I belong to the Jbel Sheshar confederation, and more specifically I am of the Banu Amrane located in Djellal. This confederation, like many others, was defined by a semi-nomadic lifestyle and strong family ties.
Djellal is at the heart of Banu Amrane known not only for its zkoukou (pine seeds), honey, orchard of figs, olives, apricots, pomegranates, and walnuts, but it gave birth to Ulemas, mujahideen and shuhada.
Shawi society is patrilineal and follows this structure:
- ‘arsh (tribe)
- al ferka or harfikt (fraction): named after a common ancestor and is the basis for an annual meeting of all male members who share this ancestor; many different agnatic lines could be joined under the same fraction through fraternity; this subunit of society is the strongest and needed to defend patrimony which includes women, land, houses, and honor
- al ‘ayla (family); large families that are not comparable to the nuclear model that ensure its members place, function and basic existence; the father is the ultimate authority; historically a married man lives with his wife either in the same house he grew up in (extension made for them) or within the boundaries of family territory; the man of the house is in charge of displacement during nomadic seasons and fulfills his political roles
The confederation of Jbel Sheshar, composed of Shawi populations, includes the douars Taberga, Aliennas, Oulja-Sheshar and Khanga Sidi Naji.
Fractions that rebelled against the French are the Banu Amrane and Banu 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 Muhammad Tayeb bin Naser 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 Banu 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, then to Oulja and Khanga Sidi Naji.
On June 1, 1850, in Oulja, two soldiers were murdered during the 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 Banu Imlul. This tribe was prisoner of the marabout Si Sedduq bin El Hajj of Tibermasin. His three sons, organizers of a revolt by the Ahmar Khaddu tribe, were fleeing from General Desveaux. In 1871 and in 1879, the Banu Imlul remained passive. When Sharif Muhammad Amezian (bin Abderrahman bin Hosin bin Abdelaziz bin El Haddad of Sedduq 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 Banu Imlul, went to them, by the valley of Wad Guechtan. They were disappointed. The Banu Imlul 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 Mesara plateau), and the insurgents, continuing their escape, went to Zeribet El Wad, under the blows of the Banu Imlul goums. Since then, and until 1916, Banu Imlul lived in peace solely concerned with their own material interests. Fast forward to the independence movement, the Wlad Amrane took to the village of Wlad Sbaa to finance the revolution.
Five groups, of which two include the Braja and Wlad Amrane, were a part of the Sidi Naji zawiya founded in 1844.
The Nememsha 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 Banu Barbar. As far as the memories of the Sheshar Zenata go back, they appear to be divided into four groups:
1) The Banu Barbar, who 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. Their fort today belongs to the Banu Rshash. The Banu Babar live on the cusp of the immense Mellagu plain where Wad El Arab is formed. Their village sits in the middle of the natural path toward Mehmel where they were also settled alongside the Banu Sultan, near the Nememsha.
2) The Banu Sultan, who occupy the northern part of Sheshar and are subdivided into Maafa, Ashesh, Tifura, and Banu Amrane. Maafa are based mainly in Taberga and Banu Amrane in Djellal, Tameit and Zawia. The Maafa are themselves divided into Banu Msihal, Ahmed Ou Fadel, Miasa, Zwaga, and Kerabda and are the most important subgroup of the Banu Sultan. Their village on the path to Wad Ferruj in Djellal is difficult to access on three sides. They had another village located between Banu Amrane and Banu Barbar. This position pushed them to look for a lodging more north of Jbel Sheshar, and they found one in Taberdga.
3) The Nememsha; completely isolated from Sheshar today, and have become nomadic, a tribe which includes three fractions: the Wlad Rshash, the Brasha and the Alawna. The founding ancestor of the Nememsha was a certain Muhammad bin Othman. His three sons produced these three branches and were named after them.
4) The Wlad Khiyar, expelled like the Nememsha, and currently fixed in Suq Ahras.
The large village of Nememsha was on the mountain of Taghit. Banu Barbar’s center was Tizegrarin. As for the Wlad Khiyar, their original stronghold has been vainly sought. These four groups still speak the same dialect.
“When in May 1957 I joined my husband, Algerian Affairs officer in Djellal, I never imagined that I was going to live, in this lost corner of the Aurès, the most exciting experience of my life” —Madame Gibier
Madame Gibier’s husband was the chief of the SAS in Djellal and then Bu Hammam among the Nememsha. She wrote,
In 1958, there were, in Djellal, Babar and Tabergda, numerous meetings between the three heads of an important katiba, the sub-prefect and the three heads of SAS. But I don’t think they ever worked. The SAS officer was the head of the makhzen. 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, Mokran the country keeper and all the moghaznis were there to greet me. The following days, Abd Al Qadir, 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 went 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 Mokran 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.
