At Yiraten

The At Yiraten (Arabic Banū Raten) is a tribal confederation of Great Kabylia, whose territory is bounded on the North by the Sebaou, in the West by the Wādi Aisi, which separates them from the Banū Yenni, in the South by the district of the Ait Yaḥyā and in the east by that of the At Frawsen, and 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 Beni Iraten occupy that which is situated between Bejaia and Tedellis. 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 Beni Iraten territory was attached to the commune of Larbeɛa n At Yiraten on May 13, 1886. The village of Ishariwen was replaced by the French stronghold “Fort National”.

Turkish expedition at the Beni Raten

Elders of Tala Amara spoke of the failure of the bey Mohammed. It was by the time that Pasha Ali governed Algiers. Bey Mohammed advanced to the Sebaou, preceded by his numerous officers, flags, music, and followed by formidable artillery. The Beni Yenni, whose mountain is at the heart of Kabylia, were intimately united and populated in the three big villages of At El Arba, At Ahsen, and Tawrirt Mimoun. They were warriors and manufacturers of knives and rifles. It was easy for them to get rich before occupation when the At Yiraten fought the bey Mohammed and the Amrawa in the valley of Sebaou, and when all the mountaineers of Jurjura stopped Marshal Bugeaud and Boubarette on the slopes of Jebel Feraoun. They were content to make flissas for foreign amateurs and silver jewelry, enameled with green and blue, for the women of their villages and the surrounding area.

Manuscript

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.

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.

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.

At Yiraten tribal confederation division and village history

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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 Khaldoun had recorded that Lalla Shemsi, a woman who led the tribe, came from this village.

Si Amar Bukhtush Sghir offered a fragment of the history of this family that ruled over several centuries in Kabylia. In 1618 Ahmed Oulkadi, Sultan of Koukou, 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 Tounsi Ben Amar Oulkadi 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 Tounsi did not return to Koukou 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 Tounsi also had another residence at Tamgout among the At Ǧenad in Assif El Hammam. One of Ahmed Tounsi’s sons separated from him for violating his Ɛnaya. This son is named Urekhu who moved to Feniɛa, now Sof Oufella.

 Photographs
Portrait of a family (1900s) – Yiwet Tawacult n At Yiraten
Family of At Yiraten clan – Tawacult n At Yiraten
Photograph of Tawrirt village sent in April 1902 by a man who returned to LNI with his wife where they had their honeymoon in 1898. The Kabyles staged in front of the village are dressed in bernous.
At Atelli village
Briq Mouche bridge, circa 1910/20

The LNI Barracks overlooking the road to Tizi Wezzu, as seen from Azouza.

Kids in Imaisseren village with LNI in the background.
Zwawa

Ibn Khaldun noted, “Nowadays, the most important Zwawi tribes are Beni Ijer, Beni Mangellat, Beni Betrun, Beni Yenni, Beni Bu Gherdan, Beni Yettsuragh, Beni Bu Yusef, Beni Bu Ccɛayeb, the Beni Aysi, the Sedqa, the Beni Ɣubri, and the Beni 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 Beni Raten, and other neighboring tribes specially reserve this name to designate their co-religionists such as the Beni Mangellat, the Beni Wasif, the Beni 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.

Tribal split

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.

Islam

The principal zawiya that the Beni Raten attended was the Arus zawiya. Arus and Adeni were where memorization of the Quran was instructed. Interestingly, in Algeria, some zawiyas were not any more hospitable than normal villages. There were even ones 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.

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.

Heritage

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

Language

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

Migration

Some Beni Iraten settled in Algiers as bakers and bankers.

Against the French

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

Arch Movement of 2001

Tribal assemblies were reactivated among the At Yiraten.

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.

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