Sunday, July 19, 2009
Before we can talk about Algeria, we must take a moment to talk about the difference between Arabs, Persians, and North Africans. Even though these countries share a religion and a language (Arabic), they are not all the same. In fact, to say that Arabs and Persians are the same is similar to saying French and English are the same.
And they are not.
Algeria is one of the largest nations in Africa, but unfortunately, most of it is desert. Useless desert.
Historically, Algeria was the home to Berbers (we'll get them later) and then Carthaginians who pushed their way in during the Punic Wars. Romans and Vandals have also been involved in the history of Algeria, but we really need to pinpoint an era of the country to do it justice, so I'd like to approach Algeria in this manner.
First, because most Middle Eastern and African nations today have boundaries that have little to match their historical cousins, I can't always explore the minutia of cultures like Mahgreb, Numidia, and the dozens of Berber tribes. I can only explore these ideas as far as time will allow. This blog is free, after all.
Secondly, there's a lot of research people can do on their own. I'm mostly working from my own knowledge of these nations, with some wikipedia help when I get stuck. North Africa is not my strong suit, but I am still fascinated by it. If I get something wrong, don't hesitate to correct me.
As a fantasy nation, Algeria would have a long history of Berber influence and culture. In fact, even during times of occupation, the Berber culture and faith changed very little. That is until the Arab conquest, when the Berbers converted to Islam.
For roleplaying opportunity, I think this is an excellent time period to examine.
Imagine a culture, dominating a region as large as an area the size of the Gibraltor to the Nile, slowly subsumed by an invading force over 60 years, while converting to the invading faith — and not by force. Imagine two cultures, at their peeks, colliding and melding, to form a society that still survives to this day. [Culturally, modern Algeria is not very different than it was 1400 years ago.]
Now. Imagine that Berber land cut off from other portions of the Berber lands. To the far east, the Berbers quickly turn their back on the old culture, but to the west, their is a staunch need to adhere to language, customs, and traditions. In fact, this cultural "purity" would lead to the revolts in the mid-8th century to the notions of Berber slaves. Although, this revolt did not happen in Algeria, it is relevant to a discussion of the culture.
Culture and Character
"Berbers" as a sub-race of humans in a fantasy game would definitely show signs of high WIS and cultural acceptance. Berbers are tribal, semi-nomadic, and subsistence farmers. Tribes are small, and unified with so much variation in cultural rites from one tribe to the next, GMs could really develop anything they wanted here. Predominately patriarchal, some tribes actually allowed women to make decisions and be equal to men.
The people are expert weavers, producing fantastic tapastries. Traditionally, Berbers built small, functional cities, relying on their own work rather than the production of others (as would be typical of a Western Fantasy setting). Scholars and artisans only developed after the Islamic invasion of the 7th and 8th century.
From a roleplaying point of view, Berbers are a fantastic culture of study because of how long they remained constant. Without outside influence, Algeria never changes.
Algerians, Iranians, and Turks have been nominated (over the years) by Rand McNally as the friendliest people on earth to travelers... which feels contrary to the negative view Muslim nations are attributed by the media. In a roleplaying context, this means a nation where people help foreigners, greet other nations, and in general do not make war, but rather extend and exchange culture.
Berbers are also studied for their genetics, since strains of Berbers and Maghreb DNA has been traced back 50,000 years. Hardly relevant to this post, but I read about it in the waiting for at the dentist's office.
Algerian and Berber Names
Female: Aicha, Asma, Assia, Basma, Fawzia, Hayat, Imane, Ismahane, Mariyam, Meryem, Mouna, Nadjet, Najiya, Naouel, Narimane, Nejma, Rachida, Rayane, Samia, Shada, Sihem, Sonia, Soraya, Souad, Soulaf, Yasmine
Male: Bakri, Bassam, Bilai, Farid, Fouad, Gabir, Hassan, Hatim, Khalil, Lounes, Mashaal, Qais, Reda, Said, Samir, Sofiane, Talal, Yassin, Yanis