Secrets From The Sahara : Ancient Kébili Tales of my Ancestors Part 1 : Al Kahya Ahmed Ben Belgacem Ben Hamadi
Oral tales are basic components of the history we had,have and will have in the future. There will always be a difference between what we read and what we hear. What we read is static, i myself never believed and will never believe that what is written is the absolute truth. What we hear is dynamic, it changes according to the one who tells it and still i won’t affirm that what we hear will be the absolute truth, so i kept looking for the beauty of narration and i decided to write what i hear exactly as i hear it. I may in another article give a different face to that same story of today, who knows.
Al Kahya or who we refer to today as the governor, Ahmed Ben Belgacem Ben Hamadi. Not so far from the ancient kebili there’s a tower or likely to be a small castle referred to as the tower of Al Kahya, i’ve heard about that person since i was a child and that there are alot of stories about him but i knew nothing about these stories until i’ve recently talked to my neighbor Zohra Ben Ltayef Ben Hmed Ben Souf, i consider her a historical encyclopedia for the city of Kebili.
Back in the days in Kébili, the ones outstanding in their study used to be sent to finish their studies in Al Azhar mosque in Cairo, Egypt. After their graduation,their files were sent to Al Bey or the President and he assigns them in different posts. The Beys or Presidents were Turkish because of the domination of Turkey that day. Ahmed Ben Belgacem Ben Hamadi was one of these students and he was assigned Kahya of Kébili. He decided to build the tower in a high hill near the ancient Kébili as the house of the people in which conflict be resolved, legislations be made, taxes collected… a palace of justice. As the city ruler, he gave orders to the citizens to cut their high palm trees and refine them, burn a specific type of sand to be used as construction materiels. Workers were some of the locals and the others were slaves he bought and brought basically from South Africa and they all worked for free as he convinced them that this building is for their own good. Each woman in the city was obliged to prepare a big bag of burnt sand called Jass. Rocks and stones were brought from the mountains dragged using cows and bulls. The doors of the tower were brought from other cities like Djerba and Kairouan. The house of justice, the tower of the people became then his own place, he was named after him and he built for his seven children near it. Authority and influence change people.
One day, he was sitting with the city’s dignitaries, no one was supposed to pass by him wearing shoes as it was said, when you pass by him you must be barefoot. A man mistakingly passed by him wearing shoes so he ordered him to undress and go clean the places where citizens used to put all kinds of rubbish, he obeyed but after that incident he decided to leave the city and he took an oath not to come back until the Kahya is gone.
The grudge held by Al Kahya against the village of Jemna :
An incident that happened before Ahmed Ben Belgacem Ben Hamadi was assigned a governor, a man who worked with Al Bey in Tunis sent an order to the mayor of Kébili for the taxes ans tributes but the mayor didn’t respond so Al Bay decided to sell Kébili to the nearby villages without the knowledge of neither the mayor nor the citizens. The village of Jemna heard about it so they travelled to Tunis to meet Al Bey, they paid the price, went back to ancient Kébili and they started to evict the people from their houses. A civil war started, the resistence was arrested and put in jails in Tunis, a large group of the citizens of kébili migrated to other places, 6 years and Kébili’s in sorrow because she lost her people.
قالت قبلي وقالت القلعة وقالت قبلي
قالت قبلي أنا المفهومة, خلخالي يرجّح بالسّومة
كن بعت وقدّرني غومه, ويا قلعاوي وين تعيش
قالت قبلّي ما عينيش, لا إنّبت خضار ولا حشيش
يا قلعاوي وين تعيش, نتزوغب كيف تقابلني
Came the Eid, as in every Eid celebration, the wife of Al Bey gives her women new clothings to wear them and celebrate with the rest of the people, their men were in jail so the girls from Kébili refused even to smile, the wife felt pity so she asked her husband to release them, he did but the knights chose to stay in prison as they no longer have a homeland so he asked them to give him the price and take their land back. Knights gather themselves, collect a 100 Camel and paid them for Kébili. Al Kahya at this time was still studying but he witnessed all that, he promised revenge to Kébili’s raiders and he was telling this line which means that he won’t forget the day of Kébili and that one day he will pay back :
يا جمنة راهو السلف يولي .. بطال وما ننسى نهار قبلي
After he was assigned, he stayed 6 years without asking Jemna to pay the taxes and tributes, then he raised a complain to Al Bey who from his side gav him orders of emptiness. Al Kahya collected knights and he went and invade Jemna though te refusion of his nephew Ahmed Ben Souf who was a man of rights.
The era of Al Kahya carried on until the French colonization. The french General Markiz and his army and the knights of Al Kahya went to an exploratory trip from Kébili to the borders of Algerie and Libya but they came back without Markiz who was lost in the deep Desert of Kébili so they put the blame on Al Kahya and they dismissed him from his tasks.
Al Kahya Ahmed Ben Belgacem Ben Hamadi is as it’s said, buried under the current mosque of the ancient city of Kebili, and they said that they buried his wealth near him. They didn’t bury him in the cemetery because they were afraid of the reaction of the people who were tyrannized by him who may dig for his body and burn it.