Women as Public Symbols of Identity

Mar 3, 2019 by

Berber women celebrate weddings with a fervor that matches the scorching heat of the summer wedding season. They spend hours sitting with the bride in a tent constructed specifically for the occasion and for three days chant songs, beat drums, and dance, re-creating the marriage ceremony passed down from their Amazigh ancestors. The control that Berber women exercise over weddings is another way in which they preserve the cultural distinctiveness of their group despite other societal influences that have changed their daily lives. The carpets, tents, and dress styles of the Berber that previously reinforced ethnic identity in North Africa have given way during the last few decades to the influence of the workplace, schools, and the mosque, which now shape people’s style of dress and other forms of aesthetic expression more than do their ethnic affiliations.

In Berbers weddings, however, the communal celebration and adornment of the bride and the groom have barely changed over time. During these weddings, women unfold a now infrequently used nomadic tent made by earlier women to serve as a temporary home for the bride. They carefully dress the bride in the red scarf, white clothing, wool belt, and silver jewelry that their ancestors wore on a daily basis, and they chant the songs of their mothers and grandmothers while henna is applied to the bride’s hands and feet and sing for the groom as he is dressed in a similar red scarf and white clothing. While life continues to evolve for the Amazigh tribe, weddings allow them to express their distinctiveness and maintain their sense of ethnic identity.

Women’s call-and-response songs are performed in Tamazight and accompany almost all events at a wedding. These songs (called izlan) are especially rich in visual imagery and use visual metaphors to express the cultural values and beliefs of the Amazigh.These songs are performed sitting down and may continue for an hour or more; they are always performed in public and announce to the community that a wedding is taking place. In unison, one group sings a single line of a song (called izli) that is repeated several times before the group moves to the next line of the song. Since the izlan performed during weddings are never improvised, the ability to sing them requires a certain amount of cultural knowledge and considerable memorization of numerous lines of each song. Thus older women, who are more familiar with the izlan, lead the song and are answered by the younger women. Particular songs are associated with specific events, and each song involves visual images that pertain to the particular event. For example, while the isnain are constructing the bride’s tent, the women sing the following song:

1. An-zzur Rebbi i zwur-aγ.

2. An âeqqed i wexyam tigusin.

3. Ad ur d-yawiy yiḍ agusif.

4. Taγ-aγ tasa-nnek a yibrurey.

5. Amm uxiam igan itriran.

6. A yma-new da-kes-s-aγ ulli.

7. Iṭs n uzal ak-em iγwan.

8. Annayγ amedlu yaγ s-iγir.

9. Annayγ-k a leâlam ik-d asif.

10. Ad wteγ aγejdim ad-d gulun.

11. Arraw n ugellid a lbaca.

1.With God’s help we start.

2.We pound the stakes for the tent.

3.We hope the night does not bring rain.

4. Our liver is worried about you, hail.

5. Hey you, whose tent is full of holes.

6. Oh my brother, I take sheep to graze.

7.Taking a nap during the day is what you like.

8. I see fog moving toward the mountain.

9. I see the sign coming by the river.

10. I sit down to wait for them to arrive.

11. People of the king and the pasha.

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