Often you meet the most interesting people by accident while travelling. Our encounter with the Battah brothers is one of those random but great stories. This one happens in Morocco. During an artisanal evening organized by our hotel we start talking to 2 brothers and find out that they are the makers behind beautiful carpets we admired earlier. It's not only their beauty, what makes them really interesting is the idea behind: The way they are made empowers women from the region. Our conversation is so interesting that we decide to visit them in their village, Oulad Tayma, the next day.
The closer we get to the village we realise it's rather a city and we are no longer sure how to find the workshop without a precise address. We turn around corner after corner, without knowing if we are heading into the right direction. Finally, with a great amount of delay, we discover, hidden far behind the city, a small driveway that leads us to the cooperative. We are welcomed with a big smile by Abdlekraim. He explains that his brother awaits us in the city to facilitate our drive here. A little misunderstanding, but no problem. Abdlekraim decides it’s time for tea. While we enjoy the hot drink, he disappears into the kitchen to prepare a meal for us. Hussein arrives shortly after, just in time for lunch. We start to eat and talk and quickly the conversation leads to their beautiful carpets. I am curious to hear how they got into the business and Hussein is happy to explain…
“I am lucky, making carpets is our family business. We are 3 brothers and we all do the same. We continue the family tradition by following our father who followed his father. I started working when I was 12. It’s been 14 years now.
We had the idea to start our cooperative 3 years ago when the decreasing groundwater in our region became a problem. The level has fallen the past years from 20 meters to 200 meters today. We are based in an agricultural region. So that's a big problem. Because there is no more water left, the agriculture is dying and with it the main source of income for women. They lost their jobs and had nothing else they could do here to earn their living. That’s why we decided to teach them how to make carpets.
We invite women from the big Atlas and from other regions in Morocco where carpets come from traditionally. They hold workshop for our women and show them how to make their carpets. By doing so we keep the traditions alive--and create an income for the women here."
LASTING COLLECTIVE: How exactly do you work with the women?
"We pay them by carpet, size and the time needed to achieve a certain quality. Most of them have family and children, they can come here in their free time to work. Like that they are very flexible and have a lot of freedom."
LASTING COLLECTIVE: How did you produce the carpets before you started the cooperative?
"The women in the family made the carpets. Beside that my father travelled a lot and bought different styles of carpets from different regions. This is why we have so many contacts in carpet making all over Morocco.”
LASTING COLLECTIVE: How do you discuss the design of the carpets? What is your process?
"Normally the women start working with the materials and colours we provide. I buy a stock and they come and take what they need for the carpet of their choice. Every woman has her own style, favourite carpets and their own way of working. Sometimes I make a design, but most of the time it's them, creating on their own."
Hussein shows us around and explain the different carpets and their designs. Starting with the well known berber classic Beni Ourain to very expensive carpets specially made for weddings (50 days of work go into these pieces), that are used as wall decoration.
His favourite carpets are the Boucherouite (which is made of fabric “waste”) and the Asylan (made of unravelled threads from old clothes). The Boucherouite originated when nomadic life continued to decline in the last century. The fewer nomads with their animal herds roamed the area, the scarcer and thus more expensive became wool. The women were forced to switch to other materials for carpet making and to use textiles that were currently available: old clothing, wool and fabric remnants. The woven rugs were called "Boucherouite", which roughly means "made of torn and reused clothing”. Deficiency transformed into a new art form of craft… Each carpet is an individual piece of art and a beautiful way of recycling.
It’s very quiet in the cooperative and when we realise we don’t see any women around working we start wondering… We spent quite a while talking. But Jamal suddenly says: Do you hear the knocking sound? The women are back working… Slowly they arrived after the lunch break to take their seats at the looms in the courtyard. It’s a dull, almost meditative sound. They are weaving the threads by hand through the chain threat and use a kind of comb, to densify the weaving. They are sitting in the shadow, concentrated on their beautiful work.
A touching scenery that will come up whenever my thoughts wander back to our visit. After a very hospitable and sunny day we head back to our hotel, happy to have experienced a different side of Morocco, our heads full of beautiful images and wonderful colours...