THE KAHINA, QUEEN OF THE BERBERS

Dihya al‑Kahina was a Berber queen, religious and military leader who fought against Islamic expansion in Northwest Africa during the 7th century. Arab records describe her as having “dark skin, a mass of hair and huge eyes” – the comment referring to her hair may refer to an afro or perhaps dreadlocks.


Dihya was raised in the Aures mountains in what is now modern‑day Algeria. She was daughter to the chieftain of a Jewish Berber(Amazigh) tribe.

In the early 7th century the Berbers of Northwestern Africa were under the control of the Exarchate of Carthage, itself a division of the Byzantine Empire. However after Egypt fell to Islamic conquest the Exarchate found itself in direct conflict with the Islamic Caliphates. The Byzantine capital of Carthage eventually fell to the armies of the Umayyad General Hasan ibn al‑Nu'man, essentially wiping out Byzantine control of the area. However with their former rulers defeated, Dihya was able to rally all of the Berber tribes under her leadership and she became know as the 'Queen of the Berbers’ . She mounted a campaign of resistance against the Ummayyad invaders, at first using guerrilla warfare but quickly escalating into outright conflict. Under her instruction the disorganised Berber forces quickly transitioned into a well‑ disciplined army.


Seeing Dihya as the most powerful opponent in the region, General Hasan marched south to engage her. Their armies met near Meskiana, where Dihya’s forces defeated Hasan’s so completely that he fled the area and retreated to Libya for the next few years. This was so effective that some Arabs doubted whether Africa could be taken. As one African army was beaten another replaced them. The Arabs seized Carthage in 698 AD. Dahia defeated them and instituted a scorched earth policy to prevent the Arabs from being able to find crops to feed on in the region. That desolation can be seen even today in southern Tunisia. Eventually, however, the Arabs returned. Dahia was finally defeated in battle in 705

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