Limala - A Journey of Coming Home
Morocco’s indigenous culture(s) are diverse and full of colourful stories, its complex and detailed artisanship is something we could dwell on forever. We would love to jump right into the depth of this subject and share all knowledge on the Amazigh and the deeper understanding of their manual labour we have been privileged to learn over the past years of our journey. But as Limala constantly reminds us, the people behind the work are a huge part of the picture, so let us start at the beginning – our beginning. After all, Limala is also about storytelling. So why not tell ours first?
Let me introduce you to the fundamental basis of Limala: my husband, Zaid Charkaoui and me, Samira Mahboub. I am half German/half Moroccan, born and raised in Munich, Germany; Zaid is Moroccan, born and raised in Casablanca, Morocco. Together we have found a way to create a project that reflects both of our combined passions while paying tribute to our beloved Morocco. We are physically based in Berlin and our hearts are always in longing for the country of artisanship and homemade Couscous. We still remember vividly the moment when my husband Zaid and I were strolling through the countryside near Marrakech and both our hearts leapt when we passed by this small carpet store with the most beautiful variety of rugs displayed outside in the sun.
In this moment, we felt the incredible beauty behind rug artisanship and this was the mutually felt spark that later created our mutual journey to Limala. Founding Limala has meant so much more to us than creating a business. To us Limala means coming home, coming home to our own heritage. With Limala we offer handmade rugs from villages in the Atlas Mountains fabricated by small family businesses. However – and most importantly – Limala is much more than a consumer-focused brand. Limala is rooted in cultural storytelling. Limala is about actively and vividly celebrating Moroccan artisanship and the beauty of Morocco’s raw countryside and sharing it with the world. So here I am, sitting in our Berlin living room surrounded by Moroccan décor, listening to trance-like Moroccan Gnawa music, smelling the sweet and fresh scent of Moroccan mint tea and reflecting on the beginnings of our journey. Limala begins and goes hand in hand with ‘love’. It is based on the love Zaid and I have for each other and it builds upon the love we have for Morocco: the country of hospitality, vibrant and warm colours, majestic nature, spicy smells and beautiful artisanship. When I think of Morocco a feeling of warm nostalgia and disarming simplicity fills my body and soul. It feels like a melancholic dance that brings me closer to understanding the genuine and ‘true’ meaning of life.
'When I think of Morocco I feel its red warm earth running through my fingers, knowing this is where my hands belong. This is where my hands unfold their destiny.'
When Zaid and I got married in Casablanca in 2017, we knew that something beautiful will come out of our union. With a great deal of enthusiasm, we wanted to jump right into creating our life together, but reality kicked. We were separated by borders. We fought through all the paperwork needed for Zaid to come to Germany, and (im)patiently endured the long waiting for Zaid’s visa approval from the German government. Once we were finally allowed to settle and build our home in Berlin, many appointments at Government offices awaited us. During this time, we increasingly longed for the colourful and untold stories of Morocco. We wanted to somehow surround ourselves with them, find comfort, and share them with our community here in Berlin. We fought through this long and exhausting period of bureaucracy and separation, I still remember the moment when we felt the dust settle and a sense of calmness. We were sitting in our living room, looking at each other and had a collective realisation that we could finally continue with our passions in life, to make plans, craft our future. We wanted Morocco in Berlin and we wanted it real and vibrant. We wanted to engage with Moroccan artisanship and simultaneously highlight the diversity of Morocco’s cultural heritage. Morocco is known for its rich artisanship and while we do appreciate all types of Moroccan craft, we always felt particularly fascinated by the colourful nuances and complexity of rug making.
Morocco’s population is culturally, ethnically and linguistically a mix of North Africa’s indigenous people and the Arabic population. The Arabs arrived – or let’s say – invaded North Africa in the 7th century. The indigenous population – the Amazigh people (meaning: Free People) – are mainly known and commonly referred to as ‘Berber’ people. Rug making in Morocco follows an ancient, intergenerational tradition and is an as art and craft form, mainly reserved for and fabricated by Amazigh women.
