The Daring Daughters of Kahena

September 23, 2019

The Daring Daughters of Kahena

Max Freedom Long was a young American student of world religions who, in 1917, took a teaching job in Hawaii. There he heard of guarded references to native magicians known as "Kahunas," who could heal by magic, kill at a distance, control the weather, and see into the future and change it. In time he realized that it was all part of an ancient religion, one that we know today as "Huna," the secret.

His curiosity aroused, he witnessed some miraculous healings and the apparent control of the weather, animals and other elements by Kahunas, the priests/sorcerers or keepers of the secret. He also learned that when Christian missionaries had come to the islands to rule the natives, they outlawed the Kahunas and banned their practices, driving them underground.

Long was consumed by such a passionate desire to understand the magic that it became a life-long obsession. But after years of patient and earnest research on the islands, he finally gave up and went home without a clue. The natives, who witnessed the destruction of ancient Hawaiian traditions wrought by the well-intentioned Christian settlers, stopped revealing their secrets to any Haole (non-Hawaiian). They refused to teach them to even a trusted and sincere friend like Max Long.

At home, Long could not get Huna out of his mind. He deeply regretted his inability to help preserve the ancient skills, which were by then in danger of being lost forever because young Hawaiians were no longer interested in learning them. He remembered the healing and other feats of magic he had witnessed and so passionately wanted to understand and share with others. He remembered, too, his painstaking efforts to make himself trusted and his thorough study of the Hawaiian language. Then at last it occured to him: If something could be done, there had to be words to describe it.

Returning eagerly to his studies, he searched the Hawaiian vocabulary for words corresponding to the effects he sought to understand. After more diligent work, he, in his own words, cracked the code and put together his first book, "Recovering the Ancient Magic," (Rider & Co., London, 1936).

A year after the publication of the book, Long received a letter from a retired English journalist, William Reginald Stewart, who said that "Recovering the Ancient Magic" described the same magic that he, in his youthful travels, had seen and learned from an Amazigh woman in the Atlas Mountains.

Not only that, wrote Stewart, some Hawaiian words were the same as those of a secret, magical language of the Amazighs. The Hawaiian word Kahuna (Kahuna Wahini or Kahini for a female) was the Amazigh word Kahena for a sorceress. The words for a god, too, were almost identical, "akua" in Hawaiian and "atua" in the Amazigh sorcery language. In addition, the similarity of Kahuna, Kahena, and Kahini to the ancient Indian Tantric work for a goddess or a woman of wisdom and power, "Dakini (sky walker)," presents us with the mind-boggling geographic array of Hawaii, India, and North Africa, all with different languages, but all using virtually the same word for wise, powerful women.

In his letter, Stewart described his adventures at the end of the last century in North Africa where he was prospecting for oil and corresponding to the Christian Science Monitor. Having heard about a tribe in the Atlas Mountains whose Kahena was a famous magician, he took his vacation, hired guides and set out to find the tribe and its sorceress. High in the Atlas Mountains, he did, at last, find her. She was the last Kahena still alive, for by Stewart's time the Amazigh Kahenas, sadly, had all died but one, Lucchi. Luckily for Stewart she was just about to begin the training of her seventeen-year-old daughter in the magical arts.

Stewart was a bit more fortunate than Long was to be some twenty years later. By dint of persistence and persuasiveness, he got himself adopted as Lucchi's "blood son" and was allowed to join mother and daughter in the training. But his inability to speak the Amazigh tongue forced him to laboriously match school book French to Tamazight to understand Lucchi and the secret magical language. The delay turned out to be costly.

When the training finally began, Lucchi first revealed the legendary history of the Amazighs which told of twelve tribes, all with Kahenas, living in the Sahara in times so ancient that it was then a green and fertile land. But when the rivers began to dry up, the tribes had to move. They eventually settled in the Aures and Kabyle Mountains of the coast, the Atlas Mountains north of the Sahara of modern Tunisia and Morocco. Amazigh descendants, the Tuaregs or "The Blue People," immigrated south of the Sahara to settle in the Ahaggar and Tassili N'Ajjer Mountains of Algeria and the Air Mountains of present-day Niger. Other tribes began to move into the Nile valley where they ruled, the legends said, and built the great pyramids. But, foreseeing a coming time of great intellectual darkness in the world and wanting to preserve their precious secrets for a future golden age, the Egyptian Amazigh tribes decided to scatter to other lands where they hoped to perpetuate their teachings.

