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The Kabyle People

Updated on November 24, 2012

Algeria is the largest country in Africa, but what do you know about its people? Let me introduce the Kabyles who account for around half the population...

Like many of the 325 million people in the 'arab world', a large proportion of Algerians are not, by descent, Arab. More than 50% are Kabyle the second largest ethnic group within the Amazigh which stretches from Morocco to Egypt. The Amazigh have been settled in North Africa for more than 3000 years. The arabs arrived way back in the 7th century and yet incredibly the Amazigh 'tribes' , like the Kabyles, have over time maintained a very separate identity. This lens is a personal tribute to my inlaws who are Kabyle and a celebration of my boys' Kabyle heritage!

Who are the Kabyles? - The Kabyles belong to the wider ethnic group called Amazigh or Berber

Kabyle Ladies in Traditional Dress
Kabyle Ladies in Traditional Dress

The Amazigh which means "free humans" or "free men" are known to the world as Berbers. The term Berber was attributed to the Amazigh centuries ago by Europeans and is not actually a word used in tamazight, the Amazigh language. People of Amazigh are often referred to collectively as Imazighen.

Kabyle Women in Traditional Kaftans, Skirts and Head Scarves
Kabyle Women in Traditional Kaftans, Skirts and Head Scarves

Traditional Dress

The basic Kabyle dress is a silk-like kaftan which can be any of a whole range of colours (although white and yellow are particularly popular). It will have very distinctive embroidery around the neckline, the bottom hem and the sleeves. It can be worn alone but is often accompanied with a bright red cotton wrap-around garment woven with yellow, dark red and orange. The Kaftan is often belted and arranged so that it puffs out. A headscarf and, of course, jewellery may also be worn to complete the outfit.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The distinctive coloured embroidery around the neckline of a traditional Kabyle dress.Some traditional metal and coral Kabyle jewellery.The triangular shaped jewellery with blue, green, red and yellow is recognisably Kabyle. Traditionally the red would be genuine coral.In most Kabyle households, even amongst Kabyles in Algiers or Fance you'd be likely to find some bold metal coloured bracelets like these. Often they will be decorated with genuine coral.Ornate coloured necklaces made from carefully crafted metal are very popular in Kabylia.
The distinctive coloured embroidery around the neckline of a traditional Kabyle dress.
The distinctive coloured embroidery around the neckline of a traditional Kabyle dress.
Some traditional metal and coral Kabyle jewellery.
Some traditional metal and coral Kabyle jewellery.
The triangular shaped jewellery with blue, green, red and yellow is recognisably Kabyle. Traditionally the red would be genuine coral.
The triangular shaped jewellery with blue, green, red and yellow is recognisably Kabyle. Traditionally the red would be genuine coral.
In most Kabyle households, even amongst Kabyles in Algiers or Fance you'd be likely to find some bold metal coloured bracelets like these. Often they will be decorated with genuine coral.
In most Kabyle households, even amongst Kabyles in Algiers or Fance you'd be likely to find some bold metal coloured bracelets like these. Often they will be decorated with genuine coral.
Ornate coloured necklaces made from carefully crafted metal are very popular in Kabylia.
Ornate coloured necklaces made from carefully crafted metal are very popular in Kabylia.

The traditional Kabyle dress is worn by small children and 90 year old women alike. It is something that people cherish and enjoy wearing today as they have done for hundreds of years. There are of course many other typically Kabyle dresses both traditional and modern. Dresses can differ in style, colour and fabric enormously but each is still recognisably Kabyle.

