The monster in the Kabyle imaginary

Awaγzen, ogre or Cyclops?

In Kabyle imaginary, awaγzen or awaγzniw is a tale monster  that everyone imagines his way. Not yet present in the Kabyle artistic iconography, we can see a wild animal or an anthropomorphic being feeding on human flesh. It is often the enemy of the hero of the Kabyle tale, as Talafsa / Hydra or Tteryel / The ogress. This is perhaps here that the translation Awaγzen by ogre is inappropriate, because we hardly know in our tales of couples consisting of Awaγzen and Tteryel. However, there is Ateryel and Uteryel which is the male Tteryel. Can we then translate Awaγzen by ogre? Difficult thing to decide because we do not know the origin of these monsters Awaγzen and Tteryel and their parentage. The lack of myths relating to these creatures allows everyone to see in them what he wants. This is especially true in the case of Awaγzen which is a giant for some, for others a terrible and bloodthirsty beast; there even as we have already seen in some figures, represented as a lion. Similarly, to a lesser degree, stories lovers can imagine Talafsa as the hydra or a serpent with many heads, Tteryel in ugly woman with messy hair and sharp teeth, but subject to metamorphoses and dramatic transformations that deceive his victims.

The lack of documentation invites us to see in other Mediterranean cultures and try to understand how other peoples, including the ancient Greeks, imagine these monsters and what they think about them. This approach may help us to understand the nature of these monsters and what they represent in Mediterranean societies of the time.

The Greeks, with their artists, were able to put a face, shape and affiliation of each mythical being, including gods and goddesses. Don’t we say about Praxiteles and Phidias that “They saw the gods”? All what the Greeks invented with the verb, artists have illustrated and immortalized it as statues, paintings, especially on vases that were the precursor of history books and comics. The whole Greek story and “mythology”  can be read on the walls of public buildings or on the surfaces of pottery. By the verb, like their Greek neighbors, Kabyles created mythical creatures, but by lack of figurative artists, they remained faceless, formless and origins.

Awaγzen in the Kabyle tale

Awaγzen in the Kabyle tale, crossed by the influences of the triumphant religion, is the image of the Kabyle himself. This monster whose sultan of Ottoman inspiration, wants to get rid to of in order to pacify the country. For that the hero, often named Ali, a good believer has to kill the monster. Awaγzen is the savage, cannibalistic being, that must be discarded.

It is as if on the side of the Kabyles, there were only Tteryel, awaγzen and talafsa,monsters still wearing Berber names, living in the forest on the margins of the civilized world of the Sultan and his faithful subjects. Even the wise old man who acts as oracle, Amγar azemni / Azemri, changed sides. He became the ally of the sultan and the builder of the hero, is is to say the enemy of the one whom the Sultan wants annihilation. This wise old man, didn’t he became the today’s Kabyle servant?

Of ancient culture and except for Anzar god of rain, Kabyles has only kept the monsters. Monsters that prevent the Sultan to sleep, the rebels who may one moment to the next to invade its towns and villages, to reverse or drive him from his throne.

Kabyle tale revisited and corrected, put Awaγzen off-culture, off-religion, one defends him all human language, we make fun of his words, it is ridiculed, we see in him a boor, a sinner, an eater of illegal meat, in fact the opposite of the Sultan and his subjects, civilized, urban, religious. Awaγzen is the native who believes in nothing, who have been drove off the plains, from farmland, wedged in his forest. It is the return to the primitive state, where he lives of acorns, gets drunk with juice from wild grape and drink to the dregs the milk of the orphan’s cow.

It is the image the Kabyle tale give of Aweγzentteryel and talafsa. Beings arriving on the land of North Africa before the monotheistic revelation and we are told that they are today’s filthiness. This story reminds us about this brown bear that lived in a forest in North America: every morning he went to eat some acorns dropped from two huge oaks. One day he arrived, he found the two felled trees. A few days later, he found that walls began to rise in the place of the two trees. He returned a few days later, he found people who were going back and forth, the place had become a supermarket. He looked a little surprised when a woman coming out of the store and watching him curiously, said, “Where do you come from?”

This is the fate of the indigenous before the new religions that consider as wild man anybody who did not believe in them.

