The Haïk: A Symbol of Algeria's Revolution

Saturday, November 1, 2014 | Algiers, Algeria

One of my shots from the "Moi et Mon Haïk en Ville" event, March 2014.
We Americans only get to celebrate our independence once a year, but Algerians commemorate theirs twice: on the day the country officially won its independence, July 5, but also on the day the revolution against French colonial rule began, November 1. Today marked the 60th anniversary of the start, in 1954, of Algeria's war for independence.

Local artist Souad Douibi, organizer of the street performance/festival I attended in March in celebration of the haïk—the traditional women's dress of Algiers—took the opportunity to hold another such event on this patriotic day. The choice was fitting, given the haïk's central place not just in the aesthetic of 1950s Algeria, but also in the revolution itself. (It turns out a head-to-toe sheet works as well for hiding a guerrilla fighter as it does for hiding a lady. Can't picture it? Go watch The Battle of Algiers!)

As in March, several dozen women, young and old, from around Algiers answered the call to dig out their haïks (or, in many cases, their grandmothers') and assemble this morning for a procession through downtown Algiers. I met them at the
start to distribute prints of my photos from the March event and, Rolleicord in hand, to snap new ones along their route. Many knew me from March, and asked me to photograph them again with my peculiar old camera.

The ladies—plus a handful of men in traditional outfits—processed down the winding main boulevard of central Algiers, drawing stares and cheers in equal measure from the streets and the balconies above. Several carried Algerian flags, matching those hung overhead for the independence celebration. As they marched, they periodically broke into ululations, or sang Algeria's national anthem and other patriotic chants.

The haïk event earlier this year was a highlight of my time here in Algiers. But between today's festive holiday atmosphere and the fact that now I actually know some of the participants, this one might have topped it.

I worked my way through seven rolls of film at this morning's event, but we'll have to wait until I can develop them to see if there are any keepers! Photos from the event are now available here!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fanon also talks about the soft power dimension of the Haïk, that is to say its ability to conserve a distinct identity in the face of a ruthless colonial enterprise.

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