Algeria Ethnography

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The natives. – Algeria, a political individual, has no ethnic characteristics that differentiate it from neighboring countries, but it has the advantage over some of these that it is very well known. Prehistory shows the same European stages for the lower Paleolithic. The country also has ancient rock carvings in the Saharan Atlas, much less beautiful, however, and more recent than the Magdalenian engravings of the Dordogne. In the north there are many dolmens, further south there is an original form of burial, the regem: in its rough state, it is a pile of stones under which the skeleton is huddled, with the chin on the knees; increasingly stylized forms lead to strange historical funerary monuments, the medracen Carthaginian, the so-called “Christian’s” tomb attributed to Juba king of Caesarea, and the Geddār of the Byzantine era. The Stone Age must have been prolonged here more than elsewhere, while the Bronze Age must have almost disappeared; Neolithic tools, mixed with iron tools and weapons, are found in the regem together with Carthaginian and also Roman coins. Dolmens sometimes carry Latin inscriptions on the stone slabs. It is likely that they are due to secondary tampering; but the Algerian, like the Maghreb in general, came to know civilization very late, has always been and still is a laggard. For Algeria travel information, please check

Carthaginian Algeria was certainly sparsely populated, as large herds of wild elephants lived there in peace. The town was populated following the Roman administration, but it does not seem that the race has changed much since the beginning of history, that is, in the last 2000 years. For it, the Algerians, like all Maghrebians, belong to the circle of Mediterranean peoples; Negroes are found only in the Saharan oases of the far south. But they do not have a well-defined and constant type. At the most it should be noted that the climate and the harsh life imprint a common temperament, already noted by Sallust: “velox, patiens laborum …. plerosque senectus dissolvit”. The only great unitary principle is the commonality of Muslim religion and civilization. In the village of S. Agostino, Christianity, first dominant, it suddenly disappeared under the Arab conquest, without leaving any trace. Even in the kingdom of Bejaia, in the century. X and XI, a Catholic bishop was still tolerated by Muslim rulers, and Christian villages (q ṣū r n ṣā r ā) in ruins exist in southern Algeria (Oued Saoura); these last vestiges of Christianity were annihilated during the storm that followed the expulsion of the Andalusian Moors from Spain. The only non-Muslim religion that has come down to us through the centuries is Hebrew, which here, as elsewhere, is represented by small communities closed in ghettos (mell āḥ).

However, this principle of unity does not prevent a profound internal ethnic diversity. It manifests itself in bilingualism. Most Algerians speak Arabic, or rather Maghrebi Arabic, very different from Egyptian or Syrian Arabic; but alongside the Arabic-speaking Algerians a strong minority remained faithful to Berber, which is certainly a derivation from the ancient Libyan language, the language of Giugurta and Massinissa. During the last census (1913), out of the total indigenous population of 4,447,149 residents, there were 1,305,730 Berber speakers, that is about a third, and of these 726,543 absolutely ignorant of the Arabic language. It is easy to see how this important minority is grouped; the two great centers are the mountains of Kabylia and Aurès: it can be said.

The difference in language, which alone would be sufficient to break unity, is associated with profound differences in the kind of life, mentioned above. Essentially there are Arabic-speaking nomads and Berber-speaking Cabili mountaineers. The Cabili are farmers and gardeners, they have a sense of private ownership, they live in stone houses with tiled or thatched roofs; their homes are grouped in villages perched on the peaks and easy to defend themselves; they have a democratic organization; power belongs to small municipal parliaments (gem āah); juridical customs do not belong to the Koran, and bear the name of q ā n ū n (probably etymologically derived from the canons of the Church); the Kabyle woman circulates freely without a veil.

Nomads are herders of camels, horses and sheep; they know only collective ownership; they have an aristocratic organization with their own leaders; most of their life is spent under the tent; in the oases, the architecture is special; the houses have terraces, a fact linked to the seclusion of women, who are forbidden to circulate in the streets; even the smallest villages of 200 residents, built of compressed mud, have an urban aspect with multi-storey houses, covered passages, benches, latrines, places of pleasure. The nomadic gentleman, when he arrives at the oasis, after spending months in a tent, wants to find the comfort and luxury of a city. It is for this reason that Tlemcen, the ancient capital of the nomads, is the architectural jewel of Algeria, while Constantina, the ancient Kabyle capital, it has the rough architecture of a large village. These architectural differences frame the profound differences in costumes.

Algeria Ethnography


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