Here is the story we tell ourselves around the fire in winter, in Kabylia, about Awaγzen, the genuine beings, the unchanged ancestor, who survived even the ancient deities. Awaγzen, the image of the ancestor, the one who worshiped the sun and the moon, who never knelt before the Sultan, the irreligious, the Djahel / The ignorant as some enjoy to see it .

Here is the story we call “Kabyle Tale” which is told to our children, with what we expect to educate them to obedience and to unconsciousness of voluntary servitude.

Are we still talking about Kabyle tale or anti-Kabyle ones?

Awaɣzen in modern Kabyle poetry

In recent years, the image of awaɣzen changed for Kabyles, especially in modern poetry. Awaɣzen today, unlike that of the tale, became a phobia not to children, but to  adults. Awaɣzen, nicknamed Lweḥc n Lɣaba/Forest Monster, revisited by the singer Idir in Vava Inouva is not longer the ogre that seeks to devour the old man living alone in a cabin in the middle of the forest, but rather a human faced monster which threatens the Kabyle and all it represents. A dangerous and powerful beings who could be the heir to the sultan or the descendant of Ali.

After Vava Inouva the Kabyle realized that Awaɣzen is not what he believed, what he was afraid as a child, when he suffered the fantasy of being devoured and dreamed of being prosecuted for getting eaten. The time when he took refuge, to overcome his phobias, in the arms of Ali the savior and the protector sultan. Two characters that the Kabyle child identified himself to feel safe. Those characters internalized by the kabyle child became the its landmarks, its heroes and its cultural references, the only ones able to deliver him from his fears, anxieties, better yet to save him from himself, from his parents and its environment not completely pacified, nor civilized, that is to say not completely Islamized.

The Kabyle child is “alienated” by his own stories and its own culture. Tales that have being worked and reworked by Kabyles, undoubtedly favorable the Arab-Islamism, on behalf of their masters.

This carefully orchestrated process has made the Kabyle servile, which before the danger has no choice but to identify with Ali, the hero of his stories, and therefore struggle to save religion and the sultanate of his sultan. Sultanate which became Algeria, Turkish heiress.

Today the descendants of Awaɣzen from the tales have opened our eyes and show us the true Awaɣzen, the horrible beast that has the power, the hydra who drinks our water, the ogress who devours our children and the ogre who burns our forests.

For the advised Kabyle, the real Awaɣzen is no longer in himself, he is elsewhere. He  refers to it by its name. What drives him, he who wishes to exist politically to stop hating himself, being afraid of himself, and to face the monster that inhibits and manipulate him.

Cyclops in Greek literature

Conceived by Greek artists, a giant with human form, with an eye in the forehead, hence its name, and since his image is forever fixed in Greek culture. Cyclops, because there are several, we have chosen the best known: Polyphemus, son of Poseidon, god of the seas.

Polyphemus never left the Greek literary scene, we found him even in the  Alexandrian poetry, in the guise of a shepherd in love with Galatea , and whose monstrosity and ferocity transformed to a pitiful being. According to Jean-Pierre Vernant, Greeks, following a pun bringing closer Galatea and Galatia , attributed to Polyphemus paternity of the Gauls, barbarian invaders that the Greek anxiety strives to ridicule, which an unreasoning panic chases from Delphi to Asia Minor. And among the Kabyle, was awaγzen the invader? Yes, after some poems dealing with the various invaders who occupied North Africa. Idir evokes it in one of his songs:

Taginni d tiγri imeεnen – This is a sensible call

Zdat iwaγzniwen – Before the ogres

Skewn-aγ afud wer nuklal – Has killed any good will in us

Bḍan-aγ am ibawen: – They separated us like broad beans.

According to Philippe Borgeaud in his article “The boorish” in the book by Jean-Pierre Vernant “The Greek man”, the small island, where Ulysses and his companions landed, first humans to set foot on it is ” a forest island where wild goats multiply without end “(Homer, Odyssey), only inhabitants with the Nymphs, out of reach from hunters. There is here obviously neither plowing nor sowing. We are in the non-human. On the other side, within earshot, the main island, habitat of the Cyclops. Although the son of Poseidon, he ignore navigation. Close to the gods to the point they do not have to worry about, they live without planting or tilling, a life of small livestock producers. Their wine is made from wild grapes. “Lawless brutes, who have so much confidence in the immortal that do of their hands neither planting nor plowing. At home, no assembly or judge shall discuss. Each lays down the law to his wives and his children. ” (Homer, Odyssey. We are in what later, from the fifth century BC, will eventually be considered as a pre-political stage.

