The Kabyle are a Berber tribe located in Morocco, Tunisia, western Libya, and the coastal mountain regions of northern Algeria. The Arabs call this entire region of North Africa "Maghrib." The Maghrib was conquered by the Muslims between 670 and 700. In the third century, the Romans named the people of the Maghrib Berbers, which means "barbarians."
The name Kabyle, meaning "tribes," originally referred to all Berbers of North Africa. Today, however, it refers only to the Berbers living in the al-Quabail Mountains. These inaccessible peaks have long served as a refuge for the Berbers, forming a base of resistance against the Romans, Vandals, Byzantine, and Arabs. The mountains, some rising about 7,000 feet, are well watered. However, the landscape remains rugged. Migration is becoming more common among the Berbers, and it is estimated that several million Berbers now live in European cities.
What Are Their Lives Like? In general, the Kabyle are sturdy, independent, lovers of the soil, thrifty, and hospitable. They can walk long distances over the mountains with little fatigue. They are proud, shrewd, persistent, and loyal. A passion for independence is deeply ingrained in their culture.
Most Kabyle are shepherds and farmers. They are careful workers and have developed an extensive terracing system on the steep mountain slopes, making the most of the available terrain. Their staple crops are grains and fruits.
The Kabyle traditionally live in hilltop villages. Their homes are built of stones and have red tiled roofs, and each dwelling is includes a stable and a living area. There is plenty of water in some areas; however, in some places, the women must travel long distances to obtain it. They must carry the heavy water jars uphill over steep, rugged, donkey paths.
The Kabyle believe in preserving the family. Even when a family member is forced by economic or social reasons to migrate to cities in Northern Africa or Europe, family ties remain strong. Family unity is further strengthened in their marriage customs and inheritance rights. Often times, an entire family lives in one small hut, sharing everything. The father is the head of the family, and the family ancestry is traced through the males. According to tradition, a local assembly, which is made up of the heads of all families, governs the villages.
The men wear long robes and long white scarves wrapped into turbans that cover their heads and necks. Those living in cities often wear western style suit jackets along with their traditional attire. The women wear long, flowing, ornamented dresses with colorful head coverings. The older women may wear tattoos on their foreheads after having their first male heir.
What are their beliefs? Almost all Algerians are Muslim, but they do not strictly observe the laws of the Koran. Upon converting to Islam, the Kabyle kept many of their traditional beliefs, especially that of pre-Islamic saint worship. However, they celebrate the usual Muslim holidays and visit friends and neighbors during these festive times. Weddings are lengthy celebrations that often last several days.
What are their needs? After Algeria's independence, Christian missionaries were expelled from that country in several waves. The remaining missionary efforts have deteriorated since that time. In spite of this, many Kabyle are searching for answers beyond Muslim fundamentalism. A number of them have responded to recent Christian programs produced in France.
Nevertheless, of all the Kabyle in this region, less than 1% have converted to Christianity. The New Testament is available in their language, as is the Jesus film and some Christian radio broadcasts. However, the stronghold of Islam must first be broken through prayer before this people can be reached with the Gospel.
Prayer Points Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to Algeria and share the Gospel with the Kabyle. Pray that the doors of Algeria will soon re-open to Christian missionaries. Ask God to use the Kabyle believers to share the love of Jesus with their own people. Pray that God will raise up qualified linguists to complete translation of the entire Bible into the Qabayil language. Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Kabyle toward Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel. Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that have kept the Kabyle bound for many generations. Pray that God will open the hearts of Algeria's governmental leaders to the Gospel. Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Kabyle of Algeria.