Geography

The area called 'Kabylie' is predominently mountainous and stretches across the African Mediterranean coast and dips down into Algeria.

show route and directions
A markerThis is a city in the heart of the Kabyle region. -
tzi ouzou
get directions

B marker -
bejaia
get directions

C marker -
Dellys
get directions

D marker -
Bouira
get directions

E marker -
Bordj Bou Arreridj
get directions

The Kabyle Language

Road Signs near the town of Azzefoun
Road Signs near the town of Azzefoun

The Kabyle language is a variant of the Amazigh language called Tamazight. Its fascinating symbols visible in the photo above belong to an alphabet called Tifinagh. Not everyone can read its written form. The language sounds very different to arabic and, perhaps it's pure imagination, but sometimes the intonation and certain sounds remind me a bit of English! I can only understand a few phrases and the odd word, but I love this language because it sounds so ancient and so bold. There are lots of 'X' sounds and 'Z' sounds and plenty of consonants. The word for meat for example is 'Exom', the word for early is 'Zik'.

Béjaïa
Béjaïa

I'm Kabyle = nekkini d aqbayli

What's your name? = ism-ik (to a male) / or ism-im (to a female)

Where do you live?= anda tzed dyed

That's good= Ilha waya

Good for you! = awidukkan

Yes = ih

How are you? = amek i tellid?

Thank you = tenemmirt

I'm well = aqliyi bxir

It's hot = yahma ihal

It's cold = semmed ihal

Yesterday = idelli

I'm hungry = lluzagh

I'm thirsty = ffudagh

Please give me some water = fk iyi-d aman

The first day of couscous preparation= dayass n-leftil

Wartime Kabylie

My father in law, Areski, loves Taggemund near Azzefoun where he was born and raised. As often as he can he travels up from Algiers to breathe the fresh country air, tend to his olive trees and catch up with old friends and neighbours. Things weren't always so calm and peaceful in the region.

Lasting evidence of a French-Algerian shoot out in my father in law's village
Lasting evidence of a French-Algerian shoot out in my father in law's village

World War 2 and the Massacre of Setif

As a young man Areski recalls the incredible sight of Allied naval vessels attacking German forces along the Mediterranean coast. Watching by night, he says 'it was unbelievable, like watching something at the cinema'.

Being a French colony at the time many Algerians gave their lives contributing to the Allied war effort. France had made a deal....if you help us defeat German forces, we will grant your independence. Following victory, this promise was not honoured and on the 8th May 1945 in Setif a mass demonstration took place. French forces opened fire and around 40,000 Algerians were killed. It was then that Algerians, including the Kabyles, began to secretly prepare for the War of Independence.

A war memorial that stands tucked away halfway down a hill in the village. Two members of our family are sited here for having lost their lives in the struggle for independence.
A war memorial that stands tucked away halfway down a hill in the village. Two members of our family are sited here for having lost their lives in the struggle for independence.

The struggle for Independence

One of the first stages of the War of Independence involved secretly stashing arms. Many members of our family took part in this. 'I remember it like it was yesterday' says Areski. 'A yellow bag full of guns that we had to hide away in the house'

The war began in 1954 and Kabyles all over the countryside, including my father in law, were secretly helping the rebels by giving them food, shelter and storing arms.

One terrible day French forces seized Areski and his brothers. They held them captive and tortured them to try to gain information on the rebels. Many Kabyles, including members of our extended family in Taggemund, were killed in the struggle, but not in vain: in 1962 Algeria, at last, gained its independence.

Mountain Village - My children love stepping back in time to visit their grandparents' village

When we visit Algeria the boys and I adore visiting Taggemund, the village where my father inlaw was born and where he began raising his family before he moved to the capital. There are usually very few people around. If you go for a walk you may catch sight of a neighbour washing clothes or an old lady carrying water or provisions on her head, or maybe someone descending the hillside on a well-trained mule. It feels like you have stepped into history or onto the set of a film, as, certainly older ladies, will tend to wear traditional Kabyle clothes.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Here are my sons exploring the old family house. In the past this would have been a thriving family home, full of noise and activity, with rugs on the floor, food cooking, semolina being refined into couscous. The interior is now reduced to the essenTraditional house were insulated with a type of cement made from cow dung.
Here are my sons exploring the old family house. In the past this would have been a thriving family home, full of noise and activity, with rugs on the floor, food cooking, semolina being refined into couscous. The interior is now reduced to the essen
Here are my sons exploring the old family house. In the past this would have been a thriving family home, full of noise and activity, with rugs on the floor, food cooking, semolina being refined into couscous. The interior is now reduced to the essen
Traditional house were insulated with a type of cement made from cow dung.
Traditional house were insulated with a type of cement made from cow dung.

