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.