By Hamid ELHAJJAM & Abderrahim BOUALY
Azlag, Morocco—-As a boy growing up in Azlag, Lhoucine Taous sat by his father’s side as he made daggers, the traditional item that today hangs on the walls of most Moroccan homes.
Taous, 49, would later grow up to become a dagger maker, a path for many boys in this south-eastern Moroccan village that has been making these sword-like weapons that the Berbers once used to protect themselves for over 700 years. Azlag, which is about seven kilometers from Kalaat Mgouna, is famous for decorative daggers.
Today, Taous is president of the Azlag Dagger Maker Cooperative, an organization where 72 men have set up work stations and display their handcrafted daggers in a showroom frequented by tourists on their way to the Gorges of Tinghir and Boumalne and the Sahara Desert.
In mid-July, Taous will travel to America to showcase the cooperative’s daggers at the International Folk Art Market in Sante Fe, New Mexico.
Taous, who began working at the cooperative since its inception in 1983, said he’s excited to share a piece of Moroccan culture with Americans.
“Traveling to America is a great opportunity for our cooperative to build new relationships with Americans,” he said. “The important thing is to represent our country, and show a good image to Moroccan handicraft.”
The cooperative has already shipped 245 daggers to America. The dagger will range in price from $50 to $200, depending on the size and design.
Sam Tafoya, the U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, who has worked with the cooperative for over a year, facilitated Taous’ trip to America. American donors raised money to cover Taous’ expenses.
. The Azlag cooperative is one of four Moroccan cooperatives that will participate in the International Folk Art Market.
The other participating cooperatives include a group of women carpet weavers from Hdida; a jewelry cooperative from Khenifra; and a carpet weaving and fabric cooperative in Rheba Elkheir. Peace Corps volunteers in the three other areas also facilitated the women’s trip.
The cooperatives are required to donate some items to the International Folk Art Market’s museum and the donors, Tafoya said.
Tafoya said he is excited to have his Moroccan co-workers visiting his home state—New Mexico.
Mohamed Rafik, a language and cultural facilitator with the United States Peace Corps in Rabat, will accompany Taous to assist with translation. Taous speaks Tamazight and Arabic.
Mohammed Saidi, 24, a dagger maker at the cooperative said Taous’ trip is a good way for the cooperative to expand its reach to foreign markets.
“We need foreign markets, so this trip is an opportunity to market our craft in a good way,” he said. “We are doing this job due to two reasons: To respect our tradition and to help our families survive.”
Lhoucine Taous shares Saidi’s view about creating new business opportunities outside of Morocco.
“Foreign markets are more important than national ones,’’ he said. “Visiting America for the first time is a wonderful experience. It will open the door for other opportunities”