Stunning Coastline - The beautiful mediterranean shores of Kabylie

Click thumbnail to view full-size
If you drive along the coast from Azzefoun to Bejaia further East you will enjoy stunning views, where mountains and rolling green hills meet the deep blue mediterranean sea. Algeria's tourism is mainly confined to Algerians and French born AlgeriansWhen I look at this picture I feel that it could have been taken on the Kent coast, rather than in Africa!
If you drive along the coast from Azzefoun to Bejaia further East you will enjoy stunning views, where mountains and rolling green hills meet the deep blue mediterranean sea. Algeria's tourism is mainly confined to Algerians and French born Algerians
If you drive along the coast from Azzefoun to Bejaia further East you will enjoy stunning views, where mountains and rolling green hills meet the deep blue mediterranean sea. Algeria's tourism is mainly confined to Algerians and French born Algerians
When I look at this picture I feel that it could have been taken on the Kent coast, rather than in Africa!
When I look at this picture I feel that it could have been taken on the Kent coast, rather than in Africa!

Popular Culture - Comedy

Popular Kabyle comedian Felag, lives in France and delivers his routines in French, Algerian and Kabyle. He often talks about his experiences as an Algerian in Paris, and also as a Kabyle who migrated to Algiers when young. In this clip he explains how Arab children in Algiers would sing songs at him mocking the fact he was Kabyle. He says that he couldn't understand a word they were saying but that he enjoyed the music used to taunt him!

Lounes Matoub
Lounes Matoub

Musicians

Lounes Matoub

Matoub, controversial and much revered amongst Kabyles, recorded 36 albums before his untimely death in 1994. He was born in the Kabyle village of Taourirt Moussa and apparently built his first guitar at the age of 9 from an empty oil can. His music is much influenced by the Chaabi style. His lyrics were often highly political and confrontational covering a broad range of topics including the Berber cause, democracy, freedom, religion, Islamism, love, exile, memory, history, peace and human rights. Beyond the politics and confrontation in Matoub's lyrics the fact remains that he was an incredibly talented vocalist, guitarist and composer.

Idir
Idir

Idir

Idir whose real name is Hamid Cheriet was born in Aït Lahcène in Kabylie and went on to become a hugely successful musician in Algeria and notably France. With his simple vocals and acoustic guitar he has often been seen as an ambassador of the Kabyle culture.

He is the veritable Elton John of Kabylia with his Career stretching from the 70s through to present day.

His first single"A Vava Inouva" released in 1976 was translated into seven languages.

Takfarinas
Takfarinas

Takfarinas

Takfarinas, born Hsen Zermani in Algiers took his stage name from the ancient warrior of North Africa Tacfarinas who fought against the Romans. He moved to France in 1979 where he gained huge success with his Kabyle pop/dance music. He is best known for his talented wide-ranging vocals and for the unique instrument that he plays: a traditional lute modified to incorperate two necks. His music, very much a celebration of Kabyle culture, is influenced by Chaâbi artists such as M'Hamed El Anka, Cheikh El Hasnaoui and Slimane Azem. His album Zaâma Zaâma was particularly successful throughout France Europe in the 90s and his success continues in Algeria and France today.

Slimane Azem
Slimane Azem

Slimane Azem

Born in 1918 in the small village Agouni Gueghrane, Slimane Azem was one of the true greats of Kabyle music. He inspired and touched the hearts of many with his witty, satirical lyrics addressing topics from complex politics to henpecked husbands. He used fantastic imagery in his lyrics often approaching an issue from the perspective of an animal. In later composition he drew a great deal from traditional Kabyle poetry and he was a great advocate of traditional Kabyle values.

