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The Contested Legend of al-Kâhina: Prophetess or Propaganda?


With depictions ranging from anti-Muslim resistance warrior of the seventh century to mythical priestess, al-Kâhina looms large in the historical narratives of North African Amazigh, Jewish, and Arab peoples. Despite her legendary status, al-Kâhina's existence as a historical female figure who reigned over the Amazigh is disputed. In this paper, I highlight the long history of colonial occupation and continual resistance organizing by the Amazigh prior to al-Kâhina's battles with the Arab invaders at the end of the seventh century. Through analysis of secondary sources, I examine how both Arab and French occupations appropriated the legend to promote their agendas. I argue that al-Kâhina's story has been used to enforce or combat different political agendas, both historically and today. In the region today, al-Kâhina has been iconized and used as the "face" of Amazigh nationalist and cultural movements.

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