TIN HINAN, Chapter 6, Part 2 and September 11th.

Yep, Modern Berber dancers

Yep, Modern Berber dancers

Moroccan Berber Women, with thanks to Marla Mallet

Moroccan Berber Women, with thanks to Marla Mallet

Zsar community, though in Iran, same as in Mountains of Algeria.  Thanks to friend Dr. RK Singh in India

Zsar community, though in Iran, same as in Mountains of Algeria. Thanks to friend Dr. RK Singh in India

Today is a national day of contemplation and mourning.  Upon deeper thought I realized  it is also  in part, a day of contemplating our ‘connectedness’ to the sea of humanity.  Perhaps the human characteristics of compassion, empathy and forgiveness, in big and small matters, personal and international, goes farther in defining us as human.  It is also tied to our creativity,  this issue of being ‘fully’  human, or our potential. So I decided to celebrate that part  with posting this second part of Chapter 6.  It gives a nod to this issue of ‘connectedness’.

Lady Nyo

(Amongst the Berbers, each tribe has a design for their embroidery and especially their rugs, or kilims.  They have been known down through the centuries for their well- woven kilims and today they are still known to be prized weavers. The rugs in this chapter would have been woven for home and trade amongst other tribes.  This weaving of rugs was the main business of Berber women in all areas.)

Chapter 6, Part 2

We were standing there, appraised by men,  no different than pack animals with their rolls of cloth and bags of spices. We could be plunder, if we had the courage to be truthful.  Immel Uzmir walked over and slapped Niefa into kneeling with his stick, helping me dismount.  Then led me to the group of elders who had moved back into the shade, though the sun was far down in the western sky.  My veil half hide my face, and I looked down as was proper.  Takama slipped off her donkey and came behind me. Her presence was a comfort in this strange environment, her tugging at my robes and I searching  for her hand.

“Welcome daughters to our village.”

I heard a raspy voice, looked up, and saw an old man,  his veil revealing his face.  His eyes were dulled black coals, but the expression on his grizzled face was warm, kind.

“Do not be afraid.  You and your woman are welcomed at our fire and to share our bread and salt.  We have need of women for wives to our men. We don’t need more slaves. We are growing old and need the comfort of the young. We want grandchildren on our knees.”

I felt tears in my eyes and quickly dropped my face to the ground, hoping to hide my women’s weakness.  Overcome by emotion, I faintly heard him speak through the pounding of the blood in my ears.  Remembering this from so long ago, I must have been very tired.

“My wife Leila will take you to our house and help you and your slave settle. My son Immel tells me you are from the desert a long way from our mountain.  You and your woman will find our life different, but the Gods are fair and merciful all over.”

I bowed my head, afraid to look up.  Now my tears would stain my face, perhaps the salt would run furrows in the last of the indigo dye fading from my face.  I had not expected any kindness, my heart bitter so long.  Fear had vanquished any hope.

Immel’s plump old mother led me through the large courtyard and up many steps to a small plateau where a single story mud- mortared stone house stood under the shade of a walnut tree. Goats and dogs werestretched out under the tree.  Well-pounded dirt made up the area in front of the house, and we entered the low doorway into a room cool and darkened.  After the heat and light of the afternoon, this was a blessed relief.

I blinked for a few moments, trying to get my eyes adjusted to the dim light.  When they did, I saw niches dug into the walls and pots and bowls within. The house must have been built right into the mountain. Rugs covered the dirt floor and some wooden chests along the walls I supposed contained clothes and precious stuffs. In a corner stood a small cloth loom. Along a wall was a cubbyhole with a large flat stone in front of it.   Later I would be told this was what they called a fire-place, to heat the room in winter.  The mountain was bitterly cold during the winter months and most of the rain of the year fell before spring. All cooking was done outside in front of the house, using the fire-place during the worst of the weather.  I had never seen such a thing, in fact, I had never been in a house.  The tents I was born in were sufficient for our desert environment.

As Immel Uzmir’s mother pulled the covering from the one deep- set window back, he came in, stooping to clear the low doorway.  He was followed by Takama, carrying our packs from our beasts.   She looked around silently, blinking,  amazed at the strange environment.

Even though the room was of a decent size, Immel Uzmir seemed to fill it. He was a tall man, made taller indoors by the low height of the ceiling. He addressed his mother first, and I could not follow their strange dialect.  He obviously was talking of me, for his eyes glanced over to where I was standing.  His mother either nodded or shook her head, and also glanced in my direction.  They spoke very fast, and even if I knew their dialect, I still would have trouble discerning what was said.

Finally he addressed me as Takama followed his mother to another room.

“The elders have yet to decide where you are to be placed, but for now, you and your woman will stay with my parents.  There is room enough and since my wife died, there is only my son to live here with my father and mother.  You will help her with the chores, and you will be a relief to her as her bones are old. She climbs these stairs each day with the water and wood for the cooking fire.”

