By Sarah Corbett
Many of the exquisite ensembles of North African jewellery include handmade silver beads.
The Jewish silversmiths of Southern Morocco were famed for their exceptional workmanship. The Jewish Berber population lived in Morocco from around the 1st century AD when the Jewish peoples expanded from ancient territories in Modern day Libya into the Southern Oasis of Morocco. Pieces of Jewellery made during this age of Moroccan history are the most prized and collectable of the silver work of Morocco. Most all of the Jewish community left Morocco between 1950 and 1970.
Each tribal group would have a distinct style. These differences in style identified clan, status and wealth.
Beads from the Sirouan region.
This is a mountainous region rising to 3304 metres which is located to the south of Ouarzazatte. The area is known for the production of fine quality Saffron and as such was home to some wealthy farming families. This affluence is reflected in the style of jewellery adopted in the region. Photo 1 is Jewish silver work. We can see that delicate techniques are employed, such as the filigree construction, the granulation which add weight to the piece and therefore value, and the opulent enamels in unusual colours which identify the origin and status of the wearer. This relatively delicate style of bead tells us that the wearer was not working the fields. Such a piece would be the property of a wealthy farmers wife, with a dowry to reflect her important status. These beads were made by the finest artisans, to order, for the elite, and as such are very rare.
The other women living in the same region would use the les costly materials and the less adept artisans available to their budget to attempt to copy the wondrous jewels of the wealthy ladies of the area. Photo 2 is an example of such a bead made in metal. These jewels would be worn for festivals and celebrations.
Further West we find the famous silver jewellery production region of the Anti Atlas and in particular the town of Tiznit. Production of silver jewellery now has all but ceased, however in the past the finest silversmiths worked in the town and its surrounds.
A very particular style of bead called the Taguemout was produced in Tiznit.
The egg shaped bead was very much associated with fertility and were worn in abundance by the ladies of the area.
The three in the Photos are Jewish workmanship, with some remaining enamelling. They would be worn at the centre of linked fibulae or on necklaces The repeated eye design was believed to be a strong protective element for the wearer.
Taguemout beads are worn within the community by women of all ages. The style of their adornment identifies their origin.
The desire for this particular style of beads endures. Demand for it by visitors to Morocco has led to ongoing production of the style.
In the town of Tarroudant the replicas of the original silver Taguemout are still being produced.
The Taguemout beads and other enamelled pieces made in and around Tarroudant are called fantasie within Morocco. They are made from coin silver or other white metals, in the style of the earlier silver beads of Tiznit. Small bead making workshops in rural communities along the Souss valley create handmade beads using the age old techniques. The enamels are created by grinding glass beads and the dating of these pieces can be helped by a sound knowledge of the history of the beads which were, at any given time being traded into Morocco.
The jewellery of each region in Morocco has a distinct style. There are in each region, jewels which once adorned wealthy women and those of lesser quality materials which were equally treasured by wider populace.
We can find many distinct styles of bead throughout Morocco, both those created within Morocco and those which were traded to Morocco. Throughout history, Morocco has been an eclectic and diverse trading post. Goods travelled from Europe southwards, on the trading vessels along the east coast of Africa, from Sub Saharan Africa northwards across the great trade routes of the Sahara, and, of course, along the ancient trade routes of the Silk Road from the far East and across the Maghreb.
This combination of Moroccan and traded beads makes this corner of North Africa a rich resource for those who love to collect and study beads.