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 Khenshela 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 Mokran and Abd Al Qadir had started. 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 SAS 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 Murad came one night to knock on my door with the rural guard. Yamina, Abd Al Qadir’s wife, who was expecting her sixth child, had just given birth to twins and had a hemorrhage. Murad 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. Murad injected her with penicillin which I had gone to the infirmary with him to get. When he returned, Abd Al Qadir 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 SAS in turn returned the invitations. When his house was finished, Brahim had us bring a delicious shorba 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. 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. The program: “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; the sound of the muaddin calling to prayer, the yapping of jackals at night, the braying of donkeys in the wee hours of the day, volleyball in the evening, mass in the open air when the military chaplain was there, the release of Kerbadu with great fanfare, 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 toward the sky to signal a collision, a tornado of vehicles loaded with men, or silent departure with all headlights off for some surprise raid, the return of men exhausted by hours of tiresome walking in this chaotic relief, often under a blazing sun, wounded or killed and evacuated by helicopter, prisoners brought back from operation. 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 Bu 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 SAS to find a civilized atmosphere. 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. Bashir, one of them, was our trusted man, along with Laurent’s baby-sitter who had real adoration for him. Perhaps I was less closely involved in village life than in Djellal. There was a large concentration of grouped communes: El Wija, Shelia, Mellagu…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!”
But, as in Djellal, war also raged. Bou Hamama was the center of vast engagements, such as Operation “CHARENTE” which lasted several weeks. 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 in Shelia ended in tragedy: 48 Frenchmen from the 18th Chasseurs perished, caught in the burning forest due to violent winds.
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.”
Description of Djellal by E. Mesquray 1889:
“Some words will suffice for the description of Ouled Amrane, the population of Djellal, they share the course of Ouled Sbah, Ouled Belgassam, Ouled Tabet, Ouled Bouchama, distributed in 4 seperate villages, the most important of which is Djellal.”
This is likely explains why the town took its name.
He continues, “This last village is surrounded by walls and difficult to access on three sides. An ancient olive grove dominates it.“ Like many others, my great grandfather left.
My great-grandfather was an imam who moved to Biskra, where my grandfather was born and raised until the age of 12, before settling in Algiers in 1920 and becoming the muaddin of the Great Mosque of Algiers. May Allah accept all his efforts. It has been a century since my family has been in the capital.
More from Mesquray: “We have seen that the Souias (marabouts) first settled in the valley of Djellal. In the late Middle Ages, they made their way to Ouled Amrane who considered themselves chorfa. Evidence of this ancient mixture still exists in Djellal.”
“Like their ancestors, Ouled Amrane had to escape some strips of their meager valley.” We can see that this migration dates back considerably, a phenomenon that many parts of the Awras experiences.
The Banu Amrane were said to be the chiefs of the Alids in Fez, Morocco and the leading nobility of the entire Maghrib. 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. Ibn Khaldun recounts that they had lived near the mosque of Fez.
عن اصول قبائل بني عمران
شرفاء بني عمران او العمرانيون
هم اولاد ابي موسى عمران بن زيد بن صفوان بن خالد بن زيد بن عبد الله بن ادريس بن ادريس بن الحسن بن عبد الله الكامل
اما الشيخ ابي عبد الله المقري فيقول“…وفي الشهد من تلمسان السقفيون اولاد ابراهيم بن عثمان بن عبد الله بن سعيد بن عامر بن عمر بن ابي موسى عمران الاكبر الحسني…” وبالنسبة له عمران الاكبر الحسني هو ابي موسى عمران الاكبر بن عبد الرحمن بن صالح بن محمد بن عبد الرحمن بن عبد الله بن ادريس بن ادريس بن عبد الله الكامل
اما السيوطي الذي يتفق مع مؤلف مختصر ابن جزي والذي يقول انه اخذ عنه فيقول “…وفي بيدر السقفيين الشهديين هم اولاد سعيد بن على بن عبد الرحمن بن داوود بن عمران بن محمد بنعبد الرحمن بن على بن اسحاق بن احمد بن محمد بن ادريس بن ادريس بن عبد الله الكامل
The claim to Muhammadan descent is a great title of nobility that many tribes make. The most distinguished Idrisids at the time were the Banu Amrane in Fez, explaining this strong claim on behalf of these Shawis in Djellal.
Many Banu Amrane have a copy of a family tree that links them to Ali ibn Abi Talib, May God be pleased with him, and Fatima al-Zahra, the daughter of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). This is found in the mosque of Djellal, written on the margins of Qurans, as well as in other books dedicated to nisba.
It was narrated by Abu al-Abbas Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Idhari al-Marrakeshi that Shaykh Amrani in the 5th century AH died in the Zab (Biskra) during his return from his pilgrimage back to Fez.
There is also a theory (criticized by many of the tribe) that the origins of the Banu Amrane are attributed to the Dalha, a Berber tribe dating back to accounts from the third millennium BC. Banu Dalha (Masmouda roots) are located in Sidi Radwan village about 20 km away from the center of Wazan, Morocco. Interestingly though the Wazzanis and Amranis are both sharif families. The Sanhaji Hyayna confederation who were installed in northeast Fez to defend the Saadis, among them are the Wlad Amrane and Wlad Alian (there is a village in Djellal called Aliannas).
When settled in Djellal, they allied themselves sometimes with Wlad Sultan, sometimes with Banu Barbar. However, all three of these tribes were formerly rather hostile with one another.
The wad in Djellal is named after Banu Amrane and feeds the orchards owned by the tribe.
Many families of Banu Amrane, including mine, have left Djellal because of its poor conditions. The remote villages in the Awras in general are often drained of its population due to the harsh conditions.
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.
Sheikh bin Amrane al-Ghazali, one of the best imams of Aïn Beida was originally from Djellal. His son Hamza bin Amrane, said to be an encyclopedia of knowledge, frequents Djellal. He might even have been Abbas Laghrour’s secretary.