I belong to the Jbel Sheshar tribal confederation, and more specifically I am of the Banu Amrane located in Djellal.
The confederation of Jbel Sheshar, composed of Shawi populations, includes the douars Taberga, Aliennas, Oulja-Sheshar and Khanga Sidi Naji.
The fractions of the douar which have been rebellious are those of the Wlad Amrane and Wlad Tifough (Aliennas), and those of Beni Imloul, Braja, and Oulja (Oulja-Sheshar).
The Jbel Sheshar confederation made its submission to General Bedeau in 1845. Its leader, Si Mohamed Tayeb bin Nacer bin Sidi Naji, marabout of Khanga Sidi Naji, who at that time had religious influence and political authority, dissuaded his fellow believers from resistance. However, at the time of the siege of Zaatcha in 1849, a marabout of the Khiran zawiya (Aliennas) Si Abdelhafid preached jihad instead and appealed to the khouans of the Rahmaniyya order of which he was the moqaddem.
He gathered four to five thousand Shawis from the Jbel Sheshar confederation including those of Beni Bu Sliman and Ahmar Khaddou and walked to Biskra. Beaten in Seriana at Wadi El Abiod by the commander Saint Germain, Si Abdelhafid fled to Tunisia.
In 1850, the General Saint Arnaud traversed the confederation. His army went through the center of Khenshela and Babar, to Djellal and Khiran, to Oulja and Khanga Sidi Naji.
On June 1, 1850, in Oulja, two soldiers were murdered at night. The General gave the Shawis of the fraction twenty-four hours to deliver the guilty culprits. Instead of obeying, they attempted to escape. The troops hurried after them. Twenty-five fugitives were seized and shot on the field, harvests were burned down and the village of Oulja destroyed. This calmed all attempts at insubordination, and the French authority was henceforth well enough seated in the Jbel Sheshar confederation, able to police them.
Yet, in 1859, the confederation took up the cause again, except for some Shawis of the Beni Imloul. This tribe was prisoner of the marabout Si Saddouq bin El Hajj of Tibermacine. His three sons, organizers of a revolt by the Ahmar Khaddou tribe, were fleeing from General Desveaux. In 1871 and in 1879, the Beni Imloul remained deaf to the excitement of the rebels. When Sherif Mohamed Amezian (bin Abderrahman bin Hocine bin Abdelaziz bin El Haddad of Seddouk Oufella in Kabylia), head of the insurrection of 1879, defeated at R’baa (June 9, 1879), fled, a large number of his followers, believing to find help and protection among the Beni Imloul, went to them, by the valley of Wad Guechtane. They were disappointed. The Beni Imloul ruthlessly raided their fellow believers. They seized all their herds at the passage of Wad El Ma which gorges Wad El Abiod (access to the Meçara plateau), and the insurgents, continuing their escape, went to Zeribet El Wad, under the blows of the Beni Imloul goums. Since that time, and until 1916, Beni Imloul lived in peace solely concerned with its material interests.
Five groups, of which two include the Braja and Wlad Amrane, were a part of the Sidi Naji zawiya.
The Nememsha, a Zenatic confederation mixed with Arab origins, now take over what lies between Tebessa, Negrin oasis, Khenshela and Siar. This is not their homeland. They say they are from the Jbel Sheshar and that they split in the Middle Ages after long quarrels with the Beni Barbar. As far as the memories of the Sheshar Zenata go back into the Middle Ages, they appear to be divided into four groups:
1) The Beni Barbar, who still occupy the Bejer Wadi, from Zawia to Siar. The Nememsha had built “Thakelt Allemoush”, meaning “Village of the Nememsha” in Tashawit, on the edge of this wadi.
2) The Wlad Sultan, who occupy the northern part of Sheshar and are subdivided into Maafa, Ashesh, Tifoura, and Beni Amrane. Maafa are based mainly in Taberga, Beni Amrane in Djellal, Tameït and Zawia.
