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  • Beni Ourain Rugs and the history of the Berbers tribes of north Africa

Beni Ourain Rugs and the history of the Berbers tribes of north Africa

Very few North African Berber Beni Ourain rugs, Beni Mguild and Beni Alaham and weavings, with the exception of those from the south of Morocco have found their way to Europe; even the most recent products, are rarely seen here. Thus the study of North African Berber tribal weaving, like that of the applied arts from the same area, has been passed over by most writers on Islamic culture. Only the French with their territorial interests have given a degree of time and scholarship to the classification of the urban and nomad arts of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. In the context of weaving, we should mention P. Richard’s Corpus des Tapis Marocains (1923) and L. Poinssot’s and J. Revault’s Tapis Tunisiens (1950-7).
In the early years of the spread of Islam, the areas called Maghreb and Ilfrikiya, which now comprise Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, were backwaters of the Moorish empire of Spain, although the Moors were of North African descent. In the first half of the 8th century, the Moors founded an Emirate based on Cordoba, which was under the direct rule of the Damascus Umayyad Caliphate. In A.D. 750, when the Umayyads were defeated and the Abbasid Caliphate founded, the Moors remained faithful to the Umayyads, and in A.D. 929 founded their own anti-Abbasid Umayyad Caliphate at Cordoba. This city became one of the great cultural centres of Western Islam, reaching its apogee under Abd-ar-Rahman III (A.D. 912-61) and his successors Hakam II (A.D. 961-76) and Hisham II (A.D. 976-1009), spreading the influence of the Umayyad style throughout Spain and North Africa.
In the 11th and 12th centuries, North Africa, like Moorish Spain and Egypt, was under the rule of various Berber dynasties. The Sultanate of the Almoravids (1087-1147) established their capital at Marrakesh, the first and only time that Moorish Spain was ruled from North Africa. During this time, the Umayyad Caliphate of Cordoba having been defeated, allegiance was given to the Abbasid Caliphate, although the Moorish empire remained autonomous. The Almoravids had little interest in art, but under their successors, the Almohads (1147-1235), the first flowerings of the new Moorish style appeared. During this time, the Fatamid Caliphate, another anti-Abbasid group, who had been rulers in parts of North Africa since A.D. 909, gained control of Egypt. They, too, were Berbers, as were the Idrisids of Fez, in what is now the northernmost part of Morocco, who ruled from A.D. 788 to A.D. 974, the Aghlabids, who ruled in Kairouan, now in Tunisia, from A.D. 800 to A.D. 909, and their successors, the Zirids (A.D. 909-1150), who were related to the Fatamid rulers of Egypt. The Almohads unifies much of North Africa and Spain. After their decline, the area broke into several groups, the Nasrids in Granada ruling from 1232 to 1490, the Merinids in Fez from 1216 to 1470 and the Hafsids in Tunis from 1228 to 1574; at about the same time, the Mamluks established their empire in Egypt. From the late 15th century, the Ottomans established either direct rule or strong influence over the whole of North Africa. This remained the case until the present century, when it fell subject to European, especially French and British, territorial expansion.
Although we have evidence that carpet weaving was carried on in Moorish Spain and Egypt from a very early period (existing Spanish carpets from the 14th