At Yiraten

Dtn44c8W0AES0xBThe At Yiraten (Arabic Banū Raten) is a confederation in Great Kabylia, whose territory is bounded on the North by the Sebaou valley, in the West by Wādi Aisi, which separates them from the Banū Yenni, in the South by the district of the Ait Yaḥyā and in the east by the At Frawsen. Their hills yield olives, figs, and some corn. My mother belongs to the At Yiraten confederation, particularly the tribe At Ɛkerma (from the village of Iɣil n Yefri). The region composed of Zwawa from Banū Raten was a center for religious sciences (Quranic studies and Maliki jurisprudence) and where fierce battles against the French took place.

The tribes of the Nfis valley in the Western High Atlas belonged to the liff of the At Yiraten and that of the At Atman. Part of Banū Raten territory was attached to the commune of Larbeɛa n At Yiraten on May 13, 1886. The village of Ishariwen was replaced by the French toponym “Fort National.”

Sociopolitical structure

  • adrum (pl. iderman): the equivalent of a clan joined through lineage, or of several lineages which have allied and maintained close neighborhood relations (mutual aid)
  • lɛerc: tribe which constitutes a federation of several villages
  • taddart: the village which constitutes the most basic political unit, is composed of several iderman; each of them having a representative [ṭṭamen] in the village assembly (tajmaɛt) who led the community; these representatives choose an amin who would be head of the community

Kinship on the basis of factors outside lineage facilitated the link between the ṭṭamen and non-family members, they would be less implicated in consequences associated with stepping on honor, embodied by the house (axxam).

There are cases where things aren’t so neat: the At Izid are grouped in three main villages (At Izid, At Izid agemmaḍ now called Afeḍriq and At Lewnas), but they are also integrated into other village communities of the same tribe (Iɣil Lmal, Agni Bbuffal and Tiɣilt Meḥmud). At Aggwaca, who were originally a part of the At Umalu, broke away to constitute a tribe independent from the turbulence that arose from the divergences between the clans. It is claimed that this split dates back to the time of the Hilali invasion. The name At Aggwaca came from At Uqasha who were precisely opposed to the Arabs that came, whom they fought without success. In December 1937, the Umalu douar grouped two tribes of the At Yiraten together. Ɛadni, one of the villages of the confederation, already existed in the 13th century since Ibn Khaldun had recorded that Lalla Shemsi, a woman who led the tribe, came from this village.

Robert Hughs goes into more detail about the socio-political structure:

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At Yiraten tribal confederation division and village history

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Overview of Larebɛa n at Yiraten, 1887

Si Amar Bukhtush Sghir offered a fragment of the history of this family that ruled over several centuries in Kabylia. In 1618 Ahmed Ou Lqadi, Sultan of Kuku, was put to death by his brother who took power. The wife of the deceased fled to Tunis headed at the time by the Hafsid dynasty where Si Ahmed’s wife’s parents lived. The woman was pregnant and gave birth to a son named Ahmed Tunsi bin Amar Ou Lqadi At Bukhtush (men with arrows). Around 1632 when he reached puberty, his maternal uncles gave him a small army with which he marched towards Kabylia. He easily managed to overthrow the usurper. Ahmed Tunsi did not return to Kuku for fear of revenge, but he built his headquarters in Awrir in At Ɣubri with another residence in Ɛadni at a place called Takseft which became Zerzara. We call the dam today Takseft which is actually wrong, the dam is at a place called Tahmamt Ɛadni, where there is very fertile land that belonged to this family.

Ahmed Tunsi also had another residence at Tamgout among the At Ǧenad in Assif El Hammam. One of Ahmed Tunsi’s sons separated from him for violating his Ɛnaya. This son is named Urekhu who moved to Feniɛa, now Sof Oufella.

The At Yiraten paid the caid of Tizi Wezzu a sum of 125 francs for a population of 17,000. The caid would give nobles of the confederation gifts (clothes and weapons) twice the value of the tax.


Portrait of a family (1900s) – Yiwet Tawacult n At Yiraten
Family of At Yiraten clan – Tawacult n At Yiraten


Ibn Khaldun noted, “Nowadays, the most important Zwawi tribes are Banū Ijer, Banū Mangellat, Banū Betrun, Banū Yenni, Banū Bu Gherdan, Banū Yettsuragh, Banū Bu Yusef, Banū Bu Ccɛayeb, the Banū Aysi, the Sedqa, the Banū Ɣubri, and the Banū Guechtoula.”

At Yiraten were a part of the Zwawa nation. Before splitting they regrouped with the Guechtoula, Flissat, and At Sedqa under a single chief after the French arrived to Algiers in 1830. They rose together and in 1849 allied with others of the southern slope of the Jurjura to attack the tribes of Petite Kabylie who were submissive to the French.

