Tunisia


Figure 1.--Here are two boys on burros at Carthage during 1928. It was taken by European travelers. The boys are wearing Arab-style clothing.

Tunisia is the smallest of the North African countries of the Magreb. It is located beween Libya and Algeria in the center of Mediterranean Africa. Tunisia is immediately to the south of Italy and west of Malta. It has an extensive Mediterranean coast north of the vast Sahara Desert. A great salt lake dominates the south and separates the country from the Sahara. There is considerable arable land. The Atlas mountains which cross Morocco and Algeria end in the north. Two mountain chains run north and south and are called the Eastern and Western Dorsals. The two major ports are Tunis and Bizerte. The country has a fascinating history shaped largely because of its strategic geographic position beginning with the Phonecians and Carthage. There are well preserved Roman ruins. Roman Carthage was an important Roman imperial center. Tunis after the Islamic conquet became a center for Barbary piracy. France occupied the country (1881). Tunisia was the location of major World War II battles, where the Germans and Italians made a last stand in Africa. More recently it was one of the countrues where the people overthrew an autocratic ruler as part of the Arab Spring (2001), the outcome of which is still reverberating around the Middle East. Exports include oasis crops (dates, cereals, olives, and grapes). Mineral resources include phospates (the largest export), iron ore, lead, zinc, and silver. We note both Arab and Western clothing introduced during the French colonial era. Tunisia lkethe rest of North Africa until the French era was extrenely backward. The economy was unchanged for a millenium -- except for the piracy conducted by the Barbary corsairs. The population of Tunisia is a complex mosaic of Arab, Berber, and Turkish descent. The French and Jewish people were once part of this mosacic but left or were expelled after World War II. There was once a small Turkish elite as a result of the Ottoman era, but today the great mass of the Tunisian population with varying Arab, Berber and Turish origins just describe themselves as Arab.

Geograohy

Tunisia is the smallest of the North African countries of the Magreb. It is located beween Libya and Algeria in the center of Mediterranean Africa. Tunisia is immediately to the south of Italy and west of Malta. It has an extensive Mediterranean coast north of the vast Sahara Desert. A great salt lake dominates the south and separates the country from the Sahara. There is considerable arable land. The Atlas mountains which cross Morocco and Algeria end in the north. Two mountain chains run north and south are called the Estern andWestern Dorsals. The two major ports are Tunis and Bizerte.

History

The country has a fascinating history shaped largely because of its strategic geograpohic position beginning with the Phonecians and Carthage. There are well preserved Roman ruins. Roman Carhage was an important Roman imperial center. It became a center for Barbary piracy. France occupied the country (1881). Tunisia was the locations of major World War II battles, where Axis allies Germany and Italy made a last stand in Africa wdged between Allied forces cinverging from rgeceast and west. France granted independence after World War II with out the violence experienced in neighboring Algeria. More recently it was one of the countries where the people overthrew an autocratic ruler as part of the Arab Spring (2001), the outcome of which are still reverberating around the Middle East.

Economy

Tunisia until the French era was extrenely backward with an economy unchanged for a millenium, except for the piracy conducted by the Barbary corsairs. Exports include oasis crops (dates, cereals, olives, and grapes). Mineral resources include phospates (the largest export), iron ore, lead, zinc, and silver.

Garments

We note both Arab and Western clothing introduced during the French colonial era. During the French era, Wesern dress became very common especially in irban areas, but traditional clothing never disappeared. This was in part becausemuch of the population remained outside of the urban franophone cociety. Today you continue to see both men and women weaing both styles. Tunisia is perhaps the most secular of all Arab countries. Often traditional drress is reserved for specil occassions and festivals. School children almost all wear Western dress. But in the the old quarters of Tunis and rural areas, traditional garb is more common. The most common traditional male garment is the Jebba. It is made of wool, but fancy ones are done in silk. It covers just about the whole body except the forearms and the calves. The Jebba is sometimes worn with a Farmla, a kind of vest. A Sadra or Badia are also worn with the Jebba. The traditional outfit can be comoleted with a jacket that is called a Montane and some baggy trousers or Sirouel. A silk sash can be added as a sort of belt at the waist. The Jebba comes in a wide range of colors. A traditional round felt hat called the Chechia can also be seen. The Barnous is a traditional Tunisia garment worn in cold weather. It is basically the long woolen cloak worn by Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars. The Blouza and Fouta are the major traditiojal women's garments. Thy are not as modest as many Islamists would like. The The Hijab was once prohibited by Tunisia's secular Government. Since the Arab Spring, however, you now see quite a mumber of women wearing them.

