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Indiana University Press
Berber Culture on the World Stage: From Village to Video

Berber Culture on the World Stage: From Village to Video

by Jane E. Goodman


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"[S]ure to interest a number of different audiences, from language and music scholars to specialists on North Africa.... a superb book, clearly written, analytically incisive, about very important issues that have not been described elsewhere." —John Bowen, Washington University

In this nuanced study of the performance of cultural identity, Jane E. Goodman travels from contemporary Kabyle Berber communities in Algeria and France to the colonial archives, identifying the products, performances, and media through which Berber identity has developed. In the 1990s, with a major Islamist insurgency underway in Algeria, Berber cultural associations created performance forms that challenged Islamist premises while critiquing their own village practices. Goodman describes the phenomenon of new Kabyle song, a form of world music that transformed village songs for global audiences. She follows new songs as they move from their producers to the copyright agency to the Parisian stage, highlighting the networks of circulation and exchange through which Berbers have achieved global visibility.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253346292
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 11/28/2005
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Jane E. Goodman is Assistant Professor of Communication and Culture at Indiana University. While training to become a cultural anthropologist, she performed with the women’s world music group Libana.

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Berber Culture on the World Stage

From Village to Video

By Jane E. Goodmann

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2005 Jane E. Goodman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-34629-2


The Berber Spring

L'existence de plusieurs mouvements de jeunes risque d'aboutir à des orientations contraires et pas toujours conformes à la ligne du parti. La jeunesse algérienne brassée pendant la guerre de libération doit rompre aujourd'hui tout cloisonnement et être organisée dans un rassemblement national sous une direction unique et sous l'impulsion du parti.

— La Charte d'Alger, 1964, Part III, Chapter 1, Article 22

[The existence of multiple youth movements risks producing opposing orientations that may not always conform to the party line. Algerian youth, stirred up during the war, must today break with all forms of compartmentalization and organize itself in a national union moving in a single direction and under the impetus of the Party.

— The 1964 Charter of Algiers, Part III, Chapter 1, Article 22]

April 20, 1980. One o'clock in the morning. Operation Mizrana has been launched, the forces of repression invade all the sites that are being occupied [by striking Kabyle students, hospital personnel, and factory employees]. Students, surprised in their sleep, are assaulted in their beds; dogs are let loose on those who flee. Students leave their dormitory rooms in their underwear. Professors are arrested in their homes. All the personnel of the hospital, doctors and nurses, are arrested and replaced by military doctors. A spontaneous general strike is begun by the population of Tizi Ouzou. Kabylia is cut off from the world; access is forbidden to everyone and in particular to journalists.

The above account is drawn from a history of the Berber identity movement produced on six hand-lettered posters by the Tafrara Cultural Association. Entitled "Chronology of the Contemporary Berber Struggle," the posters graced the walls of the Mouloud Mammeri Cultural Center during the week of April 20, 1993, in what has become an annual commemoration of the 1980 Berber Spring. I sat in front of the posters, copying by hand their account of what transpired. The chronology begins on March 10, 1980, when Kabyle scholar and activist Mouloud Mammeri (1917–1989) was to give a public lecture on the role of poetry in traditional Kabyle society, the subject of his newly published book Poèmes kabyles anciens (Old Kabyle Poems). The talk was to take place at Hasnaoua University in the city of Tizi Ouzou, the intellectual and commercial center of the Kabyle Berber region. A crowd of more than one thousand had gathered, but Mammeri never arrived. He was stopped at a police roadblock, brought before the region's governor (wali), and informed that the event had been canceled. The reason: "risk of disturbing the public order." The cancellation sparked demonstrations and strikes at schools, universities, and businesses that would rock the Kabyle region for more than two months. Matters came to a head on April 20 when, at 4:15 in the morning, riot police stormed university dormitories, a factory, and the local hospital. Armed with tear gas and clubs, they arrested hundreds and wounded many more. Subbsequent d emonstrations, ofte violent, swept the region. Echoes were felt as far away as Paris, where some 600 demonstrated on April 25 at the Algerian embassy, against the orders of French authorities. Widely commented on in the French press, the events were reported to human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and the International League of Human Rights. Mammeri hoped his book would "serve as an instrument in the transmission of Berber culture" (Mammeri 1980: 47), but he could hardly have foreseen the catalytic impact of his canceled lecture. For while the period of violence resolved within several months, its memory mushroomed. The Berber Spring (Tafsut Imazighen, or simply Tafsut), as April 20 is now called, is commemorated unofficially each year in Algeria as well as in the Berber diaspora in Europe and North America. Tafsut is now one of the key sites through which a discourse on Amazigh identity circulates.

