This virtual journey has been transferred to the Cool Planet website from On the Line. Much of the information here relates to the time when the millennium dawned.
The text below has been taken from the virtual journey through Algeria and is in a form which can be printed out.
welcome to Algeria
Explore Algeria and discover a fascinating
country full of contrasts. This virtual journey aims to explore the positive aspects of
life in Algeria. The country has much to offer, despite the conflict that continues to
rage within its borders. As one young Algerian called Adila put it, "If you asked me
to describe Algeria, I would say it is a very big country with a lot of beautiful things
to see. I hope everybody can come and see the country for themselves!"
arts and crafts
music and dance
An Algerian folk story
facts and figures
Football (soccer) is Algerias favourite spectator sport, and the national team is taken very seriously by World Cup opponents. Fans play trumpets and drums to lead the singing at big matches. The Juventus star Zinedine Zidane, scorer of Frances World Cup-winning goal in 1998, is of Algerian origin. Other Algerian players have been signed to FC Monaco, Tottenham Hotspur FC, and FC Nantes.
Algerian athletes are a major force in international competition, especially in middle and long-distance running, high jump, and hammer-throwing events. The distance-runners Hassiba Boulmerka and Noureddine Mourceli are both Algerian. In 1998 Mourceli held the mens world records at 1,500 metres, 1 mile, and 2,000 metres. He also held the all-African record at 1,000 metres. His world 1,500 metres record still stands.
Algerian boxers, among them Mustapha Moussa and Ahmed Bouniche, also have a high profile in international competitions, and regularly scoop gold medals at a range of weights in all-Africa boxing championships. The Algerian handball team has reached quarter and semi-finals in the world championships.
Martial arts, especially judo, have a big following among young Algerians. There is a North African martial art called El Matreg. In this, two players fight using long sticks the idea is to score points by outwitting and out-manoeuvering your opponent.
Boules (a French form of bowls) and dominoes are common social pastimes.
There is a popular childrens game which is played on pavements, or in the street. A snake shape is drawn on the ground, with boxes numbered 1-20, including five jail boxes. The players one on one, two against two, and so on throw a bottle-top to land in one box or another. If your bottle-top lands in a jail box, you return to the start. You can also knock out your opponents bottle-top by hitting it, and then your opponent has to start again from scratch. The first to reach box 20 is the winner.
arts and crafts
The three North African nations that make up the Maghreb Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia are famous for producing beautiful Berber carpets and rugs.
The centre of traditional Algerian carpet-making is Ghardaia, in the northern Sahara. Carpets made in the traditional way have become luxury items, and are imitated all over the world. The weavers blend coloured yarns of soft, warm wool into patterns that vary from region to region. One of the best-known patterns is a broad cross (the cross of the Souf) set against a subtly-shaded background.
Algerian jewellery and woodcarving draw on both Arab and Berber styles. Because of their travelling lifestyle, desert nomads have always specialised in light, portable art-objects, such as pendants, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, swords, and daggers. Tuareg sabres (sharp, curved swords) are up to 90cm long and are often made of steel that has been reclaimed from broken-down vehicles. The sabres are prized by collectors world-wide for their elegant shape and intricate, hand-engraved decorations (no two are the same). The blades are protected by camel-skin sheaths, and the handles usually contain a small detachable dagger.
Useful objects like musical instruments, coffeepots and teapots can also be highly ornate, reflecting the tradition of painstaking decorative art that is common to Arab and Berber culture. Esparto grass, a thin needlegrass that grows in parts of the Sahara, has been used since prehistoric times to make ropes, baskets, and sandals.
Traditionally, the Algerian nomadic groups trade their art for other goods, rather than selling them for money.
music and dance
Rai music tradition and youth culture
Modern Rai music (Rai rhymes with eye) is very popular among young Algerians. The word Rai has a range of meanings, from a way of seeing or an attitude, to a plan or even just a thought (the thoughts are usually to do with love). Rai has danceable, driving rhythms, and since the 1960s younger artists have updated its sound using everything from electric guitars and wah-wah pedals to beat-boxes and samplers.
