The Djerbian society

The Djerbian society is heterogeneous and composite since different races and religions coexist in it. It is even called the island of minorities. Yet, a Djerbian unity is always present and perceived in this diversity. It is reflected at the level of practices and ways and customs from the simplest daily gesture to the symbolic and complex marriage traditions.

In spite of the difficulties presented by this natural milieu, its few riches were able to give the island the aspect of an oasis or garden island. This contributed to its occupation by humans and even to its overpopulation. Thus, Berber populations, Judea-Berbers, Arabs, Islamized Africans, some Turks, and even Maltese fishermen met and lived on the island peacefully but without melting. The religious barrier, despite racial proximity, constituted an almost insurmountable obstacle and endogamous marriages made it possible to maintain a certain ethnic homogeneity.
The inhabitants of Djerba are thus the result of successive migratory currents. Till the end of the XIXth Century, the majority of the Djerbian society was composed of Berbers or Arabized Berbers, or descendents of Berber tribes known in the Muslim Maghreb during the middle ages like Hawara, Nfoussa, Zanata, Lemaya, Zwaga, and Koutama. The island was totally Arabized only during the XXth Century after witnessing successive waves of migration of nomads who came from close continental regions and who were encouraged by the Husseinid dynasty in power at that time.
By the end of the XIXth and during the XXth Centuries a vague of emigration from the island to the centre and north of the country, where the Djerbians monopolized retail trade, evolved. This vague was followed by a reverse emigration of the nomads who came massively from the south-east.

Djerba has known, for centuries, the existence of a European minority composed mainly of Sicilians, Maltese, and Greeks in addition to the French whose presence intensified especially during the colonial epoch, 1881-1956. At the moment, the population of the island exceeds 200,000 inhabitants while following the Independence it counted 63,000. This demographic evolution is attributed to the incessant development that the touristic sector has known since the early years after the Independence.
Marriage is a social institution that reflects the civilization and the social group that founded it. The different rites and traditions of marriage provide an idea about the image of the world this society is making. In Djerba, a diversity of these rites is noted between Muslims and Jews. Differences among the regions are also noted. A big number of ritual objects that are specific and regarded as sacred during ceremonies are used. In spite of the difference, common major steps of marriage for Muslims on the island can be enumerated:
The Hajba
Once the date of marriage is fixed, the young bride has to shy away from eyesight in order to get prepared for her wedding. She stays at home to rest, eat, and shelter from heat and the spate of sunlight. The aim is to make herself beautiful: a woman in good health and with a white shining skin. To begin this period of isolation, the bride goes with her friends and relatives to the mosque of the area or to a hundred-year-old olive tree, according to the region, in order to solicit blessing or barka.

The Menzel cleaning and Zommita preparation

Shortly before the wedding, preparations start hastily among both families. They take a collective dimension where the efforts of the different families of the neighbourhood, “houma,” are conjugated in an atmosphere of spontaneous, enthusiastic, and solidary participation. The women gather and undertake the cleaning of the vicinity of the houch and the preparation of provisions for the marriage which are constituted mainly of Zommita.

El barboura
This word has two meanings according to its actual use on the island. The first meaning designates the ritual visit to one of the olive trees in the house of the groom or the bride. This visit is organized during the festivities of the traditional wedding during a well-determined period and with a well-precise ceremonial. The second meaning refers to the cortège formed by a straight line composed of 5 young boys, girls, or women including the groom or the bride. They stand one next to the other covering their heads with a drape of Biskri which covers their backs at the same time.

The henna dye
This tradition is considered as a passage rite that concerns the boys on the occasion of their circumcision as well as young men on the occasion of their wedding. The use of henna is limited in men to one of the fingers and sometimes to one part of the palm. It has to be noted that the bride, in most of the regions of the island, receives presents from the groom on two occasions: El henna Essghira and El henna El Kbira.

The feast
The feast generally takes place on the third day at the groom’s. After sunset food, which is cooked not far from the house, is served to the guests who sit astride ready to eat.

