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VI. Material Culture

Food and Economy
Food in Daily Life.

The national dish of Algeria is couscous, steamed semolina wheat served with lamb or chicken, cooked vegetables, and gravy. This is so basic to the Algerian diet that its name in Arabic, ta’am, translates as “food.” Common flavorings include onions, turnips, raisins, chickpeas, and red peppers, as well as salt, pepper, cumin, and coriander. Alternatively, couscous can be served sweet, flavored with honey, cinnamon, or almonds. Lamb also is popular, and often is prepared over an open fire and served with bread. This dish is called mechoui.Other common foods arechorba, a spicy soup; dolma, a mixture of tomatoes and peppers, and bourek,a specialty of Algiers consisting of mincemeat with onions and fried eggs, rolled and fried in batter. The traditional Berber meal among the poorer people is a cake made of mixed grains and a drink mixed together from crushed goat cheese, dates, and water.

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Strong black coffee and sweetened mint tea are popular, as well asapricot or other sweetened fruit juices. Laban also is drunk, a mixture of yogurt and water with mint leaves for flavoring. Algeria grows grapes and produces its own wine, but alcohol is not widely consumed, as it is forbidden by the Islamic religion.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions
Religious holidays are often celebrated with special foods. For the birthday of Muhammad, a holiday called Mulud, dried fruits are a common treat. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims refrain from food and drink during the daylight hours. Each evening, the fast is broken with a family meal. Eid al-Fitr, the final breaking of the Ramadan fast, involves consuming large quantities of foods, sweets, and pastries in particular.

Basic Economy
Algeria’s economy is based primarily on oil and natural gas. The nation has the world’s fifth-largest reserves of natural gas and is the second-largest exporter. It also has the fourteenth-largest reserves of oil.

At independence, the economy was primarily based on agriculture, although since then other industries have eclipsed the importance of farming. Currently 22 percent of thepopulation arefarmers, but their production accounts for only 6 percent of the country’s economy. The agricultural industry is plagued by droughts, encroaching desert, poor irrigation, and lack of machinery as well as by government policies that favor industry over farming. Most food produced is for local consumption; the most common crops include wheat, barley, corn, and rice, as well as fruits and vegetables. However, Algeria is able to produce only 25 percent of its food needs.

Thirty percent of the labor force is employed by the government; 16 percent in construction and public works; 13 percent in industry; and 5 percent in transportation and communications. The country has a serious problem with unemployment, with a rate of 30 percent. This hasleada number of men to migrate to the cities in search of work. There also are a significant number of Algerians who have immigrated to France to find jobs. Many of them return home in the summer to see their families.

Land Tenure and Property
When the country was under French rule, the colonizers owned the best farmland, while the Algerians were forced to work the less fertile areas. In the southern plateau and desert regions in particular, many people are nomadic tent-dwellers, who lead their animals from one pasture to another and lay no claim to any land. At independence, the government set up cooperative farms and made some attempt to redistribute land under a socialist model. Under Ben Bella’s March Decrees of 1963, which allowed the takeover of property abandoned by French colonists, the government itself became the owner of the best farmland, as well as factories, mines, banks, and the transportation system. However, economic inequality has remained a pressing problem and hasleadto riots and violent outbreaks.

Commercial Activities
The center of commercial life in Algeria is the souk ,large, open-air markets where farmers and craftspeople sell their products. One can buy locally produced meat, fruits, vegetables, and grainsoats, barley, grapes, olives, citrus fruitas well as woven rugs, jewelry, baskets, metalwork, and other crafts. Souks are held regularlyin regional centers, as well as in the old districts of major cities. Traditionally things were bought and sold by the barter method, and while this still exists, most trading today is done with cash.

Major Industries. The largest industry in Algeria is the production and processing of oil and gas. Services (trade, transport, and communications) also are important. Other industries include agriculture, construction, mining, and manufacturing.

Algeria’s main exports are oil and gas, followed by dates, tobacco, leather goods, vegetables, and phosphates. The primary trading partners are Italy, France, Spain, Brazil, the Netherlands,and[fj] the United States. Imports include raw materials, food, beverages, and consumer products. However, the government imposes strict regulations on imports in an effort to make the country more self-sufficient.

Division of Labor
Most of Algeria’s workers are unskilled. However, many of the jobs in the country’s industries require specific training, and this fact contributes to the high unemployment rate. The government has made an effort to change this by starting specialized training programs. Although they have the freedom to pursue whatever career path they choose, many Algerians are constrained by financial hardship and the unpromising job market.