The roots of Rai lie in the distant past, and a form of poetry-singing called malhun. New Rai is seen as a reaction against conservative, traditional values, something through which young Algerians can express their feelings. This, coupled with the romantic subject-matter of many Rai lyrics, has provoked violent reaction from conservative Islamic groups. In 1994 the young Rai star Cheb Hasni was gunned down by Islamic radicals in the streets of Oran, the western Algerian city where modern Rai was born. Other major Rai artists, including Cheb Khaled, the king of Rai, have left Algeria after receiving death threats.
Modern Rai singers put the word cheb (young man) or chabas (young woman) before their names a bit like MCs in rap and dance music. In the past, women who performed traditional love-songs were widely disapproved of, and were associated with places where alcohol (forbidden in Islamic law) was sold or used. Even now, performing Rai is something of a rebellious thing for young women to do.
Traditional North African music is probably best known for the haunting, sinuous sound produced by various wind instruments. Among these is the shawm, a powerful instrument resembling a large oboe. Another is the qasabah, a kind of flute with a richly-textured, breathy quality. In Algeria the maqrunah, a single-reed Arabic wind instrument, is sometimes fitted with a bag called a mizwid (food-pouch) which turns it into a form of bag-pipes. Fretless, long-necked lutes with a skin-covered soundbox, snare drums, pottery hand-drums, and castanet-like clackers all feature in traditional music of the Saharan region.
Rai often uses North African and European influences to make beautiful music. Wahrani, a type of Rai which comes from Oran in North West Algeria, uses a French-influenced accordion sound with traditional reed flutes, European strings, and a mixture of percussion instruments.
Nomadic Berber music reflects the stark beauty of the desert, often consisting of just vocals and an accompanying drum made from animal skin. Many of the lyrics are about heroes, bravery, love, and sorrow. Among Berber and Arab nomads, women traditionally perform a high-pitched, trilling vocal music accompanied by hand-claps.
Couscous, a semolina-like pasta made from cracked wheat, is a staple food in Algeria and throughout North Africa. It is a versatile starch that goes equally well with meat, fish, vegetables, or sweet dishes. Rice is also a popular staple, and chickpea-cakes make a cheap and tasty accompaniment for food. Pizza, fried chicken, and potato fries are popular among younger Algerians.
Traditional Algerian food shows the historic influences of Berber, Arab, Turkish, and French tastes. It can be mild or very spicy and many flavourings are used, including cumin, coriander, paprika, cinnamon, mint, and fennel.
Stews like shakshuka, with vegetables, and tajine, with lamb or chicken, are popular everyday dishes. Meat dishes are often prepared with some of the many different fruits grown in fertile parts of Algeria. Sugar or honey can be added to savoury dishes to create a sweet-and-sour taste.
As in much of North Africa and the Middle East, refreshing, golden-coloured mint tea and strong, sweet coffee (sometimes called Turkish coffee) are drunk wherever people gather to talk and relax. Lively pavement-cafés, central to social life in Algerian towns and cities, are another legacy of French rule.
The traditional diet of desert nomads is based on couscous and the meat of the sheep or goats they herd. When travelling, desert people carry pressed dates or figs, and hard cheese, which keeps for a long time. Flat, unleavened (yeastless) bread can be baked in the hot embers of camp-fires. Hot, sugary mint tea quenches thirst and boosts energy.
Warm the pot with a little boiling water, and then pour the water away. Place the tea in the pot and add ¼ litre (about I cup) of boiling water. Allow it to stand for 3 minutes. Place the crushed mint and the sugar in the pot. Add the rest of the boiling water. Cover the pot and allow it to stand for 5 minutes. Using a strainer, pour the tea into small cups (or, traditionally, heat-proof glasses).
Ingredients (approximate quantities for ½ litre)
(To make really authentic Turkish coffee you need a narrow-topped pot that can be heated on a stove. Pots like this are used to make coffee in the most expensive restaurants and on desert camp-fires. You can use any heat-proof pot, but be careful.)
Fill the pot with about ½ litre of water and place it on the heat. As the water begins to heat up, add the sugar, stir, and then top up with the coffee. When the water boils, let it begin to foam, but quickly reduce the heat before the coffee boils over. Repeat this three times. Remove from the heat and add any optional flavouring. Allow the coffee to cool for a minute, then pour it into small cups.
Turkish coffee should be sipped slowly, and enjoyed with friends.
