Oasis and Casbah: Algerian Culture and Personality in Change

Oasis and Casbah: Algerian Culture and Personality in Change

Oasis and Casbah: Algerian Culture and Personality in Change

Oasis and Casbah: Algerian Culture and Personality in Change

Excerpt

The Atlas Mountains, stretching from Morocco to Tunisia, separate the Sahara from the Mediterranean. One hundred and seventy miles south of the port of Algiers, the Saharan Atlas drops dramatically two thousand feet to the desert plains below. Here is the Zibane -- a narrow, east-west strip of land through which runs the Oued Djedi. This "river" is a dry bed except for intervals each year. But the proximity of water to the surface along its course made it an old route of travel and occasional settlement. Here, on the north bank of the Oued and thirty miles south of the Atlas, lies the oasis of Sidi Khaled. The relationship of this village to the region may be seen on the accompanying figure.

The Early Christian Years

The area has been inhabited for millenia. In the vicinity are sites attesting to the presence of paleolithic men who were the precursors of the Berbers. Of the latter, little is known until the time of the Roman occupation. The Romans actively propagated Christianity among them and established the seat of a bishopric at Vescera, known today as Gafsa. This oasis, fifty miles from Sidi Khaled, was the center of the southernmost part of the Roman colonial territory. A series of frontier posts, extending at some points to the Oued Djedi, protected the colony from the desert tribes. Sidi Khaled was established much later just outside this old defense perimeter. The closest Roman sites are at the oasis of Doucen, fifteen miles to the north and around the oasis of Ouled Djellal, five miles east on the Oued Djedi.

The Roman period ended with the fifth century conquest of North Africa by small Vandal forces whose impact on the natives was slight. The church organization, however, was disrupted and the Bishop of Vescera sent into exile.

The next century saw the return of Christian influence but the conquering Byzantines never occupied the southern territory. In the latter part of the century, there came from the Arabian Hejaz a holy man named Sidi Khaled ben Sinan. He preached Christianity among the Berbers and some say that he prophesied . . .

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