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In the period between 1998 - 2002, when an international market raised a strong interest in Moroccan Henna textiles, the veils of the Ahel Telt were among the most demanded types. The Ahel Telt live in the most northern part of the Middle Atlas as a part of the Beni Ouarain confederation. Their territory is situated east + southeast of the Jebel Tazzeka + south of the Oued Msoun valley. Similar to the surrounding neighbours of the Beni Ouarain confederation the Ahel Telt used to live mainly from semi-nomadic cattle breeding in the past.
It is interesting to remark that among all the Beni Ouarain tribes, examples of the complete set of textiles of the traditional female costume have only been preserved to our days in the small region of this group. While the women's shawls called 'tabrdouhte' or 'tabbnoute' (arab. handira) have been kept on being produced until the 1970ies or 1980ies even, the production of the large wrapping textiles ('tahraoukht'), the veils ('taritat' or 'tarredat'), the head bands ('tachedat n'tritat') + the traditional form of belts ('abkass ouziza') had been abandoned much earlier, generally in the 1920ies - 1930ies. In the period between 1998 - 2002, when an international market raised a strong interest in Moroccan Henna textiles, the veils ('taritat') of the Ahel Telt were among the most demanded types.
The information given in this text on the Ahel Telt women's veils is based on the results of field documentation trips to the region that I did with my long time partner Mustapha Hansali in the years between 1994 - 2001. As an educated linguist, Mustapha Hansali is also a native tamazight speaker who lives + works in Morocco. The regional terminology used in the text on the Ahel Telt textiles is in tamazight (the regional Berber language), unless otherwise noted. The contribution on the veils of the Ait Haddidou is provided by Henri Crouzet, Paris.
The Quest for Clarity
by Gebhart Blazek & Henri Crouzet
Following the ‘hype’ around Moroccan Berber textiles in the late 1990s and the ï¬rst years of the present decade, the publication of 'Costumes Berbères du Maroc' by Marie Rose Rabaté and Frieda Sorber in late 2007, gave us hope that this book would bring much needed clarity and structure to the matter.
Such clarity and structure was the stated goal of this opus, at least according to Marie Rose Rabaté, who does not tire of asserting her claim to them in her chapters. Unfortunately her claim is met in very few areas, and chapters that from their titles promise much, offer mainly speculative assumptions and even misinformation. In ‘Berber Style’, for instance, Rabaté boils the entire iconography of Berber textiles down to a few basic motifs, especially anthropomorphic ï¬gures. But this interesting idea remains nothing but an assertion, and it is unsupported by any in-depth argument.
Even more problematic is her attempt in ‘Seduction and Pitfalls of Authenticity’ to clarify the differences between ‘authentic’ Berber textiles and those which have in the broadest sense been made for the market. This is an honourable effort, but there are good reasons why no one has ever succeeded in dealing with this subject in the requisite depth and breadth, which would involve accurate observation of a multitude of cultural traditions, stylistic characteristics, technical processes and other factors. In contrast to Rabaté’s reductionist analysis, one would need to produce comprehensive documentation and analysis of at least thirty securely known types of genuine traditional textiles, as well as many others that have emerged on the market in recent times for which a traditional source and usage are not traceable.
Let us take a closer look at two of the many types of Berber tribal textiles addressed by Rabaté: the 'tarredat' or 'taritat' veil of the Ahel Telt from the Beni Ouarain Confederation in the northeastern Middle Atlas and the tie-dyed 'agounoun' shoulder scarf of the Aït Yazza, an Aït Hadiddou sub-tribe living in the central High Atlas around Imilchil (1).
(1) shoulder scarf 'agounoun', Aït Haddidou, central High Atlas, Morocco, mid 20th c., tie-dye on a wool fabric, 68 x 68 cm (27'' x27'')
For the 'agounoun', Rabaté asserts a conspiracy by traders who imported textiles from Libya to Morocco to sell to gullible tourists and dealers as rare and expensive items of Moroccan origin. She is clearly unaware of the research on Aït Hadiddou tribal practices undertaken between 1970 and 1990 by the Austrian ethnologists Norbert Mylius Sr. and his son Norbert Mylius Jr. who, in 1970, ï¬lmed a documentary entitled Aït Haddidou (North Africa, High Atlas) – Dyeing a Cloth with the Plangi Technique (released in 1974 by IWF Wissen und Medien, Göttingen; see www.iwf.de, search for ‘haddidou plangi’ or click the direct link: IWF Göttingen ). This shows in detail how an Aït Hadiddou woman produced a tie-dyed 'agounoun' using a piece of fabric cut from an old weaving (2). In 1985, Mylius also ï¬lmed the last mass wedding ceremonies of the Aït Hadiddou. His ï¬lm, Timghriwin: Mass Marriage of Berbers in the Atlas Mountains – Marriage Destined for Divorce, also available through IWF, clearly shows how the 'agounoun' was worn on the bride’s shoulders, over her handira (shawl) and under her hair. No more than a brief internet search and a little time was required to ï¬nd this work, which more than conï¬rmed our own ï¬eld observations in 2001.
(2) The dyeing procedure of an Aït Haddidou 'agounoun' documented 1970 by Norbert Mylius (sen. + jun.) in situ in the village Ait Ali ou Ikkou near Imilchil. (the film is available at the IWF Göttingen )
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