Each authentic Beni Ourain rug is one of a kind because it was woven by hand by a member of the Beni Ourain tribe of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains. Beni Ourain people are Berbers, whose ancestors were in northern Africa during prehistoric times. Berbers also are known as Imazighen; an individual Berber is called an Amazigh.
Made of wool from the Atlas Mountains’ sheep, Beni Ourain rugs feature traditional and contemporary patterns in colors that contrast with the naturally white or ivory wool on the other parts of the rugs. The wool used in the various patterns was dyed with natural materials. A series of geometric shapes, such as diamonds, highlight some of the rugs. Others display a design that conveys a cultural story or event. Some of the textiles include fringe.
Often serving as focal points and artwork in interior design, the handmade rugs hang on walls and cover floors. They also are used as clothing decoration, saddle blankets, shrouds for the deceased, prayer mats and to sleep on or under. Certain Beni Ourain rugs bear symbols that identify their purpose. For example, some of the rug users believe particular symbols promote fertility or guard against evil. Likewise, some rug makers burn the sides of their rugs a bit to provide protection from evil spirits.
Available in small, medium and large, Beni Ourain rugs range from about 200 by 150 centimeters to about 335 by 210 centimeters. Their dimensions and width-to-length ratios are as varied as their designs, though. The ones that are much longer than they are wide are useful as runners.
Because a handcrafted Beni Ourain rug is made well and made of wool, it is durable. That quality allows it to hold up well in locations that receive a lot of foot traffic. It also makes the rug long-lasting. Wherever and however it is used, the rug resists stains. Its natural coloring and patterns make it suitable for many kinds of decor and many decor hues.
Berber rugs have been created since the Paleolithic Period, also known as the Old Stone Age. It lasted from about 2 million years ago to about 8000 B.C., according to The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Such rugs were used by nomadic people in northern Africa. Taking their rugs with them when they left one home, the migrants put them in their next home. The rugs also were featured in religious settings and palaces.
The knowledge of how to weave the rugs and make their patterns is still passed from generation to generation. Their symbols’ meanings also are handed down.