3) The Nememsha; completely isolated from Sheshar today, and have become nomadic, a tribe which includes three fractions: the Wlad R’shash, the Brasha and the Alaouna. The founding ancestor of the Nememsha was a certain Mohamed bin Othman. His three sons produced these three branches and were named after them.
4) The Wlad Khiar, expelled like the Nememsha, and currently fixed in Souk-Ahras.
The large village of Nememsha was on the mountain of Taghit. Beni Barbar’s center was Tizegrarin. As for the Wlad Khiar, their original stronghold has been vainly sought. These four groups still speak the same dialect.
Madame Gibier’s husband was the chief of the SAS in Djellal and then Bu Hammam among the Nememsha. She wrote,
“On an escarpment, the village gourbis huddled together, whose stones melted into the mass of rocks. The few touches of green were those of skinny olive trees. We had our meals, but sympathetic “meals.” An office, an armory, a room for the radio were the domain of the chief of S.A.S., a cramped room dimly lit was added. The layout was spartan, reflecting the living conditions. No running water, a pitcher and a bowl served as sanitary. For my arrival, certain improvements had however been made, not the least of which was the creation of “places of ease”! …It was reached by a rocky path where I happened to meet a snake.
On the ceiling of the room was an unexpected guest: a large lizard…Thanks to the suction cups on its legs, it moved by leaps and bounds, swallowing flies…I had some difficulty getting used to it…Said, the son of a recently killed rebel leader, was our “handyman.” He was very devoted to my husband, thanks to whom he had been spared. Put to the test for a year, he participated in all outings of the makhzen unarmed, he was then integrated. The functions of a chief of S.A. S. were multiple. He led a unit that was both administrative and military. After establishing contact with the populations of his douar, he had to regroup them to place them under the protection of the SAS and the military post and thus remove them from the grip of the FLN, particularly virulent in this area. These grouped villages lived in miserable tents. Every morning at dawn, the shepherds led their famished flocks of goats and sheep to hypothetical pastures. They were then searched after leaving the station, as it was known that rebel gangs were pressuring them to obtain food and money. The S.A.S. officer was both a tax collector and a relief provider. Tax collection was much easier when he could show recalcitrant taxpayers receipts for money they had paid. At the same time, requests for help poured in. A long line of citizens stretched constantly at the door of his office. The greatest misery prevailed in these uprooted villages. The head of S.A.S. was to provide these indigent populations with means of immediate survival, by ensuring their subsistence, by organizing a semblance of economic and social life, by integrating them as best as possible in the village. The schooling of children as well as the creation of a care center were the first achievements. The S.A.S. officer had a pacification mission. He had certain “relationships” with rebel leaders in his sector. It happened that they fixed an appointment for him at night, in some remote place, “without weapon or escort,” as the message specified…It would have been crazy to get there…However, at the end of endless meetings, endless palaver, letters exchanged through people from the village, he sometimes won the support of small local groups. In 1958, there were in Djellal, Babar and Tabergda, numerous meetings between the three heads of an important katiba, the colonel of the hunters, the sub-prefect and the three heads of S.A.S. concerned. But I don’t think they ever worked. The SAS officer was the head of the makhzen. He went out in operation with his men whom he recruited, armed and paid for. These tough warriors, some of whom were former rebels, knew the terrain well. They knew how to blend in, stay there for hours and detect the slightest movement. They formed a remarkable combat unit and displayed great loyalty to their leader. Several of them were injured or killed by his side. The head of S.A.S. was also an intelligence officer. Thanks to his contacts with the inhabitants of his douar, thanks above all to his indicators that he paid from special funds, he obtained precious information which made it possible to mount operations and ambushes, some of which involved large military forces. Thus in 1956 in Bou Yakadam, a shepherd warned him of the gathering of eleven rebel leaders in a series of caves, particularly difficult to access. After 5 days