MOROCCO: INTO THE ATLAS –PART 9: WOMEN OF MOROCCO
Some of the women of old Morocco weren’t easily seen. Those wives in a wealthier Arab household lived secluded lives, shut away within doors unseen by anyone but their husband or other women. Jade met a few of them accidentally while slipping through the water pipes in her 1920 adventure, The Serpent’s Daughter. Despite their cloistered life, they did manage to see some festivities from their screened in rooftops. There, heavily veiled, they could see dervishes dance or watch the young Chleuh Berber boys sing and dance. And by moving from roof top to adjoining roof top, they could sometimes visit each other. If the woman lived in a poorer Arab household, she might have to do some of the duties of a slave woman and actually go to market herself. But she always went heavily veiled. Veils were left off inside the harem, revealing brightly colored garments.
The Berber women, by contrast, had much greater freedom.
They not only went about unveiled, but exposed bare shins under their cotton shifts and handira, or cloaks which were fastened over the shifts using ornate pins called fibula after similarly styled Roman pins. Edith Wharton described them in her book, In Morocco (1920). “The women, squatting among their kids and poultry and cheeses, glanced at us with brilliant hemmaed eyes...Their thin faces were painted in stripes and pattern of indigo. Silver necklets covered their throats, long earrings dangled under the wool-embroidered kerchiefs bound about their temples with a twist of camel’s hair, and below the cotton shifts fastened on their shoulders with silver clasps, their legs were bare to the knee, or covered with leather leggings to protect them from the thorny bled (wilderness).” She goes on to describe them as women who, “under a thin surface of Mohammedanism, preserve their old stone and animal worship.”
It was into that old fetish-ridden worship that Jade entered the village in the Atlas Mountains, a tradition that expressed itself in the symbols painted on pots, carved into the fortress walls, and hennaed onto the hands and faces.
NEXT WEEK: CHILDREN OF MOROCCO.
NOTE: These blogs are meant to give some insight into the life and times of my fictional character, Jade del Cameron. Jade’s mystery adventures take place in post WWI Africa. To date they are: Mark of the Lion, Stalking Ivory, and The Serpent’s Daughter (available in paperback October 7, 2008). The fourth book The Leopard’s Prey, will be available in hardcover January 2009. For more information, visit the website: www.suzannearruda.com