Djerba, Tunisia

The Tunisian Island of Conviviality

Fadhloun Mosque
Fatih, merchant of Houmt Souk
The Challenge of Not Breaking Dishes
Amazigh and his camels
The Spanish Castle
Various potteries
The El Ghriba synagogue
The Sidi Jmour Mosque
Dª Radlia's boutique
The Church of Saint Joseph
Melhfa traditional costumes
Houmt Souk shoppers
Ibadite Mosque of Sedouikech
Traditional Architecture
Shem, Amazigh, owner of camels
Conversation in Blue Bouganvillea
Wall vs Clothesline
Almost night at Houmt Souk
The largest island in North Africa has long welcomed people who could not resist it. Over time, Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs called it home. Today, Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities continue an unusual sharing of Djerba with its native Berbers.

Another day dawns, on the way to the end of summer in the Mediterranean south of Africa.

The strong evaporation of the waters that Rome treated as Mare Nostrum, reinforces a heavenly veil overloaded with moisture. It keeps the island in a cocoon of water, in a sultry blue caress more to be expected at tropical latitudes.

We advance along the retained sea and marsh between the north coast of the island and the peninsula of Ras R'mal, aimed at the capital Houmt Souk.

We found that the wind that blows from the east, over the coast and which drives a multitude of kitesurfers, avoids an otherwise excruciating summer pressure cooker.

After all, we are also on the doorstep of great Sahara desert.

Merchants in the “market district” know well what to expect. On normal days, they feel the temperature rise to the 30s or a little higher, then gradually retreat into the mild twenties.

The Mercantile Life of the Houmt Souk Capital

When the Sahara raises its roar to the north, then Djerba and the Houmt Souk are roasting under orange dust, on their way to 50

Catch us a regular day.

Merchants from the island's famous and colorful pottery serve Djerbian housewives, distinguished by their traditional Melhfa costumes, also known as Domiatis.

They are made of Mdahlla straw hats, which crown large white veils, streaked with orange and red, or garnet.

Over time, these garments, which are believed to originate from Domiat, an Egyptian village close to Port Saíd, have undergone adjustments and improvisations, but throughout Djerba we come across authentic versions of the costume.

In Houmt Souk, we also come across variations of fabrics and patterns where even the Mdahlla differs from the original.

A Panoply of Costumes. Some Traditional, Others Not So Much

In keeping with its status as a tourist hub, Houmt Souk, and by extension other modernized towns on Djerba, have become more multicultural and tolerant.

Around here, young Tunisians wear tight jeans and drive, slowly and even with one arm out the window.

They pass by women at opposite ends, from other generations and/or subject to the rigidity of other Muslim currents, clad in long hijabs and even niqabs.

As far as men are concerned, freedom is another. Almost everyone wears westernized clothing, without much criteria, t-shirts, shirts, pants and even shorts.

Around us, we find an exception, in Fatih, an elderly salesman slouched over an iron chair, his age marked by a gray beard between his hat taqiah white and the plunging neckline that almost covers her feet.

We wandered between labyrinths of porcelain.

The Peculiar Architecture and Main Church of Djerba

Soon, through white alleys with turquoise fences, porches and doors.

Others, degraded, with the facades little or not at all whitewashed, peeled by the time that wall paintings endow with the missing color.

In this cirandar, we face the Turks mosque.

Over there, a resident sogui candidate for guide asks us: “Where are you from, Italy, France? Didn't I guess?

Does not matter.

They are definitely European.

I just wanted to tell you that the most important church in Djerba is over there.”

This anxiety to underline and spread the minority's right to coexist in Djerba goes back a long time.

From Odysseus' Djerba to Today's

From the confines of mythology and the multicultural and multi-religious history of the island.

In their era, the Greeks knew the inhabitants of Djerba as lotus eaters, food that was always plentiful in the lagoons and wetlands of the island, such as the prodigious and protected area of ​​Bin El Ouedian.

Odysseus, king of Ithaca, hero of "Odyssey” of Homer, and his warriors found themselves driven to the island and shipwrecked there by furious winds that forced an interregnum in their adventures in the Mediterranean.

consummated to Christianization of the Romans, Girba, the city in the province of Tripolitania from which the name Djerba derives, has generated and hosted renowned bishops.

About eight centuries later (from 1135 to 1310), the crusade and Christian expansion of the Norman kings of Sicily opened the doors to the Christian community that subsists on the island, descendants of Maltese and Italian traders who ended up settling there.

The Aragonese Conquests and Losses of the Island

The siege of the Christian Kingdoms did not end there.

