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Rural women weavers struggle to earn a fair price for their intricate rugs.
KOURKOUDA, Morocco — It takes more than 20 pounds of raw wool and 60 days of handwork to fashion one of Morocco’s famous carpets. The weavers in this village say it’s hardly worth the effort.
“You can’t give a damn about carpets anymore,” said Rakia Nid Lchguer, 57, who, like many weavers in this country’s remote south, spent a decade perfecting her art, beginning at age 6. “The market barely repays the cost of the wool,” she said.
Morocco’s vibrant rugs come in a variety of styles — from flat-woven hanbels to the fuzzy creations crafted by Nid Lchguer and her neighbors. The pieces fetch hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars on carpet shop floors in Marakesh, Fez and abroad.
The rug stores are as common to Moroccan cities as bright lights on Broadway, and the haggling done inside is a visitor’s rite of passage. Hours can pass with merchants sipping tea, trading fibs with tourists about what the final price will be. Overpayment is the norm.
Yet middlemen ensure that little of that money finds it way back to villages like Kourkouda. While the World Bank estimates Moroccans make an average of $6 per day, in these arid hills south of the Atlas Mountains, that figure seems optimistic.
Seated on the cement floor of a home where she raised seven children, Nid Lchguer said immediate needs have sometimes forced her to sell a finished carpet for as little as $40. The raw materials cost her $33, she said.
Weavers knot pieces of yarn.
While talking, she cleaned tufts of raw, ivory-colored wool by scraping it between two steel brushes. Her neighbor, Fadma Hassi, 65, stopped spinning yarn nearby and said, “That’s if you get to sell it.”
This time, the women have been lucky. Someone ordered on commission a plush carpet with roughly the same footprint as an American twin bed. With the help of a third neighbor, the weavers will split $50 three ways in exchange for an amount of labor that seems alien in a mechanized age.
The rug’s warp alone — a continuous string forming the piece’s vertical threads on the loom — will require hand-spinning a piece of yarn the length of 10 football fields. Among other tasks in the coming weeks, the women will hand-tie more than 100,000 knots no bigger than this lower-case o.