Before April 1980, such a discourse was not widely available. Consider Bachir's story. He had first heard the word "Amazigh" in 1976, at the age of 10, when Idir's new song Muqleγ ("I See") was played on the Kabyle radio station (Idir 1976b). The song's refrain goes like this:

Muqleγ tamurt umaziγ
Yugurten waleγ udem-ik. Yugurtha,

I see the Amazigh land
I see your face.

"What was this Amazigh?" Bachir remembered wondering. For while the term "Amazigh" — used to signify a pan-Maghreb history, culture, and linguistic identity — circulated among intellectuals, it was not part of the vocabulary of most Kabyles in the 1970s, let alone their self-definition. As Bachir recounted it to me in November 1993, he thought that the term referred to a large tribal group located on the other side of the mountains from his village. He pictured lots of snow and wild, crazy men with long, unkempt hair and beards, who were barefoot, wearing loincloths and tunics, and holding sheaths and lances. Bachir's father told him that Amazigh referred to the Berbers, but Bachir was unconvinced: "I felt an incredible pity for those people," he told me. For Bachir, the Amazigh was a primitive savage, an Other who had little relevance for his own life.

Four years later, in April 1980, Bachir was in junior high school when he heard what he described as a frightening sound like a "swarm of bees." Turning to look out the window, he was initially terrified — a mob of young men was advancing, throwing stones, breaking windows, and chanting. As they drew closer, he made out their words: "I — ma — zi — ghen." For the first time, he made a visceral connection between the term and his own experiences: "It was at that moment," he said, "that I knew who I was." The next April, Bachir helped to organize Tafsut events at his school; in 1982, he was permanently suspended for his role in planning Tafsut activities. While Bachir's initial image of the Amazigh may be more graphic than most, his testimony is hardly unique. According to Hend, who in 1993 was a local representative of the ultra-secular RCD party: "We saw Amazigh as something else, as unconnected to our lives and traditions." Most of his parents' generation, said Hend, did not distinguish between Muslims and Arabs; for older Kabyles, to claim that "We are not Arab" was tantamount to renouncing their Muslim identity, an unthinkable prospect.

If the Berber Spring, or Tafsut Imazighen, is described as a turning point in individual testimonies, it is also cast as a point of origin in both popular and academic publications. In these accounts, April 20 is typically characterized in almost ritual terms as a liminal moment of reversal when a repressed population rose up against an absolutist, dictatorial state. For example, a 1981 article in the grassroots journal Tafsut ("Spring"), which began publication after 1980, begins: "In the spring of 1980, following a series of provocations and aggressions on the part of the authorities, the demands [revendications] for Berber culture burst open in full daylight" (Tafsut 1981c: 13). Another starts, "The suffocation of popular cultures and the repeated attacks on democracy led during 1980 to the emergence of a mass movement" (Tafsut 1981b: 10). Even academic studies that otherwise provide nuanced and detailed analysis of the events draw on tropes of repression, rupture, and explosion. Amar Ouerdane, for instance, describes April 20 as a moment when "rupture with the central government [le Pouvoir] wasconsummated" (Ouerdane 1990: 193); Said Sadi describes the moment as one that "reversed the order of things" (Sadi 1983: 43). When accounts mention the institutional and conjunctural factors related to the Berber Spring, they do so almost parenthetically, within an overall frame of repression and explosion (e.g., Chaker 1989). Mammeri's canceled lecture is typically characterized as the spark that ignited the ¤re or the drop of water that made the vessel overflow.