El Mahfel
The expression El Mahfel indicates an open-air place where the nocturne wedding ceremony takes place as well as the musical spectacle often given and livened up by a group of tabbala with their typical costumes. The folkloric group of tabbala includes sometimes other members who do not play any instrument but dance Ezzgara collectively. They form a circle while each one of them is holding a big stick with which he now hits the stick of the one behind him, and now hits that of the one in front of him and so on. The soiree goes on until late in the evening in a cordial and pleasant atmosphere.

El Jahfa and the Jelwa
This word is attributed to the cortège transporting the bride from her family house to her conjugal house in a palanquin carried by a dromedary. A crowd of relatives and guests makes up the cortège with the dromedary in the middle, the men and the children in the lead, and the women and girls at the back. This cortège takes place late during the night separating the second and third days among the Wahabbis and during the day, precisely before sunset, among the Mestawa.
The Jelwa is a ceremony during which the bride is presented in her most sumptuous attires to the women invited for the occasion just before getting into her nuptial room by sunset. This room called Dar constitutes the unit of dwelling of a couple belonging to a large patriarchal family. It is a polyvalent room made up of many sub-spaces ensuring different functions. Thus, every room, in its entirety, constitutes some sort of an independent apartment. The room has a very functional arrangement that is spatially translated into four distinct parts. The main space acts as a living room. On the left of the entrance, the alcove is the room where the couple sleeps in winter. On the right of the entrance, a small bedroom upstairs serves for the siesta and sleeping during summer. Likewise, when the couple’s children grow up, they sleep there. Finally, under this little bedroom, a small space is dedicated to ritual ablutions and all that relates to the cleanliness of the body. This very space is sometimes used to put away clothes in big jars.
A painted cedar clothes chest is placed at a corner of the living room. It is offered to the bride by her parents to arrange and transport her trousseau to the conjugal house. An ornamented and painted wooden shelf with a mirror is hung up to the wall near the bed. In addition to its decorating role, it is also characterized by its utilitarian role since it allows for hanging clothes and putting different feminine makeup utensils.
Among the differences between the regions of the island, the existence of the ritual of the groom’s Jelwa in certain regions of  the Mestawa in the east of the island can be cited. At sunset and as soon as his spouse achieves her Jelwa ceremony, he gets himself ready to perform the same ritual as well. To present himself for this ceremony, he wears regalia specially destined for the occasion.
The ritual of El Bambar in Mahboubine, which concerns only the bride, can also be noted. It is organized before moving to the conjugal house late after the bride achieves the ritual visit to the olive tree. Blocks of rock are brought to the patio of the Houch and a dromedary or mule packsaddle and a plough are put on them. All are then covered with a white woollen cover on which the bride sits. Recently, in the majority of the regions of the island, the bride henceforth sits on a painted and studded wooden chest of clothes. Then the “parer”, Zayyana, starts braiding the bride’s hair while decorated with various jewels. Then the Zayyana starts dancing in rhythmic movements around the bride with a sword or a stick.
Concerning the Jewish wedding, the ritual that accompanies the wedding is of an exceptional length: no less than two weeks of public and private actions. The respect of the least details of religious proscriptions and bans is but realized in the absolute respect of the Djerbian customs. The differences are especially at the level of costumes and ritual objects with religious connotation. The costumes of the Jelwa ritual also vary according to the regions.
Some important actors intervene with the two main characters of the wedding, the groom and the bride. These include essentially:

El hajjam
The barber, called El hajjam, is a fundamental character who has an intense and efficient presence in the livening up of the festive manifestations that embellish the traditional Djerbian wedding. He orients the masters of the party to practice the rites and ceremonies in effect according to the rules. In Djerba the one who belongs to an ethnic group called hajajma is called hajjam. The members of this ethnic group are spread over many localities on the island, hwem. This ethic group is known for their practice of the job of the barber, circumcision, and livening up wedding ceremonies. Among the Mestawas, he is called Berreh in relation with his main task during musical parties which is Ettabrih, which means naming aloud those who give money to the band as an aid.

The zayyana
The Zayyana is a fundamental character for the main task that consists in well-preparing the bride for the wedding ceremony by providing the necessary beauty care. She is also in charge of livening up the singing soirees reserved for women. She is sometimes charged of cooking.