Yacine Kateb
Yacine Kateb

Literature

Yacine Kateb

Has been heralded the greatest non-French prose writer of the entire francophone world. He also wrote and supervised the translation of his texts into Tamazight. Author of great works like Nedjma and Le cadavre encerclé, Kateb's inspiration for his writing began when he was imprisoned for 2 months by the French authorities following the demonstration and subsequent massacre on May 8th 1945. He spent much of his early adult life in Paris where he had much success as a novelist and playwrite. In the 70s however he returned to Algeria and focused on popular satirical theatre performed in dialectal Arabic. He was sometimes critised for his emphasis on Kabyle culture and language and for his views on sexual equality. 1987 he received the Grand prix National des Lettres in France following a play written about Nelson Mandela. At the heart, however, his work manifests his multicultural country's search for identity and the aspirations of its people

Zidane
Zidane

Zinedine Zidane

The International French Footballer of Kabyle descent

Zidane's parents immigrated to Paris from the Kabyle village of Aguemoune in 1953. Zidane played for the French national team as an attacking midfielder, and was the most prominent player among the French 'dream team' who won the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championship. He went on to captain France at the 2006 World Cup Final where he won the Golden Ball as the tournament's most outstanding player. Zidane was voted as FIFA World Player of the Year on three occasions (1998, 2000 and 2003), a feat matched only by his former Real Madrid teammate Ronaldo.

Snow in Africa?

In February 2012 northern Algeria was covered in a blanket of snow... the Kabylie turned into a Christmas postcard! Here's a clip I found on youtube showing the snow and people's disbelief!

The Amazigh Flag
The Amazigh Flag

Amazigh Flag

This is the official Amazigh flag. It was proposed by the Agraw Imazighen (Berber Academy) in the 70s and made official at the World Amazigh Congress in 1998 in Las Palmas which was once inhabited by the Amazigh people the Guanches)

The symbol in the centre is the letter 'z' called 'yaz' or 'aza' from from the Amazigh alphabet (Tifinagh) and it symbolizes the "free man" which is the meaning of "amazigh"

Red represents life and resistance.

Blue represents the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean;

Green represents nature and the green mountains;

Yellow represents the sands of the Sahara Desert.

Are the Kabyles world famous? - Or are they the secret treasure of the Arab World!?

Before reading this lense, had you heard of the Kabyle people?

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Identités
Identités

Idir in collaboration with other modern artists like Manu Chau and Gnawa Diffusion

 
Yal
Yal

Takfarinas

 

Music/Poetry Compilations

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    • profile image

      Amokrane 2 years ago

      I am myself Kabyle and would like to thank you for your very informative article. Nicely done !!!

    • bezabeza profile image
      Author

      bezabeza 4 years ago

      @mouradb: Thanks for your comment and I'm honoured to be in a position to share some of your culture and history with English speakers :)

    • bezabeza profile image
      Author

      bezabeza 4 years ago

      @Earnlat: thank you :)

    • profile image

      mouradb 4 years ago

      What an honour to see such a literature about my region and background and I thank you for sharing and bringing this to light.

      Thanks again.

    • Earnlat profile image

      Earnlat 5 years ago

      Excellent lesson, and wonderfly done.

    • bezabeza profile image
      Author

      bezabeza 5 years ago

      Hey guys thank you so much for all your lovely complimentary and positive comments. Looking forward to checking out all your lenses and getting to know you :)

    • KandDMarketing profile image

      KandDMarketing 5 years ago

      What a superb lens! Thank you!

    • artdivision1 lm profile image

      artdivision1 lm 5 years ago

      Interesting stuff

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Very interesting lens and great pictures. Well done for your first one.

    • zeff789 profile image

      zeff789 5 years ago

      wow!well done.i learnt something today.

