Kabyle: A Language, a People, and a Heritage to Defend

11.07.2020 - Kabylia, Alegeria - Pressenza New York

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Kabyle: A Language, a People, and a Heritage to Defend

Today, more than six thousand languages ​​are spoken in the world and according to Unesco, half of the languages ​​spoken by less than ten thousand people will disappear by the end of the century. The longevity of a language depends on its vitality and on certain demographic and social factors. The more a language shows its vitality, the more it can ensure its longevity.

By  Rabah Arkam

Each indigenous people, has a unique and characteristic culture, language, legal system and history. Most indigenous peoples are strongly anchored in the environment and attached to their traditional land and territory. For generations, they have often been chased and subjected, victims of the destruction of their culture, of discrimination and of widespread human rights violations. For centuries, they suffered from the non-recognition of their political and cultural institutions, and the integrity of their culture was undermined.

Kabyle is a Berber language spoken in Kabylia (in the North of Algeria) as well as within the great Kabyle diaspora, in Algeria and in other countries (notably France and Belgium, Canada, USA). The number of speakers is estimated at around 7 million in Kabylia and around 8 million worldwide.

Due to the administrative division of Kabylia by the Algerian regime, the Kabyle language is present in eight wilayas (provinces). The populations of the wilayas of Tizi Wezzu, Bgayet, Tubiret, Boumerdès, are mainly Kabyle speakers. Kabyle is present in a small part of Bordj-Bou-Arreridj, also in the wilayas of Algiers, Jijel, and Sétif. Historical and social data easily explain this particular situation; the main Berber-speaking region, a stronghold of strong and long resistance to French invasion in the 19th century, Kabylia very early attracted French descriptors: explorers and travelers, soldiers, missionaries and scientists.

Kabyle was therefore the subject of precise and early attention as evidenced by the publication in 1844 of the first dictionary of this language. Between 1858 and 1873, General Hanoteau, a true encyclopedist of Kabylia, published alone: ​​his Kabyle Grammar (1858), his Popular Poems of Jurjura (1867) and his monumental work in three volumes, Kabylia and Kabyle customs (1873). The impetus given during these first decades of the French presence in Algeria will be decisive and will be quickly relayed by new types of actors, no less productive:

– Christian religious (mainly from the order of missionaries from Africa, the “White Fathers” and “White Sisters”, founded by Cardinal Lavigerie in 1868/9), whose work in describing the Berber language of Kabylia is continue on site without interruption until the mid-1970s; it will give birth in particular to the precious series of the Berber Documentation File (1946-1977) and to the Kabyle-French Dictionary by Jean-Marie Dallet (1982).

– From the 1880s, French specialists at the University of Algiers who, along with René Basset, who was Dean of the Faculty of Letters, quickly established themselves as the main center of Berber studies until decolonization.

Furthermore, the free, prior and informed consent of the Kabyle heritage in questions concerning its culture, traditions, ancestral territory, was considered by their people to be an essential condition for the realization of their right to self-determination, reaffirmed by the Article 3 of the Declaration, and the preservation of its identity, culture and language. It is based on article (1) of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of December 16, 1966 that all peoples have the right to dispose of themselves. By virtue of this right, they freely determine their political status and freely ensure its development.

Unfortunately, the Kabyle have been excluded from the decision-making processes. Many of them have been marginalized, exploited, assimilated by force and subjected to repression, torture and murder when they spoke out in defense of their rights. For fear of persecution, they often take refuge abroad, where they sometimes have to hide their identity and renounce their language and traditional customs.

The Kabyle are frequently subjected to marginalization and legal discrimination at their land of birth. Those who speak out in defense of the rights of the Kabyle are confronted with intimidation and violence, which recalls the great events of the rejection of the policy of discrimination imposed by the central government of Algeria since 1962 in Kabylia:

  • 1963-1965, armed rebellion against Algiers (500 dead)
  • April 1980: popular uprising called “Berber spring”
  • July 1985: creation of the Human Rights League and arrest of its leaders who were brought before the revolutionary court for attack on the authority of the State
  • 1998: popular uprising of indignation following the assassination of the popular singer Matoub Lounes
  • 2001: popular uprising which lasted not less than 3 years, called “Black Spring” and during which not less than 128 Kabyles died.
  • 2014: Repression of the demonstration of April 20th, and April 20th 2015,
  • 2016: Arrest of several Kabyle sovereignist activists
  • 2017: repression and several arrests of independent activists
  • 2018: Intimidation and Islamist threat against Kabyle human rights activists

Arabization and the pursuit of Arabity had Islam as a corollary. The Algerian authorities have always relied on a policy of Arabization and Islamization, because this policy establishes the legitimacy of the state of which Islam was the depository. The religion was therefore used as an instrument to contain a possible progression of secular and democratic movements, for a free Kabylia. At the same time, the government has favored extremist Islamist movements and increased their political influence to the point of threatening the existence of the Kabyle.

Rabah Arkam, born in Kabylie (Algeria), engineer by profession, activist for the Amazigh (Berber) cause and identity in Algeria and North Africa, is a human rights activist, fights for democracy and secularism in Algeria in a federal state, he is the author of several articles.

Categories: Africa, Human Rights, Indigenous peoples


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