THE KAHINA, QUEEN OF THE BERBERS
THE KAHINA, QUEEN OF THE BERBERS
By Michael Klossner
Content © 2004 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 2004 held by Whoosh!
By Michael Klossner
Content © 2004 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 2004 held by Whoosh!
 In LEGACY (117/605), Melissa Good used the title (not the name) of a real North African woman war leader as the name of her fictional woman leader, played by Alison Bruce. Good's Kahina led a coalition of tribes against the Romans in (apparently) the 1st Century C.E. In history, the Kahina, who may have been Jewish, led a coalition of Berber tribes against the Arabs in the late 7th Century.
 The Berbers were the ancient indigenous people of North Africa west of Egypt. They were of many tribes, but they managed to maintain their culture, their Hamitic languages, and considerable military power during successive invasions of their land. North Africa was conquered by the Phoenicians (who became the Carthaginians), then the Romans, the Vandals (one of the Germanic tribes that destroyed the Roman Empire), the Byzantines, and finally the Arabs. Other foreigners, notably Greeks and Jews, also lived in ancient North Africa.
 In the 7th century, the Berbers lived in uneasy peace with the Byzantines, who ruled the coastal cities of North Africa, after defeating the Vandals a century before. The ancient city of Carthage was the Byzantine capital in Africa. Some Berbers were Christians (with a notable tendency towards heresy), some were Jewish, and some adhered to their ancient polytheist religion. Before the end of the century the Byzantines were driven from Africa and the Berbers faced a new religion and a new invader.
 At the time of the death of the Prophet Mohammed in 632, Muslims ruled only in Arabia. Only ten years later Arab Muslims had achieved one of the most spectacular conquests in history. They conquered Syria (635-636), Palestine (638-640), and Egypt (639-642) from the Byzantines and first Iraq (635-637) and then Persia itself (637-642) from the Persians. Wherever they went, most of the people soon became Muslims and (except in Persia) Arabic-speakers. The Arab Conquest changed the Middle East permanently.
 In the 680s the Arabs swept across North Africa from Egypt to the Atlantic. The Byzantines clung to their coastal cities. The Muslim leader Oqba ibn Nafi reached the Atlantic in Morocco and, according to legend, rode into the sea and slashed at the water with his sword in frustration that there were no more lands to conquer.
 On his return march in 683, Oqba was defeated and slain by the Berbers. The Arab Conquest paused for a decade but in 698 the Muslims finally took Carthage, evicting the Byzantine Christians completely from Africa. Now the conquerors faced their last and most stubborn enemy.
 The Kahina's name is given variously as Dahiyah, Dahia, or Dhabba (Women in World History, v.8, p. 414.) The title Kahina meant Prophetess. The Encyclopedia Judaica (v. 10, p. 686) says that the term is derived from the Arabic "Kahin" ("soothsayer") and dismisses as error the idea that "Kahina" was derived from the Jewish term "Cohen".
 The Encyclopedia Judaica notes that Arabic authors, notably the major 14th century historian Ibn-Khaldun, say that the Kahina and her tribe, the Jerawa of the Aures Mountains in eastern Algeria and Tunisia, were Jewish. Charles-André Julien, in his History of North Africa, notes that another writer gave the Kahina "the picturesque appellation of the 'Berber Deborah'" (after Deborah, the judge of ancient Israel). Julien believes that the Kahina's resistance to the Arabs was "nurtured, as it seems, by Berber patriotism and Jewish faith." On the other hand, the Encyclopedia Judaicaconcludes "her opposition to the Muslim Arabs was not religiously inspired; some authorities deny she was Jewish. The history of Kahina remains controversial."
 What is known is that soon after the Arab general Hassan ibn al Numan took Carthage from the Byzantines, the Kahina's forces defeated him. Then, as during World War II, a single defeat in North Africa might lead to a retreat of hundreds of miles. Hassan retreated, probably all the way back to Egypt. The Kahina took Carthage and ruled most of Berber North Africa.
 According to Ibn-Khaldun, as she waited for the inevitable renewed Arab assault, the Kahina carried out a brutal and disastrous policy. She declared that the Arabs wished to conquer North Africa only because of its wealth. She ordered Berbers who were still nomadic to destroy the cities, orchards, and herds of sedentary Berbers, to make North Africa a desert.