The Berber Spring is also projected forward and backward, superimposed on other violent episodes in Kabyles' relation to the state. Thus, a deadly 1949 clash between Berberists and Arabo-Islamists over the question of Algeria's national language is construed by one scholar as "the first Berber Spring" (Ouerdane 1990: 47, 59). In this view, April 20, 1980, is already a repetition, a "reappearance of a demand [revendication] for Berber culture that had long been inhibited" (Harbi 1980: 31). Alternatively, the Berber Spring is seen as inflecting a later event. Thus, for example, a period of violence that began in April 2001, when state forces fired into a crowd, killing an eighteen-year-old Kabyle youth and sparking ongoing unrest that led to over one hundred deaths, is popularly termed the "Black Spring," despite the fact that the insurrection lasted for well over a year.

These accounts appear to be caught up in ways of conceptualizing history that may obscure more than they clarify. They recall the familiar Fanonian anticolonial liberation narrative that begins in repression and alienation, then moves through consciousness and awakening to resistance and struggle, ultimately culminating in realization (Scott 1999: 201–208; Fanon 1963). This narrative is articulated with a view of history that Hayden White has described in terms of fulfillment (White 2002). Here, particular events are made to stand out from their surrounds to become fraught with significance; through such events, both the individual and the community are said to emerge transformed. These charged and redemptive moments, extracted from the particular configuration of forces that produced them, can also be mapped onto each other such that a later event is interpreted as a fuller realization of an earlier one, which is then said to be annunciatory or prophetic.

To cast what happened in April 1980 solely in terms of opposition, resistance, or effervescence, however, is to obscure the important ways in which it was Kabyles' very mastery of state-based systems of governance and communication that enabled them to pull off a relatively organized and politically productive two-month insurgency (cf. Colonna 1996). Suspending the Fanonian lens through which the Berber Spring is typically understood makes it possible to elucidate the linked institutional and ideological processes through which April 20 became available for both political mobilization and individual self-constitution. This is not to contest the importance of 1980 in the history of the Kabyle relationship to the Algerian state, but it is to take issue with the way most narratives account for the Berber Spring. Such accounts obscure the ways that Kabyles themselves had been gradually putting in place crucial networks, which they could draw on in 1980.

Why should April 1980 have become a turning point in the development of Berber consciousness? After all, a rhetoric of Amazigh identity was hardly new in 1980. It had been available to elites since at least the 1930s, when splits emerged within the growing anticolonial nationalist movement around the question of language (Carlier 1984; Chaker 1989; Ouerdane 1990). Nor can the prominence of April 1980 in cultural memory be considered solely a reaction to state violence against Kabyles. Events that were arguably more serious had already occurred. In 1974, for example, at an annual cherry festival in the town of Larba n At Iraten, the army reportedly killed three protesters when it was called in to subdue demonstrations that had erupted over the replacement of new Kabyle singers Ferhat Imazighen Imoula and Aït Menguellet with Arab singers (Ouerdane 1990: 185). In 1980, by contrast, no one died. The Cherry Festival incident, while clearly an important event in the history of Kabylia's relationship to the state, is not narrated in terms of the development of a new collective consciousness. What, then, was different about 1980? What enabled the cancellation of Mammeri's lecture to be retrospectively constituted as an originary moment — a moment with which most accounts of the Berber Spring (including this one) begin?