However Ulysses arrives at Polyphemus, an original character, far from its congeners. “He lives alone, graze his flocks, not seeing anybody.” This is the opposite of a man, a good eater of bread. But in his cave, the trays are loaded with cheese, crowded pens of lambs and goats, metal vases are full of milk. Like his peers, he made a fire. A fire that is not used for sacrifice, and seems to burn only to indicate that in this strange world we display the emblems of humanity. Pretense, making manifest the behavior of Polyphemus: the companions of Odysseus, he eat them raw, and drizzle whis milk that cannibal meal.

Polyphemus the Almighty, will be defeated, according to Philippe Borgeaud, by three devices that return each in its way to the imperatives of civilization: the pure wine of divine origin, that Ulysses offers him and from which he becomes intoxicated while  devouring his meal; the olive stake (tree of Athena), polished, worked in the fire, handled at the command of a leader in the small sailors community of Ithaca, which will be blinded; verbal ruse finally (Ulysses replaced by Nobady), which forbids any social communication. He is deprived of reason, order and language ( “Nobody has done him wrong”), following his meeting with Ulysses. The boor is a violent brute, whose complaint is heard only by one god, his father Poseidon, lord of marine turbulence, which takes over and carries the wily Ulysses, before other gods from Olympus, including Zeus and Athena decide to do overcome all the monsters that have taken his path, including pretenders to his kingdom.

Does the Kabyle, like Ulysses, become a “nobody” politically, without identity, without culture and language? Relegated and unpopular, he also wants to see his Ithaca, his kingdom, his beloved country and Penelope the weaver. Did Awaγzen, which has become in the modern world the figure of the Arab-Islamic colonial state,  is also afraid of being blinded by the wood of the olive tree (tree of Athena), intoxicated by wine (blood of Dionysus) and deceived by the language of Nobody, to whom he is trying to imprison in his cave of Plato, in his wild forest where the forest monster continues to terrorize Vava Inouva?

As many journeys await the Kabyle, like Ulysses, before reaching the kingdom of freedom. Some Circe, Calypso, some Polyphemus, Sirens and many contenders turning around Penelope-Kabylia, waiting, like a spider, weaving and undoing its work.

The long march has begun, announced years ago by the poet. This is what he respond to us when we are questioning the dangers lurking on the pilgrimage route:

Γurwat tiγilt, – Be carrefull on the hill,

Atan lexyal – A ghost

La d-yettxatal ! – Is stalking you!


Ma d lεebd, – If This Is a Man,

A neglu yis-s A t-nawi. – We take him with us.

Ma d lweḥc, Meqqar a t-neg – If it’s a monster,

D imensi. – We will make it our dinner.

Extract from Imesbriden , sung by Ait Menguellet and Idir.

But before tackling the monster that lurks on the hill, should not the Kabyle kill first the awaɣzen from the tales he carries in him, the one he has assimilated, who hides in his unconscious, he continues to feed with his imagination and teach his children despite himself ?


 The monster is also among the Kabyle the one who is quarantined by his peers due to non compliance with the laws of the village or the ambient morality, very religious, or he who lives alone and rejects the company of others. Also called Lweḥc / The monster those who eats a lot and anything, because in Kabylia, as in many societies, it’s what you eat that determines the status of the individual in the community. See below regarding the Cyclops, which is not like humans a sitophagos, a bread eater, but a meat and cheese eater.
 Acis and Galatea: Acis is a young shepherd of Sicily, son of Faunus and the nymph Symaethis. Galatea was lovely, nereid, daughter of Nereus and Doris. Polyphemus was in love with Galatea, but she was in love with Acis. One day Polyphemus caught them flirting, he tore a rock of a mountain and crushed Acis. Inconsolable Galatea begged the gods to turn the blood that flowed from his lover’s body into a river. River water which rushed from that day into the sea and Acis would join at any time his beloved. A river at the foot of Etna, still bears the name of Acis and two neighboring towns of the Cyclops river also took his name: Aci Trezza and Aci Castello.
 Galatians: The Galatians were Celts who, in ancient times, have migrated in central Asia Minor, Galatia.


Translated from

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