 If the Kahina actually made this amazing decision, she was tragically mistaken. The Arabs were determined to take North Africa regardless of its wealth or poverty, because there were people to be converted to Islam, and because North Africa was a gateway to Spain and Europe. Unsurprisingly, according to Ibn-Khaldun, this savage policy of city burning cost the Kahina the support of city-dwelling Berbers.
 In 702, Hassan again invaded the Berber lands and quickly defeated the Kahina. Julien writes, "on the eve of the final battle, the Kahina ordered her sons to go over to the enemy." Her sons had to convert to Islam to seal their defection to the Arabs. Julien believes that for the Kahina, the survival of her family and its supremacy over her tribe were ultimately more important than any questions of nationalism or religion.
 Accounts differ as to whether the Kahina died in battle or was captured and executed.
 Wali al-Din Abd-Ar-Rahman Ibn-Khaldun (1332-1406) was the greatest Arab historian of the Middle Ages. His reputation is very high among modern historians. Arnold Toynbee described Ibn-Khaldun's theories as "a philosophy of history which is undoubtedly the greatest work of its kind that has ever yet been created by any mind in any time and place" (quoted in the Encyclopaedia Britannica article on Ibn-Khaldun).
 Greatly simplified, Ibn-Khaldun believed that conflict between nomadic and settled peoples, and between rural and urban peoples, was the most important factor in history. This theory seemed to account for many events in the ancient history of the Middle East, as well as the fall of the Roman Empire to the German barbarians and the Arab conquest of the Byzantines and Persians. It is still a good theoretical model for some modern conflicts. Many of the wars of modern Latin America and Africa have been primarily conflicts between hayseeds and city people. So were the wars of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
 Obviously the tale of the Kahina's destruction of the North African cities and her subsequent loss of the support of city-dwellers fits well into Ibn-Khaldun's worldview. Since the earlier sources on which Ibn-Khaldun relied have been lost, we must wonder whether Ibn-Khaldun exaggerated the story of the Kahina's city-burning to illustrate his theory. On the other hand, the story may be true and may have helped to suggest his groundbreaking theory to Ibn-Khaldun.
 The major work of Ibn-Khaldun was his Kitab al-Ibar wa-Diwan al-Mubtada Wa-l-Khabar. This multi-volume book has apparently not been translated in its entirety but William MacGuckin, Baron de Slane, translated the section on North Africa into French in 1847-1851, as Histoire des Berberes et des Dynasties Musulmanes de l'Afrique Septentrionale. This French version is apparently not widely available in the U.S. I was unable to get a copy through interlibrary loan. [If anyone has access to a copy of Slane's translation and can find the material on the Kahina in it, I will be happy to pay for copying, mailing or fax costs to receive the relevant pages.]
 Ibn-Khaldun's masterpiece, The Muqaddimah, is the book-length introduction to the Kitab, which sets forth his influential theoretical work. There are several references to the nature of Berber resistance in the translation by Franz Rosenthal. Ibn-Khaldun notes that the Berbers were given to rebellion and heresy under the Muslims, just as they had been under the Christians.
They continued to rebel and apostatized time after time. The Muslims massacred many of them. After the Muslim religion had been established among them, they went on revolting and seceding, and they adopted dissident [Kharajite] opinions many times. Ibn Abi Zayd said that the Berbers in the Maghrib [North Africa] revolted twelve times and that Islam become firmly established among them only during the governorship of Musa ben Nusayr and thereafter. That is what is meant by the statement reported on the authority of 'Umar, that "Ifriqiyah [Africa] divides the hearts of its inhabitants." The statement refers to the great number of tribes and groups there, which causes them to be disobedient and unmanageable.The Berber tribes in the West are innumerable. All of them are Bedouins [i.e., nomads] and members of groups and families. Whenever one tribe is destroyed, another takes its place and is as refractory and rebellious as the former one had been. Therefore, it has taken the Arabs a long time to establish their dynasty in the land of Ifriqiyah. (Rosenthal translation, p. 333)
 In his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon wrote an account of the Kahina, undoubtedly based on Ibn-Khaldun. Gibbon's Kahina story is in the fifty-first chapter of the Decline and Fall, in a single long paragraph. Gibbon's prose is intoxicating and since it is long out of copyright, I copy the whole section here, breaking Gibbon's long paragraph into several paragraphs. The story begins after the Arab defeat of the Byzantines and conquest of Carthage.
