This is a question that our driver asked passers-by in a village in the Algerian Highlands. “No, there are no more, it’s over.” Finally, we continued our search in another village, so small that we went around it in less than 5 minutes. It was a day when the sun was in full swing at the end of August, a little after 3 p.m. and the streets were completely deserted. We thought then that the adventure was going to end abruptly. The driver was getting impatient, suddenly a small grocery store appeared, and there I suggested going and asking inside the grocery store. “Ta3ref wahda li mazalha dir nassij” (Do you know anyone who still weaves?) ? and then, surprised, the seller agreed and pointed to a house and said: “The one with the red door, the family does weaving there”. we began to knock; not just one or two, we are greeted by a group of 3 women. One elderly woman told us that at one time she did a lot of weaving but that time is over.
She had back problems and on top of that the demand for carpets began to diminish.
We question these women: “So, if we understand correctly, there are no more women who know how to weave? “. Quickly, they explain to us that yes, we have to know the people and that social changes have impacted the production of carpets, such that the arduousness linked to the work of weaving pushed women who had the means to get rid of this activity and choose another profession. But other, more vulnerable women have kept this know-how in order to meet their needs. This is one of the testimonies that we collected and this quest for weaving perplexed us.
Algeria has a heritage in the field of weaving which has spanned several centuries, there are as many regions as there are carpets. Some experienced their golden age like the Timimoun carpet or that of Djebel Amour. Today, the Ghardaïa carpet market is known to everyone in Algeria, but who still knows the famous historic place of the Aflou carpet market?
The production of Algerian carpets seems to hang by a thread. By reading the book “Atelier de Tigurarin”, we learn that there are few old carpets in the collections of Algerian Museums.
The question then arises, of preservation, the possibility of documenting it?
How can we preserve it if the know-how is lost? It is then that oral culture intervenes and becomes central. Are there any people left who can share their experience in this area?
In Aflou, Mr Faycal, is part of one of the last 5 reggams in Algeria. Reggam is the master weaver who guides the weavers in the design of the carpet. In the Aflou Crafts House, Mr Faycal still trains women weavers in the production of the Djebel Amour carpet.
He fell into the profession, watching his grandmother do it since he was little. He also began his experience as a carpet seller in Aflou, and his knowledge of Jebel Amour carpet made him an excellent seller.
It was very common in Algerian homes more than 40 or 50 years ago to see women weaving.
Many friends also told us about childhood memories linked to women who weaved in their families.
In terms of preservation, the Tigurarin workshop is an admirable initiative, which corresponds to a cooperation between two associations, to bring Timimoun carpets back to life. Mr Kadiri had warned us: “The manufacturing of old carpets is over in Timimoun, we are the only ones still alive”.
If survival is inevitable, why not imagine a public policy that puts weaving back in the spotlight with training workshops throughout the country. We have examples of countries which have benefited from this ancestral art thanks to a system of cooperatives which has developed and thanks to tourism. We also have initiatives that have existed within Algeria itself.
Do you know that the sisters of the white fathers worked a lot in the field of weaving? The sisters trained Algerian women in the art of weaving.
In BouSaâda, we were told about Sister Odile Lesenn, whose adopted name is Messaouda, who produced a collection on the subject of the loom in the City of Boussaada between 1976 and 1986 by going into the field and meeting the weavers. We collected the testimony of a weaver who had worked in the same workshop as her and who told an anecdote that Sister Odile had integrated so well that she spoke the local dialect very well and that unfortunately the weaver did not unable to improve her French skills. At the time, there was international tourism in Boussada, and tourists enjoyed their experience so much that they brought a carpet in their suitcase as a souvenir. This is how a large part of the weaving production was sold.
Moreover, another illustration of the role of the Sisters, the Algerian State had asked Sister Marguerite Laporte to carry out a study concerning the state of the artisanal sector in the 1970s.
Even if through our discussions about the Algerian carpet, the lexical field of the epilogue was omnipresent, in our eyes, there remains hope. We need to reclaim the Algerian carpet. Before it was a question of heavy and large objects, which perhaps can no longer correspond to new living spaces, given the changes taking place in Algerian society.
The carpet has always accompanied men and women in their homes, whether nomadic or sedentary. The carpet is a moving object that has been able to adapt. The carpet is an art, a means of expression for weavers and the testimony of a heritage given through a whole range of symbols. The Algerian carpet was known beyond the country’s borders.
Hence the importance of preserving it, cherishing it and returning it to its noble place to perpetuate traditions and put the artisan back in his place as an artist.+