In the Marrakech B&B hotel we arrived, the wall decoration of framed jewlery caught our eyes. The host Mohamed proudly introduced himself, I am Berber and these are Berber Jewelry! Aren't they beautiful? Then during the rest of the days, we met several more local people who introduced themselves as Berber, with full pride.
Before the trip, I read a bit information online about Berber village - The Berber women are known for making crafts. We ran into a store that sold Berber jewelry. We were amazed by their elegancy, magic mechanism, and the delicate crafts. The store owner told us, many of the jewelry are used as talisman. In the Berber museum in Marrakech, there is an exhibition with Berber jewelry from different regions, interestingly, south Morocco has more delicate style, while in north area, the style usually becomes rough and colorful.
In this post, we introduce a brief history of Berber ethnic. Also the spiritual meaning of the patterns appear on our Berber vintage jewelry collection.
Who are Berbers?
The Berbers or Imazighen (‘Free people’; plural of Amazigh) are the indigenous ethnic group of North Africa. The name Berber appears as an ethnonym in the 1st century AD, after the end of the Roman Empire. They are continuously distributed from the Atlantic to the Siwa oasis in Egypt, and from the Mediterranean to the Niger River. Most Berbers nowadays live in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
In middle ages, Before the eleventh century, most of North-West Africa was a Berber-speaking Muslim area. After the Muslim conquest, the Berber tribes of coastal North Africa became almost fully Islamized. Besides the Arabian influence, North African population also saw an influx via the Barbary Slave Trade of European peoples, with some estimates placing the number of European slaves brought to North Africa during the Ottoman period as high as 1.25 million.
Traditionally, men take care of livestock. Women look after the family and handicrafts – first for their personal use, and secondly for sale in the souqs in their locality. The Berber tribes traditionally weave carpets. The textile of plain weave is represented by a wide variety of stripes, and more rarely by geometrical patterns such as triangles and diamonds.
Most of Berber jewelry are made by silver, commonly decorated with coral, amber, etc. The Magical powers are attributed to jewelry, which enhances its emotional value, as they are used as charms and talismans to protect against evil spirits and influences. In addition, acquiring jewelry has an economic meaning. An Amazigh woman’s jewelry is her private property.
Here we pick three of our collections that represent several typical patterns, and dig into the meaning behind the symbol.
The Hand of Fatima
The Spiril of Life of Prophet Muhammad's daughter Fatima. It is the symbol of patience, loyalty, faith and resistance against difficulties. Particularly the open right hand, is a sign of protection that also represents blessings, power and strength, and is seen as potent in deflecting the evil eye.
According to common belief, it tells of the Fatima's struggle for dignity and her tough life. Thereby, purity, goodness and truth are blessed.
For centuries, Fatima’s Hand has been a powerful talisman for good luck and one of the most popular amulets in the world of Islam for protection. It is hung on the walls of the house as engraving in silver or gold or it is painted in red. It is believed that a house protected by the Hand of Fatima will not catch fire.
The Spiral of Life
A spiral-shaped motive represents the eternal. Spirals are beautiful patterns found in nature, including the nautilus in the sea, ferns unfolding on land and the awe-inspiring galaxies above us. One of the most ancient human symbols, they are found in cultures from around the globe, with some instances dating back more than five millennia. The spiral connects us to the mystery of the universe, to the spiritual source that we each draw from, and to the creativity and transformation that allows us to keep evolving throughout our lives.
Wound up the Spiral might be point to the very core, to the source of life. In other places the spiral may symbolize the intestines or the breast. Here is concerned with the principle of feeding and growth.
Southern cross, Boghdad/Boghdod or Moghdad
This type of pendant seems to be strongly connected to the Moors, and those with contact with the Moors, including the nomadic peoples in the Western part of the Sahara and all the other related groups as well as those who came under their influence, such as the sedentary people to the North such as the Harratine and south west Moroccan Berbers and the black skinned Sahel peoples in the region to the south. The similar "cross" shape exists in a few Africa regions. Regarding the meaning of the cross, surmised translation would give ” the mother of the generous shape” or ” the mother of the fertile glands”.
Berber is such a culture treasure with long history and mixed culture influences. Besides vintage jewelry, we hope to visit a berber village next time, to explore more of their crafts and local life.