The Greeks [i.e., the Byzantines] were expelled, but the Arabians were not yet the masters of the country. In the interior provinces the Moors or Berbers, so feeble under the first Caesars [the Romans], so formidable to the Byzantine princes, maintained a disorderly resistance to the religion and power of the successors of Mohammad. Under the standard of their queen Cahina the independent tribes acquired some degree of union and discipline; and as the Moors respected in their females the character of a prophetess, they attacked the invaders with an enthusiasm similar to their own.The veteran bands of Hassan were inadequate to the defense of Africa; the conquests of an age were lost in a single day; and the Arabian chief, overwhelmed by the torrent, retired to the confines of Egypt, and expected, five years, the promised succours of the caliph.After the retreat of the Saracens, the victorious prophetess assembled the Moorish chiefs, and recommended a measure of strange and savage policy. "Our cities," she said, "and the gold and silver which they contain, perpetually attract the arms of the Arabs. These vile metals are not the objects of our ambition; we content ourselves with the simple productions of the earth. Let us destroy these cities; let us bury in their ruins those pernicious treasures; and when the avarice of our foes shall be destitute of temptation, perhaps they will cease to disturb the tranquility of a warlike people."
Kahina in Xena: Warrior PrincessThe proposal was accepted with unanimous applause. From Tangier to Tripoli the buildings, or at least the fortifications, were demolished, the fruit trees were cut down, the means of subsistence were extirpated, a fertile and populous garden was changed into a desert, and the historians of a more recent age could discern the frequent traces of the prosperity and devastation of their ancestors.Such is the tale of the modern Arabians. Yet I strongly suspect that their ignorance of antiquity, the love of the marvelous, and the fashion of extolling the philosophy of barbarians, has induced them to describe, as one voluntary act, the calamities of three hundred years since the first fury of the Donatists [North African Christian heretics who defied the Roman Catholic Church] and Vandals.In the progress of the revolt Cahina had most probably contributed her share of destruction; and the alarm of universal ruin might terrify and alienate the cities that had reluctantly yielded to her unworthy yoke. They no longer hoped, perhaps they no longer wished, the return of their Byzantine sovereigns: their present servitude was not alleviated by the benefits of order and justice; and the most zealous Catholics must prefer the imperfect truths of the Koran to the blind and rude idolatry of the Moors. The general of the Saracens was again received as the saviour of the province; the friends of civil society conspired against the savages of the land and the royal prophetess was slain in the first battle, which overturned the baseless fabric of her superstition and empire.The same spirit revived under the successor of Hassan; it was finally quelled by the activity of Musa and his two sons; but the number of the rebels may be presumed from that of three hundred thousand captives; sixty thousand of whom, the caliph's fifth, were sold for the profit of the public treasury. Thirty thousand of the barbarian youth were enlisted in the troops; and the pious labours of Musa, to inculcate the knowledge and practice of the Koran, accustomed the Africans to obey the apostle of God and the commander of the faithful.In their climate and government, their diet and habitation, the wandering Moors resembled the Bedoweens of the desert. With the religion they were proud to accept the language, name, and origin of Arabs: the blood of the strangers and natives was insensibly mingled; and from the Euphrates to the Atlantic the same nation might seem to be diffused over the sandy plains of Asia and Africa. Yet I will not deny that fifty thousand tents of pure Arabians might be transported over the Nile, and scattered through the Libyan desert; and I am not ignorant that five of the Moorish tribes still retain their barbarous idiom, with the appellation and character of White Africans. (Gibbon, v. 2, p. 279-280)
 Washington Irving is best known to modern readers as the author of the simple American rustic tales Rip van Winkle and The Headless Horseman, but he lived for many years in Europe and wrote many sophisticated historical works. He was especially fascinated by the Spanish and their traditional enemies the Moslems. His story of the Kahina is in the 54th chapter of his book Mahomet and His Successors(1850). His prose is almost as seductive as Gibbon's and is also out of copyright.
