapes used in the manufacture of archeology, such as the dish called makibah which carries decorations geometric and botanical and is made of thuja wood encrusted with mother-of-pearl, acacia and lemon wood. They also make round tables, boxes for decoration for women, and gifts for loved ones. Everyone who visits Essaouira notices the beautiful thuya creations. 

I forget the names of the founders of the wood engraving cooperative since 1948: The first teacher Mana was born in 1910 and died in 2002, the teacher Muhammad Zarif born in 1927 and died in 1993, the teacher Ahmed al-Zaim born in 1948 and died in 2001, the teacher Abdul Qadir al-Hamriborn in 1937 and died in 2006, as well as the teacher Moulay Al-Bashir Al-Bashkrawi, the teacher Allal Ait Mohamed, the teacher Koko, the teacher Omar Baantar, the teacher Boubakr Adjan and the rest of the many who died and some of them are still alive.

Some materials used in the craft of engraving on junipers in Essaouira include: 

Ebony,  lemon, Thuja  root,  thuja,   mother of pearl,   Aluminum,  wire, Mahogany,  walnut, The bone, flowers,  charafa,  mhincha,  dfra,  sboula,  heart  kandil,  rabaayia,  louza,  adsa,  mricha

“Engraving on junipers and making exquisite sculptures from its wood is an art that every knowledgeable connoisseur appreciates, and it is often appreciated by tourists visiting the city, who are keen to acquire some pieces as a souvenir of their visits,” adds Abdel-Hay, who is eager to transmit this handicraft to the younger generations for fear of losing it and disappearing, especially since most of the "learned" quickly leave the carpentry workshops to join other professions that they think might bring them money, and are not subject to the fluctuations of the tourism market in the city, as is the case in the juniper industry.

Wood, which is a raw material that creates oxygen, is not only present in all traditional Moroccan arts, but rather acts as an oxygen for it; when wood comes out of its physical context and is subject to change and formation, it is present in all geometric shapes and wood products.

The Muhammadiyah Carpentry and Wood Engraving Cooperative set specific goals since the beginning of its course, and it was able to achieve some of them, while waiting for the rest to develop.

Enabled the National Initiative for Cooperative Human Development to support the strength of its means of work, and to make it put the first steps in the direction of developing ancestors' craft, while being keen to keep abreast of developments in this sector. The cooperative is betting on the youth, who believe in the slogan "The craftsmanship is nothing but live songs", to carry the torch, continue the path, and develop the sector that promises a lot.

Most Moroccan families are eager to have their homes equipped with furniture and fittings made of wood, whether in bedrooms, salons, kitchens, stairs, etc. They are committed to quality, high craftsmanship, and on-time product delivery.

From this standpoint, the great concern of a group of traditional and modern carpentry craftsmen in Muhammadiyah is to preserve and develop this craft, and to work on its preservation from generation to generation, which made them guide them to establish the Muhammadiyah Cooperative for Carpentry and Carving on Wood.

The Cooperative was created in 2009, out of the womb of an association that achieved a set of gains for the benefit of the craftsmen involved in it, as it signed a set of agreements with doctors and pharmacists to benefit from medical services and medicines at preferential prices, in addition to organizing some social activities, but the desire and ambition was greater to improve the situation. This group, and their work in an organized manner to achieve a qualitative take-off in this field, resulted in the establishment of the cooperative. Things went as planned by seven members who formed the first nucleus of the birth of the cooperative, among them ancient craftsmen in the field, and others who have recently graduated from vocational training, after they received the assets of this profession.

Mohamed Bouain, president of the cooperative, says that the National Initiative for Human Development supported the association with a sum of money, which was used to purchase machines and other equipment that were added to the equipment that the cooperative had, in order to expand its activities.

Bouain added that the Department of Vocational Training also contributed in supporting the activities of the cooperative by granting it a seat within the training in order to work within it, in return for the members of the cooperative to teach students wishing to train in the field of carpentry lessons in this specialization, which enabled many young people to train well by receiving practical training in the workshop in which the cooperative operates.

Muhammad Buain stated that the cooperative contributed to the formation of many students who wish to pursue this specialization, and some of them started working with the cooperative and receiving constant income, which brought them family stability, in addition to benefiting from social security services. This encouraged the rest of the other students, seeing what they would also receive in return for their work in the cooperative workshop, motivating them to give and develop this promising sector. 

Here are some pictures of wood engraving in the southern desert city of Zagora, Morocco, where the main wood is Tamarisk, or Salt Cedar :

Woodworking shop

Moroccan Table

Moroccan Door

Moroccan Doors

Moroccan Side Table

Carved Moroccan door

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published