Folklore: The Boujad Princess
The Berbers have always been great storytellers. Both the Saharan Berbers and the Berbers of the Middle Atlas have a tradition of sitting around camp fires, on their rugs, telling stories – enthralling the children with tales of heroics and adventure, and amusing the adults with humorous tales or those of a more adult content.
One popular story from my childhood was that of the Boujad Princess, which has a dash of heroism and fighting, a beautiful damsel and our familiar and favourite Boujad Rug which plays a vital role in saving the day.
The Boujad Princess is set during the Umayyad conquest of Hispania in the early 8th Century A.D. At this time, the tribes were loosely aligned through a series of tribal alliances, and the strongest leader among them was Tariq. He was a ferocious leader, feared by his enemies and respected by his men. He was a skilled horseman and was reputed to kill at least 100 men in each battle, and he engaged in frequent raids across the Gibraltar Strait.
In response to this, the ruling Visigoths kidnapped Tariq’s brother and held him captive in Toledo to encourage “good behaviour” by the Berber raiders. However, this just infuriated Tariq who vowed to free his Amazigh brother from captivity. Amazigh literally means "free man", and true Berbers never allow themselves to be subjugated against their will. The following year, Tariq took himself and his mighty band of Berber warriors and their horses across the strait and headed for Toledo. On his way to Toledo, Tariq got word that his brother had fallen in love with a minor Visigoth Princess, and that they might marry to bring peace between the Berbers and the Visigoths. However, Tariq did not trust the Visigoth rulers and so he pressed forth with the attack.
Tariq scored a stunning victory at the Battle of Guadalete, killing the Visigoth King and routing the army through a series of ferocious Calvary charges. He then turned to capture the Visigoth capital of Toledo and sent word for his brother and his lover to escape from the City, in case they would get killed during the assault. Because Tariq had not seen his brother’s princess before, he told her that she should have a Boujad rug as the saddle on her horse and wear another Boujad rug as a cape – the same Boujad rugs that the brother had with him on the day he was captured where the symbols would have meaning.
One night, the princess and her captive lover escaped from the City and were met by a Berber scouting party who took them to the Tariq. There was much jubilation at the reunion that night, but the next day an attack was planned. The Princess begged that it be called off, but Tariq refused. Instead, he agreed to be honour bound to spare every life that asked for it.
The Princess knew she had to get word back to the city that those who would surrender would be spared from the ensuing bloodbath. She knew the people of the castle would not trust a Berber emissary, but maybe she could persuade them. She went back, and said “open the gates, lay down your swords and raise this Boujad Rug as a flag of peace, and your life will be spared”.
The sight of a Berber charge on horseback is truly majestic and terrifying. Tariq and his mighty band of men led the initial charge against the city. As they charged, the gates of the city were flung open and a Boujad Rug was hoisted onto the gatehouse – they surrendered. Tariq’s brother came to the gate to embrace his lover princess, who offered the surrender of the castle along with the garrison’s captain.
True to his word, Tariq ensured the safe passage of the garrisoned forces to their homes, and this set the path for the rest of the Berber conquest of Iberia, whereby the attacking Berber forces would allow the inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula to remain and live according to their rules and customs as long as they submitted to Berber rule.
For me, this tale is about being true to oneself and having the courage to follow through your convictions, while also being fair and just. Benisouk prides itself on being an active member of the Berber rug making community, contributing back into these communities when it can. As a result, we are rewarded with getting access to some of the most authentic and beautiful Boujad Rugs, which you can buy along with a bit of Berber culture to help these rural Berber Communities.