Women reign supreme in the Moroccan carpet market under the Atlas Mountains

In a carpet market in the plains below the Middle Atlas Mountains, women are shearers, weavers, mediators, saleswomen and distributors. There is no place for men in their business model – and they like it.

The market is in Khemisset, a bilingual town of Berbers and Arabs. It has long been a natural trading post where Berber farmers and craftswomen from mountain villages and the rural hinterland sold to an urban clientele, mainly Arab.

Why we wrote this

How can women get the most from their work? One answer, our journalist discovered, lies in a booming Moroccan carpet market: by cutting out intermediaries. In fact, most men.

Anyone who wants to fill their tourist bazaar, hotel, or travel bag with the intricate Berber rugs on sale here must first go through the merchant matriarchs who run the market. Every Tuesday, merchants from Fez, Rabat and Marrakech make their pilgrimage to Khemisset armed with a budget, empty vans and patience. For the women of Khemisset know more than the carpets; they know how to negotiate.

The market is not a charity or government initiative to help rural women. It is a staple of local residents and shared interests that has evolved over three decades. Is it successful? Morocco now has two similar markets run by women in the plains surrounding the Atlas Mountains.

Khemisset, Morocco

The Carpet Palace is at the end of the bustling and dusty weekly outdoor market.

Heaps of past wheat and grain, mounds of clothing, and piles of sandals and animal feed is a rust-colored structure with arched arches and bushels of thread and fabric.

But visitors attracted by the attraction of Berber carpets of all shades must respect an important law: inside this palace, women reign.

Why we wrote this

How can women get the most from their work? One answer, our journalist discovered, lies in a booming Moroccan carpet market: by cutting out intermediaries. In fact, most men.

Because here at Khemisset zarabi souk – literally “carpet market” – women are the mowers, weavers, mediators, saleswomen and distributors. There is no place for men in their business model – and they like it.

Moroccan connoisseurs know their products straight from the source: minimalist geometric weavings in black and white from Beni Ourain; the colorful reds, blues, yellow symbols and wavy lines of the Azilal tribe; Boucherouite rugs resembling confetti in patchwork of textile remains; the blue and red kilims, light and tight.

Anyone who wants to fill their tourist bazaar, auction house, hotel, or travel bag with these intricate multi-colored Berber rugs has to go through these merchant matriarchs first.

Every week, the carpet merchants of Fez, Rabat and Marrakech make an early pilgrimage to Khemisset armed with a budget, empty vans and patience.

For the women of Khemisset know more than their carpets; they know how to negotiate hard.

Located 60 miles east-south-east of Rabat and nestled in the plains below the Middle Atlas Mountains inhabited by the Berbers, Khemisset is a bilingual town of Berbers and Arabs. It has long been a natural trading post where Berber farmers and craftswomen from mountain villages and the rural hinterland sold to an urban clientele, mainly Arab.

Over the past three decades, women in the city have teamed up with relatives and contacts in outlying villages to sell rugs and rugs directly to vendors.

The business has grown to 40 local vendors who assess and sell the wares of 400 women from the surrounding Berber villages.

It is believed that every Tuesday, this small souk supports up to 1,000 people.

Carpet matchmakers

Before dawn, traders from Khemisset like Fatima Rifiya gather in the market to wait for dozens of women from distant Berber villages (locals refer to themselves as Amazigh, which means “free people”) who arrive in horse-drawn carriages at 4 am.

Saleswomen and middlemen then rummage through piles of rugs, rating each piece by size, color, thickness, weave, and pattern.

The women of Khemisset say the secret to their success lies in desirability: tailoring each rug to the target audience and the buyer who never knew they always needed it.

“Each carpet already has its home. We’re just playing the role of matchmaker, ”said Ms. Rifiya as she spreads out a red kilim rug for a customer who struggles to hide her eagerness.

Fatima Rifiya, a seasoned carpet seller, rules over her stand at the zarabi souk in Khemisset, Morocco, October 15, 2019.

Multi-colored rugs stand out when hung in store windows and make them an easy sale to store owners in tourist centers like Fez; the post-modern freestyle scribbles of the Beni Ourain are more requested by foreign tourists and posh Moroccans looking to decorate their apartment in Casablanca or Airbnb.

“Once we have classified the rugs, we explain to the weavers the values ​​and who can be their customers, [and] we set a price and our commission, ”says Ms. Rifiya, herself a graft from a mountainous Berber village who now acts as the chief matriarch and Arabic translator.

“Then they sit down with us and together we sell. “

The carpet merchants come from Marrakech and Fez. The men pace between the tiny stalls, muttering, “Really, that’s too much”, or “I swear to God, I can get half that price elsewhere”.

But Ms. Rifiya and her fraternity are holding on.

She and some of the more experienced salespeople such as Faten act not only as translators for the Berber weavers, but as coaches in the ways of bartering and selling.

Simple rules such as: Never seem desperate for a sale. Let the customer go, he will always come back. Add 20% to your preferred price to start trading. A customer who buys a carpet is always more likely to buy more.

Solidarity and inspiration

But what makes this weekly matriarchal market truly remarkable is how it came into being.

This souk is not sponsored by a charity, a collective, or even a government or royal initiative to help rural women. Instead, it is a staple organic product of local residents and shared interests.

Here at zarabi souk, women sell individually but band together – an alliance driven by economic opportunity, supply and demand, and a zest of solidarity.

It wasn’t always like that.


Three decades ago, most Berber weavers said they sold to middlemen who went to towns and sold at all costs, or to itinerant “dealers” who bought directly from village women for their bazaars and tourist shops. .

But not every Berber woman would know how much others were paid for their work or what the market rate was for their rugs.

With the success of Khemisset zarabi souk, Morocco now has two similar, smaller, women-run markets open in the plains surrounding the Atlas Mountains.

Although there is no place for them in the women’s operations, the men are still free to sell rugs outside the covered souk on the fringes of the Khemisset market – as long as they are willing to risk the anger and ridicule of women.

“Poor quality,” Faten said, pointing to the dubious-looking oriental rugs stacked a hundred yards away. “And it is machine made. There is no way to get tested for the sight of an Amazigh woman.

About Wesley V. Finley

Check Also

Bread & Net panel to explore the intersection of digital rights and MENA languages ​​Rising Voices

On November 24, 2021, Global Voices, through its Rising Voices initiative, will host an online …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.