I was getting breakfast at a local café in Morocco, and watched a woman sitting on a bench across the street. She had a tattoo on her chin, and one between her eyes. It was a normal tattoo like you would see in the states, but a geometric one, one that looked like a what you would see branding irons made out of. But it wasn’t ugly, it was…..in a way…. beautiful. My eyes wandered over the rest of the her garb, and I was particularly amused at the hat she was wearing, with what looks like those small pom-pom’s that you find on children’s crafts in the States. I asked my guide about this hat & asked if it was a costume or just something they would normally wear? He then told me that the hat was a traditional piece of clothing that is typically worn by the Berber people who resided in the North of Morocco.
I myself am a very artistically inclined person, and love bright colors and symbols. So I started to research what these symbols mean, the Berber people, and these unusual and beautiful ways they place these symbols on their bodies, in their products they would sell, and on their homes.
The Berber flag and components of its colors and symbol is likely something you will see scrawled all over the more rural areas in Morocco.
Each color of the flag has a meaning, and corresponds to the aspect of the Tamazgha, the territory inhabited by Berbers in North Africa. The blue symbolizes the Mediterranean Sea & the Atlantic Ocean; the Green represents nature & the green mountains; the Yellow represents the ‘Free Man’ which is the meaning of the Berber word ‘Amazigh’, the Berbers own name for themselves. The Red is the color of life, and also the color of resistance. This is particularly significant and a huge source of pride for them and their community, they are one of the few people who were able to defeat the Spanish Armada invasion & especially were resilient in resistance in the Mountainous regions in the North. If you ever see a Berber who is from the North, the men are MASSIVELY TALL, I’m talking 6’4″, and its not just one of them, its the entire town. Go to Chefchaouen, you will see what I mean.
So why is knowing this about their history important? It has helped their traditions survive the test of time, those traditions of using symbols especially and the stories that are behind them. Although most converted to Islam, there is still a very prominent underlying influence of traditional beliefs about things such as: The evil eye, demons that can possess you, pagan worship of fertility gods, and deep protection in implementing color and the type of medium they use to do it.
For Example, metal workers, they will typically have the symbol ‘X’ or scissors. Their occupation is treated with fearful respect as metal keeps away jnoun or the evil eye.
Another example is those symbols commonly found in the traditional Berber Rugs. These rugs are typically woven by the women in the home, the techniques are passed down from mother to daughter, and sometimes to the sons. The sons then become masterweavers and sell their rugs to tourists or other visitors to help support their family. Depending on the location within Morocco that you are in, the ‘Traditional Rug’ will change in its symbols and colors that are used. For example in the North, you may see a lot of Blue rugs with Dimonds; in the South you may see a lot more squares & Red colors. Below you will find the Symbols and their meanings.
Other symbols used, may be in the concrete work or metal work found on houses, above the doors or on the gates to a home. Here are some of those symbols and their meanings:
1= the star of David, which is actually a Jewish home. The Jewish fled to Morocco during the Spanish Reconquest & many settled in Chefchaouen. So you will see Jewish stars scattered throughout the city and above the doors of certain homes that symbolizes the couple in the house, but then it is often combined with a Scorpion symbol to ward off the evil eye.
2= Rose with 4 petals. This particular house actually belongs to a Christian family. At the bottom in form of two signs, face to face, a symbol of love of those which live in the house.
3= Without a star and religious membership. This symbolizes the love of the couple, and the flower represents their offspring.
4= The five snakes = the snakes guards an eye on the top. This is a Muslim house, and the flower represents the couple living in the house being guarded by the snakes and the evil eye.
5= A flower with five petals and seven leaves on the stem = this is the symbol for a Muslim family
6= A flower with eight petals , symbol for a Muslim house, with the symmetrical fan like symbol at the bottom indicates the love of the couple within the home.
7= The star of David, which is another symbol for a Jewish family, and the branches crossing at the bottom symbolized the love of the couple within the home.
8= An Oval at the top with a date in the middle (no meaning), and eye to stop the evil eye within the branches from harming the family within
9= The rose with eight petals, thus Arab & Muslim, with two branches of symmetrical olive trees which symbolize that the couple lives there peacefully. The olive-tree is actually the symbol of peace throughout Morocco (as well as in Isreal- for my Christian friends, think of the significance of that in some of your Bible stories).
So as you can see, with all the symbols that were being placed on doors, clothing, jewelry, rugs, clothing — they were symbols for faith, love, and protection. Every color has its meaning, and use in their culture, but typically it revolves around strength, fertility, and protection. But the thing that was most surprising to me is that they also put the symbols for fertility and magical rites on their faces as tattoos. This was strange to me at first, but the more I realized how much meaning was behind them, the more I thought about how beautiful the idea was & how unique it was for their culture. Diversity of culture is what I feel is slowly starting to disappear from our world, as the internet makes information more available, and travel is more affordable; it is very important that we not try and change others & cherish who and what defines them as a culture and a people.