of siege and the intervention of the Legion, the fellahs asked to negotiate with the chief of H.S.H. My husband was descended with the help of a rope and they surrendered. The S.A.S. officer was also prime contractor and site foreman. Thanks to the coordination of civil and military means, numerous works had been carried out, others were under way or planned. For these sites, he employed people from the village thus ensuring them a small income. He encouraged his moghaznis to build new gourbis but provided them with the necessary materials. He therefore had to obtain the best possible subsidies from the sub-prefecture. The head of S.A.S. also had the role of judicial officer. He had to mediate dark dissensions, settle obscure chicayas. But sometimes he had to transform himself into a real investigator, when a serious matter arose, such as the assassination of a resident of the village…He even happened to be a public writer! An armored convoy brought every 45 days all kinds of materials for the construction sites, food for the post, wheat and semolina for help. The fresh products were parachuted: red parachute for meat, white for fruit, blue for vegetables…It was then a big military downpour, because it was important to recover the boxes as soon as possible that sometimes spilled in rebel areas. I remember that at Christmas, live turkeys arrived by air…My arrival had aroused great emotion among the population, both military and civilian, since no European had ever stayed in these remote places. For the anecdote, when the convoy by which I arrived crossed the guard post I heard a call saying to another that he had not seen a woman for twelve months! Brahim the mayor, Mokrane the country keeper and all the moghaznis were there to greet me. The following days, Abd el Kader, their leader, invited me to visit them. For the first time, women were ordered to don their formal attire. But they all remained silent, frozen, keeping their eyes lowered. I then discovered these smoky gourbis, all flanked by a small courtyard surrounded by stone walls where a supply of wood, chickens, goats and children were piled up…I was given a chair, when there was one, and they brought me a glass of very sweet black mint tea, or this thick and spicy coffee that I almost managed to like…(shawiya coffee). I was everywhere escorted by these superb dirty children who were the Shawiya. The days when I was going to stock up on candy at the little village grocery store, we knew that a distribution was coming. It was then the rush, the children appeared from everywhere and Mokrane intervened to curb the enthusiasm…He was responsible for distributing petty fines to families with the dirtiest children. But can we be surprised by this lack of hygiene, when the only water source was far below the village?…Women of seductive age did not leave their homes. It was therefore the responsibility of girls and elderly women to get the water, barefoot on the stony path, bent under the weight of kegs or other goatskin…Most of the moghaznis watched over the cleanliness of their children. I had brought little junk jewelry from France for little girls. Two of them, lovely, Halima and Herbia, were my favorites and never left me. In the morning, they were waiting for me at the door of my room. The most reckless of the boys invited me to go to their “house.” Without men, women quickly lost their reserve. They became cheerful, talkative, curious…Some touched the fabric of my dress, my hair, kissed my hands. Ali, the young son of a Mughali, often used me as an interpreter. They offered me this goat’s whey with such a strong taste…I brought them some cake that I made in “meals” with the means at hand. When I happened to spend the day in Khenchela with the helicopter, I brought back women’s magazines that I showed them. Some photos made them laugh a lot. My husband counted on my influence to promote their emancipation. It was probably a very utopian hope. How could these women, who had never seen their living conditions change, whose customs had been unchanging for centuries, how could they understand when they saw their husbands treat me as equals and surround me with attentiveness? These men respected me because I was the chief’s wife, but they were certainly not ready to promote the emancipation of their wives. A thousand things, all new to me, occupied my days. I often visited the school. It was then in a tent but we poured the concrete slab which was going to make for a prefabricated building. I accompanied my husband when he went to visit the construction sites. The road linking the village to the post had been redone and the one leading to the