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KABYLIA. The rugged mountainous area known as the Kabylia lies to the east of Algiers, adjacent to the Mediterranean littoral. Endowed with meager resources, it is one of North Africa’s most densely populated regions; densities range from 70 to more than 250 inhabitants per square kilometer. Its traditional economy depended upon arboriculture, supplemented by grain production and small-scale livestock breeding; vast forests of oak and cork provided additional sustenance. These resources would hardly have sufficed had not the Kabyles historically migrated as laborers to Algeria’s cities and, in this century, increasingly to France.

A unique geographic and ecological zone, the Kabylia has long constituted a cultural unit apart from the rest of Algeria. Here ancient Berber culture, with its own language, customary laws, social organization, and traditions, has been preserved. While the Kabyles are all Sunni Muslims, Arabic has only imperfectly penetrated their mountain strongholds; Berber languages are still spoken in some places. Under the Ottoman Turks (c. 1525-1830), the Kabyles maintained their own political, religious, and administrative institutions. The village constituted a sort of municipal republic under a quasidemocratic council of notables (the jama’ah). Intrepid warriors and fiercely independent, the Kabyles were among the last conquered by France in bitter campaigns waged between 1847 and 1857. During Amlr `Abd al-Qadir’s jihad (1832-1847), he appointed a caliph to the Kabylia; yet its inhabitants characteristically declined to recognize the amir as sultan. The Kabyles were the major participants in the great Muqran! insurrection of 1871, the last rebellion of this scale until the 1945 Setif uprising, a prelude to the liberation movement.

Several sociopolitical developments under the colonial regime placed the Kabyles in the vanguard of the national liberation struggle. Through a deliberate policy of divide and rule, the French provided modern secular education to the region, which claimed more gallicized schools than elsewhere. Concurrently, Kabyle emigration to the cities commenced just before World War 1. In Paris the Kabyles played a predominant role in the Etoile Nord-Africaine (North African Star), a militant nationalist party established in 1926 under Messali Hadi (Messali al-Hajj). [See the biography of Messali al-Hajj.] After the brutal suppression of the Setif uprising, a small group of largely Kabyle activists under Belkasem Krim took to the maquis to oppose colonial rule. When the nationalist insurrection erupted on 1 November 1954, this group formed the nucleus for the FLN (National Liberation Front).

Recently the region has evinced a movement of Berber (Kabyle) cultural irredentism, a reaction to the program of arabization and centralization launched in the late 1960s under President Houari Boumedienne. Resistance coalesced in the early 1980s into the Kabyle Cultural Movement, culminating in student strikes and demonstrations at the university in Tizi Ouzou, Kabylia’s provincial capital. The short-lived experiment in democratization beginning in 1989 spawned several Berber parties. The Rally for Culture and Democracy, under Said Saadi, is the successor to the semiclandestine Cultural Movement party, created during the so-called Berber Spring of 198o. In addition, the Kabylia produced a latter-day version of the Socialist Forces Front (FFS), whose current leader, Hocine Alt Ahmad, was among the FLN’s founders. Both parties’ platforms advocate minority rights, a secular state, and a pluralistic society. In the December 1991 elections the FFS placed second after the FIS (Islamic Salvation Front; Jabhat al-Inqadh al-Islam!) and ahead of the FLN, Algeria’s single dominant party since 1962. While some votes cast for the Kabyle parties may have represented votes against both the discredited FLN and the Islamic party, the FFS’s success may indicate that the Kabyles will again play a leading role in Algerian political life.

[See also Algeria; Islamic Salvation Front.]


Ageron, Charles-Robert. Modern Algeria: A History from 1830 to the Present. Translated from the French and edited by Michael Brett. London, 1991. The most succinct statement of modern Algerian history available, by the premier French historian of colonial Algeria.

Bourdieu, Pierre. The Algerians. Translated from the French by Alan C. M. Ross. Boston, 1962. This work by France’s leading sociologist and expert on the Kabylia contains a chapter devoted to Kabyle society.

Quandt, William. “The Berbers in the Algerian Political Elite.” In Arabs and Berbers: From Tribe to Nation in North Africa, edited by Ernest Gellner and Charles Micaud, pp. 285-303. Lexington, Mass., 1972.

Roberts, Hugh. Algerian Socialism and the Kabyle Question. Norwich, 1981. Concentrating mainly on the postcolonial period, this study contains valuable background information on the Kabyles and the Kabylia in terms of economy, society, and politics.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/kabylia/

  • writerPosted On: July 18, 2014
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