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Moroccan handicrafts : tradition and modernity

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IHSAN GHOUAT

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IHSAN GHOUAT

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5th generationin morroccan handycaft

In Morocco and Marrakech, the Carpenter is the person who is able to handle wood in a traditional way Here is a recitation of a slightly different way of life

Family GHOUAT is considered to be a living example of a type of “masters craftsman” (mâallems) that has gradually been disappearing in Morocco. Ahmed Born in 1951, he narrates his life experience with a nostalgic tone. Having lived through the dramatic changes that have occurred and are still occurring in the craft of Carpentry, as has happened with other traditional crafts in Morocco, he is now putting himself at a sufficient distance from his craft to speak about it from the point of view of a disappointed philosopher. It all started when he became an apprentice, along with some of his cousins, at his father and uncle’s workshop, where the skill of carpentry had been kept in the family and passed down from one generation to another. The largest building site, in which his father had revealed his skills, was the Dar El Bacha El Glaoui palace (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dar_el_Bacha), belonging to the Pasha (chief) of Marrakech during the French Protectorate. It was a genuine masterpiece and an object of pride for the whole family. The performance of his grandfather, along with a group of other master craftsmen left a mark of rare beauty on the carved and painted ceilings, as well as the giant portals sculptured into a fine ornament imitating lace. Ahmed Ghouat had to choose between education and his attraction to Carpentry. It was not long before he decided on carpentry. His father encouraged him by giving him three options: 1- to go with him to the building sites, 2- to remain in the workshop, or 3- to depend on his own resources. He decided to follow his father from one construction site to another. Thus, Ahmed Ghouat accompanied his father when he went to work at the mausoleum of Mohamed the Fifth in Rabat (https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mausol%C3%A9e_Mohammed-V), which had been under construction since 1964. Later, they both worked in several royal palaces during the reign of King Hassan the Second. Times were changing, and Carpentry was not what it had been previously. Until the Colonial period, the master craftsman was the one who received the payment from the commissioning person and had then to employ and pay craftsmen and apprentices. He was provided with accommodation and food during the entire work period. Work was mainly commissioned by the elite: ministers, rulers, leaders, and state employees. As for the craft itself,

it was mostly applied to the parts of the buildings that were built out of wood or adorned with wood. This included furniture as well as sculptures, carving and plating. Thus, doors, ceilings, windows, chimneys, bookcases, and different types of furniture were created through dexterous skills and techniques, mastered over time. Afterward, public advertising came into being. The master craftsman was given an advance payment, which he passed on to the craftsmen who worked on the building sites. Another new development was that work started to be done in the workshop instead of on the building sites. Craftsmen’s wages were paid according to the week they had just worked, with Fridays off for prayer. Craftsmen also had the right to have a seven-day holiday for Eid al Fitr , which followed the end of the month of fasting (Ramadan), and a ten-day holiday for Eid El Adha . This shows that the holidays corresponded to either prayer or religious feasts. Those days were particularly useful for family reunions, visiting relatives and friends, purification and rest, as well as socializing, eating together and generally having fun. In order to explain the changes that professional relationships have undergone in this craft, Ahmed Ghouat tells the following story: “A master-craftsman invited other craftsmen who were employed by him to meet four days after Eid El Adha . He told them that he only wanted to meet them so they could have a good time together. He took them to a lively part of the city where they spent the rest of their wages. Afterwards, he asked them to return to their homes. They refused, begging him to let them start work again, for they had spent all their money.” Friday was known as the day of “outings” (nzaha); which was a tradition that had its rules and practices established by craftsmen. “Outing” literally means a picnic outdoors, to which people took delicious food and drinks. It was characterised by the preparation of a special Marrakechi dish, called tangia (https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tangia); veal or mutton cooked slowly in a pot at the fireplace of the public hammam. This dish, which only men prepared, was carried on Friday afternoons to the picnic place for a group of friends to eat. Not only did they enjoy the food but they also had discussions, told jokes, and sang melodies entoned by a craftsman who doubled as virtuous lute player. Suitable places for such festive outings were always available. They i

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