A native of At Iraten wrote about the toponym Tizi Igawawen: Kabyles on the north side of the Jurjura are designated Igwawen (Agwawa). Great Kabylia, the Banū Raten, and other neighboring tribes specially reserve this name to designate their co-religionists such as the Banū Mangellat, the Banū Wasif, the Banū Boudrar, etc.

We find people on one side of the Sebaou Valley very aware that they are not Igawawen, who reside in the higher mountains (At Yiraten). It is noted that the name evokes a type of honorable man, enviable, and who could well be the epitome of a “true Kabyle.” The At Frawsen described a man of the Agwawa as a man of honor and courage, especially in combat. “There is deep truth in this reflection, even if many Kabyles, inspired by such a deep egalitarian reflex, rejected this statement by saying that the Igawawen are Kabyles like the others.”

M. Daumas and M. Faber wrote in 1847 that they were the least mixed Kabyles.


The principal zawiya that the At Yiraten attended was the Arus zawiya. Arus and Adeni were where memorization of the Quran was instructed. Interestingly, in Algeria, some zawiyas were known to be rather inhospitable. One of these includes, among the At Yiraten, the zawiya of Mestiga. It had a beautiful mosque and attracted people from afar. But if one approached the door of this majestic site, they’d be disappointed. The zawiya hardly accepted just anyone. Thus, in this region of Kabylia, if one wanted to speak of something deceitful– they’d compare it to the zawiya of Mestiga.

The At Ennamani of the At Yiraten are marabouts who have retained their traditions.

One of the most prominent zawiyas belonged to: سيدي الصديق بن أعراب الإيراثني. Part of the At Oumalou عرش (of the At Iraten), he studied at al-Azhar al-Sharif and upon his return established a zawiya near the Sebaou valley. Of the rahmaniyya tariqa, he was initially taught by سيدي أمحمد بوقبرين from Boghni, Tizi Wezzu. His grandsons became known scholars and many of his followers contributed in combat to resist French occupation.

Born in the same village of اسحنونن, which was full of scholars and shuyukh, Muhammad al-Said al-Sahnuni was a faqih. His father died in the Battle of Iflissen against French colonialism. He was educated by his virtuous mother يمينة بنت عمرو آث اوفلا السحنوني.  He taught at the Sidi Omar and Lhaj Institute near Azazga with other important tribes. He left his village after the failure of the revolution in 1871. Access to the معهد تاغراست بآث وغليس was denied to the At Iraten by French authorities. They were also not able to descend to Taghrast after being attacked by القائد اوجعفر.

However, in late 1892, he was able to establish an institute named after himself in Taghrast where many shuyukh studied Hadith. His family was known for their heroic stances against the French. During his plight with the French, he was exiled from the territory of At Iraten. He joined other scholars who opposed the recruitment of Algerians in the French army and led an economic boycott of French goods. They told people that their wax was mixed with pig fat, that their sugar was rumored to be made from the bones of dead human beings, oils spoiled with alcohol and other fatwas that rejected everything French.

Si Mula contributed in writing La Kabylie et les coutumes kabyles, he was a dignitary of At Amar marabouts among the At Iraten, resident at the village of Tamazirt. He was also a religious cleric (‘alim) of sayyid descent, whose ancestors emigrated from Turkey in the seventeenth century, renowned as teachers of Arabic literacy and Quranic education among the At Yiraten. We identify Si Mula’s fine Arabic handwriting in this presentation copy of At Yiraten customs inscribed in elegant Andalusian calligraphy, dedicated to Hanoteau (author) while he was still in Draa El Mizan.


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Dedication of Ait Iraten qanun rulings submitted to Hanoteau by Si Musa

Apart from their historical value, these rare village records offered an invaluable means of examining underlying principles of communal government, necessary for indirect military administration, since an official policy of non-interference with the traditional social organization had been proclaimed by Marshal Randon at the defeat of the insurgent At Yiraten Kabyles in 1857. Although virtually all qawanin acknowledged the presence of an outside power, until full French military occupation in 1857, this presence seems to have been felt most strongly in the Summam valley and in the plains around Tizi Wezzu, and felt least in relatively inaccessible areas such as Larebɛa n at Yiraten.

Despite the contribution that Hanoteau and Si Musa have made to historical documentation, their respectability is questionable. In January 1859 Hanoteau was appointed to command a bureau arabe outpost at Draa El Mizan (western Kabylia), and in the following year, he was posted to Fort Napoleon, in the tribal heartland of the At Yiraten. Si Musa supported French officers in exchange for a fine two-story house, gaining the highest appointments of political and judicial authority among the At Yiraten.

