Kahina, or Dihya, the Berber queen who united North Africa is a legend in the north of the continent. Who was this woman to whom we attribute supernatural powers?
Between myth and reality, often lies the story of heroes and heroines. Several anthropologists consider African societies to be matriarchal societies, due to the prominent role of women in society, which goes back to the distant history of legendary figures.
This is the case of Kahina – oracle in Arabic –, whose real name is Dihya, who was the last queen of the Berber Empire. With an extraordinary politico-military career, this woman remains, even today, a symbol for the feminist movement. But, also, because of her role in resisting the invader, her name is forever etched in history as a fighter against foreign invasion. The figure of Kahina also takes on a very symbolic continental dimension because the Empire she was defending at the time was none other than Ifriqiya, the region which would have given its etymology to Africa and which extended from Benghazi to Libya. in Oran in modern Algeria.
The legendary Berber queen was born around 670 and died in battle in 703. Dihya, nicknamed Kahina since childhood because of an alleged ability to see, was born in the Djeraoua tribe, in the mountainous regions of eastern Algeria. . At that time, the Botr – ruling council of the Berber Empire – were under the control of Tabeta son of Tifan (nicknamed Mâtiya, the implacable in Numidian), the father of Dihya. Tabeta sought, in the middle of the XNUMXth century, to unite the Berber tribes under the same “Agellid” – king –, but the internal conflicts, caused by an influence of the Byzantines on the tribes of the North, prevented the union from materializing.
Kahina, a legend is born
In 683, Arab-Muslim expansion reached the center of Ifriqiya. At the head of the Arab expeditionary force was the famous general Oqba Ibn Nafi, one of the three commanders of the armies of the young Umayyad caliphate, but having cut his teeth with the "rightly guided caliphs", the companions of the prophet of Islam Mohamed, especially the second – Omar ibn al-Khattâb.
Faced with the eastern offensive, the Berber prince Koceïla showed that by uniting, the Berbers could stand up to the invader. Koceïla would have been supported, according to the historian Ibn Khaldoun, by the father of Kahina, Tabeta. It was during this conflict, which lasted five years, that the Djeraoua tribe became the first power in the region. And when Koceïla was beaten and killed in 688, Tabeta did everything to promote his daughter, then 17 years old. The Djeraoua claimed, at the death of Koceïla, that Kahina felt her death, and that he spoke through her, calling on the tribes to unite around the young woman.
Kahina was therefore raised as a living legend. Considered endowed with supernatural powers, her name was famous in all Berber towns. It was also, for Tabeta, the opportunity to put back on the agenda the Berber traditions lost, due to the predominance of the three monotheistic religions within the Empire. Tabeta especially feared the influence of Byzantine Orthodoxy, which was gaining momentum along the coast between Carthage and present-day Tripoli.
Kahina was therefore raised as a cynic, in a society more focused on mysticism than religion. All the more reason to promote the propaganda of his father, who saw in the expansion of Islam in the Empire a new threat to the Amazigh tradition. From an early age, Kahina was one of the few women to master horse riding, fencing and archery. Which contrasted, according to the few historical facts and the drawings made of her, with her great beauty.
The battle of the camels
As Kahina reached adulthood, the Djeraoua kept the Arabs in check, whether in northern Tunisia or eastern Algeria. The local chieftaincy of the Berber tribes became increasingly dependent on the mountain Amazighs for security.
Tabeta, Kahina's father, inherited the political authority of Koceïla. Unbeknownst to all, he appointed Kahina as commander of the armies. Historians claim that it was only thanks to a letter intercepted by the new commander of the Arab forces, Hassan Ibn Numan, that the latter discovered who was at the head of the Djeraoua. And with the enemy who considered Kahina as the queen of all Berbers, the latter had only the choice to support the warrior queen.
In 699, Kahina at the head of several thousand fighters attacked Baghaï, the city separating the two rivers of Meskiana and Nini, a strategic position for the Arabs who were beginning the conquest of the Algerian mountains. Kahina's troops decimated the Arab soldiers in the city, and disguised themselves as inhabitants, anticipating the thrust of Ibn Numan's troops.
The latter came a few days later, and the Arab troops were ambushed during the "battle of the camels". This conflict lasted several days as Kahina and his soldiers pursued Hassan Ibn Numan's troops, pushing them out of Kairouan and Gabès in Tunisia, and as far as present-day northern Libya.
Kahina between clemency and the scorched earth policy
For four years, during the Nahr-Al-Balaâ war – the war of calamity – Kahina and his troops besieged the Arab positions in Cyrenaica, while his father Tabeta negotiated with the pro-Arab tribes in the north of the kingdom. .
But the information coming from Medina was disheartening for the Berbers. The Umayyad caliph, Abd Al-Malik, sent tens of thousands of soldiers to reinforce Hassan Ibn Numan in 702. A power that Kahina and his army were unable to repel. During the same year, Kahina lost her father, her first political support in the north, and was forced to retreat. But Kahina's decision then made her legend.
Before returning to her native mountains, she first freed the hundreds of soldiers she took prisoner during the war, and proceeded to apply a scorched earth policy, from Gadamès in Libya to Utica in Tunisia, passing through the mountains in the north and along the current Algerian-Tunisian border, it destroyed buildings and burned all agricultural fields.
Because what Kahina wanted, above all, was for her country to remain free from foreign occupation. The scorched earth policy served, therefore, to diminish the attractiveness of the Berber Empire to Arab forces. And in a final desperate rush, she confronted the Arab forces at Bir El Kahina – the well (tomb) of Kahina – in the mountain region of Chaambi on the border between Algeria and Tunisia. The legend says that she killed hundreds of soldiers without ever falling off her horse, and that she would have fought for three days and three nights.
Some historians claim that she was killed during the battle, others that she would have committed suicide, in the manner of Hannibal Barca, with poison. But whatever the case, the epic of Dihya is still at the center of Amazigh identity today. And after his death, the sons of Koceïla had no choice but to accept the rule of the Umayyads. The only exception is the Djeraoua, who remain, even today, an independent tribe living in the Algerian mountains.
Queen Kahina, an Amazigh warrior queen, wiped out an invading Arab Army delayin their conquest. She eventually died in the middle of the war, while resisting. pic.twitter.com/MQF2gD2mZa
— 리타🥀 | LILAC (@mushytae) September 2, 2019