Social Stratification
Classes and Castes
The majority of Algerians are poor. Those who are better off are almost always Arabs, and tend to be urban and well educated. The upper classes generally look down not just upon the Berbers, but also upon rural, seminomadic Arabs who speak a different dialect. However, most Algerians are racially a mix of Arab and Berber, and variations in skin tone and hair color are not reflected in social standing.

Symbols of Social Stratification
In the cities, most men, and some younger women, now wear European-style clothing. The traditional garb is a white woolen cloak, calledagandoura,wornover a long cotton shirt. A cape calledaburnousissometimes draped over the shoulders; it is made of linen for the summer and wool for the winter. Sometimes theburnousis plain, or sometimes it is adorned with fancy embroidery, indicating the wealth ofwearer. The traditional head covering is a red fez wrapped with a white cloth.

Women’s clothing is similar, although more complete in its coverage.Thehaikdrapesthem from head to foot, and is worn over loose pants, which are gathered at the ankle.Tuaregmen can be distinguished by the length of indigo cloth they wear wrapped around the head in a turban, extending over their robes, and covering them completely with the exception of their eyes.Political Life
Algeria is officially a multiparty republic. It has been controlled since independence by the FLN. In 1988 a new constitution legalized other parties, although certain militant Islamic groups, such as the FIS, have been outlawed. There is one legislative house, the National People’s Assembly, composed of 295 elected deputies who serve five-year terms and are allowed to run for consecutive terms. They prepare and vote on all the country’s laws, excluding issues of national defense. There is universal suffrage. The president is elected to an indefinitely renewable five-year term. He appoints a prime minister, who appoints a cabinet. The country is divided into forty-eight provinces, orwilayat,each of which elects its own assembly. The governor, orwali,is appointed by the national government, and serves as the primary liaison between local and federal government. The wilayat are further divided into administrative districts ordiaraat,which are themselves broken up into communes.

Leadership and Political Officials
There is a strongly felt divide in Algeria society between the political elite and the majority of the population, who feel largely disenfranchised and powerless. Because the people feel that they are not represented in the government, many resort to violent action as their only form of political expression.

Social Problems and Control
There is a large degree of social unrest, which is exacerbated by both political repression and unemployment. The political repression gives way not infrequently to various forms of terrorism, including kidnaping and the murder of civilians. The high unemployment rate has contributed to an increase in crime, particularly in the cities.

There are forty-eight provincial courts, one for eachwilayat, plus an additional two hundred tribunals spread throughout the country. The tribunal is the first level in the justice system. Above this is the provincial court. The highest level for appeals is thesupreme court. Also there are three courts that deal with economic crimes against the state. Their verdicts are final and cannot be appealed. The Court of State Security, composed of magistrates and army officers, tries cases involving state security.

Military Activity
The president is commander in chief of Algeria’s armed forces, which total 121,700, including an army of 105,000, a navy of 6,700, and an air force of 10,000. There also are 150,000 reservists. Military expenditures are $1.3 billion (U.S.), 2.7 percent of the total budget.

Social Welfare and Change Programs
The government provides free health care for children under sixteen and adults over sixty. It also offers pensions to the elderly and disabled, and gives allowances for families with children. The welfare system is financed by contributions from employers and employees as well as the state.

Algeria also receives aid from various countries that send specialists to help with the development of education, industry, health care, and the military.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations
Algeria is a member of the Arab League, whose goal is to strengthen ties among Arab nations, to coordinate their policies, and to protect their common interests. Algeria also is part of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which coordinates policies among its member states.Gender Roles and Statuses
Division of Labor byGender.Womenwork almost exclusively in the home, taking care of all domestic chores.Anything that involves leaving the house is taken care of by men, including shopping. Only 7 percent of women work outside the home, most of these in traditionally female professions such as secretarial work, teaching, or nursing. (However, this 7 percent does not include women who work in agriculture, and in farming communities; it is common for women as well as men to work in the fields.) Women are allowed to run for public office, but such attempts are still extremely rare.

