Fans rejoice: a brand new cooperative war game is now available for fans of epic adventures. Illustrated by the Kabyle artist Ahcene Blibek, this game is entitled The Red Burnoose: Algeria 1857. It invites us to interpret “the role of the Kabyle people who try to repel the French who want to conquer their land”. With a heroine as a bonus, the great Kabyle resistance fighter Lalla Fatma N’Soumer (1830-1863). Beyond the playful nature of this wargame, the reference to Lalla Fatma N’Soumer recalls characteristics of precolonial Kabyle religiosity. The Kabyle fighter was indeed considered by many as a prophetess, preacher, eminent figure of a Sufi tariqa, the Rahmaniyya brotherhood. In short, the warrior was also a Muslim mystic.
But what pre-colonial Islam? What popular religiosity? What a debate around this subject! Favored by the colonizer, a hard-living “Kabyle myth” defends that the authentic religion of the Kabyles would have been, before Islam, Christianity. The historical reality is quite different. There is certainly no doubt that some Kabyles turned to faith in Jesus Christ at the beginning of our era. But the Roman armies (with which the Christian religion advanced) never really crossed the “mountains of iron”. The Christian Amazigh communities, whose most illustrious ambassador remains Saint Augustine, were not robust enough to deeply Christianize the Kabyle mountains. There is no historical trace of Christian communities in Kabylie at the end of the first millennium. The arrival of Islam, on the other hand, led to a very deep Muslim anchorage. Until colonization, during which the White Fathers and some Protestants tried, without much impact, to establish Christianity. After decolonization, it’s different music: a largely endogenous evangelical Christianity, by and for the Kabyles, has developed. With its hymnology, its Bible in the vernacular, its films, its dances and its faith in Sidna Aïssa. In a study published in 2020, Mohand Tilmatine, a researcher at the University of Cadiz, estimates the number of evangelical churches in Kabylia at fifty in 2018. This is undoubtedly more today, despite the discrimination encountered. If the hypothesis of a “resurgence” of an earlier Christianity hardly holds to explain this Christian growth, how, suddenly, can we understand the blossoming of a flourishing Kabyle evangelicalism today?
The reminder, via this new game The Red Burnoose, of the emblematic figure of Lalla Fatma N’Soumer, Sufi prophetess, puts us on another track: at a distance from the Christian colonial attempts, and from a mythified Christian past (long forgotten at the time of the conquest of Algeria), current Kabyle evangelism would partially reconnect with certain precolonial religious forms that were alive in the 19th century. Drawing from the sources of a popular Kabyle religiosity, sometimes brotherly, mystical, Sufi, where women had certain spaces of speech and authority. Who knows if the descendants of Lalla Fatma N’Soumer do not find their account, today, in the united and fervent evangelical charismaticism, preached in the Amazigh language in mixed assemblies? With two discrepancies claimed by Kabyle Christians: on the one hand the centrality and divinity of Jesus Christ, on the other hand the emphasis on forgiveness and grace, which diverts temptations of insurrection.