source, improved. A ford now made it possible to cross the wadi. There were plans to collect water from a spring to bring it up to the village and install a fountain. Brahim’s house, the mayor, was about to finish. Those of Mokrane and Abd el Kader had started. We were going to monitor the harvests, for which the moghaznis provided protection, in small plots so stony that it was surprising to see spikes growing there, however sparse. A garden had been created, the water from a source filled the séguias in the evening. Everything was growing and we provided “meals” with fresh vegetables. The moghaznis were encouraged to do the same and some got caught up in the game. Halima and Herbia accompanied me there every day as well as a German shepherd trained for combat but who disappeared…Abdallah, a young Moghazni, one day surprised me with a stone bench that he had achieved to make with his brother. Unfortunately, he was killed a few weeks later along with Bachir. Abdallah’s wife, who was seventeen, had just given birth to her second child. She fell ill and could no longer breastfeed. I prepared baby bottles morning and evening with the American milk powder that the S.A.S. received for help. The women came to the infirmary to tell me that it was not sweet. Truth be told, I didn’t know that breast milk was…The newborn was then covered with pimples. No doubt this milk was too strong for him. I lightened the dosage. Either way, the baby survived. I spent every day in the infirmary where Mourad, a moghazni who served as a medic, officiated. There was always a crowd: squatting women, girls with hair already dyed with henna, but never combed, suffering babies with eyelids hemmed with flies, which trachoma was already waiting for…A delegation of women came one day to ask me to intercede for their husbands imprisoned as suspects. They attributed many powers to me! I was given a letter which, once translated, began as follows: “Widow without resources, I have three dependent children, two of whom are dead”…My husband was in operation for several days with the makhzen and the 18th Chasseurs, when Mourad came one night to knock on my door with the rural guard. Yamina, Abd el Kader’s wife, who was expecting her sixth child, had just given birth to twins and had a hemorrhage. Mourad couldn’t read; I found the suitable product in the infirmary and I accompanied him to the village. In this dark gourbi, lit by an oil lamp, Yamina, surrounded by women, was lying on a thin mattress, fully dressed and adorned with her jewelry. In the morning, she was burning with fever. Mourad injected her with penicillin which I had gone to the infirmary with him to get. When he returned, Abd el Kader came to thank me. I wanted to hear from Yamina. He hadn’t seen her, but he asked the women, “Are you okay?” And they replied, “I’m fine.” Nothing more would be said about the event…But the next day, he offered us a sheep…We received many gifts: eggs, chickens, jars of sheep’s butter, jars of this mountain honey so fragrant, carpets decorated with palm trees and camels of the most beautiful effect…It even happened that some notables wanted to give us some money. No doubt they hoped for some favor in return…The endemic baksheesh of the Arab countries…With the post officers, we were often invited to a barbecue offered by the moghaznis or by the notables. In the early hours of dawn, the men turned the skewered sheep over the coals, coating it with herbs and harissa. The S.A.S. in turn returned the invitations. When his house was finished, Brahim had us bring a delicious chorba and a dish of honey cakes. We were once invited to the village to marry off a young Moghazni. The party lasted most of the night. The women, dressed in shimmering satin, their eyes heavily made up of kohl, were adorned with the sumptuous silver jewels of the Shawiya woman, these earrings so heavy that they were held on their head by an interlacing of ornate patterns. They did not mix with men. The bride, a girl who seemed barely nubile, seemed little concerned with the ambient jubilation. The rich aromas of the dishes, the dances, the youyous of the women, the strange chords that the musicians drew from their instruments, and that they accompanied with raucous melodies, all contributed to the magic of the moment…When we left the station, it was always with the armed moghaznis who protected us. We often went with them about ten kilometers, in a green little valley, set between two arid slopes. We called it “the happy valley.” There flowed a small wadi fed by several sources. The rustling of the water was an enchantment and there was only almonds, figs, apricots…We were walking in the