Some went to India and others traveled to the Pacific's then-uninhabited islands, by way of the Red Sea. This dovetails nicely with a Hawaiian legend of their origins that begins with "a journey across the Red Sea of Kane," Kane being a principle Hawaiian god.

In the subsequent part of the training, Lucchi demonstrated her powers to heal the sick and control birds, beasts, serpents, and the weather. Theoretical studies finally behind him, Stewart was ready for practical applications. Unfortunately, to the horror of Stewart and Lucchi's daughter, a stray bullet from a skirmish between two raiding parties in the valley below struck and killed the Kahena. Without a teacher -he presumed that the daughter knew little more than he did- Stewart returned to his other activities and eventually forgot about the Amazighs until he read Long's book.

Centuries after the exodus and the spread of the Amazigh tribes, when bronze-age mariners ventured to the shores of what are now Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, they found there a Caucasian race of matriarchal people who called themselves Imazighen -"the free." The name Berber by which they are commonly known may come from the Greek "barbaroi," meaning foreigner. The 14th century North African historian, Ibn Khaldun, however, described them as a people from the land of "Ber."

As early as 1200 B.C., Phoenician sailors, coming from what is now Lebanon, recorded that they found in North Africa (then called Libya), a race of Caucasians who worshipped the sun and sacrificed to the moon. Soon the Phoenicians became North Africa's first known conquerors and settled in what is now Tunisia. From there they exercised dominion over North Africa and the Mediterranean for more than a thousand years.

A famous Phoenician queen, Dido, founded the fabled city of Carthage near modern Tunis, where she successfully defended it against the forces of her brother who sought to unseat her in about 980 B.C. By 150 B.C., Carthage was the greatest maritime power in the world. It had successfully disputed with Rome in two of three Punic wars and sent Hannibal over the Alps to conquer Spain and invade Italy. But in the third Punic War, Rome ended Carthaginian rule (by 140 B.C.) and reduced Dido's empire to a Roman province.

Amazigh women are thought to be the Amazons recorded by Diodorus Siculus: They led their men to war, mutilated their enemies, and hennaed cowardly men. Pre-lslamic desert Amazighs were described as entirely matriarchal.

By 682 A.D., during the Islamic invasions of North Africa, a legendary woman, Dhabba the Kahena or Dahia-Kahena, queen of Carthage, ruler of the Amazighs and Mauritanians, rallied her forces when Islamic Arabs captured re-built Carthage in 698 and drove them from her city. To leave nothing for successive Arab invaders, she laid waste to her own country and was credited with preventing Islam's southward spread into the Sudan.

She was also known as Kahena the veiled queen of Jerawa (a tribe of the Aures Mountains), and was called the most famous and savage of the feminine enemies of Islam in North Africa. Kahena, of Jewish faith according to Ibn Khaldun, who said that her tribe had converted to Judaism, continued to fight the Arabs until her death in battle in 702 A.D. She is called the Ancestral Queen Mother of the Amazighs.

The tall, noble, proud, fierce and nomadic Tuaregs (Imucagh or free people) live in the Ahaggar and Tassili N'Ajjer Mountains of Algeria and the Air Mountains of Niger. They are called "The Blue People" because the indigo dye of the robes they wore, that are now saved for wear at fairs and festivals only, colored their skin blue. They trace their origins as a separate people to an Amazigh desert matriarch, Queen Tin Hinan, who led them on a desert trek to the Ahaggar Mountains.

In Tuareg custom, only the men are veiled, women wear a head-dress. The sight of a veiled Tuareg noble astride his prized white camel is romantic and arresting. However, it was a sight thought to strike terror in the hearts of all who beheld them sweeping across the desert in raids on caravans and tourists for bounty and slaves -a pursuit that made the Tuareg tribes wealthy and powerful. They have been feared and respected as the daring, deadly warriors they once were for as long as merchants have crossed the Sahara.

Now that the deserts are plied by trucks and so much of the tribesmen's livestock has been destroyed by drought, Tuareg nobles no longer rule their world. Some still keep livestock, while others now lead tours to the ancient, enigmatic rock paintings at Tassili N'Ajjer, northeast of the Ahaggar, and still others work in cities. Although the freedom loving people understandably dread the perhaps inevitable, future transition to a settled, rural life style, they continue to be proud and noble.

