Arts & Adornment in Kabylia

Amphora, Kabylia, Algeria. Patterns on Kabyle pottery varied according the place; the designs on this pitcher, for example, are associated with the villages of At Aïssi. PM 43-23-50/5841
Pottery vessel, Kabylia, Algeria. Making pottery was traditionally a task women performed along with other domestic work—some women continue to make their pottery by hand in this manner. PM 04-22-50/64055
Water pitcher with spout, Kabylia, Algeria. Traditionally, the main colors of Kabyle pottery are re and black, applied with a bit of cloth. PM 31-27-50/B5085
Small jar, Kabylia, Algeria. A new demand for ceramics following the French occupation and settlement of Kabylia meant that smaller amphora were more in demand, such as the jar seen here. PM 54-42-50/9673.2
Serving dish, Kabylia, Algeria. This complex dish contains protective symbols such as the eye, but also more complicated symbols, such as the triangular "fibulas" in the center, referring to the brooches worn by Kabyle women. PM 46-40-50/5960
Head ornament, Kabylia, Algeria. The head ornament was often an integral piece of jewelry that a bride received for her wedding in Kabylia, and would stay with her as capital if she divorced her husband or were widowed. PM 46-40-50/5970
Clove necklace (tazlagt n qrenfel), Kabylia, Algeria. Women wear jewelry such as this necklace not only for adornment, but also to war off the evil eye. PM 46-40-50/5962
Triangular brooches (abzim or afzim, pl. ibzimen or ifzimen), Kabylia, Algeria. These brooches held Kabyle women's garments pinned at the shoulders. PM 46-40-50/5966
Circular brooch (tabzimt or tafzimt), Kabylia, Algeria. PM 46-40-50/5969
Woman's cape (ddil), Kabylia, Algeria. This garment would have been worn with brooches and a belt. PM 41-34-50/5420

The Berbers of the mountainous regions of northeastern Algeria are known as Kabyles. Traditionally, Kabyle society was organized into small agricultural communities governed by tribal councils. Under French colonial rule (1830-1962), the subsistence economy of Kabylia suffered, and many men migrated to the cities of Algeria and France in search of work. Despite this outward flow and the Algerian state’s more recent efforts at Arabization, Kabyles have retained a strong sense of Amazigh identity, and Kabylia is now the center of a vibrant Amazigh rights movement. 

In traditional Kabyle society, and in other Berber areas across North Africa, women were the creators of many objects used in everyday life. Weaving and making pottery were activities carried out alongside other domestic work. In creating a decorated pot or textile, a woman would draw on a shared vocabulary of geometric symbols, while also working within the design tradition of her own tribe or village. Even the simplest objects show a highly developed aesthetic vision. 

Women’s arts across the Berber world began to change significantly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The influx of imported household items and manufactured cloth meant that women no longer had to make pottery and textiles for their families. At the same time, European visitors began to purchase Berber arts as decoration for their own homes. Artisans responded by creating objects that appealed to this foreign market. Today women across North Africa still make some items for domestic use, but their products have also become part of the global economy.