wadi. The moghaznis, these men, however rough, laid stones to serve me as a ford, holding out my hand, offering me spring water, crushing the thistles in front of me, while we went up towards small mechtas where there was always a thorny dispute to settle or information to be gleaned. There, we spread a carpet on a rock, they brought us coffee, honey, shelled almonds and we left with delicious apricots or perfectly ripe figs. Always this sense of hospitality in these poor people…The climate in this region was subject to all excesses. In the summer it was oppressive heat, a merciless sun reflected by the rocks, a burning sirocco or a wind of sand which obscured everything. Winter brought freezing rain, hailstones, even snow sometimes. The corrugated iron of our roofing protected us against these extremes. The Wad was most often practically dry. But one spring day, a series of violent thunderstorms inflated it so suddenly, that the water drove an armored vehicle more than twenty kilometers away and the three, who were washing it, did not survive. The helicopter sometimes brought in the sous-préfet, the Sector Colonel or some other senior officer. There was once an American journalist and a Swedish journalist who followed a big operation. He also brought the mail, unless a too strong wind forced a piper to parachute it. One day, it was a projectionist who went around the posts. On the program of this tour: “Ali Baba and the forty thieves.” The whole village was invited to the session and my husband informed the moghaznis and the notables that he wished to see the women there. In the evening, under the tent, it was delirium. The whole male population was there, but of course no woman appeared. Many other memories come back to me, the Legion celebration, in the astonishing site of the Tabergda post…A departure at dawn in a convoy for an arms takeover at Khiran, a difficult track ransacked by the fellahs, but dotted with Roman remains and an extraordinary landscape in the rising sun…An inspection tour of the small watchtowers with the moghaznis, one evening when the station’s workforce was reduced; we climbed by “goat trails”; in the moonlight, the landscape seemed even more unreal… The song of the muaddin calling to prayer…The yapping of jackals in the night…The braying of donkeys in the wee hours of the day… volleyball, in the evening, at the top post…Mass in the open air, when the military chaplain was there…The release with great fanfare of the hare Kerbadou, the day the chief fellaga of the same name was killed. Because it was also – and above all – war. Military activities punctuated the life of the station at all hours…Vast operations carried out throughout the sector…Harassment by people…Magnesium rockets rising in the sky to signal a collision…Departure in a tornado of vehicles loaded with men, or silent departure, all headlights off, for some surprise raid…Return of men exhausted by hours of tiresome walking in this chaotic relief, often under a blazing sun…Wounded or killed evacuated by helicopter…Prisoners brought back from operation, or isolated rallies presenting themselves in arms at the post…The war was so intimately linked to the life of the post that I could not ignore it. It was not, however, my intention to dwell on it, but rather to relate what I experienced in Djellal as the wife of the Algerian Affairs officer. From Bou Hamama, where my husband was transferred in July 1958 and where I lived for more than two years with our still baby son, I also have many memories. The post was located at an altitude, in a vast basin dominated by the Shelia, the highest peak in Algeria. In winter, the snow-capped road prevented the passage of convoys. However, the landscape had softened. It was no longer the messy pile of Djellali boulders. In contrast, I had the impression in Bou Hamama of living a sybaritic life…The SAS building, with its gallery under the arcades, was almost luxurious. There were “real” offices and we lived in a “real” house, the only one many miles around, except that the fridge was oil-fired as well as the electricity supplied by our generator in the evening. The artillery officers, separated from their family, came to the S.A.S. to find a civilized atmosphere. Laurent, our son, five months old when we arrived, very quickly became their mascot…As for Djellal, I rubbed shoulders with the moghaznis every day. They surrounded the son of their chief. One day they offered him a young lamb. Bachir, one of them, was our trusted man, along with Laurent’s baby-sitter who had real adoration for him. He accompanied us when we went to spend three days at El Mader, the new post of the 1st