Ethnicity

The population of Tunisia is a complex mixture of people with European Arab, Berber, and to a lesser extent Turkish descent. It is described today as highly homoginized and constituting some 98 percent of the population. There was once a small Turkish elite as a result of the Ottoman era, but today the great mass of the Tunisan population sees itself as having Arab or Berber origins and just describe themselves as Arab. Ara is, howeverm more of a cultural than a ethnic term. It does not mean that the dominant ethnic component comes from the Arabian Peninsula. The Europeans (French and Italian) and Jewish people were once part of this mosacic but left or were expelled after World War II. In fact the ethnic compsition is more complicated. Tunisia was part of the ancient Mediterranean world long bedore the arrival of the Arabs. The first people known to inhabit modern Tunisia were the Berbers. Numerous civilizations and peoples subsequently invaded or migrated to Tunisia, dominating coastal regions. These included Phoenicians/Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Arabs, Spaniards, Ottoman Turks and Janissaries, and French. The Carthaginians were of Phoenician origins. Carthage was a major ancient power, but did not control muxch of the interior. They were eradicated or enslaved by the Roman during the Third Punic War (2nd cenntury BC). In the case case of the Romans they contolled a substantial area of the interior and would have left an important ethnic imprint. Unlike the Cathaginians, the Romans were primarily interested in agriculture and the production of grain. After the Arab conquest (7th century AD), there was a flow of nomadic Arab tribes from Arabia. [Stearns and Langer, pp. 129131.] The flow of Europeans ceased except for captives taken by Corsairs at sea or on raids of Sicily and European coastal areas. This finally changes with French colonization (1880s) occured well after that of Algeria. Substantial numbers of French colonuists and administrators arrived as well as many Italians. Mixing with the Arab population, however, was limited. After the Christian Reconquista of Spain and expulsion of Moors and Jews, many sought refuge in North Africa, including Tunisia. One historian reports, "As many as eighty thousand Moriscos {Moors expelled from Spain] settled in Tunisia, most of them in and around the capital, Tunis, which still contains a quarter known as Zuqaq al-Andalus, or Andalusia Alley." [Carr, p. 290.] Until recently this ethnic melting pot, especially the ancient part of it was lost to history. DNA studies now provide actual data to assess the ethnic origins of the Tunisian people. While most modern Tunisians identify themselves as Arab, they are genetically mostly of Berber origins groups, with substantial Phoenician/Punic, Arab, and Western European (primarily Roman) inputs. Tunisians are descended, to a much lesser extent, from other African, Middle Eastern and/or European peoples. DNA studies show that less than 20 percent of the Tunisian genetic material (Y-chromosome analysis) comes from the present day Levant, Arabia, Europe, or West Africa. [Semino et. al and Cruciani et. al.] One DNA researcher writes, "In fact, the Tunisian genetic distances to European samples are smaller than those to North African groups. (...) This could be explained by the history of the Tunisian population, reflecting the influence of the ancient Punic settlers of Carthage followed, among others, by Roman, Byzantine, Arab and French occupations, according to historical records. Notwithstanding, other explanations cannot be discarded, such as the relative heterogeneity within current Tunisian populations, and/or the limited sub-Saharan genetic influence in this region as compared with other North African areas, without excluding the possibility of the genetic drift, whose effect might be particularly amplified on the X chromosome." [Athanasiadis et. al.] This suggests a fairly significant Middle Eastern and European input to Tunisian genetics compared to other neighbouring populations. The DNA work is ongoing. The most recent work suggests that Tunisians exhibit a mostly indigenous North African (Berber) genetic make up similar to other Maghreb populations. And a relatively high degree of native North African genes, but with higher Middle Eastern input than in Algeria or Morocco. [Ennafaa et. al.] What is mean by Native North African genes is something that needs to be assessed.

Activities

Tunisia until the French occuoation (1830s) did not have modern econoomies. There werre no schools beyond mosque madrasas. The only activity for most boys was from a very early age was work of some kind. Boys from poor families would begin work at a very early age as shepards, warter boys, and other activities. Religion was the primary other ctivity for children. The country for century had an economy built around piracy and the exploitation of the slaves taken by piracy. Ending piracy was one of the factors invoved in the French conquest. The French introduced the country's first secular schools. There is today some unteret in sports, especially football, but like most Muslim majority countries, sport is nowhere as popular as in most non-Muslim countries.

Religion


Schools

We have only limited information on Tunisian schools at this time. We do not know to wgat extent Tunisian children ttebded the French schools. Not do we know how common the medrasas attached ti the mosques were, Tujisia has a fascinating history. We haveno information on schools until the French colonial era. HBC at this time only has information on the French colonia era. We have collected a few photographs from individual schools. Tunisian families seem reluctant to send girls to the French schools. We have not yet found any information on the independence era.

Sources

Athanasiadis, Georgios, et. al.. "The X chromosome Alu insertions as a tool for human population genetics: data from European and African human groups," European Journal of Human Genetics Vol. 15, (2007), pp. 57883.

Carr, Matthew (2009). Blood and Faith: The Purging of Muslim Spain. (The New Press: 2009).

Cruciani, Fulvio; et al. (May 2004). "Phylogeographic Analysis of Haplogroup E3b (E-M215) Y Chromosomes Reveals Multiple Migratory Events Within and Out Of Africa," The American Journal of Human Genetics Vol. 74, No. 5 (May 2004), pp. 101422.

Ennafaa, Hajet et.al.. "Mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome microstructure in Tunisia," Journal of Human Genetics Vol. 56 (2011), pp. 73441.

Semino, Ornella, et. al. American Journal of Human Genetics Vol. 74 (2004), pp. 102334.

Stearns, Peter N. and William Leonard Langer. William (2001). The Encyclopedia of World History: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern, Chronologically Arranged Sixth Edition (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 2001).






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Created: 1:41 AM 7/13/2013
Last updated: 11:00 PM 10/16/2015