Sound archives about the new Algerian family models in the end of the 1980s

Véronique Ginouvès

Between January and June 2017, the Archives de la recherche et phonothèque of the Mediterranean Center for Human Sciences (MMSH) digitised a sound collection that was originally recorded in 1987 and 1988 in Algeria by the Algerian socio-anthropologist Faouzi Adel (1947–1999). Adel Faouzi studied philosophy and sociology at the University of Algiers and then defended his first PhD thesis in French, titled Les changements socio-économiques dans l’Algérie coloniale de 1830 à 1914 (transl. “Socio-Economic Changes in Colonial Algeria Between 1830 and 1914”), at the Université Libre de Bruxelles in 1978. The thesis comes in two volumes and is available online.  In 1990, he defended a second thesis titled Formation du lien conjugal et nouveaux modèles familiaux en Algérie (transl. Conjugal Bond Building and New Family Models in Algeria”) in Paris. This second thesis had never been published but we have digitised it and made available online.

The interviews gathered for his research are currently hosted at the MMSH’s Archives de la recherche et phonothèque . The files were deposited by his wife, Khadija Adel, an anthropologist who did fieldwork with her husband, often recording women. After she donated the collection to the center, we began working on it. The analysis of these recordings is time-consuming as we thoroughly listen to all of them to produce a faithful description and identify any ethical and legal issues recounted in them. The collection covers 180 hours of recordings with more than 110 interviewees (73 men, 41 women, and a few unidentified people) from different social backgrounds. These men and women from eastern Algeria tell the story of their daily lives. They talk about love and marriage over time and across generations in Algerian dialect, Arabic or French. They all talk about their colonial past, which, depending on the age of the person interviewed, they either directly experienced or were told about. Thus, they shed light on a common vocabulary of colonial Algeria.

For Faouzi Adel, society is reflected through the family, the couple, and therefore the institution of marriage. He argues that the crisis that Algeria was going through at the end of the 1980s was the very image of the crisis of society. In this society, individual destiny is overtaking collective destiny, leading to its disintegration. Since his tragic death at the age of 53, few researchers have examined the question of the family in Algeria on such a large scale. There is no other existing comparable audio collection about the everyday life of eastern Algerians in the 1980s.

This sound archive is not only a confirmation of the work performed by Faouzi Adel in the context of his thesis, but it is represents a remarkable scientific and patrimonial legacy. The interviews depict a longitudinal section in the Algerian society of the 1980s through family narratives that oscillate between a traditional model and new emerging models. More specifically, these interviews provide information on the colonial period and the analysis of the latter in the heart of Algeria at the end of the 1980s. They offer comprehensive information about women’s aspirations, the concepts of private, intimate and public life, the evolution of child-rearing, marriage rituals, and how family members were assigned their names.

Maya Saidani, an Algerian musicology researcher currently in France at the EHESS, is analysing the recordings as part of an internship funded by the PICCH project. We chose two sound bites related to the colonial past, originally recorded in Arabic, that we have translated into English. These extracts examine both family solidarity and the schooling process. They highlight the learning of Arabic in Koranic schools, which was done in parallel with French school, starting from elementary school. We can also observe the struggle between continuing one’s studies and participating in the liberation of Algeria. In fact, being part of one the two societies was not easy. Moreover, the interviews highlight the issue of vocabulary in French and Algerian Arabic, for instance cocerning the schools’  and the family members’ names. These are the two extracts:

First extract

Traslation: My uncle took care of us and his business. He provided my brother, my sister and me with all the necessary means to succeed. The youngest was still too young. We studied at the Koranic school, the [‘medersa’] and the French primary school at the same time. I learned Arabic at the [medersa] and read the Koran [setîn hizb] (sixty Hizbs) on the traditional ardoise board [lûhâ] at the Koranic school. I did scouts with the AMS (Algerian Muslim Scouts) and it was there that I first saw the Algerian flag and heard the patriotic song [Min jibalinâ]. My brother, who now lives in Germany, read the Koran several times. We went to the [medersa] to learn the Koran at 6 a.m. and then we went to primary school. In the afternoon, we returned to the [medersa] to learn Arabic. We went to high school and then to college. We used to go to school with the French, we were always well-dressed.  As we were good students, my elder brother and I went to a military school in Koléa, it was for free. They allowed me to skip two grades. The military officers we had in Algeria were trained in Koléa. My brother pursued his studies in a military school in France but he was sent home because he got involved in demonstrations organized by Algerian students in France in 1960. Our cousins from Batna took part in these demonstrations. The Algerian military officers fled to Germany and my brother got sick. He joined Germany some time later. Because of my training, I was somewhere between a rock and a hard place. I gave information to the Algerians, but they didn’t trust me completely, and I was in the French army, which didn’t trust me either. After my studies in Koléa, I continued my training in a military school in France. Following Algeria’s independence, I received no recognition, I preferred to return to Algeria and start all over again. I spent seven years in France between studying and training in the military (1954-1962). Q: Did you have family in France? No, I was in military school.

Second extract

Traslation: I went to French school between 1947 and 1948. I was part of those who were called ‘the indigent’. The school was far from the farm, more than 30 kilometres away. Every week, for 3 years, my father and I went to Beni Azziz, he worked as a secretary to the Caïd while I went to school. But these trips were very tiring and we couldn’t do this anymore. He couldn’t find a place to live and he shifted between jobs, so we moved to Setif in 1961. Q: Why did you move to Setif? For my studies. I was studying Islamic sciences in El Eulma, I had to go to college in Constantine but my father could not afford it, he managed to find a school in Setif Q: Can you tell me about your schooling? In 1947, my father had a job to do for the Caïd at the subprefecture of Ain Lakbira but he did not speak French. He had to pay to be understood. He has since vowed to teach his son French. Q: Did you experience any difficulties while studying at the French school? I was very grateful for my father’s efforts, but I was older than the students in my class. They used to make fun of me and the teacher, whose name was Didier, used to call me the “grand dada”. For all these reasons, I could not learn French. However, I was good at Arabic.

We are still working on Faouzi Adel’s sound collection, taking a look at words from the colonial world, for instance, at how things were named, the choice of using Algerian dialect, Arabic and the French language, in addition to the narratives behind the independence.