Sebeg Rezgou
A young boy, Sebeg Rezgou, is charged to take four eggs in a small package to the groom’s house. He runs silently until he arrives but does not start talking until he is given water to drink. Then he suspends the package close to the nuptial bed. This ritual indicates that the bride aspires to a new conjugal life overwhelmed with fecundity and prosperity.
As soon as pregnancy is signalled, the family starts preparations in order to welcome the long-awaited newborn. They start preparing its clothes but when the date of giving birth approaches, the remaining of the preparations start. They relate to incense preparation and all that is necessary to cook and prepare the dishes and pastries that will be offered to the women who come on the seventh day to address their congratulations.
On this occasion specific dishes are presented to the women such as Tbikha and a variety of pastries called Bsayes, plural of Bsisa. The women on their turn give presents to the mother of the newborn. The Djerbians make sure they put the newborn in a turtle carapace called Eddouh in which he/she sleeps 40 days. The idea is that he/she will live as long as a turtle.
Circumcision, Etthour, represents an important event in the life of an infant since it is a religious duty that cannot be avoided in the life of a Muslim. In Djerba circumcision is done prematurely. In many cases the circumcised does not exceed one year of age.
During the night the child has a bath with the help of some of his relatives. Then, one of these dyes the extremity of his auricular and part of the palm of the hand with henna. After that, the women who are present start singing and dancing. In certain regions of the island a ritual procession near olive trees is organized. The child, certain relatives, and guests take part in such a procession which is not exempted from singing and ululations.
During the day, starting from the morning, other hastened preparations are organized. They are related to the dishes that are going to be distributed to the guests in the evening. In the afternoon, before the circumcision, one of the women prepares the place where the child will be circumcised. She lays down a cover on the ground and covers it with pure sand. During that time, the hairdresser, El Hajjam, who looks after circumcision himself, cuts the child’s hair. Once this task is over, the men are invited to take part in the act of circumcision. After that the child who is well-dressed and decorated with amulets that chase the bad eye, is called in. One of the relatives makes him sit on his laps near the hairdresser. All the three are then surrounded with the assistance who hold a drape called Biskri in order to prevent eyesight of the act. At the same time, recipients made of ceramic are broken. Not far from this gathering, the mother of the circumcised stands surrounded with other women waiting to receive her son after his circumcision while singing and ululating.
Games, to which boys and girls are addicted, are among other childhood distinctive features. The children are prepared, during this important period in their age, to assume responsibilities that would be assigned to them and that they will be in charge of later in their life. The game of eggs can be cited as one of these.
During the last two days of Ramadan that precede the El Eid Essghir, the children are given the opportunity to go the closest weekly market to their homes to assist to particular ceremonies. The two days are called El ‘Arfa Essghira and El ‘Arfa El kbira. The merchants expose toys, table delicacies, and nuts. Games like the one that takes place in Midoun around the olive tree called Zitounet El Adham (eggs olive tree) are organized. They take refuge from sunrays under its shadow and play the game of hard-boiled coloured eggs. The game takes place between two players: one throws his eggs on those of his opponent. Following their knock against one another, the eggs are inspected to know which one was broken and which one was not. The broken egg is seized by the one whose egg is intact. When both eggs are broken, the game goes on if their condition allows for that. Otherwise, the players are obliged to leave the game area for other players.
Djerbian families do not use their efforts sparingly when it comes to instilling the principles, creeds, and rules of religion into their children from their early childhood. In fact, they are sent to Quranic schools, the Kouttebs, which are spread almost everywhere on the island. They learn the Arabic alphabet first, then reading and recitation, and writing at the end. In addition to Quranic schools that provide elementary phases of education, we find schools or Medersa.