The imperial [Byzantine] forces were now expelled from the coasts of Northern Africa, but the Moslems had not yet achieved the conquest of the country. A formidable enemy remained in the person of a native and heroic queen, who was revered by her subjects as a saint or prophetess. Her real name was Dhabba, but she is generally known in history by the surname, given to her by the Moslems, of Cahina or the Sorceress. She has occasionally been confounded with her son Aben, or rather Ibn Cahina, of whom mention has been made in a previous chapter.Under the sacred standard of this prophet queen were combined the Moors of Mauritania and the Berbers of the mountains, and of the plains bordering the interior deserts. Roving and independent tribes, which had formerly warred with each other, now yielded implicit obedience to one common leader, whom they regarded with religious reverence. The character of marabout or saint has ever had vast influence over the tribes of Africa. Under this heroic woman the combined host had been reduced to some degree of discipline, and inspired with patriotic ardor, were now prepared to make a more effective struggle for their native land than they had yet done under their generals.
More Kahina in Xena: Warrior PrincessAfter repeated battles, the emir Hossan was compelled to retire with his veteran but diminished army to the frontiers of Egypt. The patriot queen was not satisfied with this partial success. Calling a council of war of the leaders and principal warriors of the different hordes: "This retreat of the enemy," said she, "is but temporary; they will return in greater force. What is it that attracts to our land these Arab spoilers? The wealth of our cities; the treasures of silver and gold digged from the bowels of the earth; the fruits of our gardens and orchards; the produce of our fields. Let us demolish our cities; return these accursed treasures to the earth; fell our fruit-trees; lay waste our fields, and spread a barrier of desolation between us and the country of these robbers!"The words of the royal prophetess were received with fanatic enthusiasm by her barbarian troops; the greater part of whom, collected from the mountains and from distant parts, had little share in the property to be sacrificed. Walled towns were forthwith dismantled; majestic edifices tumbled into ruins; groves of fruit-trees were hewn down, and the whole country from Tangiers to Tripoli was converted from a populous and fertile region into a howling and barren waste. A short time was sufficient to effect a desolation, which centuries have not sufficed to remedy.This sacrificial measure of Queen Cahina, however patriotic its intention, was fatal in the end to herself. The inhabitants of the cities and the plains, who had beheld their property laid waste by the infuriated zeal of their defenders, hailed the return of the Moslem invaders as though they had been the saviours of the land.The Moslems, as Cahina predicted, returned with augmented forces: but when she took the field to oppose them, the ranks of her army were thinned; the enthusiasm which had formerly animated them was at an end: they were routed, after a sanguinary battle, and the heroine fell into the hands of the enemy. Those who captured her spared her life, because she was a woman and a queen. When brought into the presence of Hossan she maintained her haughty and fierce demeanor. He proposed the usual conditions, of conversion or tribute. She refused both with scorn, and fell a victim of her patriotism and religious constancy, being beheaded in the presence of the emir.[Irving goes on to recount how Hassan (or "Hossan") was ruined by the jealousy of the Caliph's brother, who was emir of Egypt.] It is added that, not content with depriving Hossan of his command, he despoiled him of all his property, and carried his persecutions so far, that the conqueror of Carthage, the slayer of the patriot queen, within a brief time after her death, and almost amid the very scenes of his triumph, died of a broken heart. His cruel treatment of the heroic Cahina reconciles us to the injustice wreaked upon him. (Irving, p. 489-492).
 Note that Gibbon and Irving differ on some points, even though they no doubt rely on the same basic sources. Gibbon says Hassan's conquests were "lost in a single day"; Irving says they were lost "after repeated battles". Gibbon questions the story of the Kahina's destroying North Africa's cities; Irving accepts it. Gibbon says, "the royal prophetess was slain in the first battle" while Irving claims she was captured and executed.
 The two authorities also disagree in their appraisal of the Kahina. Gibbon refers to "her unworthy rule" and "the baseless fabric of her superstition and empire" while Irving admires "this heroic woman" and "her patriotism and religious constancy."
