Shopping for Moroccan Traditional Jewelry and Textiles in Tangier

Moroccan Berber jewellery and textile at Boutique Majid (Credit: MCArnott)

Moroccan Berber jewellery and textile at Boutique Majid (Credit: MCArnott)

 

The front door is massive and studded with nails meant to repel assailants instead of welcoming visitors. It opens on what are now the treasured artifacts of such old times: colorful textiles, bright wood trunks, attractive vintage clothing, gleaming ceramics, shimmering glass lanterns, and cheerful carpets, all competing for my attention. Finally, I notice the shop owner by a trickling fountain in the middle of the room. He quietly greets us with a smile. This is Boutique Majid, a shop of antique collectibles, and a haven from the gloomy-grey streets of Tangier’s bustling medina.

In Your Bucket Because…

  • Majid welcomes you warmly whether you are a new or returning friend.
  • You are looking for authenticity.
  • Good for collectors and browsers.

Tribal Jewelry: More than a Decoration 

Moroccan Tribal Jewelry (Credit: MCArnott)

Moroccan tribal jewelry (Credit: MCArnott)

My eyes wander until I am drawn to a fascinating display of voluminous necklaces, Berber heirlooms, Majid says. I have to ask about the weight of such jewelry strung with pink coral, red carnelian, green amazonite, buttery amber, ebony beads and silver talismans. I understand why they were reserved for festive occasions. Some earrings are so large, they are fitted with chains that go over the head to lessen the weight on the ear lobe.  Other items on display include an elaborate headdress and cloak fasteners known as fibulas.

What price tag can we expect? I point to a comparatively modest necklace. It is sold by weight as it was in the past. Silver amulets, pink coral and amazonite beads tip the scale at a $700 value. (Note: amazonite does not come from the Amazon. The blue-green feldspar is thought to be named after a similar-looking green stone that did come from the Amazon.)

While I ponder the must-think-about-it-price, I learn that the style is reminiscent of Indian jewelry because Berbers are of Indo-European descent. Not much gold jewelry is for sale, considered evil by Berbers–but not by Arabs. Silver talismans and amulets take the shape of  engraved or embossed medals, coins, and of the iconic protective hand of Fatima: Mohammed’s daughter. The Southern Cross is another popular amulet: It guided caravans traveling at night to avoid the intense sun.

After Majid invites us to sit at a low table that doubles as a display case for silver. So, who buys these large necklaces today? Majid’s eyes twinkle as he explains how he began to collect them to save them from being taken apart and sold as separate pieces of jewelry.

Jewelry was an integral part of tribal life and indicated kinship and wealth. It was also believed to heal and protect. For the Berber women of the Rif Mountains–nomads and oasis dwellers–jewelry could be traded or sold to meet the needs of their family. Jewelry was therefore a significant part of a dowry, and a meaningful gift throughout life. But as tradition faded, so did their authenticity and value: Amber, for example, is often replaced with copal resin, or even plastic.

Traditional Textiles

Moroccan vintage caftans (Credit: MCArnott)

Moroccan vintage caftans (Credit: MCArnott)

Sewing and weaving were essential skills for women. Urban little girls received gifts of needles, thimbles, silk and were taught fine embroidery. Nomads and oasis dwellers received spindles, cards, beating combs and learned weaving, out of necessity.

As if it were a shrine to this rich heritage, an alcove displays vintage clothing and accessories: heavy wool jackets and vests, colorful cotton dresses, ceremonial outfits, caftans, and decorated belts. My friend is magnetized by the “energy” left in these old clothes and falls for a long-sleeved jacket whose worn texture resembles boiled wool, until she remembers that she has come to buy fabric.

As an antique dealer, Majid travels throughout Morocco to find the precious fabrics and other items he sells, and to gather even small remnants of cloth abandoned in old family trunks. He tells us that incoming pieces are cleaned, and classified according to size, condition, origin, color and value.

Tickled by the thought of newly arrived treasures, we accept his invitation to head upstairs. There, we find piles of Tetouan pillowcases, embroidered floral fabrics and bedspreads (of Spanish influence, reflecting Tetouan’s former status as a Protectorate of Spain), Chaouan wraps from the Sahara Desert tribes, Rabat curtains and veils, but also caftans. Carpets with or without piling indicate mountain or desert origin. We touch  brocade, velvet, wool, silk and cotton fabrics magnetized by the history imprinted in these textiles. After Moorish Granada fell to Spain in the 15th-century, Muslim refugees brought their culture and weaving and dyeing skills to Fez, in particular.

Moroccan Tea with the Embroidered Fabrics of Fez

Traditional fabric of Fez (Credit: MCArnott)

Traditional fabric of Fez (Credit: MCArnott)

Majid does not let anything go to waste. He restores value to remnants by assembling small pieces, patchwork-style, for tabletops, throws, or unique purses. He gets animated as he holds a yardage of Fez fabric: “This must be treasured because it was still hand-embroidered,” he says in a warning voice. “Cutting it would show total ignorance.” Since my friend’s intention is to upholster an antique chair, our eyes meet at the thought of the offense.

Ask a Western designer about the fabrics from Fez and they will praise their monochromatic colors and the stately frieze patterns that easily complement contemporary décor. As I look closely, I find the embroidery so perfect I cannot tell which side is up, which is a good thing since the famed Fez-stitch is reversible. As for the colors, they have faded into pleasant foggy blues, ashy blacks and rosy reds.

Back downstairs with a selection of fabrics carried by Majid, my friend chooses a Fez fabric: approximately 1 yard by ¾ yard. “How much?” Majid invites us back to the sitting area where fragrant mint tea served in colourful glasses helps us swallow his answer: $800.

Admittedly overwhelmed, I sip the soothing beverage while gazing at the exquisite items around me. When my eyes rest on the amber beads, I think of their journey from a tree to a veiled woman. The smells of the past envelop us, and merge with the fragrant traditional Moroccan infusion–and negotiating potion. I wonder where their journey will take them next.

Practicalities

  • Learning about Moroccan regional styles beforehand will heighten your shopping experience.
  • Don’t rush into buying. Price is more negotiable paid in cash.
  • Shopping is for all budgets: silver amulets or small purses are inexpensive.
  • Majid will tell you anything you need to know or find in Tangier. His shop is located at 66 rue les Almouhades.
  • Most Moroccans speak French and some English. Majid speaks English (his wife is Danish).

Comments

  1. ramazan demir says

    Fantastic. I wish l was with you on the whole trip. Hopefully one day who knows, cause l love travel and seeing different countries. Thank you.

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