Feature: Young Berbers struggle to preserve identity in Tunisia

Source: Xinhua| 2018-12-30 05:12:32|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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TUNIS, Dec. 29 (Xinhua) -- A Berber man with a donkey was walking along the rocky path leading to the ksours, known as "castles of the desert" on hilltop, which overlooked the ancient Berber village of Chenini in Tataouine region of southern Tunisia.

"Berbers have lived in the Chenini mountainous cave houses since the 11th century," 27-year-old tour guide Boubaker Zayene said. "So the donkey is our Berber taxi, a typical local transportation."

"The ksours from the third to fifth layer on the mountain is already abandoned, because Berbers in Chenini now mainly live on growing olive and tourism," Zayen added.

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

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

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

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

"Sleeping in the Berber troglodyte room, which remains 18 degrees Celsius all year round ... is quite an unique experience," said Emily Mirren, a tourist from Britain.

"I also enjoy the traditional cuisine," Mirren added.

Ahmed Saadi, 25-year-old manager of this guesthouse, said that "besides foreigners from all over the world ... people from northern Tunisia also come here for holidays."

Zayene said that there are only 86 families of 684 inhabitants still living in Chenini, as many families have left their original houses towards new towns and villages.

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

"Tunisian government should protect Amazigh language as a national heritage, because this oldest language found in Tunisia is shrinking now," Ouertani added.

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

According to Saadi, "the number of visitors has been gradually recovering since last year. However, I still feel unsure about the future of Berber village."

"As there is no job here, many young people have already moved out and the majority of the village are elderly people," the manager added.

Saadi's friend, 35-year-old local tour guide Hadi Aloui said that "If we also leave, who will protect our Berber history? There are some other Berber villages that have already disappeared."

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

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

"It's very hard to live here, but I won't go to other places. As long as we stick to our jobs here, tourists who come here will get chances to discover our culture," he said.

"I was born here. I love my hometown, and I'm proud of our history," said Saadi. "We need to protect our identity from disappearing."