While most people would refer to handmade Moroccan rugs as ‘Berber rugs’, we reject the word ‘Berber’ as its terminology originally derives from the Latin word ‘barbarus’ (barbarian) and therefore has roots in a violent colonial framing. With that being said, rug making is not only a part of Morocco’s historic and collective memory, but is also intertwined with a lot of storytelling, forms of communication and symbolism. Rugs and cultural storytelling are old companions and we feel a calming fascination about that connection. You too? Isn’t it enriching to have a piece of art in your home that can be both a beautiful interior piece as well as a product of a century old tradition, narrating old stories and bridging different worlds and generations together? Long story short, we knew that we wanted to specialise in interior pieces carrying ancient stories that can be kept forever, this way, those traditions continue to live on in new homes and new environments.
While handmade rugs are a crucial part of Limala’s identity, we also want Limala to be a platform providing space to various forms of artisanship and cultural projects: Limala means ‘Why Not’ in classic Arabic. Asking ‘Why Not’ inherently calls into question ideas or things that we might have taken for granted. Asking ‘Why Not’ feels powerful and liberating. Asking ‘Why Not’ raises important questions that can guide us through our mission. Why Not celebrate Moroccan artisanship? Why Not celebrate the beauty of slow manual labour? Why Not celebrate other cultures and traditions? We knew that rugs will construct Limala’s identity, and that cultural storytelling anchored in old traditions and collective memories will be Limala’s soul. What still needs to be built was the body – the canvas – the very place where Limala’s identity and soul takes shape. In order to find the body, we knew where our journey will have to start: Morocco’s countryside – expressed as ‘3robia’ in Moroccan dialect. In February 2019, we took an adventurous trip through the Atlas Mountains searching for artisanal communities known for their traditional rug making. One could think it would be an easy endeavour to find such places, given the fact that the art of rug making is one of Morocco’s most famous treasures. After all, Morocco’s tourist souks are full of beautiful rugs in all styles, sizes and colours. However, we learned very quickly that finding the sources of these beautiful rugs meant going on a journey into the unknown. Even for us as Moroccans, knowing our way around the country and speaking the language, it took us quite some time to find rural communities we whom we could establish a working relationship. This is due to various reasons (I definitely will write about this in another Limala blog article), but I will say one thing: the rocky journey leading us to the body of Limala was worth everything. We could have taken the common tourist routes leading to beautiful villages close to Marrakech known for their rug making. However, we were determined to travel further and deeper into the Atlas Mountains in order to find places that are not only removed from often exploitive tourism, but also to establish working relationships with communities that normally don’t have opportunities and access (due to their rural location) to sell their craft to tourists or local souks. Furthermore–and by no means I want to romanticise difficult realities–we were on a mission to find the ‘old spirit’ of Morocco. The 'old' Morocco, where people are welcoming strangers with smiling hearts and open doors because their way of living is (what I regard as) spiritual, humble and giving. We consider ourselves profoundly lucky because we found something that we have never could have dreamed of. After days and days of driving and hours and hours of asking strangers about villages known for their rug making, it was a kind and genuine man named Abdel Aziz leading us to the one village that gave shape to Limala’s body.
Finally, we had found the body, the canvas. Abdel Aziz became our loyal companion, our collaborator, introducing us to his family who all (mainly female family members) practice the art of rug making in their homes. His family lives in a village in the midst of the Mountains and even Google maps seems to have difficulties finding it. This village and its people represent what we have never seen in the big cities and its surrounding countryside. Being there made us feel like finally coming home to a place that we never knew we were missing. In this village, Limala’s stories are unfolding, as is our increasing enthusiasm about the beauty of slow manual labour involving complex manual processes, from wool working to actual knotting and weaving, as shared communal and intergenerational work.
As you may have gathered at this point, two important pillars of Limala are 1) the celebration of Morocco’s artisanship and 2) the focus on visual and cultural storytelling. However, Limala is not just about what we are doing, but equally about how we are doing it. Every decision involves a critical reflection about our own situatedness/standpoints/roles within the world and the privileges embedded within them. We take to heart the duties of being socially accountable and responsible in our operations and framing of what we do. While I will dedicate an upcoming blog article to exactly what I mean by this, for now here are a couple essential questions that ground our work and mission, without which Limala would not be whole: How can we deconstruct neo-colonial (economic) dependencies in connection with artisanal communities? How can we decolonise our own business? Limala’s third pillar is learning, which involves you. You who are taking the time to read this article, and take this journey with us. Limala would be nothing without its community and people who are interested in our stories, who share our love for Moroccan artisanship. We aim to build an inclusive and conscious community together with you, connecting humans with humans by connecting humans with artisanship. In honour of our literal meaning of Limala, let me ask you:
Why Not join us in our celebratory journey for Moroccan artisanship?