In the Sahara, it is still possible to find some artisans practicing traditional crafts
In the Sahara, it is still possible to find some artisans practicing traditional crafts, exactly the way they were described in the nineteen-fifties by the eminent anthropologist Julio Caro Baroja.
Today, there are very few left, but in the past the artisans, called MALEMIM or, pejoratively, MAJARREROS, were an essential part of everyday life in a nomad encampment.
In the most important and most opulent FARGAN, the artisan and his itinerant workshop occupied a very special place. His Jaima was the place for idle gossip and amorous intrigues.
Though traditional Saharawi society looked down on them, the Majarrero and his wife made the everyday utensils, both of wood or leather and bone or metal.
From their expert hands came the saddles, and the cauldrons and pitchers made of copper and brass. Also finely-worked caskets and boxes which conferred a certain prestige on their owners.
Small tents and family businesses, like this one of Mahayub, have proliferated in the camps of Tinduf, a sign of improvements in the refugees’ quality of life.
This budding capitalism is replacing the traditional system of commerce, based on barter, which the new generations, born in exile, have never known.
The majority of the products sold here are brought from Mauritania. In particular, the fabrics for the women and the DARRAS for the men are highly prized. So, gradually, and as yet timidly, money is beginning to circulate, providing stimulus to the young, who have no other way of earning a living. The darrá is the traditional male dress in the Western Sahara and Mauritania. Though now they are machine-stitched, traditionally the complicated designs around the neck were embroidered by hand. The more intricately decorated the gathering, the more valuable it is. These designs are always asymmetrical, and made with linen thread. The darrá reflected the rank and power of its owner.
The final preparations are being made for the journey of Lejbib and his wife to the Miyec well, where the marriage is to be held. Two black women, descendents of slaves, put the women’s saddle on the camel. In the Western Sahara, slavery was abolished during Spanish rule. However, this practice continued to be frequent among the bidanes. The Frente Polisario finally put an end to the system of castes and servitude.
The saddle for women, called an AMSHAGAB, is in reality a palanquin, with fabrics and cushions, on which the woman can travel in comfort with her small children.
The bridegroom’s family and their guests are starting to arrive at the FRIC of Suqueina’s family.
With them they bring many camels. Some of these form part of the agreed dowry, but others are mere ostentation, to impress the bride’s family.
The friends and relatives of the two families compete against each other, raising large black and white cloths in the wind. This challenge is in reality one of the many games played by the young during wedding celebrations.
When the two groups stand opposite each other, they try to pull down the other’s cloth, in a struggle from which violence is not entirely absent.
This game of fighting for the cloth is of uncertain origin, its roots going back to the primitive Berber tribes that inhabited this region.