Dominated by the stark slopes the Atlas Mountains, the northwest corner of north Africa, known as the Maghreb, is the home of the great Berber tribal nation. For thousands of years the Berbers have occupied this region, maintaining their cultural identity despite waves of invaders, including Romans, Arabs, and European colonial powers.
Originally nomads, some of the individual Berber tribes have in recent centuries adopted urbanized lifestyles, developing cities along the southern Mediterranean coast and along the fringe of the Sahara Desert. Others have retained their ancient nomadic traditions. Visitors to the modern nations of Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco can experience both ancient tradition and modern cultural choices blended together in cities such as Algiers, Marrakesh, Tangiers, and Benghazi.
One of the most distinctive of the nearly fifty individual Berber tribal nations, the Beni Ourain are the makers of a unique style of handwoven carpet that is gaining increasing popularity among interior designers and home décor aficionados. Dwellers for over a thousand years in the middle Atlas region of eastern Morocco in the region called Jebel Bouiblane, the Beni Ourain were not exposed to Arabian cultural influences as were Berbers tribes farther to the north. For this reason they have retained very ancient textile traditions, ones immediately apparent in the carpets, rugs, and wall hangings that they create.
Beni Ourain carpets and rugs are handwoven on flat looms, using yarn spun from the distinctive fleece of sheep native to the Atlas Mountains. On a background of the natural whites and ivories of the wool is woven a distinctive range of geometric patterns in contrasting black and deep gray shades created using local natural dyes. Beni Ourain weavers do not follow set patterns or graphed-out designs, but instead create their works in a spontaneous and personal fashion, making each piece that comes off their looms individual and unique.
The yarn used in the creation of Beni Ourain textiles is also distinctive. Unlike the wool used in other Berber textile traditions, Beni Ourain wool is shorn from living sheep, not cut from a butchered animal. Once woven, the pile of the yarn is longer than that found in other styles, and knotted to create a particularly dense fabric. These qualities all contribute to the particular Beni Ourain style.
This dichromatic color scheme, unique fabric “hand,” and traditional tribal patterns are identifying qualities of all textiles made by the Beni Ourain. These features also make their woven products particularly adaptable to modern interiors. Unlike the richly colored and elaborately patterned textiles found in other Berber tribal traditions, the Beni Ourain fabrics blend beautifully with all the elements of a room’s design, making a quiet statement while drawing together otherwise divergent aspects. Indeed, they fit into the most ultra-modern room treatments, their stark but never strict geometric patterns supporting any number of other styles within a room.