R.A. He also came when we went to Timgad, this wonderful Roman city. Perhaps I was less closely involved in village life than in Djellal. There was a large concentration of grouped communes: El Wija, Shelia, Mellagou…It was a population of pastors, who was, I think, of less dramatic poverty. My husband’s concerns were the same as in Djellal: first, take back the makhzen and expand it to effectively pursue the hunt for the fellah, take care of these withdrawn populations, build them shelters before winter, rigorous at 1,300 meters above sea level. I remember the shots from the 155 gun, harsh for the eardrums of a baby, although the artillerymen took him away from the house for the arrival of Laurent…The “meals” where we were so often and so warmly welcome…The lunches that I had to improvise for passing guests, who came by helicopter for an inspection tour…The live partridges brought by the pilots who tackled them on the ground… The visit of an American general, who came as an observer with his aide-de-camp, who slept several nights at the SAS and who, in the morning, threw Laurent a martial “Hello, boy!”…. A picnic at Shelia, where I joined my husband and his moghaznis by helicopter with the colonel…The gardens spotted from the sky by the Chef de Cabinet of the Minister of Agriculture… Brigitte, the baby wild boar, whom I raised with a bottle, who followed me everywhere in the house and who, l, emigrated to the artillery enclosure, against the promise of never eating it…The great distraction was indeed the boar hunt which, banned by the Muslim religion, abounded in these wooded massifs and whose helicopter pulled the herds down towards the hunters. When these outings continued, the order was given by radio to our faithful Bachir to eat “little sun”…This was Laurent’s code name. But, as in Djellal, war also raged. Bou Hamama was the center of vast engagements, such as Operation “CHARENTE” which lasted several weeks. The P.C., commanded by General Ducourneau, was based there, as well as large Legion forces. We were invited to his tent with his officers to celebrate his fiftieth birthday. I remember the continual ballet of the helicopters…That of this nice General landed in our garden, between our beds of carnations. One day he humorously asked me to give him my son’s sleep schedules, so that they could be taken into account when landing and taking off! For the record, as I was surprised to see Arab women around the legionaries’ camp, I learned that these well-organized men never moved without their herd of peripatetic women…However, I have more tragic memories of Bou Hamama: Sub-Lieutenant Arnaud, a charming young seminarian who had offered Laurent a roller horse on Christmas in 1960 was killed a few weeks later…At the end of July 1959, an operation on the Shelia ended in tragedy: 48 Frenchmen from the 18th Chasseurs perished, caught in the burning forest…the violent winds were the cause of this drama which struck spirits very hard. Bou Hamama will undoubtedly remain one of the most significant stages of my life. It is however from Djellal, this place so deprived, where the landscape was so ungrateful, the nature so hostile, the living conditions so severe – and perhaps precisely for these reasons – that I keep the memory of a unique experience.”
The Banu Amrane were said to be the chiefs of the Alids in Fez, Morocco and the leading nobility of the entire Maghreb. Their connection with the Idrisids is as follows: They are said to be the descendants of Amrane b. Muhammad b. al- Hasan b. Yahya b. Abdallah b. Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Yahya b. Ibrahim b. Yahya al Juti. The chief of their house was Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Amrane. There is of course a disclaimer that shorfa claims are subject to much uncertainty. The shorfas of Fez revolted against the power of the Marinids and hung the sultan ‘Abd al-Ḥaqq II in the fifteenth century. They chose Mohammed ibn Ali Amrani-Juti as the new sultan.
It is said that the Banu Amrane was led by a Moroccan man and whose primary land was dissolved around the 13th century.
Wlad Belgacem are related to certain families of the Banu Amrane. Wlad Belgacem are related to the Dhouaouda tribe, descendant of the Banu Hilal.
The Banu Amrane built Djellal despite being a small group. Many imams in Khenshela are from Djellal (including my great-grandfather, May Allah accept all his efforts).
Wlad Amrane are distinguished from their neighbors, apparently, they use words only said in Djellal and Morocco. For example “house” is أَزَقَّى and “key” is هْنَاسَتْ.
Wlad Amrane took to the village of Wlad Sbaa to finance the revolution.