Berber Women Try to Keep Rug Making Alive, Profitable
Berber Women Try to Keep Rug Making Alive, Profitable

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Moroccan carpets are prized for their beauty and can fetch hundreds of dollars in stores. But little of that money ends up in the hands of the women who spend months weaving the carpets.

Rug weavers see little profits from their craft

Villagers in Morocco's Tazenakht region are renowned for producing rugs of particular beauty. But for these Berber women, weaving the 10 kilos of raw wool it takes to make one carpet isn't art, it's a livelihood.
"In the past, in the regions of Tazenakht and Ouarzazate, families lived off wool and weaving," Fadma Hassi said.

That's become very hard to do. Weavers spend a month preparing the wool, and another month transforming it into a carpet.

Their current project is a specific order, and they'll earn $50 in profit. Split three ways, they'll each net about 25 cents a day.  It's not much, but that's more than they would get at the local souk, or market.

"The souk doesn't pay a reasonable price. It doesn't even cover the cost of the wool," Rakia Nid Lchguer states.

One solution: eliminating the middleman

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There buyers are the middlemen. They buy the rugs from the villagers and sell them to shops in Marrakesh and other tourist hubs.

At carpet shops here in Marrakesh, rugs sell for hundreds of dollars. But most weavers are poor women in isolated villages, who don't even speak Moroccan Arabic. For them, these markets are very far away.

"You have a very nice carpet, they don't give you a good price. Then they take it to Marrakesh and they get good money for it," Khadija Ighilnasaf said.

Ighilnasaf is president of the Women's Weaving Association of Anzal. In this mountain village, 88 women have united to cut out the middleman.

"Now, instead of selling to a middleman, you bring it to the association and sell it yourself," Fatima Ait Elkadi explains.

A large carpet takes about a month to weave and sells for around $150. All but $20 goes directly to the weaver.

"Now I get all the money, all of it," Ighilnasaf says, "The woman gets the money and she can buy things she needs."

The weavers are now making more money per carpet, but they're not selling many. In the two years since they started the association, treasurer Zahara Ait Ali  sold only four rugs, for a total of $300. "You sell one carpet and you have to wait a long time before you sell the next one," she said.

Art of weaving berber could be lost with next generation

With so little money reaching the weavers, young women are opting not to learn the craft.

"I have five daughters. There is only one who knows how to weave," Lchguer said.

"Our daughters say we've ruined our health making carpets, and we get nothing from it. They want to learn new trades," Hassi states, "They don't want to learn this one anymore."

And with each child who refuses to learn, an art that's endured here for centuries inches closer to extinction.