Jama`a

   This Arabic term refers to the assembly of notables of a tribe or a tribal section that in Berber society acts as a legislative, executive, and judicial entity. In some places, it goes by the name of taqbilt, the term being the Tamazight form of the Arabic word qabila: tribe and/or confederation referring to a political unit based usually on a segmentary lineage framework. It applies the abrid or qanoun, which are embodied in the corpus of customary law, called azerf. This legal code is oral as well as written. Aselect group of elders who retain the code in memory are known as aït al-haqq (men of truth) and serve as final arbiters in determining the rules of the code. Two mechanisms were (and still are in some places) critical for the maintenance of azerf: diya, or blood money, and tagallit, or collective oath. The practice of community consensus through jama`a indicates that Berber society is relatively democratic, though only elder men generally participated. Women, young men, and outsiders (as well as slaves and Haratine in the past) were excluded.
   Each jama`a has a paramount village or tribal leader, called amghar, who is elected (and most often appointed) annually with rotation of candidates from each lineage of the community in order to ensure the diffusion of authority. In addition to the paramount annual amghar, or supreme tribal leader (also called amghar n'uffalla), leaders were designated for specific tasks such as war (amghar al-barood), irrigation management (amghar n'waman or n-truguine), palm grove guard (amghar n'tmazirt), grazing movements (amghar n'-tugha or n'irrahhalen), collective lands (amghar n'iguldan), and market (amghar n'ssuq). Postcolonial administrative reforms have to a large extent undermined the traditional workings of the jama`a. Among the Aït Atta of Morocco, the internal and political affairs of sedentary communities were (and some still are) administered by the local agnatic lineage-based council called taqbilt or ajmu`. Each lineage or ethnic group occupied a certain part or street of the village. The ajmu` was composed of id-bab n-imuran, or lineage representatives, headed by the amghar n-tmazirt, the country or land chief. The amghar was elected or appointed every year from a different lineage. For instance, in Zaouiat Amelkis, the Aït Khabbash subtribe was divided into six lineages, or swadis: Aït `Amar, Aït Burk, Aït Taghla, Ilhiane, Irjdaln, and Izulayn. These six lineages made the taqbilt or ajmu` of the community. Each year, after the wheat harvest, they gathered to appoint the annual amghar, or chief of the community. The office of the chief rotated among the lineages. Once all the lineage representatives (as well as the fqih (imam) of the mosque to bless the gathering with benediction) were assembled in the ajmu`'s ahanu, or room, the selection started. The candidates from the incoming lineage sat on a red carpet and waited while the electors from the other lineages went outside to discuss their choice of the individual to be elected. Once the electors had made their decisions, they came back, walked in a circle around the candidates, and reported their decision to the fqih, and finally the fqih put his finger on the head of the person who was about to assume leadership.
   The newly selected chief sat down and usually cried and prayed to God to help him do justice, to do no harm, or to not falsely accuse any member of the community. His predecessor then walked forward to him and put a branch of alfalfa in his turban to confirm his chieftainship and to symbolize the hope for a bountiful harvest during his tenure. The fqih gave the new chief some milk and dates for his inauguration, but, while the chief is drinking his milk, the fqih would jerk the bowl of milk so that it spilled on the chief's robe. This act implied the new chief's imperfection in office and the frailty of his power and stressed the fact that he was no better than anyone else in the community.
   The main deliberations of the ajmu`'s representatives of the agnatic lineage groups of the subtribe centered on the communal management of the village cultural and economic life. The ajmu`'s concerns centered on the following themes critical to the welfare of the community and palm grove: to select the amghar of the year; to settle divisions of water and land; to organize harkas, or war parties; to administer any issue dealing with the lands and trees of the habous; to establish the distribution of the `ushur, or religious tithe and the share of the fqih of the mosque; to enforce order, fines and banishments; and to establish rules for sharing the costs of the guests of the community.

Historical Dictionary of the Berbers (Imazighen) . . 2014.

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