Imazighen

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Harold Barclay, People Without Government[1]:

Throughout the Middle East there are several different ethnic groups which have been referred to as 'inhabiting lands of insolence' because they live in defiance of centralised government authority. They are 'tribally' organised, with patrilineages and highly decen­tralised, acephalous polities. Imazighen who dwell in northern Algeria and in the Moroccan highlands probably demonstrate the more anarchic of these peoples. A most appropriate example is the so-called 'Kabyle' - Imazighen farmers of northern Algeria and a group noted with favour by Kropotkin.

The fundamental social unit in Kabyle society is the family household. Several adjacent households comprise a neighbourhood within a village and this is equivalent to a common patrilineage, although it may include persons who are not true kinsmen. The patrilineage, in sum, is a constituent of a clan. Ordinarily there are two clans in a village each identified with a sof or moiety - that is, one particular half of the village. Villages are independent entities. From ten to 20 comprise a tribe, but this has no effective function , being at best a voluntary association or alliance called into being on rare occasions for mutual defence. About a dozen tribes are to be found in Kabylia.

Each lineage in a village has a chief spokesperson who participates in a village council which deliberates on all matters of communal importance: legislating, mediating and judging. The council is expected to defend the honour of the community and to see to it that its decisions are carried out. Here, as in other cases encountered in this survey, we may note the weakness of true governmental features since there are no specific policemen. Rather the council usually seeks to mediate between disputants trying to find some basis for compromise and exhorting them to reach an agreement. Once again the aim seems to be not so much to determine guilt as to re-establish group harmony. The council is, in fact, the voice of public opinion and communal sanctions, since it is composed of representatives of each kin group, also because it acts only when agreement is unanimous, that is, by consensus. The two primary forms of punishment which may be imposed by this body are banishment from the village and ostracism. The council, as has been said, is essentially the voice of village public opinion and if it chooses to ostracise a fellow villager, all others tend to fall in line to enforce the punishment which is seen as a symbolic putting to death. Similar diffuse and collective sanctions operate in banishing a member.

The collective oath is resorted to as a final resort, when every other method of settlement has failed. This entails the members of a group jointly swearing to the truth of their claims on pain of the wrath of God if perjury is committed. Thus a refusal to swear is an admission of guilt.

Aside from the council of the whole village, the males of a lineage on occasion may meet as a body, but more important is the council of the clan which controls the time of commencement of various seasonal activities such as the beginning of ploughing, harvesting and other communal labour, as well as the religious festivals. Throughout, councils always operate on the basis of a well-known collection of customary regulations peculiar to the village. These delineate the recognised 'crimes' and their appropriate punishments. In addition councils are guided by a Kabyle code of honour.

Bourdieu calls the Kabyle system a 'gentilitial democracy' since it is a group of kinsmen who administer their lives through an assembly of all the 'fathers' in the village. Yet it seems to lack some essential attributes of democracy. First, the majority does not rule: consensus is the basis for decision-making. Secondly, ideally at least, power is so decentralised that every kin group in the community is represented. Delegation of authority, a characteristic of democracy, can hardly be said to exist. Thirdly, enforcement of decisions is not through policemen and the council is not a judicial body so much as it is a mediatory one. Ultimate power rests in the expression of the diffuse sanctions of the community. Finally, the social intercourse is more in the nature of a relationship between kinsmen than it is a political affair. In these respects then we have an institution which seems more anarchic than it is democratic.

Among Moroccan Imazighen a patrilineage system along with the respective councils is also characteristic. Yet the structure at the higher levels of integration is more distinct and powerful, such that tribal councils are clearly in evidence as governing bodies. A tribal council consists of the patriarchs from each of the several clans which make up the tribe. These patriarchs, who are similar to Big Men, often constitute a kind of nobility from which the higher nobility or chiefs are drawn and these are entrusted with the affairs of the whole tribe. If the council cannot agree on a chief, one is selected by lot.

In some parts of Morocco an important political device is the alliance in which a patriarch and his followers, who include members of his extended family as well as those who may not be related to hm, affiliate with others as a lift. Feuding within the tribe can be controlled, since if one clan attacks another, this would be the call for the members of the alliance to come to the aid of their brethren. And of course members of the same alliance do not feud with each other. As long as the alliances remain strong, a tribal chiefs power is curtailed since booty acquired in fighting has to be shared by all members of an alliance.

Occasionally a tribal chief is able to secure an adequate following with sufficient fire power so that he can impose his will on his tribe and extend it over others. This invariable entails his being able to gain control of the two alliances, and to assassinate rival chiefs as well as to provoke local conflict which he might manipulate to his advantage. After gaining domination over an area he could then seek to reinforce his position by being appointed a qaid (agent) by the Moroccan sultan. Whether or not he is able to ascend this far on the ladder of political success, his autocratic rule is usually short-lived. Establishing a dynasty is next to impossible due to the fact that the chief is faced with constant revolt which ultimately becomes successful and returns the system to the old decentralised anarchic order. In any event, the system creates the rudiments of government and a tenuous autocratic state structure. It provides an historical process of cyclic oscillation between archy and anarchy.

Some Moroccan Imazighen have an interesting mediation technique. While minor disputes are left to the local chiefs and councils, major disputes involving members of differing tribes are submitted to 'holy men' or Igurramen. These hereditary saints are ideally descendants of the Prophet and so possess baraka or holiness. They have magical powers and are known to be good and pious men. They do not fight, or engage in feuds or litigation, but are non-combatants and permanently neutral pacifists who comprise their own separate patrilineages. They are the mediators between potentially hostile groups. Aside from this task they supervise the election of chiefs among the several tribes in their vicinity, provide sanctuary, protection for strangers and act as centres of information.

An important part of their mediator judicial role is to witness collective oaths. As was mentioned for the Kabyle, the collective oath is deemed effective because one swears on pain of divine punishment should perjury be committed. But Gellner suggests that this is not ultimately the reason for the effectiveness of this method of adjudication, since individuals do perjure themselves. To Gellner the effectiveness of the collective oath is that if a group wishes to stand behind one of its own it will be able to do so ; it will swear collectively to the innocence of the alleged culprit. But it can also use the mechanism to punish one of its own who is too much of a trouble-maker, by some or all of his kinsmen refusing to take the oath in which case the plaintiff wins.

The saints are mediators of disputes, not judges, since they cannot enforce their decisions, but depend upon the acceptance of the verdict by those involved . Those who refuse to abide by a verdict face considerable danger due to the moral authority of the saints. Public opinion and especially that of the saints and their clients would be turned against such persons.

In addition to the fact that Imazighen society may be characterised by a hierarchical structure which distinguishes prestigious tribal council members from lesser lights, there is a more clear cut class or even caste-like division. Thus Imazighen have a small population of slaves. In addition tiny communities of Jews have resided in the land and these too have been a subordinate 'pariah' caste. Among some Imazighen, such as those of the desert oases, there has existed a Haratin caste of serf cultivators, usually having distinct Negroid physical features.faracteristics and also give birth to autocratic regimes. They are suggestive as well of interesting non-governmental techniques for social control. Recent decades, in part because of improved military technology, have brought all Imazighen much more under the direct control of central governments.
  1. People_Without_Government:_An_Anthropology_of_Anarchy