Article: Young Berbers struggle to preserve their identity in Tunisia_Xinhua

The photo shows the ancient Berber village of Chenini in the Tataouine region of southern Tunisia on December 23, 2018 (Photo Xinhua)

TUNIS, Dec. 29 (Xinhua) – A Berber man with a donkey walked along the rocky path leading to the ksours, known as “desert castles” on top of a hill, which overlooked the ancient Berber village of Chenini in the Tataouine region. southern Tunisia.

“The Berbers have lived in the mountainous cave houses of Chenini since the 11th century,” said Boubaker Zayene, a 27-year-old tourist guide. “So the donkey is our Berber taxi, a typical local means of transport.”

“The ksours of the third to the fifth layer of the mountain are already abandoned, because the Berbers of Chenini now live mainly from olive tree cultivation and tourism,” Zayen added.

“They still live in traditional cave houses in the first and second layer of the mountain,” according to the man.

Among the mountain ksours, where the Berbers protected their stores of grain, salted meat, fish and olive oil for centuries, foreign tourists are now taking photos and exploring history.

Photo shows the guest house suites converted from a traditional Berber house in Chenini in the Tataouine region in southern Tunisia, Dec. 24, 2018 (Xinhua Photo)

Originally from the North African region, the Berbers are found mainly in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. As for Tunisia, most Berbers live in the mountainous part of the south of the country, gradually welcoming more and more visitors.

After climbing a series of steep steps, a guesthouse with a set of cave suites converted from a traditional Berber house in Chenini, allowed tourists to observe Berber customs up close.

“Sleeping in the Berber cave room, which stays at 18 degrees Celsius all year round … is quite a unique experience,” said Emily Mirren, a British tourist.

“I also like traditional cuisine,” Mirren added.

Ahmed Saadi, 25, manager of this guesthouse, said that “besides foreigners from all over the world … people from northern Tunisia also come here for holidays”.

Zayene said there are only 86 families of 684 residents still living in Chenini, as many families have moved from their original homes to new towns and villages.

“The Amazigh (Berber) cultural heritage is deeply rooted in the country. For example, three quarters of our dialect is based on Amazigh terms and our Tunisian cuisine is based on Amazigh dishes, ”said Tayeb Ouertani, an expert in traditional Tunisian heritage, who works at the Tunisian Ministry of Education.

“The Tunisian government should protect the Amazigh language as a national heritage, as this oldest language found in Tunisia is shrinking,” Ouertani added.

“Before the 2011 uprising, there were a large number of tourists, but after that, few visitors came here,” Saadi said.

According to Saadi, “the number of visitors has been picking up gradually since last year. However, I am still not sure about the future of the Berber village”.

“As there is no work here, many young people have already moved and the majority of the village are elderly,” added the official.

Saadi’s friend, 35-year-old local guide, Hadi Aloui, said that “If we also go, who will protect our Berber history? There are other Berber villages that have already disappeared.”

Ouertani stressed that the preservation of Berber history, customs and culture in Tunisia is the duty of every Tunisian citizen. The Tunisian government should protect Berber heritage, which will create opportunities for tourism.

According to Aloui, he would marry a Berber woman and raise children in Chenini to perpetuate their culture.

“It’s very difficult to live here, but I won’t go anywhere else. As long as we stick to our job here, tourists who come here will have the chance to experience our culture,” he said.

“I was born here. I love my hometown and I am proud of our history,” Saadi said. “We must protect our identity from disappearance.”

About Wesley V. Finley

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