El koutteb (the Quranic school)
The koutteb is a place where a child goes as soon as he reaches a certain age to learn verses of the Quran under the supervision of a master, the Meddeb. Every child starts by cleaning his board using some sort of light grey clay. Then he puts it facing the sun to dry. Once dry, the schoolboy starts writing Quranic verses dictated by his master while sitting on a mat. Writing is done using a pen sharpened from a piece of reed and traditional organic ink. Once writing is over, the pupil starts reading aloud what is written on his board. He repeats that until he learns it by heart. After some years, the parents of the pupils who achieve learning the whole Quran by heart organize a small ceremony called, Khetma, during which couscous-with-meat dishes are served and the master and his pupils lunch together. The pupils who achieve learning at the Koutteb and want to carry on their studies, can go to schools, Medersa, where different sciences are taught, namely those of religion and language.
The Medersa
Certain mosques played the role of a place of knowledge for centuries. They drained students being initiated into all fields of knowledge. This kind of schooling is dispensed following a strict discipline under the guidance of erudite Sheikhs. Among the distinguished schools, that of Jamaa Bou Mesouer in El Hachen, which dates back to the Xth Century, the Jamaa Welhi school in Wed Zbib, which dates back to the XIVth Century, the Medersa Joumnia in Houmet Essoug, which dates back to the XVIIth Century, and the Jamaa El Bassi in Waleg, which dates back to the XVIIIth Century, can be cited.
These Medersas and the transcription of the courses resulted in the creation of numerous libraries in the most important mosques that hosted traditional education. These libraries included the main works used in teaching. Book industry was among the inherent services of the mosques. The calligrapher used to transcribe texts on copybooks before regrouping them into volumes. Djerbian manuscripts are distinguished with their Moroccan style and the simplicity of their ornamentation. Black ink produced from burnt animal manure melted with water and conserved in ceramic inkwells used to be used.
After childhood, comes puberty which is considered as a capital turning point in the life of a child. Among the most important manifestations that are organized on this occasion is Essyam which indicates that the boy or the girl started fasting during the saint month of Ramadan. This ceremony is quite often organized at family level and sometimes in the presence of relatives or neighbours during the night that precedes the beginning of this month. A girl gets herself duly prepared for this ceremony. She has a bath and wears her nicest clothes. Then she gets her hands and feet dyed with henna by her mother or the one who replaces her in the presence of ululating women and young women. These women are offered Bsiset Essyam, a kind of sweetened paste specially prepared for the occasion. Other portions of this paste are distributed to relatives and neighbours of the family. A boy gets prepared for this ceremony in the same way. However, dyeing with henna for boys is not spread all over the regions. Even if it exists, it does not exceed the extremity of the right hand auricular.
The richness of the civilization of this society is illustrated by the diversity of the costumes which go from those of daily life to ceremonial or specific like those of circumcision and marriage. Clothes vary according to the regions. They also vary between the Jewish community and that of the Maliki and Ibadi Muslim. Feminine dresses are the richest ones but masculine costumes also present diversity and a concern for details in certain regions of the island. The Jewish feminine dress is typically Djerbian. Its only particularity is the wearing of the headdress which has never been adopted by the Muslim women on the island.
The feminine Djerbian costume is based on draping a specific tissue around the body. There exists two ways to maintain this drape. Two big clothing zones on the island: one enclosing the North-East, part of the Centre, and South-East of the island where the drape is maintained near the left armpit by one of its tails via a gilded silver hook while the head is covered with an independent veil. Women in El May, in the centre of the island, adopted another method to fix the drape on their heads. They maintain it thanks to a small scarf or ribbon they tie around the neck.

Djerbian women wear hats weaved with palm tree leaflets, dallela, day and night to protect themselves from atmospheric factors that attack the skin. It is a unique tradition in Tunisia.
Two types of hats characterize the two big clothing zones on the island: women in the North-East and part of the Centre, and the South-East wear a pointed hat with a wide edge while the other Djerbian women prefer a pointed hat with a shrunken edge.
Nowadays, these two types of hats are disappearing, especially with the adoption of a hat that had earlier been reserved to men.
Apart from marriage costumes, the Djerbian wears other costumes on certain occasions like that of circumcision with a long shirt and a long-sleeved vest the back and front tails of which are richly embroidered with a silver thread. The costumes of musicians are also remarkable.
To become able to cook her different dishes, the Djerbian woman makes use of utensils many of which are deeply anchored in tradition. They are diverse in terms of form and matter. Each has a particular and precise usage. But, the majority is in pottery. Many dishes are typical of the island. Following are the most specific:

