TIN HINAN, Chapter 6, Part 1

Berber Woman from around 1910 dressed in tribal jewelry

Berber Woman from around 1910 dressed in tribal jewelry

A Berber Ksar in the Atlas Mountains, Morocco

A Berber Ksar in the Atlas Mountains, Morocco

(This is a long chapter, so it will be posted in two parts)

Chapter Six

The next morning the men rose before dawn, excited to be going home and proud of the booty they carried. Joking and calling out to each other, they scurried to break camp.  Camels bellowed  and horses shied at the turmoil. Only the pack mules waited patiently for their burdens.

“Takama”, I called, looking around for the girl.  Usually underfoot, this morning she was talking to a man.  Ah! I would whip her soundly for her immodesty!

“I am here, Aicha.  I was only trying to find out when we would be in the mountains.”

“You will be there fast enough.  Have you no fear?  These men are not our tribe.  You still could be plunder.”

I scowled at her and her face showed fear.  Good.  Let her think before she talked to men again.

Takama and I dressed in our tribe’s red and white striped djellaba while I carefully secured the scarf around my shorn head.  Takama unpacked some of my jewelry, and placed a silver coined circlet on my forehead.  She insisted I wear more of my jewelry to appear noble.  I might be a prisoner, but I was not a slave.

Immel Uzmir bullied and cajoled his tribesmen into some sort of readiness.  He rode to where Takama and I were mounted, she on her donkey, and I on Niefa. His horse was a fine large beast, prancing with spirit.  Immel Uzmir slapped his neck to quiet him, and looked at us appraisingly. His horse twisted around and tried to break into a run, but he pulled him up short. Immel Uzim smiled a great, toothy grin, his veil not yet secured over his mouth, as his eyes swept us both.  Then, with a hard kick to the horse’s flanks, he flew to the front of the caravan.  The camels were bellowing, complaining loudly, and the men were using their sticks to beat the stubborn mules into a walk.

We plodded for a couple of hours across that lush valley, passing  groves of walnuts and apricots. Some shepherds tending their flocks of goats and sheep waved and shouted, recognizing the men. We came to a river half way across the valley, and had to forge its waters, though it wasn’t deep.  Water came to the breasts of the camels, though the smaller mules had to swim, helped along by men on the larger horses.  There were a couple of packs lost in the river, but they were retrieved with effort.

We were in a wide valley, placed between two mountain ranges. The weather was cold at this altitude.  I wished I had unpacked my heavier wool robe. I looked back at Takama on her donkey.  She was a slave, but she rode with dignity, her head held high, her nose disdainfully up in the air.  I wondered how long she would hold that position.  We had a long way to go across the valley.

We continued onward  for no one wanted to stop for a midday meal in their haste to get home.  A scout had been sent ahead early that morning. He should arrive well ahead of the caravan.  By then the tribe, warned of our approach, would have slaughtered goats and sheep for a welcoming feast.  I was hungry, for breakfast was, again, a handful of dates and a gourd of water.  No one had time to milk a camel.

We crossed to the second half of the valley, and although far away, I could see structures on the side of the mountain.  They were mountain ksars as Immel Uzmir explained.  His tribe did not live in the rough, woven goat hair tents as we desert Berbers did, but built stone one-story houses and mud granaries.   This would be very different from what we were used to.  Although I tried to maintain an aloof manner, conscious I would appear no more than a part of the plunder, I was excited.  I did not know the measure of my fate but I was curious and fearful at the same time.

The caravan made its way towards the forest at the foot of the mountain.  As we cleared an orchard of walnut trees, I could see the mass of buildings dotting the face of the mountain.   Arranged up the side, they were like beehives, plastered mud structures. These were the granaries and storage rooms.  People lived in one story stone houses, built wherever there was flat ground, but farther up the mountain amongst walnut orchards. Some lived, I was told later, in rooms hollowed out of the mountain, and these rooms were cool in the summer and warm enough in winter.

As we came closer, I saw young boys run out to greet and bedevil the men as young boys do.  They hung on the mules and pulled on the packs and dodged the whips of their fathers and uncles.  They yelled and chortled and danced in excitement.  Then, floating over the valley, that fierce ululation of Berber women made the hair of my arms stand up.  They were welcoming home their men, each hoping her beloved was amongst the returning.

We pulled into a large courtyard, a great cacophony of sound from the camels, men, women and children. There was a line of elders standing apart from the general milling chaos.  These were the men who would pass judgement on our future.  Niefa, to her honor, stood quietly, while I sat stiffly on her back.  I was not a part of the welcome, for these people were strangers and most probably my masters now.  Whether I would be seen as a spoil of a raid and therefore just a slave, was up to the Gods. I hoped desperately Takama and I would not be separated.  She was the only touchstone I had to my past.

