Introduction / History
The Amazigh, also known as Berbers, are the indigenous people of North Africa. They are a strong and proud people. The very name Amazigh is often translated to mean "free or noble men". There were people from North Africa present in Jerusalem at the day of Pentecost. The church was established among Berbers in the early centuries of Christianity, and some of the great North African church fathers were of Berber heritage.
When Islam swept through North Africa in the 7th century, many pockets of the Amazigh tried to fight the invasion. They resisted Islam's advance ten different times in history, outwardly saying they would become Muslims, but then returning to their villages and refusing to practice the religion. They intentionally built conspicuous white mosques at the top of the mountains to deceive Muslim invaders. As they passed, seeing the mosque in the distance, they would assume the village had already converted and continue on their way.
Early generations kept their Christian heritage in secret and outwardly submitted to Islamic rule. The symbolism of the cross can still be found throughout Amazigh architecture, designs on handmade carpets, and even tattoos on women's faces. Today, however, they have no understanding of their Christian heritage.
Tunisia's first president following French colonization, Habib Bourguiba (1957) worked hard to unify the country. Amazigh villages were traditionally fortified in strong mountain areas. Bourguiba incentivized the Amazigh to abandon their cultural identity in exchange for one "Tunisian Arab" identity. At first, he tried to build cities and communities down in the plains to force integration and to draw the Amazigh out of their strong mountain fortifications. When the Amazigh refused to comply, he burned their books, removed their language from schools, and worked to erase much of the culture.
The 2011 Revolution that ousted the country's second president (Zine El- Abidine Ben Ali) from power sparked a renewal of the Amazigh culture and identity. Renewed pride and freedom to identify as Amazigh has resulted in many clubs, cultural centers, and organizations focused on retaining and building the Amazigh language and culture.
Where are they located?
The Amazigh of Tataouine are located in the south of Tunisia. There are about 4,400 Amazigh in this part of Tunisia. They can be found across four different villages; those in Douiret Jdida (new Douiret) (2,100), two families can be found in Douiret Elkadima (old Douiret) those in Chenini Jdida (new Chenini) (1,400), and those in Chenini Elkadima (old Chenini) (900). The Amazigh of Douiret Jdida and Chenini Jdida live in small cities built from clay and rock. The former President Bourguiba forced these groups to move from the mountains of their old dwellings. The Amazigh of Chenini Elkadima still live in the mountains. Their dwelling places are carved from the mountains between the layers of rock in the form of caves.
What are their lives like?
The way of life for the Amazigh of Tataouine diﬀers from the other groups around them, especially in their interaction between men and women. Their interactions follow more of Bedouin habits that came with Islam from the Arab peninsula. Men and women do not mix socially. The Amazigh of Tataouine speak the Amazigh language from childhood, but do not write it. They also learn Arabic, French and some English at school. The Amazigh of Tataouine use media like the radio, but they don't own other means of media, and there is no network for mobile phones.
What are their beliefs?
The Amazigh in Tataouine are Muslims, following the Ibadi school of Islam. They diﬀer from most of the rest of the Amazigh in Tunisia, who follow the Ibadi school, because they have no understanding of what being Ibadi means. The Amazigh in Tataouine have been highly influenced by the Maliki teaching in the province of Tataouine. They do not recognize the Ibadi school. The Tunisian Arab's Islamic preaching has convinced the Amazigh in Tataouine that Ibadis are savages and that no one should work with them.
Muslims follow the teaching of Muhammad, who lived in the 6-7th centuries in Saudi Arabia. They believe in one God, whom they call Allah (Arabic for "the God"). At judgment day, all people will be judged for their deeds and, if their good works outweigh their bad, then Allah will welcome them into paradise. If not, then they will be sentenced to eternal hell. In order to obtain salvation, they must follow the five pillars of Islam: prayer five times a day, fasting from dawn to dusk during the month of Ramadan, giving to the poor, and, if possible, a pilgrimage to Mecca, to be done at least once in their lifetime (Hajj). Regarding Jesus, they believe that he was a prophet, but that his teachings are inferior to those of Muhammad.
ReferencesView Amazigh, Tataouine in all countries.