Although the unveiled Tuareg women have lost some of their power after their conversion to Islam in the 11th Century, they still retain more economic and social power than most of their present urban counterparts. They live in a completely matrilineal society. Tuareg women regard themselves as men's equals, marry at will, speak in council and serve as heads of encampments. Wives go where they please, hold property, teach and govern the home. Tuareg children, in this distinctly classed society, have their mother's rank and regard maternal uncles as next of kin. Matriarchs preside over some tribes and the men who head others are chosen by women.

Another famous female Amazigh warrior was Barshako who dressed as a man and led camel raids on other tribes. She is said to have returned home only to dismiss her husband, saying that she could no longer cook and keep house for a man.

Amazigh women are famed for their beauty as well as for their energy, strength, and the heavy work they cheerfully perform. In the huge, opulent homes of the Islamic Caliphs of Baghdad, Egypt, Spain and Istanbul, captured Amazigh women were described as the most beautiful of the beautiful, as well as the most desirable and entertaining. The mother of the second Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad was an Amazigh slave named Sallama. Zineb Nafzawi, one of the most famous Amazigh queens, shared power with her husband after the Islamic conquest of Spain, led by Islamicized Amazighs. Together, she and her husband ruled a huge empire extending from North Africa to Spain, between 1061 and 1107. When the Spanish expelled the Moslems from Spain at the end of the l5th century, many Andalusians, who were of Amazigh ancestry, settled in North Africa. From there some engaged in piracy, raiding the Mediterranean for slaves and treasure. Sayyida Al-Hurra was so successful a pirate leader that she became the governor of Tetouan, Morocco. She retained the office for many years and was the undisputed leader of pirates of the western Mediterranean, while her ally, the famous Turkish Barbaros of Algiers, led the pirates of the eastern Mediterranean. Sayyida was a key player in the political game between the Mediterranean powers as well. After the death of her first husband she married the king of Morocco (on her terms, requiring him to come to her for their wedding). She reined in Morocco from 1510 to 1542.

As recently as in the last century, an Amazigh prophetess, Fatma n Soumer or Lalla Fatma (Lalla, "Lady") took part in the resistance to the French in Kabylia in 1854, leading the North African peoples to war once more against the invading French. It took an army of 30,000 to finally defeat the prophetess. But the Kabyles remained unconquered until 1933.

The freedom and independence of Amazigh women is well known. An Algerian traveler, Al Warthilani, complained about the women in some Algerian towns who went about unveiled, exhibiting their ravishing beauty and shapely breasts! Ibn Batuta, too, in his wide travels, registered complaints about Islamic women's nudity elsewhere, of course. During Warthilani's pilgrimage to Mecca, Amazigh women from the Beni Amer tribe joined his caravan and virtually drove the pious man mad, displaying their bare-armed, bare-legged charms and gaily trying to seduce those men whose attention they attracted. Claiming divine powers, whether in jest or in all seriousness, the flirtatious girls threatened anyone who rebuked them, (which Warthilani did) with disaster! Their curses seemed to materialize too, he whined, calling the playful girls slaves of Satan.

Freedom for some Aures Mountain Amazighs extended as far as free love and polygamy. In the same Aures Mountains that spawned Kahena (north-east of the Ouled Nail, home of the Nailiyat, who will be discussed at length later), some girls of the Azriya tribe enjoyed ample sexual freedom, their inaccessible location protecting them from officials, tourists and the fame (or infamy, to patriarchal prudes), of their Ouled Nail sisters. The Azriyat (plural of Azriya) of two communities, the Ouled Abdi and the Ouled Daoud, were dancers who traveled from mountain village to mountain village to perform as well as have sexual relations with their patrons.

If she became pregnant an Azriya kept her child and was feted by the villagers with baby showers to insure the child's good fortune. Most Azriyat would eventually marry, and/or, if they were financially successful, perhaps make the pilgrimage to Mecca to insure their Islamic status. But they were always accepted by their own community.

An Aures Mountain woman shares equally the hard labor of ploughing, sowing, harvesting, grinding and shepherding with the men. Equality and independence was exercised by some girls by eloping with a group of young men, and after the honeymoon returning home with those they chose as husbands. Later, in the 1950's, however, the nationalist movement established headquarters in the Aures Mountains and considerably curbed those liberties.

