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 Zaghouan are spread across three villages: Zriba El Alia (800), Jeradou (3,000), and Takrouna (800) in northern Tunisia. Though there is a significant distance between the villages, the cultural link between them can be observed. In ancient times the three villages, located in the shape of a triangle on three separate mountains, would communicate to each other through sending smoke signals from the top of the mountains.
What are their lives like? Most of the Amazigh of Takrouna (approximately 800) live in the city of New Takrouna. They were forced to migrate down from the mountain villages in which they had previously lived. They have lost many of their Amazigh traditions and customs due to integration with the Arab majority. Though the Amazigh in this village coexist with Arab neighbors, differences can be seen in the ways Arabs and Amazigh relate to one another. They take great pride in their Amazigh origins. They work in both public and private business as well as in factories. A small number of people still live in Old Takrouna, an area rich with Amazigh history and civilization.
The Amazigh in Jeradou no longer speak Chilha, the Amazigh dialect. However, since the revolution in 2011 they have begun teaching how to read and write the Amazigh script. The Amazigh in this village, numbering approximately 3,000, live and relate closely to one another. They are unified in many ways. There is a youth center in the village that hosts youth activities. Homes are built close together. Their normal lives, in many ways, resembles the lives of their Arab neighbors. Jeradou's population depends on agriculture and shepherding. Tourism has also been an important part of the economy due to Ancient Roman ruins located near the city.
Most of the Amazigh in Zriba El Alia (approximately 800 people) were forced to move down from the mountain to the village of Hammam Zriba. Only 20 people, from five families, refused to come down and still live up on the mountain in Zriba El Alia. Those that live on the mountain still live without water and electricity. Men in this village travel to other villages to work in construction. They have lost their ability to speak the Amazigh language but they still hold to the Amazigh customs.
What are their beliefs? The Amazigh in Zaghouan are Malaki Muslims, following the Arab Tunisian majority people group. This differentiates the Amazigh in Zaghouan from the rest of the Amazigh in Tunisia who follow the Ibadi school of Islam.
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.