Going Loco in Morocco


Escaping the Christmas madness this year I finally took a long awaited road trip to Morocco – the fairy tale land that I can see on a clear day from my kitchen window. Many mint teas, pointy jalabers, salty tajines and warm smiles later, I found myself 1500km down south in a relaxed town called Sidi Ifni. Here, I had a little insight to some of the amazing handicrafts that have traditionally been an integral part of life but which are fast becoming tourist commodities as the questionable hands of ‘progress’ take their grip.

Sidi Ifni has a distinctly Spanish feel as it was invaded by Spain in 1476 and remained a Spanish enclave until 1969 when Spain relinquished it under pressure from Morocco. It is almost at the end of the tarmac road which leads to the vast Sahara – home to 22 main tribes whose beautiful handicrafts are sold at weekly souks throughout Morocco.
Fifty year old Hassan Jalloul who was born in Sidi Ifni gave me a little cultural lesson on some of these amazing objects. Plates inlayed with camel bone, saddles carved from wood, paints made from saffron, prayer mats spun from camel hair, pots and tajines moulded from the earth, incense made from cactus sap, snake skins used to adorn bags and water carriers – the list of raw materials is endless and each object is unique, beautiful and made by hand to be used in daily life.
The prayer mats have a fluffy side for winter and a smooth side for summer. The bags made from camel guts were used as an integral part of organizing weddings. A man would give a bag filled with gifts to the woman of his choice and if the woman agreed she would have 3 weeks to decorate the bag with intricate paintings before she returned it. If the bag was returned unpainted than this was a clear sign that the answer was no!
Hassan talked me through the endless treasures which he hopes will never be totally replaced by the modern world. “All this art was born from necessity,” he points out, “as cars gradually replace camels these crafts are in danger of dying out.”

I wondered if Hassan was about to try and sell me half of the ‘gallery’ which he runs with his partner, Mobarak Najbani, but he didn’t. I talked to him about fair trade and he responded with more mint tea and assured me that everyone was happy and that he was just doing his bit to keep these traditional arts alive.


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This post is also available in: Spanish

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