Amongst the noise and confusion, I saw men and women come to where Immel Uzmir had slipped off his horse.  He was embraced by an older woman, probably his mother, and several younger ones, possibly his kinswomen.  I did not know if he had any wives for it would have been not proper to discuss this. The line of elders moved to embrace him and welcome him home.  Clearly he was an important man.

I looked around at Takama and smiled weakly in encouragement. She looked scared.   She was unsure of her future and had no reason for optimism. She was only a slave, had known only kindness from our tribe. Although we were treated fairly during the caravan, coming into the ksar could prove a different fate.

“Aicha…Aicha”, whispered Takama as she drew close to Niefa.   “What do you think will happen to us? Did you see how their dwellings cling to the mountain side?  Aeeeiiii! How will we ever walk those hills?”

“Do I look like a smelly, old fortune teller, girl?  You keep asking questions and I have no answers. Just be patient.  Perhaps you will find a husband by some fire, eh?”

“Oh, Aicha!  Don’t scare me.  These men are not our people. They just look like our tribe.  They could be very cruel, what do we know yet?”

“Yes, stupid girl.  What do we know?  They haven’t roasted us at their fires, they haven’t fed us to mountain wolves and we still have our fingers and toes.  Be patient, Takama, or I will have to beat you.”

I was anxious myself, and just wanted quiet.  My liver was uneasy, for I had not only led myself into uncertainty, but another soul.  I was responsible for Takama, even though she was but a slave.  The Gods would still hold me accountable  for her keeping.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2009

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4 Responses to “TIN HINAN, Chapter 6, Part 1”

  1. Berowne Says:

    A compelling narrative! Just one spelling comment: I think “had know only kindness from our tribe” towards the end should be “known”.


  2. ladynyo Says:

    Oh!! Bad me….LOL!…but GOOD you…thank you. I skim these chapters and miss a lot.

    I can’t wait to post the ending of this chapter because it’s…touching.

    I really forgot about this novella written two years ago, but resurrecting it has been a lot of fun for me…and hopefully for others.

    I’ll probably post the Part 2 of this chapter around Friday..

    Thank you, Berowne for reading and commenting….

    I think the visuals helps so much…and that 1910 photo probably isn’t much different in style from the 6th century..things are very slow to change with the mountainous Berbers….This pix was about what I ‘saw’ as Tin…..and that cross tattooed between her eyes? Well, early on, many Berbers were Christians…..Donatists I think was the term. But by 1910, she probably was Sunni Muslim.



  3. Berowne Says:

    I wonder if the cross might be just decorative, or at least not proclaim its wearer a Christian. (Though she is certainly ready with bus fare…) Islam does not entirely reject Christian iconography, as I understand. I think the Donatists were wiped out in the advance of Islam across northern Africa, though it’s a good question how far inland that penetrated.

    You might find this interesting, from

    “a legendary (mythic) Berber woman warrior who was known as Cyre. Cyre was, according to the legend, a courageous lion-hunting woman. She gave her name to the city Cyrene.”


  4. ladynyo Says:

    I did! and I thank you for it, Berowne.

    I started to read this site this morning, but didn’t get very far…I will continue tomorrow. I am curious about Cyre, and will look her up as I can.

    As for the cross, well, it shows up in many cultures, so I think it is purely for decoration, but the Berbers took religious influence at various times from Christians, Jews and other sources….depending where they were.

    I’ll have to research more on the Donatists….I just don’t know…but I DO know that the Berbers held out…some of the tribes ..against Islam into the early 20th century. They had their own Gods and Goddesses, especially in the Ahoggar region in Algeria.

    I had to laugh a bit at Wiki.’s description of the food. I have been fed by Berbers before and the dishes….especially the sweets would make your head spin and your blood sugar skyrocket:

    “Soon the shelves around the room were stacked with trays of honey cakes, stuffed preserved dates, honey-rolled almonds, sticky honeyed oranges and lemon, ginger root, anise seed cookies, sesame cookies, cherry and walnut cookies and more pastries than I could count. Honey cakes were plentiful and rather plain fare after what those women cooked in three days. ”

    Plus the Gazelle’s Horns, which are a particular sweet pastry. I think they are actually “Ram’s Horns” which is the symbol of Amun…or Amon.

    this above is from the 11 Chapter…a wedding preparation. I have sampled some of them before. They are sweets indeed.

    Thank you, Berowne for continuing to read this novella…and for coming up with some good ideas and sites. I wrote all this two years ago, and I can certainly ‘beef’ up the cultural things…the Berbers are a fascinating and worthy of study people.

    And they have great dances and music!



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