Couscous with chicken broth
(This dish can also be made with vegetable stock and most vegetables)
Ingredients Serves 4
Couscous is available in supermarkets and is the quickest and easiest form of pasta to prepare just follow the instructions on the box.
Heat the oil in a large, flat pan. Add the chopped vegetables, coriander seeds and cumin, and cook gently for about 5 minutes. Add the couscous, lemon zest, and raisins. Stir until the ingredients are coated. Add all the stock and the lemon juice. Simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and allow to cool for 3 minutes. Add salt and pepper, sprinkle with chopped coriander, and gently stir with a fork before serving.
If you wish, you can add a little chilli to this recipe.
"I live in Algiers, where I start school at 8 oclock in the morning every day. My favourite subjects are maths and sciences. I like swimming and playing tennis, and I support a soccer team called CRB. My other hobby is drawing. I like coming home after school, when I can relax and watch TV." Adila, aged 17
"My school is very nice, with a lot of trees in the courtyard and good teachers. I like maths and English, and when I come home from school I like listening to dance music and practising sports my favourite is volleyball, and I play in a volleyball team. I support Mouloudia, a football team from Algiers. I like embroidering, making cakes with my mum, swimming and playing computer games." Lydia, aged 13
"I attend a big lycee (school) which has hundreds of students. I like meeting up with friends after school and talking about what everyone has been doing during the day. I like playing Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble and Monopoly (board games), and Im a Mouloudia FC fan. I like going to the cinema and the beach on Fridays (our weekend) and listening to rap and dance music. My favourite foods are fish, soups, fruit, and yoghurts." Mehdi, aged 16
"Each day I wake up early, wash my hands and face, and get ready to go school. I am in class by 8am. There are 42 of us in the class. We have a break at 10.30am, when we play for a quarter of an hour. Then we go back to class till 12. We have lunch in a big dining room with other pupils of the June 9th School there are 2,500 pupils altogether. Then we play or rest in our dormitories, as it is often extremely hot in the middle of the day. Lessons start again at 4pm and go on until 6pm. On Fridays, which is a holiday for us, I usually go on a picnic in the desert with my friends. We bring with us a little food, water, and things for making tea. We split up into groups one to collect firewood, another to make the tea, and so on. On Friday night we have time to wash our clothes and get ready for a new school day." Omar, aged 12, Western Sahara refugee camp
"We get up at 7am and start our lessons at 8am. At midday we have a small lunch and listen to a bit of Radio Escuela Saharawi. We play football after we have eaten, and then have a siesta (a rest) until 4pm, when classes start again. We finish the school day at 6pm and have dinner at 7.30pm. Then we go to the special sections where we sleep, and we talk or play games or sometimes study by ourselves. We go to sleep at 10pm." Salma, aged 13, Western Sahara refugee camp
"I want to continue studying English, and I would like to qualify as a doctor one day. If you asked me to describe Algeria, I would say it is a very big country with a lot of beautiful things to see. I hope everybody can come and see the country for themselves!" Adila, aged 17
"I hope for peace in the world, and I hope peace will return to Algeria one day. It is a lovely country, with different landscapes and colours blue for the sea, green for the mountains, and yellow for the Sahara. For myself, I would like to do well in my studies and to become a famous doctor!" Lydia, aged 13
"My hope for the future is that there will be peace for all Algerians. Its a nice country, and even though some bad things are happening, people still live their lives you can see young people going shopping, eating in pizza places, going to the cinema. I would like to tell people that there are lots of interesting things to see in Algeria, and that they should come and visit this country when total peace has come back you will be welcome!" Mehdi, aged 16
"I go to school at eight oclock every morning, except Friday, which is a holiday. I like watching TV, revising my studies, and playing sports. I am interested in accountancy and I would like to go into management when I finish studying. Algeria is a beautiful country, and I would like it very much if other young people could come and see it for themselves." Nassim, aged 16
guidebook to Algeria
This is Algeria a beautiful but troubled country in central North Africa. Here, where ancient and modern cultures meet, youll find mouthwatering food, the blue men of the desert, young rebel music, and some of the most extreme natural conditions on Earth.
Cave paintings in eastern Algeria, showing hunters and herds of animals, give us an idea of the Algerian Sahara as it was some 6,000 years ago not an arid desert, but a grassy savanna. The artists may have been distant ancestors of todays Berbers, a people who have lived in the region for thousands of years.
