Symbols in Moroccan Berber Carpets

Moroccan Berber rugs

Moroccan Berber carpets are coveted for several reasons: their unique earthy character and lack of symmetry; their abstract impact; their soft often silky hand-spun woollen pile; the creativity of their weavers; and their stunning motifs and symbols, combined to create complex messages and stories rooted in Berber rural life

Berber peoples on Maroc Tribal blog

The motifs and their meanings are part of a tradition that remained mostly independent, as the many different Berber tribes preferred to remain isolated in their settled or semi-nomadic communities. But what do these beautiful designs signify, and how should we understand them?

Typically, designs relate to fertility, sexuality, survival, protection, and the natural and agricultural world - with most rugs being hand woven by family women in tight-knit communities with strong cultural traditions

For example, the main 'female' symbol (alone or as a network), the lozenge, is probably the most important motif in Berber carpets. The chevron, the M-shape, and the X-shape are the other important female symbols. While a large single diamond could be a watchful guardian warding off evil, it could also be used to represent female attributes as well as fertility. An X could be seen as a body with arms and legs spread out

Male motifs tend to be straight lines, sticks, ribbons, or twig-and-ladder like symbols. These male motifs rarely appear in carpets alone, and interestingly, can often be seen on the outer edges of the carpets, 'containing' or protecting the  female motifs within these edges

What are Berber symbols?

The meaning of many symbols has been lost over time, and although mothers and grandmothers have passed specific motifs and designs down through generations, weavers might say they simply weave what they learned and can’t express what it means. Berber designs, even when reflecting certain tribal traditions and beliefs, were intensely personal, and to that end, they must be interpreted with care, as we simply don’t know what certain designs were intended for or how to translate them. And to do so, we would also need to understand the songs, cultures and legends of different tribes. For example, Berber symbols are used in tattoos as well as rugs 


It’s amazing to know that some of the simple basic shapes used in Berber carpets – the lozenge, chevron, X-shape, straight line with hatching, and so on – can also be found as abstract signs in European cave art and in horn or bone, dating from 30,000 to 10,000 BC. Unlike any other carpet, the Berber carpet has preserved these orginal motif forms from the earliest times

(There's very little quality information about the origin of the symbols used in Berber carpets, but we always turn to Berber Arts for real connoisseurship, and we loved reading Bruno Barbatti's tome 'Berber Carpets of Morocco')

Mo RachidiComment