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Beware of cheap Beni Ouarain knock-offs!

The most famous of the Moroccan Amazigh (Berber) carpets are those of the Beni Ouarain, a collection of seventeen Amazigh tribes.  Now their unique corner of the carpet market is under threat from cheap Chinese, Turkish Indian and Egyptian copies.

Located in the Middle Atlas, the nomadic Beni Ouarain probably began to settle south and southeast of the range of mountains known as Jebel Bouiblane around the 9th century AD, but it is suspected that the flat weaving tradition they brought with them is considerably older. Genuine Beni Ouarain carpets are much sought after and the demand for them has fuelled imitations.

Beni_Ourain_50

Vintage Moroccan Beni Ouarain in a Moroccan Riad.

According to respected Moroccan carpet experts, the Chinese machine made copies are produced in their hundreds and can be sold for a fraction of the price of an original Beni Ouarain piece.
The sale of fake Beni Ouarain rugs has reached a point where some web sites are using the name Beni Ouarain as if it were simply a style of carpet, no matter where it was made.

Beni_Ouarain_Wool_Pile

The Beni Ouarain Wool Pile

Gebhart Blazek is a specialized dealer in Moroccan carpets and textiles and one of the few who has done the extensive research. He spent more than 18 months in field-research projects in Northern Africa since 1992 and is a constant contributor to international conferences and specialized publications. Gebhart Blazek agrees with our Fez rug expert about the functionality of the rugs as a method of protection; "The loose structure of the rugs adjusts to the shape of the body and offers effective protection against the cold."

It might seem surprising that in addition to rugs which, in their archaic character, suggest the origins of the pile weaving tradition itself, the Beni Ouarain also produced sophisticated flatweaves. The structure of their pile rugs is based on function — the number of wefts and the high pile being essential for good insulation — and design possibilities are therefore limited. But by contrast, Beni Ouarain weavers were able to display all their technical skill in the making of women's flatwoven shawls, some of the finest and technically most demanding of Moroccan textiles. As none of the other tribes appear to have produced flatweaves of such complexity, it seems reasonable to assume that the Beni Ouarain played a central role in the textile development of the Middle Atlas nomads, and that their work may even be linked to a far more ancient tradition.- Gebhart Blazek

 

Vintage_Moroccan_Handira

Moroccan vintage Handira from the 1900's.

There are three distinct types of shawls or coats (arab.: handira), whose names correspond to a particular technique and design density. The finest, known as tabrdouhte, are worn only on special occasions. They are like a pattern book, with up to seventy closely packed decorative rows in a sophisticated weft-wrapping technique, made not only from wool, but also from cotton and - more important - from linen. - Gebhart Blazek

Moroccan_Modern_Handira

Modern Moroccan Handira with beautiful patterns

One of the main reasons for the difference between the Beni Ouarain rugs and other Moroccan Amazigh styles is geographical isolation. Because of their remote location, the Beni Ouarain were not influenced by the Arabic designs common to other tribes until the 20th century. Blazek says, "It is therefore not surprising that formal similarities of design and palette are to be found not in the urban rugs of the Maghreb, but rather in rural ceramics, which have retained an archaic decorative system of black lines on a white base, as well as production methods unchanged since Neolithic times."

The classic Beni Ouarain carpet design has a network of diamonds made up of relatively fine black lines on a white (or cream) ground. Borders are uncommon, and even the secondary guard design elements along the sides appear to be the result of external influences.

Beni_Ourain_28

Typical Modern Beni Ouarain featured in AD Magazine

One recent internet article quotes Elizabeth Mayhew, the design consultant for the American Today Show saying that currently, "very few new carpet style Beni Ourain are made ​​in Morocco”. This would be news to the Moroccan Beni Ouarain weavers who work hard at producing their masterpieces. Unfortunately the demand is high and insufficient and expensive original pieces are causing decoration companies to turn to China and Egypt.

Back in Fez, Morocco, our rug expert says he has yet to see a Chinese or Egyptian copy of a Beni Ouarain, but he has seen significant numbers of other tribal designs coming from a new source - Spain. "Again, they are all machine made," he says.

So what should you pay for a genuine Beni Ouarain?

If you are buying in the United States, prices can easily range between $5,000 and $8,000 for a rug of around 50 years old.  That is between 41,800 and 67,000 dirhams. Older (eighty to one hundred year old) rugs can fetch as much as $25,000 dollars (more than 209,000 dirhams) each.

Comments (2)
  • Martyn Belmont  - Need custom Beni Ouarain.
    thank you for posting this. I am shopping for a custom Beni ouarain and
    need some advice. Can I email you?
    Marty
  • Monique Drinkwater  - Thank You
    Thank you for your informative blog regarding the wonderful vintage Beni
    Ouarain rugs. I appreciate all that you say, and feel saddened by the
    copies that other countries like China indulge in, people supporting such
    industry show no understanding or respect for the art of the Beni Ouarain,
    and its long history in the High Atlas of Morocco.
    I wish you and your company great success and you will find it, it may at
    times be hard won, is this world of copy cats and...
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