    • Gr8fulGirl profile image

      Gr8fulGirl 5 years ago

      What a beautifully done lens! It's so wonderful that you're able to share such rich culture with your sons (who are both so adorable, by the way). I absolutely loved the stunning photos.......they definitely transported me to those amazing places. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge, adventure, and beautiful family :o)

    • English-lion profile image

      English-lion 5 years ago

      A great history lesson, and a lovely tribute to your family :-) It's a pleasure in meeting you and I'm very happy in debuting with you today

    • Skin-Health profile image

      Skin-Health 5 years ago

      When I first met a Berber from Alger I didn't know anything about them. She explained me a bit about their history, and I was amazed. I got to know even more now after reading your fantastic lens.

    • profile image

      Elastara 5 years ago

      Very interesting lens! Because of your lens, I got to understand more about the rich heritage of the Kabyle People. Thanks for sharing :).

    • CNelson01 profile image

      Chuck Nelson 5 years ago from California

      Welcome to Squidoo. This is a very interesting and informative article.

    • LornsA178 profile image

      LornsA178 5 years ago

      This is very interesting topic, what a rich heritage the Kabyle People have. Welcome to Squidoo and have fun writing more lenses.

    • ksktika profile image

      ksktika 5 years ago

      thanks for the knowledge. And it's a great first lens.

    • profile image

      getmoreinfo 5 years ago

      Thanks for sharing about the The Kabyle People

    • Faye Rutledge profile image

      Faye Rutledge 5 years ago from Concord VA

      Thanks for this great info and photos of the kabyle people. Wow, a great first lens!!

    • profile image

      Sundaycoffee 5 years ago

      Thank you for sharing this great information. I must confess that I had never heard of the Kabyle before now - except for Zidane.

    • BunnyFabulous profile image

      BunnyFabulous 5 years ago from Central Florida

      Fantastic lens! I learned so much and enjoyed your personal insights and experiences about the Kabyle people. Sounds like you're helping your sons appreciate their rich heritage too. Welcome to Squidoo and looking forward to seeing more from you.

    • Dressage Husband profile image

      Stephen J Parkin 5 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

      You have done a really good job of introducing the Kabyles to the world at large. Welcome to Squidoo.

    • evannecarter profile image

      evannecarter 5 years ago

      Thanks for giving us a peek into the history, culture, and peoples from this part of the African continent.

    • weakbond profile image

      Nnadi bonaventure Chima 5 years ago from Johanesburg

      Thank you for the history lesson ,i have learnt new culture today.welcome to squidoo

    • Art Inspired profile image

      Art Inspired 5 years ago

      Welcome to Squidoo. Thanks for expanding my horizons with this wonderful lens. Make it a great day!

    • lbrummer profile image

      Loraine Brummer 5 years ago from Hartington, Nebraska

      Beautifully done lens....and so interesting also. Great job and welcome to Squidoo. Will be looking forward to more of your lenses.

    • KandH profile image

      KandH 5 years ago

      Well done - always nice to learn about another culture.

    • shahedashaikh profile image

      shahedashaikh 5 years ago

      Very interesting information that to first -hand,A great intoduction and good way to start on Squidoo.Welcome!

    • scrapquilter profile image

      Myreda Johnson 5 years ago from Ohio USA

      Interesting lens.

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      What a wonderful lens - thanks so much for sharing! Blessed by a SquidAngel!

    • mariacarbonara profile image

      mariacarbonara 5 years ago

      Very interesting. Just when you think you know it all you learn something new!

    • profile image

      pawpaw911 5 years ago

      Thanks for teaching us about the Kabyle People.

    • anes2010 lm profile image

      anes2010 lm 5 years ago

      thanks for sharing this with us I am from Algreia by the way but I am not from Kabyle I am from the Arab anyway we are all brothers thanks agine

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I really enjoyed learning about the Kabyle people. Thanks for sharing your family's (in-law's) heritage.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      lovely thanks

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 5 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Very informative lens, nicely done!