Then without another word, he turned and stooped low to get himself out the door.  His mother returned and motioned for me to follow.  There were a couple of rooms stretched out across the face of the house.  They were small rooms but each had small rugs on the dirt floors.  As we passed through the first one, there were baskets, carved wooden bread bowls and trenchers, bags of grain and a couple of large clay jars that probably contained oil for cooking. Leila led us through another room, and then another, and there I saw Takama had placed our packs from our animals.  A bed was made up with folded rugs and quilts for us to sleep together, and it looked inviting.  I nodded and smiled shyly at Immel’s mother and she clucked like a mother hen.  She smiled, and her grin revealed she was all but toothless. She left and Takama and I sat on the low bed and quietly talked.

“At least we are safe, Aicha.” Takama was still nervous, but wiggled closer, me her only comfort in this strange environment.

“For now, it seems, but who knows what tomorrow will bring?  Perhaps they will sell us off as slaves to another tribe.  Only the Goddesses know or care, and maybe not even them.”

Takama eyes got wide at my blasphemy.  “Oh, Aicha! Don’t dare them to make our lot even worse!  We have a bed from the rain and cold, and we have the comfort of their fire and food.  At least we are not amongst the wolves in the mountains.”

“No, silly girl. We are still amongst the wolves on a mountain.  Just two-legged wolves and a different mountain.”

My words brought a nervous giggle from Takama.  “Do you think they will really sell us to another tribe?”

“You heard the elder, they want women for their sons, and grandchildren.  Perhaps you will find yourself a husband, if you don’t act foolish and begin to behave like a proper woman.”

“Oh Aicha, do you think this is to be our fate? That we are to live amongst these mountain people and the Goddesses were really listening to your prayers? Do you think this is their answer?”

Takama wriggled closer to me on the bed, and started taking off my heavy jewelry.  There was no reason for it now, and it would be better for me not to wear it among curious eyes.

“Well, girl, if this is their answer, they weren’t attending to my words carefully.  This is not what I envisioned for my plight.”

“But Aicha, what if this was their answer, their true answer, and they meant for you and me to settle here.  What if they wanted you to find a husband, to forget your revenge against your intended, what if –“

“Shut your mouth, you hurtful girl!”  I had lost my patience with Takama.   “Do the Goddesses forget my family has been shamed, that I have been disgraced?  What recourse have they given me? I will avenge my tribe’s shame.  Surely even a foolish desert girl, who knows so little, can understand this?”

Takama just nodded and shut up.  I think she was thinking about a future husband for she was at that age, and thought constantly about those things.  I had seen her, along our many days in the desert, in deep thought, and perhaps it was first the shock of leaving her family, but then, her mood seemed to brighten.  We were on an adventure, both of us for different reasons, but both of us with some expectations of the future.  Mine was wrapped up in thoughts of revenge, and hers?  Only Takama would know, and her silent goddesses.

Immel’s mother came back and called us to follow.  The feasting would begin and men had come into the courtyard.  We saw platters of food set on rugs on the ground. We could hear music, and recognized the sounds of the instruments.

The bendir, a frame drum common to our own tribe, was beating softly somewhere under the eaves of the wooden structure that ran along one side of the large courtyard.  There, on low benches, under the soft lighting of torches, were the elder men of the tribe, sitting and talking softly amongst themselves.  Early darkness had already fallen, for the afternoon had disappeared when we were in Immel’s house. The air had grown chilly. I pulled my tribe’s djellaba around my body and was glad it was made of wool.

Immel’s mother Leila led us to the women’s section, where they sat on rugs or on cushions,  chatting and laughing and probably discussing what the raiders brought home. As we approached, all talk ceased, and the women stared at us. Immel’s mother motioned for us to sit on a rug, and she said something to the group of women nearest to her.  They erupted in laughter, and I knew it was about us. But being well-bred young women, we knew to keep our eyes cast down until we were addressed.  As strangers, we would only be expected to answer questions and not engage in the general conversation.  We had no status amongst them, or what we had was still undecided.  Tomorrow our fate could change and we could be sold as slaves to whatever tribe was nearby.  For tonight, we silently prayed that our bellies would be filled and our sleep undisturbed.

I was addressed by one of the elderly women and I lifted my eyes to her face.  She was a wrinkled old crone, but obviously had status for she wore a heavy silver necklace and large silver discs in a chain over the headscarf.

“How old are you, my daughter?”  Her voice was flat, not the musical notes of our desert tribe, but she spoke slowly and carefully.

“I am eighteen, Grandmother,” I answered.

“Why were you in the mountains alone, except for your slave? Were you running away from your husband?  You are young to be alone.  Where is your tribe?”

I thought how I should answer her. Respect would have to be shown, for the women of a tribe can make your life miserable if you hold yourself above the general chatter and gossip.  I knew this all too well from the behavior of my own kinswomen.  Any answer except the truth would be found out.  There is not much that goes on in a tribe, between tents, that is not intimately known by the old women.  All tribes would be the same, for women are the river of life of any gathering.

