The Barbary Coast is a constant feature of European history, with civilizations throughout time staking their claim on this northernmost reach of Africa. Sandwiched between the Mediterranean and the towering red peaks of the Atlas Mountains, its arid lands have long been fertile ground for social change.
It is here the Phoenicians built Carthage, from where they operated extensive trade networks around the Mediterranean and beyond. The Romans who ransacked this city built their own settlements, laying claim to the region. Successive Caliphates swept through from the east, bringing Islamic beliefs, culture and art. It is here the Sephardic Jews were driven from Spain, setting up their exiled coastal enclaves. European powers parcelled up the territory amongst themselves, extending their imperial ambitions southwards.
The modern nations of North Africa are the inheritors of this rich and varied history – its diversity evident in their cultures, languages and traditions. Throughout this storied and diverse history, however, has been the constant presence of one culture: the Berber. Indigenous to the region, they have maintained their unique identity whilst adapting to successive social changes.
Unlike settlers throughout the region’s history, who have gravitated towards the coastal plains, Berber communities have thrived in small mountain communities, tucked amidst the rocky peaks of the Atlas range. Their villages of flat-roofed houses, climbing chaotically up steep valley sides, can still be found nestled amongst the geological folds of the majestic mountains. Within their communities, Berbers still maintain the exquisite arts and crafts for which they have been long known.
One of the most striking examples of traditional Berber crafts are the sequined wedding blankets that are made for newlywed brides by their family. Each blanket is a collaborative effort, handwoven and embroidered by the female kin of the bride: weeks of labor for a lifetime’s protection and warmth. The blankets are traditionally knotted around the necks of the bride, draping across her shoulders and down her back like a brilliant cape and offering warmth, comfort and familial confidence as she journeys to the home of her new husband.
The simple, quiet colors of the blankets are perfectly suited to the earthy ochres and sandy reds of the Berber’s High Atlas home, whilst the brilliantly reflective sequins catch every ray of light: accentuating each movement and beaming like a snowy mountaintop beneath the bright winter sun.
Within each and every one of these blankets is woven the love and care of a family; the traditions of a community and the continuance of a culture. They are imbued with the thin air, breathtaking views and gorgeous hues of the Atlas Mountains. They embody a hard but rewarding lifestyle in the upper extremities of Africa; a lifestyle which has seen the march of history, and maintained those practices which define it and set it apart.