It is made of roasted barley-based flour melted with slightly roasted lentils, fenugreek, coriander, and fennel. The resulting mixture, after the addition of dried rose buds, orange peels, and salt, has to be ground and sieved to get a powder that can be stored for the whole year. This flour is consumed under the form of a liquid, Dardoura, or a paste, Abbouda. The Zommita flour is mixed, without cooking, with olive oil and water until obtaining a liquid. To make Abbouda, the same flour is mixed with some olive oil and just a very little quantity of water until obtaining a nutritive paste rolled by hand. In summer, this paste is taken in the morning with fresh fruits like raisins, figs, or prickly pear.

Roasted wheat flour is mixed, without cooking, with olive oil and sugar until obtaining a paste. Roasted lentils are sometimes used. Tradition has made it that another type of Bsisa made of a sweetened paste called Kmemen, composed of ground wheat, chickpeas, lentils, fenugreeks, coriander, aniseeds, fennel, black cumin, sugar , and olive oil, is presented to the woman who has just given birth during some weeks in order to help her regain her force.

It is a kind of broth containing lentils, broad beans, chickpeas, and dried salted meat pieces. This very broth is served to the mother of the newborn but with fenugreeks instead of lentils and with the addition of some pumpkin.

Lahhoussa or Lahset dguig ghsab
Sorghum flour is mixed, without cooking, with some water until obtaining a liquefied paste. In winter, this paste is taken in the morning accompanied with dried figs or dates.

Ich Bidha
It is a porridge made mainly of barley or wheat flour. It is served with an olive oil or butter cover with sugar or honey in the middle. This dish is prepared on the occasion of the Prophet’s birthday date, the Mouled, and in Ramadan.

Ich  Bel hsa
This is a porridge that served with some sort of sauce called Hsa. Barley or wheat flour is the basis of this sauce which is cooked in a pot with water and some salt and later basted with a mixture of olive oil, sheep fat, tomatoes, hot pimentos, a variety of garlic called Yazoul, and spices.

The bread oven, Tabouna, like the one that exists elsewhere in Tunisia is absent on the island. The kind of bread known is the Kesra, which is fried with olive oil in a metallic plate placed on fire. Among the different types of Kesra the Marfoussa can be cited. It is a dish composed of pieces of Kesra basted with a sort of sauce including a mixture of olive oil, very small onions, tomatoes, harissa (pepper ketchup), salt, and spices including mainly the Yazul.

Mhamsa Bel  osban
This dish is composed of a variety of paste in small round grains made of wheat semolina, Mhamsa, with dried small chitterlings, Osban (plural of osbana). It is prepared with tomatoes, salt, harissa, garlic, and spices. The same paste can be served with meat and sometimes with boiled eggs.

Mchalouech Bil Ouzef
This dish is made with pieces of toasted bread basted with a kind of sauce composed with a mixture of tomatoes, harissa, salt, spices, and very small dried fish called Ouzef.

It is a dish made essentially of rolled semolina and vapour-cooked on top of a sauce composed of olive oil, onions, salt, harissa, spices, and sometimes vegetables. Once the mixture is well cooked, couscous grains are put in a dish then the sauce is poured onto them. They are then mixed and fitted with vegetables and meat or fish…

There are many varieties of couscous in Djerba including the Malthouth which is made of roasted and crushed barley. It is prepared in the same way as wheat semolina, the Masfouf.  This is couscous fitted with pieces of salted dried meat. Unlike other types of couscous, it is cooked on top of a recipient containing water only, while its sauce is prepared independently in another recipient. Another variety of couscous is called Bel hout or Bel Lham Fil Keskes which needs, in addition to the sauce pot, the use of a special two-compartment steamer. Fish or meat is put in the bottom compartment, while couscous grains are put in the upper one.

<<  May 2024  >>
 Mo  Tu  We  Th  Fr  Sa  Su 
    1  2  3  4  5
  6  7  8  9101112

Designed and created by Serviced © Djerba Museum © 2010