The Relative Status of Women andMen.Asin Arabic culture in general, women in Algeria are considered weaker than men, and in need of protection. Men are entrusted with most important decisions. Women live in a very confined circle of house and family; their only contact asidefrom male family members is with other women. Men, on the other hand, have a much broader sphere, which includes the mosque, the streets, marketplaces, and coffee shops. Independence did not bring much change in this realm. Although the new government adopted socialist principles, gender equality faced great opposition from conservative Islamic groups.

The Berbers have their own concepts and practices regarding gender, which vary widely among the different groups. The role ofKabylewomen is most similar to the Arabic tradition; they are unable to inherit property or to remarry without the consent of the husband who divorced them. TheChaouiawomen, while still socially restricted, are thought to havespecial magical powers, which givesthem a slightly higher status. TheM’zabitesadvocate social equality and literacy for men and women within their villages but do not allow the women to leave these confines. TheTuaregsare an anomaly among Muslim cultures in that the society is dominated more by women than by men. Whereas it is traditional in Islam for women to wear veils, among theTuaregsit is the men who are veiled. Women control the economy and property, and education is provided equally to boys and girls.

Marriage, Family and Kinship
Marriage.Marriagesin Algeria are traditionally arranged either by parents of the couple or by a professional matchmaker. Despite its prevalence in Algeria, the influx of Western culture has had little influence in this realm, as the majority of marriages still are arranged. It is considered not just the union of two individuals, but also of two families. Wedding celebrations last for days, including music, special sweets, and ritual baths for the bride. The groom covers the costs of the festivities.

By a law passed in 1984, women gained the right to child custody and to their own dowries. However, the law also considers women permanent minors, needing the consent of their husbands or fathers for most activities, including working outside the home. The decision to divorce rests solely with the husband. It is still legally permissible, although rare, for men to have up to four wives, a code that is laid out in theQuran(Koran).

DomesticUnit.Traditionallythe domestic unit included whole extended families. The husband, his wives, and their children continued to live with the husband’s parents. Grandparents also were part of the household, as were widowed or divorced daughters and aunts and their children. This has changed somewhat since independence, with increasing urbanization and the trend toward smaller families. However, it is still common for Algerian women to have between seven and nine children.

Inheritance.Inheritancepasses from father to the eldest son. If there are no children, land and belongings are distributed among other relatives.

KinGroups.Inareas of the country with a stronger Arab influence, affiliations are based mostly on blood relations. Loyalty to family is more powerful than any other relationship or responsibility. Traditionally, kin groups have lived in close proximity. Today these ties are somewhat weaker than in the past, due to the influence of urbanization and modernization, but even in the cities, life still centersaroundthe family.

In the Berber tradition, loyalty breaks down along the lines of village groupings,orsofs.Thesegroups are political, and part of a democratic process governing life in the village.

VII. Socialization
InfantCare.Asin many cultures, infant care is an exclusively female domain. Most women almost never leave the home and thus are never far from their infant children.

Child Rearing andEducation.Childrenare highly valued in Arabic society and are considered a wealth and a blessing to their parents. However, child rearing standards differ significantly for male and female children: Girls are taught to be obedient to all males, while boys learn that the primary function of girls and women is to attend to the males’ needs and desires. Girls typically have more duties and chores than boys, who are free to play and spend more time out of doors. Traditionally, only boys were educated, although this has begun to change in recent times.

In 1977, only 42 percent of the population was literate. This increased to 57 percent in 1990, with a male literacy rate of 70 percent and a female rate of 45 percent. The government has concentrated its efforts more on youth than on adult literacy.

Before independence, the Algerian education system was based on the French model. The majority of Algerian children did not attend school. In the years since 1971, the government made education free and mandatory for children between ages six and fifteen, and has made an effort to use the education system to define the nation. Its program stresses the study of the Arabic language as well as technical skills. Ninety percent of children in the cities and 67 percent of rural children now attend primary school. Half of all eligible secondary-age children are enrolled. Girls now comprise 38 percent of students in the secondary schools, a significant increase frompreindependencedays, when virtually no females attended schools. Despite its lofty goals, however, the system has had difficulty accommodating the increasing population of students, while the number of qualified teachers has diminished. In 1985 a total of 71 percent of secondary teachers were foreign.

HigherEducation.DuringFrench rule, the sole university in the country, in Algiers, was open only to French students. Today there are more than thirty institutes of higher learning, with universities in a number of cities, including Algiers, Oran, Constantine, Annaba, andTlemcen. This also includes state-funded institutes for technical, agricultural, vocational, and teacher training. A number of Algerians study abroad as well, and the government pays to send them to the United States, Eastern Europe, and Russia.