About 2,500 years ago the Phoenicians, a Middle-eastern seafaring people, established outposts in present-day Algeria. 2000 years ago, Algeria was part of the Roman Empire. In the 5th century AD, the original Vandals a fearsome Germanic group swept through Southern Europe and into North Africa. European Christians drove the Vandals out about 100 years later, only to be driven out themselves in the 7th century, by an Arab invasion. Berber resistance to this invasion was led by a legendary woman warrior called Kahina. Arab conquest led to the establishment of Islam as Algerias predominant religion.
Conquest by Spain and Turkey
In the 16th century northern Algeria was invaded by Spain. Algerian Muslims asked for help from the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire. As a result, most of Algeria came under Ottoman rule, which lasted over 300 years. Strands of Turkish culture including food and music became interwoven into Algerian life. During this time, the Barbarossa (Redbeard) brothers and other pirates based in the Algerian coastal cities defended (and enriched) Algerias ports. Piracy continued along the "Barbary Coast", as it was known, until the early 19th century, when the menace was finally subdued by the firepower of US and European navies.
France launched an invasion of Algeria with an attack on the capital Algiers in 1830. The invasion met with brave and stubborn resistance, led by the great general Abdelkadar, but by 1847 the French were in control of the whole country. Under French rule, non-French language and culture were suppressed. Land was claimed by French and other European settlers, and Algerian Muslims were denied many basic rights.
In 1947, France granted Algerian Muslims citizenship of Algeria and France. It was too little, too late. A war of independence broke out in 1954, led by the FLN (National Liberation Front). The war claimed at least one million Algerian lives. Finally, in 1962, the French government offered Algerians a referendum. Six million voted for independence from France, and fewer than 20,000 against.
For more than 10 years, Algeria has been torn by religious and political conflict. In 1988 there were violent protests against food shortages. In 1992 the result of countrys first multi-party elections since independence favoured the FIS (Islamic Salvation Front), a hardline Islamic party. Many people were alarmed by this result, and 100,000 demonstrated in the Algerian capital. Soon afterwards the government, backed by the army, overturned the election result. In 1996 violence escalated after the government banned all religious political parties. As many as 80,000 people mostly civilians have been killed in the conflict between militants and the authorities, and thousands imprisoned without trial.
The present government, elected in 1999, has released some political prisoners and held a peace referendum, offering Algerians the chance to vote for peace talks with Islamic militants. The result was an overwhelming yes-vote, which already seems to have brought about a positive change in the day-to-day atmosphere of Algerias cities and towns.
On December 24th 1999 Ahmed Benbitour, who is not a member of any political party, was appointed as Algerias new prime minister, and began forming a government made up of ministers belonging to several different political parties.
In the first week of the new millennium, the armed wing of the Islamic Salvation Front called a truce. Killings and bombings have continued in Algiers and other Algerian cities, but it is not clear who is behind these acts. Many Algerians blame rogue elements within either Islamic or anti-Islamic groups, while others blame organised criminals posing as political militants.
Algeria lies in central North Africa, between Morocco to the west, Tunisia and Libya to the east, Mauritania, Mali and Niger to the south, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north. It is the second biggest country in Africa (after Sudan) and the tenth biggest in the world.
The different landscapes and climatic regions of Algeria can be very simply pictured as four parallel bands running across the country from east to west.
The first band is a strip that runs across the north of the country, following Algerias 1,200km coastline. This hilly, narrow sub-coastal zone is called the Tell, and makes up only a few per cent of the countrys total area. But because of its fertile land the Tell is home to over 90 per cent of the population. Algerias capital, Algiers, and the countrys other major cities are situated on or near the Mediterranean coast.
Secondly, (as you travel southwards) come the peaks and valleys of the Tell Atlas mountain ranges, dropping slightly to an expanse of largely barren plains called the High Plateaus.
The third band consists of more mountain chains, rising to the south of the High Plateaus, and forming part of the Saharan Atlas range.
The fourth (and by far the biggest) of Algerias natural regions is the Sahara Desert which stretches southwards from the Saharan Atlas mountains and covers more than 80 per cent of the country. Here you will find some of the most extreme conditions and spectacular sights on the planet.