 Manly Wade Wellman (1903-1986) was a major fantasy fiction writer, best known for his short stories set in the American rural South. In 1986, the year of his death, he completed the novel Cahena: a Dream of the Past. The hero is a fictitious character, Wulf, a Saxon soldier in Byzantine service who escapes from Carthage when it falls to the Arabs and takes refuge with the Berbers. He becomes the military adviser and lover of the Kahina (whom Wellman calls the "Daia the Cahena").
 Wellman's work is a good, old-fashioned historical adventure novel with touches of the supernatural. Readers interested in the late ancient and early medieval period should enjoy it. His depiction of Wulf and the Berber warriors as tough, grim, smart, highly competent fighters is very convincing. His Kahina is more sketchily drawn but is still a powerful, confident, sensuous woman.
 Wellman does not present the Kahina as Jewish. He shows her practicing magic with an eclectic collection of magical objects, including figures of Berber animal gods, the Christian cross, and a Jewish candlestick (p. 78). He has her rule tolerantly over pagans, Christians, Jews, and even some Muslims. Wellman's Berber Jews have no rabbis and know very little about Judaism, including very few prayers.
 Wellman's Kahina has genuine supernatural powers of precognition and healing, powers derived from the Berber gods. Unfortunately, Wulf kills a mysterious, apparently dangerous female spirit, the Lamia. Her death leads to the disappearance of most of the Berber gods and of the Kahina's powers, followed by the victory of the Arabs and of monotheism. The supernatural elements in Wellman's novel sometimes mix uneasily with the realistic political and military story.
 Wellman includes the story of the Kahina ordering the destruction of North Africa's cities. He shows rough nomads gleefully destroying the homes of people they consider soft and luxury loving. Wellman blames this decision on a false defector, Khalid, an aristocratic Arab who was captured, declared allegiance to the Kahina, supplanted Wulf as her lover and adviser, persuaded her to burn the cities, then fled back to the Muslims.
 After the defeat of the Kahina and the Berbers, the ancient polytheistic religions of North Africa disappeared. Most Berbers became Muslims (with a persistent taste for heresy). Many Berbers became Arabic-speakers; some retained their own languages. Berbers were prominent among the Muslim conquerors of Spain. Christianity almost disappeared in North Africa west of Egypt. The Jews were more stubborn and persisted in a few areas, especially in the Atlas Mountains.
 The Jewish presence in North Africa was revived by a tragedy in the late 15th and early 16th Centuries. After the completion of the Christian Reconquest of Spain in 1492, the Inquisition gave the Muslims and Jews of Spain the alternatives of conversion to Catholicism or expulsion. Large numbers of Spanish Jews, as well as most Spanish Muslims, immigrated to Africa.
 Another dramatic foreign event ended the long Jewish presence in North Africa. The establishment of Israel in 1948 caused a rise in active anti-Semitism in North Africa. This, combined with the retreat of European colonialism and the independence of Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, and finally Algeria in the 1950s and 1960s, led to a mass emigration of Jews. For the first time in about 2000 years, North Africa had almost no Jews.
 Today even ruins associated with Jews can be a magnet for violence in North Africa. On April 11, 2002 a truck bomb loaded with fuel exploded outside an ancient, abandoned synagogue on the tourist island of Djerba off the coast of Tunisia. Besides the suicide bomber, twenty people were killed, most of them German tourists. German investigators said the attack was the work of al-Qaida. This was apparently the only successful al-Qaida operation outside Afghanistan and Pakistan in the first year after the attacks in the U.S. in September 2001.
 The Berbers are still a major presence in North Africa and are still often at odds with their rulers. An Associated Press article published June 1, 2002 ("Algerian prime minister's party wins election majority") reported that Berbers are about one-third of Algeria's population and that about sixty people had been killed in riots between Berbers and police in the Kabyle region in 2001 and early 2002.
 Most North African Jews went to Israel, where they are a significant part of the population and the armed forces. Memories are long in the Middle East. Perhaps some Israelis from North Africa consider Israel's victories a long-delayed revenge for the Arab conquest of the Berbers and the death of the Kahina.agadiramazighi.wordpress.com