Greetings are lengthy and involved, including inquiries into health and family. Social interactions are much more common among members of the same gender than between men and women. Public displays of affectiontouching, hand-holding between men and women are rare, but not between members of the same sex.

Algerians are known for their hospitality and generosity. Visiting is a mainstay of social life, mostly within the circle of extended family. The host serves tea or coffee and sweets.

ReligiousBeliefs.Ninety-nine percent of Algeria is Sunni Muslim. There also is a tiny Jewish community, whose presence goes back centuries. Christianity has existed in Algeria since the Roman era, but despite efforts (particularly by the French colonizers) to convert, the number of Algerian Christians is very small. Islam forms the basis not only of religious life in Algeria but also is a unifying force (both within the country and with other Arab nations), creating for all believers a common ground that is both cultural and spiritual. There is a range of observance among Algerian Muslims; rural people tend to hold more strictly to the traditional practices.

There also are remnants of the indigenous Berber religion, which has been almost entirely subsumed by Islam. Despite opposition by both the French colonizers and the Algerian government (who viewed this religion as a threat to the unity of the country), there are still some organizations, called brotherhoods, that hold on to their magical practices and ceremonies.

The term Islam means submission to God. It shares certain prophets, traditions, and beliefs with Judaism and Christianity, the main difference being the Muslim belief that Muhammad is the final prophet and the embodiment of God, or Allah. The foundation of Islamic belief is called the Five Pillars. The first, theShahada, is profession of faith. The second is prayer, orSalat. Muslims pray five times a day; it is not necessary to go to the mosque, but the call to prayer echoes out over each city or town from the minarets of the holy buildings. Friday is the Muslim Sabbath, and the most important prayer of the week is the noon prayer on this day. The third Pillar, Zakat, is the principle of almsgiving. The fourth is fasting, which is observed during the month of Ramadan each year, when Muslims abstain from food and drink during the daylight hours. The fifth Pillar is the Hajj, the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, in present-day Saudi Arabia, which every Muslim must make at some time in his or her life.

ReligiousPractitioners.Thereareno priests or clergy in Islam. There are, however, mencalledmufti,whointerpret theQuran(the Muslim holy book) for legal purposes, as wellaskhatib,whoread theQuranin the mosques,andimam,wholeadprayers in the mosques. There arealsomuezzins,whogive the call to prayer. TheQuran, rather than any religious leader, is considered the ultimate authority, and holds the answer to any question or dilemma one might have.

In the indigenous Berber religion, the holy men,calledmarabouts,werethought to be endowed by God with special powers.

Rituals and HolyPlaces.Themost important observation in the Islamic calendar is Ramadan. This month of fasting is followed by the joyous
feastofEidalFitr, during which families visit and exchange gifts.Eidal-Adhacommemorates the end of Muhammad’s Hajj.

The mosque is the Muslim house of worship. Outside the door there are washing facilities, as cleanliness is a necessary prerequisite to prayer, demonstrating humility before God. One also must remove one’s shoes before entering the mosque. According to Islamic tradition, women are not allowed inside. The interior has no altar; it is simply an open carpeted space. Because Muslims are supposed to pray facing Mecca, there is a small niche carved into the wall pointing out in which direction the city lies.

Death and theAfterlife.Deathismarked by visiting the family of the deceased. Family members dress in black. Death also is mourned in a larger, more communal way as part of the Islamic New Year’s celebration, calledAshura. Muslims mark the passing of the old year by going to cemeteries to commemorate the dead.

Medicine and Health Care
Medical care is free and nationalized. The government concentrates its efforts on preventive medicine and vaccinations, building local clinics and health centers rather than large centralized hospitals. After completing their training, all medical workers are obligated to put in several years at a state medical facility. The biggest health problems are tuberculosis, venereal diseases, malaria, trachoma, typhoid fever, and dysentery.

Virtually all health care facilities and providers are concentrated in the more populous north; most people in rural areas have no access to modern medical care. Overpopulation and housing shortages in the cities have created their own health problems, due to poor sanitation and lack of safe drinking water.

Secular Celebrations
New Year’s Day,1 January; Labor Day, 1 May; Commemoration Day (anniversary of the overthrow of Ahmed Ben Bella), 19 June; Independence Day, 5 July; Anniversary of the outbreak of the revolution, 1 November.


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