Rainfall in northern Algeria averages 1,000mm annually, although the high plateaus are drier than the sub-coastal Tell. Villages in parts of the Sahara Desert might have no rain for 20 years at a time. The north has hot summers, with daytime temperatures averaging 32ºC, and high humidity along the coast. In the Sahara, midday temperatures can exceed 55ºC. Between November and February the far north is damp and chilly, and skiing is possible in the sub-coastal mountains. During these months the Saharas heat drops only slightly. In summer, a hot and dry Saharan wind called the Sirocco blows northwards into coastal cities, carrying desert sand and dust with it.
The main crops grown in Algerias arable areas are wheat, barley, oats, maize, and sorghum. Algeria is also one of the worlds biggest producers of cork. There are vineyards and tobacco plantations producing goods for export, along with olives, figs, dates, and a huge variety of fruit and vegetables.
The Sahara desert
The Sahara has one of the harshest climates in the world. It stretches right across northern Africa, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. It reaches to the Mediterranean in the north, and to the Niger River in the south. It dominates 11 African countries and covers between 9 and 10 million square kilometres. In other words, the Sahara is considerably bigger than Brazil, nearly three times the size of Japan, and roughly 20 times the size of Norway. Its awe-inspiring scale is well-expressed by the Arabic word erg, (irq) meaning ocean and the Sahara contains not just one ocean of sand, but several. The main ones are the Occidental (Western) Erg and the much bigger Eastern Erg. With shifting, windswept dunes stretching to the horizons, the ergs resemble many peoples picture of the desert.
But there is much more to the Sahara than sand; there are mountains (including the Hoggar range in south-eastern Algeria) and huge swathes of scrub, jujuba, and other desert grasses. The Sahara is sparsely dotted with green oases. Less invitingly, there are also wastes covering thousands of square kilometres, where virtually nothing exists besides a thin scattering of pebbles on flat, bare ground. More hospitable parts of the Sahara are home to a great variety of wildlife. Day-time heat in the desert can reach a hard-to-imagine 55ºC, while at nightfall the temperature plunges to around 10ºC. Between December to February freezing temperatures are not uncommon at night.
The house-eating sand dune
The Algerian town of In Salah, in the middle of the desert, is slowly being cut in two by a huge, creeping sand dune. The leading part of the dune its moved by desert winds takes 10-20 years to bury a house completely. Meanwhile the back end follows, gradually uncovering houses that were swallowed up years before. When a buried house emerges after 50 years or so under the sand, the children and grandchildren of the original owners can repair it and move in.
facts and figures
|Capital||Algiers (El Djazair)|
|Size||2,381,740 square km|
|Languages||Arabic (official), French, Berber dialects|
|Average life expectancy||Male 68, female 70|
|Literacy rate||74% male, 49% female|
|Infant deaths per 1,000 births||44|
|No. of people per doctor||1,204|
|Major industries||Hydrocarbons, minerals, cork, fruit, vegetables, and tobacco|
|Major exports||Natural gas, petroleum, iron ore, fruit and vegetables, tobacco, cork|
|Time||GMT plus one hour|
|Total external debt||c.$31.4 billion|
|Percentage of population with access to safe water||c.65%|
|Mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers in the far north; drier, with cold winters on the high plateau; semi-arid or arid in the south|
|Places on the line||Tidia, Mohammadia|
Sources: CIA World Factbook; The World Guide 1999-2000
As a result of changes in global climate, the Algerian Sahara is gradually expanding into the green fringes of the Tell Atlas and Saharan Atlas ranges. Only 3 per cent of Algerias territory is arable land, and about the same proportion is covered by unbroken forests. Droughts in recent decades have forced many desert herders and agriculturists to abandon their traditional livelihoods and look for work in the cities. Severe drought in 1999 led to widespread forest fires in north-eastern Algeria.
Human impact on the environment
During the 1954-1962 War of Independence, French bombing with napalm (a burning chemical jelly) decimated Algerias northern forests. Since then there has been extensive re-planting of cork oaks in particular. Farming practices have also caused soil erosion in arable areas.
The coastal Mediterranean has been badly polluted by industrial waste, especially from the petrochemical industry, and by sewage dumping. Petrochemical pollution can sometimes be seen along the beaches near the major oil refinery at Bejaia, on the northern coast.
