What is the first color that comes to your mind when you think of Morocco? For me, it is blue. There are so many, many shades of blue at home in Morocco and their stark contrast to the oranges and reds of the earth and architecture of the region is truly striking. To me though, the most fantastic blues are the indigo hues associated with the Southern part of the country, worn by the Tuareg and related people.
The Tuareg have been called the ‘blue men’ of the Sahara because of their traditional choice in garments, voluminous draped and wound fabrics dyed a deep and lustrous indigo blue without using water. The pigment is pounded into cotton fabrics which are not rinsed, and as a result, the blue flakes and rubs off onto the skin.
The woman to the left is wearing a tunic and headcloth made of the classic deep, purplish indigo. The purple tinge is a result of the indigo’s interaction with the air, and is referred to by dyers as the bloom of the indigo.
Indigo cloth is dyed outside Morocco, in Niger, Mali, and Guinea, and traded northward to the Tuareg and related groups along the routes of the camel caravans. It is prized all over North and West Africa.
But do the Tuareg use henna, you ask? Yes, they do. Today’s Tuareg use simple bold designs, sometimes created through resist processes. The famous Guedra dance is an important occasion for Tuareg women to wear henna— photos of this can be seen in the book Africa Adorned, by Angela Fisher.