The events of April 1980 took on such importance because they occurred in a location where several rapidly expanding institutional networks converged: the university and, in particular, the University of Tizi Ouzou Hasnaoua, which had opened just over two years earlier. Four sites draw my attention: the Arabization program implemented in the Algerian public schools; a small group of cultural collectives established by elites in Paris in the decade following independence; the modes of student governance being practiced at Algerian universities; and the international press and human rights organizations. My point of entry will be by way of the 1993 Tafsut celebration in the city of Tizi Ouzou, which I was fortunate to be able to attend. Whereas by 1993, the connections between these sites were so well established as to seem natural, I show how in 1980 they were drawn together conjuncturally. From this moment of commemoration, I work both crosswise and backward, tacking between the 1993 events and the social constituencies and circulatory pathways bound up with these events.

I begin with the Algerian public school system of the 1960s and 1970s, considering how the state's program to "Arabize" its population unwittingly facilitated the development of Amazigh identity in three ways. It provided Kabyles entering school in the 1960s and 1970s with a shared experience of their mother tongue as an object of repression and thus desire; it inculcated a homogenizing Arabophone linguistic ideology that provided a template for the development of Tamazight as a standardized code capable (at least in theory) of connecting speakers of different Berber varieties; and it furnished a ready-made network through which a discourse of Amazigh identity could travel clandestinely. I then move to the nascent Berber cultural associations in Paris during the 1960s and 1970s. Unlike later Paris-based associations, which were aligned primarily toward the diaspora community, these early associations were strongly oriented to Algeria, and Kabyles in Algeria participated in the production and dissemination of their projects and products. From there, I consider the Algerian university governance system, which provided a crucial public forum in which students could develop consensus among themselves and collaborate with adjacent constituencies. Even as activist Kabyle students contested the particular ideological orientations of the Algerian state, they drew on practices consistent with a mode of state-based governmentality that would enable them to collectively mobilize when Mammeri's lecture was canceled. Finally, I consider how Amazigh discourse was further amplified via the international press, where it was ultimately mapped onto another available network: human rights.


April 20, 1993. I am standing with my video camera on a hill overlooking the entrance to the University of Tizi Ouzou, where hundreds of young men and a few women are beginning to congregate for their annual march through the city. Groups of demonstrators begin to form, with those at the front of each group holding large banners. One banner poses a question, in French, that Mammeri had asked years before: "If we are Arabs, we don't need to be Arabized. If we are not Arabs, why Arabize us?" As demonstrators begin to march, they chant, fists raised, in French and Tamazight: "We are not Arabs, Tamazight in the Schools" ("Nous ne sommes pas des arabes, Tamaziγt di lakul").

Without Algeria's Arabization program, the Berber Spring would likely never have happened. For Algeria as for most ex-colonies, decolonization demanded "recovery" of the nation's language, for language was seen as a crucial dimension of national personality. The problem was that the linguistic situation in Algeria at the moment of decolonization was far from straightforward. During the long period of French colonization, the Arabic language, not surprisingly, was marginalized. A 1938 law had gone so far as to declare Arabic a foreign language in Algeria (Grandguillaume 1983: 96). Schooling of les indigènes (the indigenous population) took place primarily in French. School was not the only route to acquiring French-language skills. In regions of high emigration, including Kabylia, most men had at least a basic ability to speak French. Arabic and Berber, Algeria's indigenous languages, comprised a number of varieties. Varieties of Arabic changed from eastern to western regions of the country as well as between urban and rural areas of the same region (Grandguillaume 1983: 13; Taleb-Ibrahimi 1995). Berber varieties differed not only among geographically distant Berber groups (i.e., Shawi, Ibadites, Tuareg, Kabyles) but also within a region. Few Algerians were schooled in either classical or modern standard Arabic, which differed substantially from spoken varieties. This effectively made French, already the language of state administration, a lingua in many parts of the country.


Excerpted from Berber Culture on the World Stage by Jane E. Goodmann. Copyright © 2005 Jane E. Goodman. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Table of Contents

Note on Orthography and Translation
Part I. Circuits
1. The Berber Spring
2. Refracting Berber Identities
3. The Mythical Village
Part II. Texts
4. Collecting Poems
5. Authoring Modernity
6. Copyright Matters
Part III. Performances
7. Staging Gender
8. Village to Video
Works Cited

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