The Zanafi Tribe likes in the Ouarzazate region of Morocco, resting between the High Atlas Mountains, the Draa Valley and the desert. This part of Morocco has long been known as the “door of the desert”, with the unforgiving desert on one side and the harsh Moroccan Atlas Mountains on the other, and the Zanafi are custodians to this place of divergence.
To the north is the Tizi n’Tichka Pass, sometimes written in Berber languages as ⵜⵉⵣⵉ ⴻⵏ ⵜⵉⵛⴾⴰ. It links South-East Marrakesh to Ouarzazat through the High Atlas Mountains, and has historically been a strategic position, guarding the valuable trans-Saharan trade routes. This route has a series of fortified villages, the most famous being Ait Benhaddou, not far from Ouarzazate City itself.
The region can get very hot in the summer – up to 47 degrees, while also getting cold in the winter – sometimes as cold as -6 degrees. It are these swinging extremes that have led to the quirkiest aspect of the Zanafi Tribe – their reversible rugs!
The nomadic Berber tribes are deeply linked together, through family ties as well as trade and shared cultures. The Zanafi tribe draws its influences from both the desert and mountain tribes, and nothing exemplifies how they incorporate two very different ways of life together than through their rugs. Zanafi rugs are unique in that they are double sided. One side incorporates the mountain traditions, highly influenced by the Beni Ourain stylesof a black pattern on a white rug. This side will have a high pile, providing comfort for the colder nights and winter and for periods when a Zanafi tribesperson might spend in the higher altitudes of the Moroccan Atlas mountains.
The other side has no pile – instead it’s a flatweave, better suited to the warmer climates. These hand-knotted wool rugs are flat and display straight lines, geometric patterns and have fringes on their sides. Often these rugs will have a 3D effect, with only parts of the rugs elevated with pile or with knots running along the rug in some king of pattern.
All Moroccan Rugs are multipurpose – they may be a blanket one night and a partition in the day, a saddle at one time and a shawl at different time. The 3D patterns of the Zanafi tribe are a wonderful example of the cultural pragmatism that all Berbers display, creating beauty alongside utility, creating a flatweave rug to be worn one way to be more breathable and suited for the lowlands, while being thicker and warmer for the highlands when turned the other way. Alternatively, in the day the rug may be turned pile down for a heat absorbing flatweave to sit on and then turned over to provide a comfy blanket during the colder nights.
Zanafi rugs are not easy to find as they are only ever made in small quantities by the nomadic communities around Ouarzazate, unlike the more common Ouazguita carpets which are also made by the settled population in that region.
Benisouk is unique in that it has built a vast and sprawling network of Berber Artisan Families who produce rugs. They are able to source a limited quantity of authentic Zanafi rugs which can be seen through their website www.benisouk.com. Benisoukare able to maintain a steady supply through maintaining good relationships with the Berber Tribes and allowing these remote tribes to access the manufactured goods of the city in exchange for their rugs, allowing them to improve their living standards and better their community. You can learn more about the Benisouk Story here. Benisouk also has a wide range of other Berber Rugs so is a great place to look at if you are wanting to know more about Moroccan Rugs.