By Houda Mzioudet, A number of Tunisian Amazigh scholars and activists met on Tuesday in the Center for Maghreb Studies in Tunis (CEMAT) to discuss ways of creating more visibility for the Amazigh language and culture on the social landscape of Tunisian society. The meeting was a milestone for the indigenous Berber community – the first ever Amazigh (Berber) Symposium since Tunisian independence in 1956.
The conference entitled, Berber Symposium: Language, Culture and Society in Tunisia and Beyond, drew Tunisian Amazigh activists and academics and featured talks from prominent specialists in Tunisian Amazigh culture. The focus of discussions centered around the potential of reviving Amazigh language and culture in Tunisia.
During the conference, Khadija Ben Saidane, the president of the Tunisian Association for Amazigh Culture, announced an initiative to establish a chairmanship for the study of Amazigh culture in the Faculty of Arts of the University of Manouba. According to Saidane, this move aims to institutionalize Amazigh language and culture as an integral component of the country’s rich heritage. We are hoping that with the formation of a chairmanship in Amazigh culture in the University of Manouba, our culture will be taught in university andwill regains its status as the language and culture of indigenous Tunisians, she said.
The Amazigh language is rich and spoken in different dialects. Therefore, speakers at the conference advocated that a standardized version of the language be instituted for all Amazighs. The official number of Tunisian Amazighs, who speak their ancestral Tamazight language, is 1% of the whole Tunisian population, including scattered communities in the towns of Matmata, Tataouine, and the island of Djerba.
Tunisian Amazighs giving talks about the place of Amazigh culture in post -revolution Tunisia
Walid Ben Omrane, a researcher in Amazigh culture from Djerba highlighted the status of Amazigh language as, an intimate language, that played a major role in bringing Amazighs of the Diaspora together. This happened especially during the Libyan Revolution when Libyan Amazighs from Jebel Nafousa and Zuwara found home in Djerba. If Libyan Amazighs chose Djerba it is because they felt affinities with Djerba Amazighs and Jerbi – the Djerba dialect of Tunisian Amazigh language, he recounted.
Fethi Ben Mimoun, a Djerba Amazigh and a civil servant stated that after the revolution, there has been a revival of Berber pride. Tunisian Amazighs are becoming aware of their existence.
Tunisian Amazighs saw their situation deteriorate with the constant marginalization and pauperization of Amazigh towns and villages, particularly after Tunisia’s independence from France.
In addition, former Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba assimilated Tunisian Amazighs in the dominant Arab culture of Tunisia, which almost led to the ethnic group’s loss of identity in many Tunisian towns and cities,Ben Saidane regretted.
Ben Mimoun, however, warned against the questioning the Arab identity of Tunisia or disregarding almost 14 centuries of Arab-Islamic presence in Tunisia.
Slah Ben Mimoun, president of the Djerba Association for Amazigh Culture and Heritage, summed up the goal of their ethnic community that hopes to regain the recognition in Tunisian society that it has been historically denied.Our priority now is to try and get the culture back to be reintroduced in the Tunisian educational system because it is part and parcel of Tunisia’s identity, he emphasize