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Holy Flying Cow Carpets, Batman!

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A tradition kept through the eons
If you saw a cow recently, you might have thought "juicy hamburger," or "tall, cool glass of milk." You probably didn't think "exotic rug." Neither did we, until we got to Morocco, where beautiful, hand-woven carpets are made of sheep's wool and goat's hair… not to mention - gulp! - cow urine.


Exotic - Striking or unusual in looks

Connoisseur - A person who is especially knowledgeable about a certain subject

Browsing - Looking around

Nimble - Quick

Export - A product that is made in one country and sold to other countries

Yuck!! How do they do that? Why do they do that? Actually, cow urine is used as a dye is some of the more colorful carpets, along with other natural stuff like almond leaves, bark and iron sulfate. Yellow dye comes from local plants, and black is courtesy of black-haired goats.

Moroccan carpets come in all designs and colors, but there are two main styles reflecting the region in which the carpet was made. The city of Rabat, Morocco's capital near the Atlantic coast, could also be called Carpet Central. Inspired by Middle Eastern traditions, Rabat carpets normally have a medallion or floral pattern woven with reds and blues, with a complex border around the edges. A well-made carpet will have tens of thousands of hand-tied knots: just imagine the knots your hands would be in after a couple hundred!

The shepherds of the High Atlas Mountains region make the other main type of carpet. Hundreds of different Berber and Arab tribal groups continue their centuries-old tradition of making carpets out of the wool and hair from the sheep and goats they tend. It is said that the wool used in these carpets has special powers! Weavers use all kinds of funky patterns like zig-zags, diamonds, cars, and evil eyes!

Brides won't catch cold with one of these on
People in Rabat and around the High Atlas Mountains produce carpets for the outside world, but long before carpet connoisseurs traveled to Morocco in search of exotic floor covering, Moroccans had their many uses down pat. For hundreds of years weavers have propped up giant wool carpets to keep out bad weather, and used large, single carpets to keep their entire family warm at night! One tribe makes cloaks out of its carpets, leaving one side smooth but the other with balls of wool to keep out the snow. And some young Berber women weave their own wedding shawls, which they wear wrapped around them as they ride on horseback to their groom's house. Later, this same shawl might be used as a shawl to wrap the woman's body when she dies.

So now that we've sold you on the many practical and decorative uses for Moroccan carpets, you just have to have one, right? Let's take a little trip to our local carpet store, shall we?

Carpets are big business in Morocco, and the men who sell them pull out all the stops. Beware, of carpet hunting - or even browsing - in shops that used to be palaces! They're so huge and luxurious that you're weak and impressionable by the time the manager approaches to oh-so-nicely welcome you to his country. He'll generously offer you a cushy seat and some yummy mint tea before he tells you all there is to know about Moroccan carpets; then he'll summon his staff to roll out the best of the best, just for you!

Low pay and backbreaking work yield the carpets of Morocco
But don't forget where the carpets come from. Moroccan women, almost all of whom are young girls, have for centuries sat at looms weaving carpets that are now famous around the world, and which contribute the fifth-largest source of money to Morocco's economy. Despite the skill that only their thin nimble fingers can provide, however, the women and girls are not paid well at all.

Most of the girls will never go back to school, since their knot-tying skills come in too handy for the men who sell the carpets to let them go. Essentially, more knots mean more money. But there is no denying the pride that Moroccans take in their country's most famous export.


Monica - Recipe for Morocco
Team - Journey Through Time… The Path of the Moroccan Berbers
Team - This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land

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