In Morocco, Amazighs account for at least one half of the total population. Today, while many Amazighs are citified and Islamicized, many more still live in pueblo-like, mud homes in villages of the Atlas and Rif Mountains of the Sahara where they honor their ancient heritage. Many are still semi-nomadic. Many remain matrilineal. They are well known for their strength, independence, bravery and fighting spirit. Despite some intermarriage with Arabophones and Islam's prohibitions against liberty for women, many mountain Amazigh women, while paying lip-service to that religion, still remain quite free.

Every year in September, Moroccan Amazighs, especially those of Ait Haddidou, gather on the Imilchil plateau in the Atlas Range for the annual Moussem or festival, combining a local saint's day with a market. This one is the Bridal Fair.

During the three days of livestock trading, jewelry, clothes and kitchenware vending, sweet-mint-tea-drinking, respect-paying at the domed, white tomb of a marabout (saint), and family and friend reunions, young Amazigh eyes eagerly scan the lanes between tents and stalls for glimpses of prospective brides and grooms.

Swathed in deep blue, striped woolen capes, adorned with huge amber, coal, turquoise and silver necklaces, some displaying the emblem of the Carthaginian Great Godess of the Sky, Tanitt, the ravishing, rouged and khol-eyed marriageable daughters of Kahena gather, gossiping and jesting, to discreetly study prospective grooms who, in turn, scope out the bulkily-clad girls as best they can.

On the last day comes the choosing. Women and girls promenade down the central path while their suitors rush to grab the hands of their favorites. When her hand is seized the girl can accept or reject by clasping, his hand or pulling hers away until she and the man of her choice find each other and proceed, hand in hand, to stand together before the notary.

Later, after the harvest, the traditional marriage of a virgin bride will take place: First there is a mock fight between members of the two families, then comes the bride's ride on a sheepskin-saddled donkey to the groom's house and finally, she is carried over the threshold by her mother-in-law. Unless, of course, she has already been married and divorced. The majority of brides at the fair wear the peak headdress of a divorced or widowed woman while virgins wear flat headdresses.

These Atlas Amazighs, like their playful Aures Mountain and queenly Tuareg cousins, can divorce at will and retain their dowries. They can and do marry as many times as they wish, choosing a new husband every year if they like. Now that's some freedom!




In fairness, it must be added that the sentiments expressed about sexual freedom and pious Muslims are this author's, and emphatically not those of Lazreg, who seems to have included the examples of sexual freedom on the part of Algerian women, without identifying them as Amazighs, simply to refute stereotypes about Islamic, Middle Eastern women in general and Algerian women in particular. Note, however, that Lazreg is very critical of feminist writings and especially the mythologizing of heroines like Kahena. Moreover, she claims that the Kabyle Amazigh intellectual movement is anti-Arab and anti-Muslim, and regards pride in a distinct Amazigh identity as irreligious and unpatriotic.

By Ann Marie Maxwell



[1] Algeria, Berlitz Country Guide, MacMillan. Switzerland, 1990.

[2] The Berbers of Morocco, Alan Keohane, Hamish Hamilton, Ltd., Penguin Books, London, 1991.

[4] The Eloquence of Silence, Algerian Women in Question, Marnia Lazreg, Routledge, N.Y., London, 1994.

[5] The Encyclopedia of Amazons, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Anchor Doubledy, N.Y., 1992.

[6] The Forgotten Queens of Islam, Fatima Mernissi, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1993.

[6] Lost Cities and Ancient Mysteries of Africa and Arabia, David Hatcher Childress, Adventures Unlimited Press, 1993.

[7] National Geographic, January 1980, Berber Bride's Fair, Carla Hunt, Photos by Nik Wheeler. <p. [8]="" ibid,="" may="" 1958,="" sand="" in="" my="" eyes="" ,="" jinx="" roger.="">

[9] lbid, June 1960, "Algeria," Howard LaFay.

[10] Ibid. November 1965, "I Joined a Sahara Salt Caravan," Victor Englebert.

[11] Ibid, June 1968, "Trek by Mule Among Moroccan Berbers," Victor Englebert.

[12] Ibid, August 1973, "Algeria: Learning to Live With Independence," Thomas Abercrombie.

[13] Ibid, April 1974, "Drought Threatens the Tuareg World," Victor Englebert.

[14] Ibid, August 1979, "The Inadan, Artisans of the Sahara," Michael and Aubine Kirtley. <p. [15]="" the="" secret="" science="" behind="" miracles,="" max="" freedom="" long,="" de="" vorss="" publications="" ,="" 1976.="">

[16] The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, Barbara Walker, Haprer and Row, San Francisco.

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