“My tribe, Mother, is three full moons from here.  My woman and I set out across the desert to answer the demands of the Goddess.”  I thought that would satisfy her and for a few minutes, it did.

“But what Goddess talked to you? Was it Isis or Tanit that you prayed to?”  Old women can be nosey and this one definitely was.

“I prayed to all of them, Mother.”  I thought she would chew on this for a while, but I was wrong.

“What troubles could such a young girl have that she would pray to all of them?”

Ah, this nosey old witch would not let me rest! Her questions had drawn the curiosity of the other women.  General conversation had stopped and I knew my answers would become part of the general gossip later.

I breathed out a deep sigh and cast my eyes down. Well, perhaps they would leave me in peace if I gave them what women love best. More gossip.

“Grandmother”, I began slowly, my voice barely above a whisper.  “I was to be married, the contract was made and the gifts delivered.  Right before the marriage ceremony, my intended went to live in the tent of another.”

There is nothing women love better than stories of betrayal and thwarted love. A general sigh went up from those listening, here and there a muted wail, and one woman reached over and patted my knee.  We Berber women are known for our storytelling and we love to weave tales of love and poems of our love-misery.  I should have locked up my tongue but we all like an audience of sympathetic women.  Plus, I needed their kindness for Takama and I were strangers and that is reason enough to appeal to a mother’s concern.  I had the advantage of many mothers listening to my words of woe.

Warming to my task, I told them of my collapse and senselessness for three days. How my kinswomen took such good care of me, spooning broth into my mouth, and how my cheeks grew chapped with my tears. I spoke of how my mother would not allow me to leave her bed, but fearful of my love- madness, made me sleep in her arms like her last child.

I told them how I went into the desert for nights and prayed and exhorted the Goddesses, Ifri, Isis, Tanit and others to give me a sign of what to do.  I knew the insult thrown at my tribe would draw us to war.

Ah! I was quite carried away with emotion, and if I had stopped to think about it, there was more anger and hurt in my words than what I was now willing to admit.  I even pulled back my head scarf and revealed my shorn locks, and a shocked exclamation went up from the listeners.  Suddenly, I heard Takama groan and sob, for my words quite over came her.

“What she speaks is only the truth!”  Takama spoke through her sobs and would add to my displayed misery.

“Our tribe is not as large as her false love, and if we went to war there would be much killing.  My mistress sacrificed herself for her great love of our tribe. In a state of madness, which was given as courage by the Goddesses– she cut off her beautiful hair that came down to her buttocks and asking the forgiveness of her father, she rode into the desert as the Goddesses commanded!”

Now I can laugh at Takama’s words, for when we had left, there were no commands from any Goddesses.  I had grown angry at their silence and cursed them and Hasim equally.  That was not necessary to relate to these women.  A number of them, the younger ones, openly sobbed and threw their shawls over their faces in grief at my tale.  By now, all the women were listening to Takama’s words and I had to pinch her to get her to stop.   God knows only what else my loyal Takama would have said, for we are a people who enjoy an embellished story.

From that night, the women of this mountainous tribe embraced and welcomed us as all women with livers would do. We ate well of the mutton and goat and even drank watered wine, for these people had cultivated a wild grape that was sweet in the mouth.

The welcoming of the men and their prizes went on for hours, but whether it was the wine or our exhaustion, Takama and I fell asleep where we sat. Perhaps it was the music of the sweet ajonag flute and the bendir drum that pulled us to sleep. Only later did we wake and neither of us recalled the climb up the steps to the house of Immel Uzmir.  We fell on our bed, Takama and I, without removing our clothes and slept like the dead.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2007, 2009

PS:  was sent a blog that is a Berber Music site:

http://www.ait-zeggan.com     This is interesting music, you just have to listen for a while.  I think the  video is also interesting….the four women dancing shows how prevelant belly dance is all over.

Lady Nyo

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2 Responses to “TIN HINAN, Chapter 6, Part 2 and September 11th.”

  1. shia1 Says:

    Hi Lady Nyo. What a gift you have to take the reader to a different time and place. I really enjoyed this chapter. The women were friendly yet stand offish for a bit. She weaved her story carefully and caught their attention and hearts. You have a beautiful way of saying this. It is enchanting and entertaining. You seem to have lived it to have written about it so well.



  2. ladynyo Says:

    Hi shia!

    Thank you so much for first reading and then commenting…..Writers love readers! It’s like flying with one wing without them.

    Entertaining…yes, that is what we try to do…those of us writers who are just storytellers. I don’t claim to be much more as a writer…and if I can entertain myself, entertaining others is a great extra.

    I tried to get the feeling of their isolation and trepidation…I think that, cultural differences aside, the human emotions are transferable throughout the centuries.

    And about living it?? Some mornings I feel rather….6th Century….LOL!

    Thank you, shia. I hope to further please. I have received some crits on that part and will apply them in the rewrite.



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