Coastal, mountainous, and grassy desert areas of Algeria support a rich variety of wildlife, including jackals, wild boars, gazelles, panthers, leopards, cheetahs, Barbary macaques, and many species of birds. Rodents, snakes, monitor lizards, and other reptiles also live in semi-arid areas.
Algerias most endangered animal is the serval. Servals are graceful, light-bodied big cats with leopard-like markings (a few are completely black) and long, ultra-sensitive ears. The name serval means wolf-deer, aptly describing the animals small, deer-like head and long legs the longest of any member of the cat family. Following scattered sightings during the 1980s and 90s, a small number of servals is thought to survive in remote parts of northern Algeria, preying on small mammals, reptiles, and nesting birds.
The Mediterranean monk seal, which lives in caves and rocky outcrops along the Algerian coast, is also endangered. Female monk seals give birth infrequently, and have only one pup at a time. Over-fishing has affected their food supply, and coastal pollution has been blamed for disease and premature death among the seals.
Algerian wild dogs and several species of bats are endangered. The scimitar oryx (a long-horned antelope) and the dama gazelle were both declared to be extinct in Algeria in 1996.
Finding and conserving water is a priority for people living in arid places, such as the Sahara. Oases and waterholes are few and far between and they can dry up very quickly.
Over the centuries, desert nomads and settlers have used various methods for obtaining and distributing water. The most spectacular of these are the networks of underground water-channels, called fouggaras, which were once used to moisten dry soil with water from distant sources. Air-currents drawn in through vertical shafts created enough flow to deliver a trickle of precious water to scattered outlets. The remains of one such network, around the Algerian oasis of Adrar, show that its channels totalled an astonishing 2,000km in length.
A much smaller-scale (but effective) way of irrigating dry places is to look for any surface sign of water even a single green shoot and dig a large pit in the same place. Palm fronds are used to shore up the rim of the pit and to stop sand blowing back in. Finally, young palms are planted at the deepest point of the pit and their roots suck moisture to the surface.
The official religion of Algeria is Islam and 99.2 per cent of the population are Muslims. Around 0.5 per cent are Christians.
About two-thirds of Algerias 31 million inhabitants are under the age of 26. The country also has one of the world's highest rates of population growth, with the total set to double every 30 years. The majority of Algerians are Arabic-speakers of Arab or mixed Arab/Berber origin, though there are other ethnic groups. More than 90 per cent of Algerians live in the far north of the country, within a relatively narrow strip of fertile land which follows the Mediterranean coastline, away from the savage heat of the Sahara to the south.
The economic and educational profile of Algerian society changed dramatically with Algerian independence in 1962, when most of the French and other Europeans left. As the majority of technicians and administrators had been European, Algeria was left with a shortage of highly skilled and educated people. As a result, the country has often found itself in economic difficulties, which it has struggled to overcome.
The country has the worlds fourth-largest reserves of natural gas, and major deposits of oil. But the economy is weak, and Algeria has big external debts. With unemployment standing at about 30 per cent, dissatisfaction and anger among young people is a growing problem. Following years of drought, a lot of people have moved away from desert areas and into the cities, creating acute housing problems. Between one and two million Algerians live in France, where many have encountered racism and hostility.
Many aspects of life in Algerias towns and cities, from fashion to food, show a strong European influence. The liveliest streets of Algiers and other cities resemble those of a southern French city, with the buzz of mopeds, street cafés, loud music, and fashionable clothes shops. Rural and Saharan Algeria are generally more conservative.
The word Islam has roots in ancient words meaning peace, security, and allegiance to God. The faith of Islam was introduced into the world by the Prophet Muhammad. Muhammed was dissatisfied with the nature of the religions he encountered on his travels as a young man. He spent long periods in isolation, praying and meditating. In 610CE (Christian Era) the will of Allah (God) was revealed to him by the angel Jibreel (Gabriel) in what is now the Holy City of Mecca. These revelations are recorded in the verses of the Quran, or Koran. In 622CE, following increasing persecution by unbelievers, he travelled to the Arab city of Medina. Through a combination of negotiation and military success Muhammad became the most powerful leader in the Arab world. Within 100 years of Muhammads death in 632CE, the message of Islam had spread from the Atlantic coast in the west to the borders of China in the east.
