The Kabyle People
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
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.
- History of the Kabyles
An overview of Kabyle history in Algeria.
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.
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.
The area called 'Kabylie' is predominently mountainous and stretches across the African Mediterranean coast and dips down into Algeria.
The Kabyle Language
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'.
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
- Kabyle Names
Here are some examples of Amazigh/Kabyle names. Because they are so different from Arabic names they are strikingly unusual and also very distinctly 'berber'.
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.
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.
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.
- Traditional Kabyle Houses
Here are some examples of beautiful Kabyle houses, decorated with rugs and traditionally designed jugs and pots.
Stunning Coastline - The beautiful mediterranean shores of KabylieClick thumbnail to view full-size
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!
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 whose real name is Hamid Cheriet was born in AÃ¯t LahcÃ¨ne 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, 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 ChaÃ¢bi artists such as M'Hamed El Anka, Cheikh El Hasnaoui and Slimane Azem. His album ZaÃ¢ma ZaÃ¢ma was particularly successful throughout France Europe in the 90s and his success continues in Algeria and France today.
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.
- Lounes Matoub
One of the most famous and controversial Kabyle musicians of recent times is Lounes Matoub,
Performing his famous song A vava inouva in 1992. Idir has positively promoted Kabyle music and culture in France for decades.
The Kabyle king of pop performs his famous 90s hit 'zaama zaama' that continues to be popular in Europe and the Middle East.
- Slimane Azem
Great drums, mandolin and vocals classic artist Slimane Azem performs the song Lejdud
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 encerclÃ©, 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
The Kabyle tradition of poetry
- Patriots on Fire
Poetry is very important in Kabyle culture. My father and mother in law spend hours telling stories or expressing how they feel through poetry. Often they ad lib the poetry as they tell it. This blog and book review gives a great insight to this and
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!
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?
- The history of the Kabyles
Excellent potted history of Algeria within the context of the Kabyles
- Revitalizing Indigenous Languages
Paper from Northern Arizona University discussing the culture and identity of the Amazigh people.
- Is the term 'berber' insulting?
Analysis of the term 'berber'
- Muslim conquest of the Maghreb
Wikipedia on the historic Arab domination of North Africa
- Beauty and Phenotypes
Video montage with some great archive photos of Amazigh people.
- Berber Portal
Wikipedia 'berber portal' with more facts and further links on the topic
- Bones of giants found in Kabylia
Details of an archeological find in Kabylia
- World War 2 and the independence movement in Algeria
Encycolpedia Britanica explains the history of the Algerian War of Independence
- Tizi Ouzou
Wikipediea gives the low down on one of the biggest and most important towns in Kabylie
- HIstory of the Amazigh Flag
This page from Amazighworld.org documents the adoption of the official Amazigh flag at the Frist Amazigh World Congress
- Amazigh Voice
Featuring a video on the history of Amazigh
- The Phonecian International Research Centre
Well documented overview and history of Amazigh
- The Kabyle Wikipedia
A work-in-progress version of Wikipedia in Kabyle language. If you are a Kabyle speaker please take time to contribute and do your bit to promote the language!
Directory of musicians from Amazigh
Idir in collaboration with other modern artists like Manu Chau and Gnawa Diffusion