Ok so I’m a bit batty about all things Moroccan, in particular I love the creative culture and looking at the work of the highly skilled artisans. I have some modern Moroccan jewellery which still has a traditional feel and look to them but where did these motifs and themes come from, I wanted to look to the past and to the Berber people who were a great influence on the aesthetic culture of the country and who’s influence can still be seen today.
The Berbers are believed to be the original inhabitants of North Africa, they converted to Islam at an early date, but kept their language, customs and identity. As they were typically farmers and county people, their dress was more rustic than that of Arabs, they used draped fabric, held together with brooches.
Jewellery was a symbol of wealth and an investment, women would sell pieces to buy something else or to raise money when needed, even buying animals and land. Women would therefore often act as the family banker. Jewellery was not usually of sentimental value and was often melted down for new pieces to be created.
Berber jewellery was made almost entirely of silver, enriched with niello work, enamel, engraving, repousse and semi-precious stones, the colours used have a symbolic meaning. Necklaces of huge amber beads were often worn which were believed to have protective properties.
The main pieces of Berber jewellery – best seen at weddings and at harvest time – include head ornaments, which may be crown like or made from silver coins. Earrings were usually so large that they had to be supported on a chain running across the head or hooked into the hair, and pendants which hung over the temples. Various necklaces where worn, along with rings, pairs of bracelets including star-shaped and heavy Ait Atta ones, (a Berber tribe) the points of which could be used for self- defence. Anklets would be worn typically horseshoe in shape. Finished off with pairs of large silver brooches for holding the draped robes in place.
These traditional materials and shapes are still seen in some form in jewellery today, so it is inspiring for me to think of the rich heritage that has influenced the jewellery I have brought home from my travels there!