There are five basic pillars of Islam:
Besides the Quran, Islamic law and custom are contained in a body of tradition called the hadith and in the legal code of Sharia. Abraham, Moses, and Jesus are generally regarded as earlier prophets in a line that ends with Muhammad. Islamic law forbids gambling, alcohol, the use of illegal substances, and eating pork and other unclean foods. Modesty in the style of clothes, particularly for women, is also important in Islamic tradition.
There are two main branches of Islam. Sunni Muslims make up some 90 per cent of believers. Broadly speaking, Sunni Muslims have historically adapted to life alongside a range of other cultures, while maintaining allegiance to the Quran and the Hadith. The second main branch consists of Shiite Muslims. Shiites are led by clerics (religious scholars) called Imams, who generally believe in keeping Islamic culture sealed from all outside influences and cultures. Some Berber groups practise a form of folk Islam, involving the worship of saint-figures.
The number of Muslims in the world today is estimated at over one billion, making it the second largest world religion after Christianity, and the number of believers is growing. As with all major religions, friction between opposing schools of thought and political groupings can lead to violent conflict. This is the case in Algeria today.
The majority of Algerians are Arabic-speakers of Arab or mixed Arab/Berber origin. Ethnic Berbers (who were the earliest known inhabitants of North Africa) form a minority of around 17 per cent. In parts of Algeria, Berbers maintain a strongly separate identity, speaking their own languages rather than Arabic. The Berber language of northern Algeria is called Tamazight or Amazigh. Many Saharan Berbers speak a related language called Zenete.
There are two main Berber groups: the Kabylie Berbers, from the Kabylie Mountains, and the Chaouia Berbers from the Aures Mountains both in northern Algeria. Berbers refer to themselves as Amazigh (meaning the people and culture as a whole) and Imazighen (the plural name). This translates roughly as free or pure.
Many rural Berbers live by cultivating crops and raising livestock, while others have a nomadic or semi-nomadic life as travelling herders and traders.
Tuaregs, another Berber sub-group, are traditionally more nomadic. They mainly come from the Ahaggar (or Hoggar) highlands in south-eastern Algeria. Tuaregs are also known as blue men, after the deep-indigo coloured tagelmoust (a face-covering headdress) which is often worn by the men. Tuareg women have a great deal of influence over matters of marriage, finance, and social affairs and it is women rather than men who inherit from parents and families. Tuareg women are also famous for their poetry. The Tuaregs speak a Berber language called Tamachaq.
Desert Berbers and Arabs usually have a rigid caste, or class, system, with social ranks ranging from nobles down to an underclass of menial workers (mostly ethnic Africans).
Recurrent drought and the erosion of traditions have led large numbers of nomads to abandon their traditional lifestyle and head for the cities, where many of them live in run-down settlements called bidonvilles. But thousands still live in the Sahara, navigating its wastes from oasis to oasis and town to town using ancient knowledge passed down through the generations. Smuggling imported cigarettes and trading in all-terrain vehicles are two ways in which some desert nomads supplement their income.
Traditional Berber jewellery and swords are made from silver, copper, glass, agate, and reclaimed metals. Among the Tuaregs there is a special caste of blacksmiths and craftsmen called belas who work in all these materials but never gold, as the Tuaregs consider it unlucky.
A smaller Berber minority, the Mozabites, live mainly in five towns centred on Ghardaia in the northern Sahara. Mozabites, who number about 100,000, follow their own strict Islamic code called Ibadi. Women wear a head-to-foot robe which leaves only one eye exposed, and inhabitants of the Mozabite town of Beni Isguen may only marry fellow townspeople.
The Saharawi people
The Western Sahara is a desert region lying between Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania. This region is the homeland of the Saharawi, who are a mix of Arab and Berber people. There are about 220,000 Saharawi and more than half live in refugee camps.
In 1975 the Moroccan army invaded and occupied territory within the Western Sahara, and most Saharawi civilians fled east into Algeria. Since then, a huge complex of Saharawi refugee camps has grown up around Tinduf in western Algeria, near the border with Morocco. These camps are home to more than 160,000 people, mainly women and children. Most people under the age of 24 have never lived anywhere else but in the camps, which are located in one of the worlds harshest natural environments.