At Ɛkerma

The inhabitants of the village of Iɣil n Yefri used to be considered a part of the Isemmadhian, but they joined the At Ɛkerma.


Jewelry making was known among the At Yiraten (although not at the level of Banu Yenni). Soap-making however, was certainly renowned by the At Yiraten in the village of At Atelli.


Among the At Yiraten, d is assimilated by t to arrive at the semi-occlusive tt.


Some Banu Iraten settled in Algiers as bakers and bankers.

French resistance

‘Abd al-Qadir sought support in Kabylia and sometimes named aghas to represent him in the region which often came from the At Yiraten.

Law and order

Ibn Khaldun recounted that when there was some centralization in Bejaia, the At Yiraten and At Frawsen only paid taxes when it suited them. If their tribe names were entered in the administration registers as taxable tribes (kharaj), they’d revolt. Among the At Yiraten, all important life cycle rituals— births, circumcisions, marriages, and deaths—oblige payment to the village assembly. All village men were expected to attend funerals, and absences were generally fined. Heirs to land who reside outside the village cannot enter into possession unless they come to live within village boundaries; otherwise, the land in question falls to the tajmaɛt. Qanun in Kabylia varied from village to village, from tribe to tribe.

Qwanin of Yazzouzen (At Yiraten)
Conditioning for obtaining alimony

“If it is the woman who voluntarily leaves her husband, she takes the child, but is not entitled to any pension.”

Right of widows

“A widow who does not want to remarry and wishes to live with her children can not be forced to remarry either by her father or by her other relatives.”

Qanun of Tawrirt Amoqran (Ikhelijen, At Yiraten)

Laws in Tawrirt Amoqran, like other villages, were in accordance with the Quran, Sunnah/tradition, and customs. The qanun began like this:

This is the Qanun of the village of Tawrirt Amoqran, At Iraten. In the name of the merciful God, may he have in his grace our prophet Muhammad and his companions. Glory be to the one God! Grace and salvation be upon his Prophet!

Laws were influenced by the word of God (“Help yourselves to virtue, but do not help yourselves to enmities”) and the word of Prophet Muhammad PBUH (“He who commits himself to do good is like the one who does it”).

  • If someone injured or robbed someone, they were charged 50 riyals during Ramadan. Outside of Ramadan, they were charged 1 riyal.
  • An estate can only accrue to the rightful heir.
  • If a conflict arises in a village and someone there invites the enemy and compromises public safety, his property become the property of the tajmaɛt. If he does not own anything, he’s banned for life.
  • Anyone who kills someone on village land, or assists to a murder, is banished, and his property is returned to the tajmaɛt.

May your curse of generations past and future be on the one who will change these laws! When a murder is committed, he is the murderer. He must die; If he dies accidentally, the price of the sin falls on his estate.

  • If the murderer runs away, his property and house are given away to the victim. The one who unwittingly takes the life of someone who is a war criminal does not have the death penalty. Authority absolves him; if it is voluntarily, his property is not subject to the death penalty.
  • Whoever divorces and then takes back his wife pays ten riyals. When a woman remains a widow with a child, she has a right to third of his income until his death.
  • Whoever fires a shotgun at someone pays twenty riyals; he only pays one if he just threatens him. If someone commits murder to inherit an estate, his possessions are given to the tajmaɛt. Whoever strikes with an iron instrument, a stone or a stick lined with iron, pays five riyals. Threat to strike is taxed one riyal.
  • For who helps his brother ‘in a quarrel: fine of five riyals. For anyone who seeks quarrel with the one who accompanies a female, five riyals.
  • He who breaks the honor code invoked by a stranger, fifty riyals.
  • For the one who steals vegetables, grapes or fruits, five riyals if the robbery took place during the night. One riyal during the day.
  • Kid gets a fine for stealing ash leaves, olives or acorns.
  • For the one who has given false testimony or injured the honor of
    someone, fifty riyals.
  • The one who insults a woman, one riyal.
  • The woman who insults a man, one riyal.
  • For the women who quarreled and insulted each other at the fountain, each one a riyal.
  • The one that provokes a quarrel on a tajmaɛt day, on a distribution day (timsheret), burial or wedding, nights included, a riyal.
  • Whoever cheated on his friend must give him back the value of what he cheated, no matter how much its worth.
  • For a man who goes to women’s fountain and the woman who goes to the men’s fountain, a quarter of a riyal, as it may be for watering livestock, washing clothes or vegetables.
  • Whoever hears an alert and doesn’t meet the contingent immediately, half a riyal.
  • The one who harms his brother with herds, gives a quarter of a riyal.


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