The Moroccan Haik, Cultural and Religious Heritage

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he Haik, also called “izar” and pronounced Hayek, is one of the iconic and traditional Moroccan outfits that women, but also men, wore outside and over their clothes. On Muslim land, believers attach extreme importance to modesty shown through clothing. The Haik, characterized by its plain, refined color and its ample form, is, in the collective mind, a symbol of purity and elevation.

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The Haik is composed of a large piece of fabric of about 5 meters by 1 meter and 60cm that envelops the body from head to toe. This garment has two functions, one being protective against the cold and the sun in particular, and the second being religious by hiding the woman's body and protecting it from prying eyes.

Even if the art of draping was already present during the ancient era, it's not precisely established how it appeared in this form in Morocco. Nevertheless, it is known that the word haik derives from the verb “to weave” in Arabic.

During the Marinid era, in the 13th century, fatwas that sanctioned women who did not cover up enough were commonplace.

Everything suggests that it is therefore a garment adopted in Morocco, in this form, as part of the strengthening of its Islamization.

Therefore, over the centuries, the sporting of the Haik has become an important cultural and religious heritage in Morocco as evidenced by paintings, prints, photography but also books.

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In the Christian West for example, one of the first references to the Haik in Morocco is that of Luis del Mármol Carvajal in the 16th century, evoking the Imazighen of the Haha region:

“Women wear a kind of coat; this dress is called hayque.”

It was also found in 1699 in the French review by Mercure Galant:

“The gifts that Abdallah offered to Louis XIV on behalf of Mouley-Ismaël [...] consisted of an embroidered saddle, a tiger skin, eight hats, five lion skins, and four dozen red morocco skins, and four dozen red morocco skins”

Throughout history, numerous writings also mention the use of this garment in Morocco, especially those of Olfert Dapper, Pidou de St. Olon, Mouette, Georg Host, however, listing all these texts would be tedious.

In Arab historiography, on the other hand, the research historian Vogelsang-Eastwood specifies that the oldest literary trace of Haik is found in the book “Rawd Al Qirtas” published at the beginning of the 14th century.

He also points out that the city of Fez was an important manufacturing and export center in Africa and Iberia.

Monument to the Mujer Vejeriega in Cadiz, Spain.

Thus, Morocco has always been renowned for its textiles for clothing, and in particular for its Haik:

• Documents from the 16th century mention that the king of Portugal ordered 9,000 Haiks from a trader in Safi in 1519, as demonstrated through the work of the archivists Mohamed Sijelmassi, Abdelkebir Khatibi and El-Houssaïn El-Moujahid.

• The Moroccan Haik, and in particular that of Doukkala, was even found on the borders of the Sahel, as pointed out by the historian and researcher Michel Abitbol in his volume dedicated to trans-Saharan trade.

• The French ethnographer and psychiatrist Gaëtan de Clérambault conducted a study entitled “Women with the traditional Haik” in the 19th century, he reveals that Haik was exported from Morocco mainly to Algiers and Tlemcen.

Later, “Le Commerce & l'Industrie à Fez” by the chronicler Charles-René Leclerc published in the 20th century, still shows that silk Haik made in Fez was exported to Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt. The trade in Haik exported from Morocco was also a phenomenon observed and witnessed by art chroniclers Théo Laujoulet (1951) Paul Edel (1902), both present in Algeria.

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An inventory drawn up at the same period by Jean Besancenot made it possible to identify 6 types of female Haik in Morocco.

The difference lied in the color of the drape, the type of fabric and the technique for wrapping it.

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Era of decline

It was during the 1940s with a speech by Lalla Aïcha, daughter of Mohammed V, that the story of this garment marked a turning point.

Lalla Aïcha, invited Moroccan women to support independence by going to work, therefore, Moroccan women then traded their Haiks for their husbands' Jellabas, considered more comfortable to be able to work.

The Jellaba's hood was thus used as a scarf using pins. They still never went out without at least wearing a small veil that only showed their eyes, called ngab or ltam in some regions.

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This event marks the beginning of the decline of Haik in Morocco, but the beginning of the feminization of the Jellaba. Nowadays, the Haik in Morocco has almost disappeared despite persisting in a few cities such as Chefchaouen, Essaouira and Figuig.

Despite the fact that wearing it was becoming something of a rare occurrence, in 2019, a glimmer of hope emerged when a group of young women mobilized to encourage Moroccan women to wear this garment in order to preserve this cultural and religious heritage threatened with disappearance.

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Références :

Rawd El Qirtas, 'Alī ibn ʻAbd Allāh Ibn Abī Zar' al-Fāsī, early 14th century

Luis del Mármol Carvajal, 16th century

Women with the traditional Haik, Gaëtan Gtian de Clérambault, 19th century

Commerce & Industry in Fez, Charles-René Leclerc, 20th century

Mercure Galant, 1699

Moroccan costume, Jean-Pierre Besancenot, 1934

For Modesty's Sake, Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 1996