Since 1975 The Saharawis armed struggle against Morocco has been waged by the military wing of the Polisario, an organisation originally formed to fight an earlier occupation of the territory by Spain. Morocco keeps a heavy military presence in the Western Sahara, and has raised a vast barrier of sand, called the" berm", and hundreds of miles of high barbed-wire fencing, to block attacks by Polisario guerrillas. Today the Polisario are also the official political representatives of the Saharawi people. The camps are run democratically, using a system of discussion and decision-making based on Saharawi tribal tradition. Priority is given to health care, education, and equal opportunities for men and women.
Under French rule the huge majority of highly-educated Algerian citizens were French settlers and other Europeans. Most of these people left immediately after Algeria gained independence in 1962. Since the 1970s governments have made education a priority, and today it accounts for some 40 per cent of government spending. But the task has been made difficult by the sheer number of children in Algeria 42 per cent of the population is aged under 15. In some places the number of pupils per teacher is so high that children go to school in shifts.
The typical school day starts at 8am. Extreme mid-day temperatures in desert regions mean that school-work has to stop for a rest period between late morning and mid-afternoon. All Algerias schools are state-run; private schools were abolished in 1976. Officially, attendance is compulsory for all children between 6 and 16 years old. In practice, many children leave school at 13 or earlier, while five per cent of school-aged boys and 15 per cent of girls go out to work rather than attending school. There are 18 major universities or technical colleges in Algeria, and about 12 per cent of schoolchildren go on to higher education.
The children of the Western Sahara
Thousands of Saharawi children have grown up in the refugee camps of the Western Sahara. Each of these four huge camps has its own primary school, with up to 2,500 pupils aged 11 to 14. There are two boarding-schools outside the camps for older students.
When the camps were first set up 24 years ago, 90 per cent of the children were illiterate. Today, 95 per cent of Saharawi children can read and write. This turn-around is all the more the remarkable in view of the limited resources in the Western Saharan camps.
A Kabylie Berber folk story: The Ogres Oak
I hope that my tale is beautiful, and unfolds like a long thread.
They say there was a poor old man who stayed alone in his little cottage, for he was very sick and could barely move. His bed was near the door, which he opened by pulling a string. The old man had a granddaughter, called Aicha, who brought him food every day. Aicha would sing out, "Open the door for me, oh papa Inoubba", and her grandfather would reply: "Make your bracelets jingle, Aicha my girl."
So she would jingle her bracelets and he would open the door. But one day an Ogre saw her and followed her to the cottage. He heard her sing out, "Open the door for me, oh papa Inoubba!" and her grandfathers reply. The Ogre said to himself, "Ill come back tomorrow, Ill say the words, and Ill get in and eat him!"
So he came the next day and in his gruff
low voice he said, "Open the door for me, oh papa Inoubba!"
"Get away from here, Evil One!", said the old man. "Did you think I wouldnt recognize your voice?"
The Ogre tried again for several days, but without success. He decided to ask the advice of a wizard. "Coat your throat with honey", said the wizard, "and then lie down in the sun with your mouth wide open. The ants will crawl into your throat and scratch it till your voice is high and clear!" So the Ogre did what he said. Sure enough, after he had done this for four days, his voice was as high as a little girls. He went back to the cottage and said, "Open the door for me, papa Inoubba!"
"Jingle your bracelets", said the old man. The ogre had a chain, and he made it jingle like Aichas bracelets. The old man opened the door, and the Ogre went in and devoured him. Afterwards he dressed himself in the old mans clothes, and waited for Aicha to come.
When she came she saw blood running from under the door. She was very frightened, and sang out, "Open the door for me, oh papa Inoubba!" The Ogre replied, in his high, girls voice, "Make your bracelets jingle, Oh Aicha, my girl!" Aicha heard that it wasnt her grandfathers voice. She put down the cake and the couscous she had brought and ran home to tell her parents what had happened. "What are we going to do?", she cried.
Her father went out to spread the terrible news. Everyone collected bundles of sticks, which they took to the cottage. They laid the sticks against the cottage and set them on fire. Inside, the Ogre threw his weight against the door with all his might in his attempt escape, but the door would not budge, and he burned to death. The next year, just where the burned cottage had stood, an oak tree grew. People call it The Ogres Oak, and show it to those who pass by.
My story is like a stream, and I have told it even to noblemen.
Adapted from a translation, courtesy of Michelle Duvall/WAAC
All the answers to the following questions can be found in the Algeria virtual journey and guide book pages.