About Kabyle Dance and Costume...

Imazighen (Berbers) are considered to be the first inhabitants of North Africa (The Maghreb). Their historical origins remain a mystery. Imazighen means Free People. They represent the majority in Algeria and Morocco where they continue to struggle to maintain their identity in a very oppressive political climate. The Kabyles, the largest Berber-speaking tribe in Africa, occupy the mountainous coastal area of Kabylia, in northern Algeria. Please see Moh Alileche's site for more information on the Berber situation in Algeria.

Traditional Berber dances are mostly ritual in nature. The dance is both a public and personal expression, rich in symbolic dimensions that deal with subjects such as the fertility of Mother Earth, the rites of marriage and birth, and the communication between the earthly and the Divine. The Kabyle Berber dances we perform are drawn from this rich colorful dance tradition that has been sustained by the unveiled, earthy, powerful and proud women of the Kabylia.

The traditional costume of Kabylia shows a love of vivid colors and design, and is made up of several facets: The djebba or dress is the basic element of the costume. The basic shape of all the dresses is similar, but the wearer (who is traditionally the creator of the garment) adds her individual flair in the decoration of the sleeves, hem and yoke. Often the yoke is embellished with a huge flounce that extends over the shoulders and is brightly decorated with embroidery and trim. These patterns of decoration are influenced by Tamazight (the Berber language) writing and the local flora and fauna. Dresses for special occasions are made from finer fabric and are more elaborately decorated than those for day-to-day wear.

The foudha or apron, is a woven, striped piece of fabric. The red, black and yellow stripes that make up the pattern are considered the signature of the Kabyle woman. It is worn daily, and protects the dress from the rigors of everyday life. It is trimmed along the hem in a similar fashion to the dress. As with the dresses, the fancier foudhas are reserved for special occasions.

The belt, or h'zam, is made from multicolored yarns and has pom-poms at the ends. It is worn at the waist and is often seen as part of the head covering, helping to hold down the headscarf, or m'harma. The m'harma is usually black but can also be a floral and is tied in a triangular, bandana style. Sometimes various pieces of jewelry such as fibulae or forehead drapes made from coins and cowrie shells are added for special occasions.