In 1510 Ferdinand II of Aragon the Catholic attempted to conquer Djerba from the Muslim sheikh who controlled it, with the broader aim of extending Spanish control over the Barbary coast.

The expedition he commanded proved so reckless that it resulted in the death of several thousand soldiers. It became known as the Djerba Disaster.

When we visit the fort also known as Borj Ghazi Mustapha, we become aware of this other chapter in the history of the island. How, the Aragonese built it at the end of the XNUMXth century.

How they lost it to the Arabs. And how, two hundred and twenty years after they built it, they dramatically failed to reconquer it.

Boutiques, souvenir shops and street art

We pass by a traditional clothing boutique, embellished by mannequins that display it. Dona Radlia, the owner, is encouraged by the attention we pay to her business.

He agrees to have himself photographed, like a gentle, flesh-and-blood mannequin.

Ahead, two other shopkeepers sit in conversation against the base of a picturesque new blue-white facade, this one tinged green and pink by a leafy bougainvillea.

Djerba Island of Tunisia, conversationThe front of the church of São José is, for a change, white and yellow. It stands out, half-walls and above a wall furrowed by structural lines.

Framed in an arch, between blankets and rugs for sale, the painting of a smiling girl radiates naive happiness.

At that time, only a priest came and went, but at hours of worship it inspired hundreds of practicing Christians in Djerba.

The following afternoon, already in the village of Erriadh, we combine an incursion into the art of the Djerbahood neighborhood with a second one, at the core of another minority community on the island, the Jewish one.

El Ghriba Synagogue, at the Heart of the Thousand Year Old Jewish Community of Djerba

More than a decade after our first visit to Djerba, we returned to the El Ghriba synagogue. We find it as central as before, its Moorish architecture, its rules and mystical atmosphere, untouched.

A first employee makes sure that we take off our shoes and put on a skullcap and a scarf covering our heads.

Another, already at the entrance to the nuclear room of the bimah, confirms this, keeps an eye on the actions of visitors and other needs of the temple, such as replacing the candles that he is responsible for keeping lit.

Despite the superficial interest of most outsiders, given over to selfies without a yes, despite the relative youth of the temple, erected at the end of the XNUMXth century, the synagogue of El Ghriba is the oldest in Africa.

It is based on a deep historical root and on an unquestionable religious value both for the approximately XNUMX Jews of Djerba, and for Judaism in general.

The Diaspora of the Cohen Jewish Caste

Its oral history confirms that Jews have inhabited the island for over 2500 continuous years. A legendary explanation associates it with the escape of the High Priests, when the Temple of Solomon of Solomon was destroyed. Jerusalem, ordered by Nebuchadnezzar II, king of the Babylonians.

He adds that these Cohen carried with them to Djerba some stones and a door from the Temple of Solomon. Their descendants preserved them over the centuries and incorporated them into the El Ghriba synagogue.

Despite the spread of this narrative, the first written evidence of the presence of Jews in Djerba – a community that is unique due to the abundance of elements of the Cohen priest caste – has only been found in records from the XNUMXth century, preserved in Cairo.

Let's travel to a beach in the north of Djerba and, at the same time, to its origins.

The Berbers who prefer to be Treated of Amazigh

We are getting ready for a dip in the warm waters of the Gulf of Gabés, when one of the several owners of dromedaries that offer walks along the seaside approaches us.

The sun is about to set. We prefer to appreciate the phenomenon in the water than on the back of camelids.

Sem, the animal owner, understands. He just asks us to photograph him. This pretext gives rise to a lively conversation that confirms that, as always, in these cases, not everything is perfect.

“We and our ancestors are the real natives here!” alleges, to the detriment of the Arab imposition.

“You Europeans always liked to call us Berbers but that term associates us with Barbarians and we never accepted or used it.

For us, we are the Imazighen, the free men of North Africa.

I'm an Amazigh!

It continues to disappoint us the way in which the Arabs strive to dilute our dialect and culture. I will always fight against it!”

Islamism and the Djerbian Islamic Derivation of Ibadism

The Arabs conquered Djerba from the Byzantines in 667 AD, less than 50 years before they took over the Iberian Peninsula.

In the process of religious conversion, much of the island adhered to a puritanical spiritual doctrine of Islam. Ibadism, as it is called, diverged from the main branches of Islam: Sunnism and Shiism.

It is based on a sober follow-up to the ancestral sources of Islam, which can be seen in the underground simplicity of several mosques, such as that of Sedouikech, concealed today among one of the island's vast olive groves.

The Ibadites and their mosques always tried to remain unnoticed by their enemies, Christians, Ottomans and others during the different war eras.

Nowadays, Djerba renews a multiethnicity and religious coexistence of which it can continue to be proud.


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