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Algeria Vineyards - Historical Significance through French Colonization

posted on: Jun 28, 2021

By: Ruqyah Sweidan/Arab America Contributing Writer


Science Source – Algeria, Wine Vineyard

Background of North African Agriculture

North Africa — Physical – David Rumsey Historical Map

Since the beginning of human settlement, agriculture has been an ever-changing, plentiful phenomenon. Not only is it a source of sustenance to people, it is also a platform for cultural expression. Algeria is worthy of such recognition. It is a proud center for the vast fruit vineyards that produce jam, wine and syrups. However, they are not as famous as vineyards in California or Italy. Algeria vineyards have also been subject of exploitation in its colonial past. In this article, we will explore the beginnings of Algerian agriculture. Then, we will dissect how it has been affected by French colonization. Finally, we will analyze its present day state.

The earliest humans are recorded to have been living in North Africa since 260,000 BC. There were also herds of large mammals, so the people lived as hunter-gatherers in paleolithic societies. Later, Neolithic farmers, who also domesticated animals, appeared by 6000 BC. Over this time, the Sahara region was an arid barrier between North and the rest of Africa. Subsequently, expansion of farming continued in Algeria through the Classical, Islamic and Ottoman Periods.

France’s Colonization

Wine Vineyards. SGCO-DZ
1910 Postcard from Algeria. Wikimedia Commons

The French conquest began in 1830 with the defeat and exile of the local Ottoman leader. Following consequences included the looting of religious buildings and the seizure of land. To this day, some of the vines French settlers had planted remain in Algerian soil. The French had started exporting this Algerian wine to increase the alcohol concentration of French wines and enhance their taste. This venture was extremely profitable for the French economy. Hence, the French had decided to multiply the vine plantations starting in the 1880s. The opulence of the vineyards supported the French claim that it was civilizing Algeria. Yet, the French and Spanish vine workers would not share their mechanics and techniques with indigenous labor. Thus, only French settlers benefited from the substantial growth of the wine industry.

Move Toward Independence

July 3, 1962. Algerian Independence. Marc Riboud.

Through the mid-twentieth century, after one hundred years of colonial rule, multiple generations of Pieds-Noirs (French-Algerians) were born. But, as French soldiers were called to fight in Europe, Algerian men were taking back important roles on the plantations. Nevertheless, Algerian workers were still a minority and bound to the European landowners. Thus, they were hired seasonally and could not seek membership with the French-established winery and credit unions. Hence, boundaries remained.  Yet, the Algerian fellah, or farmer, still wanted to reap the treasures which the occupier had taken. For the time being, these two groups of people relied on each other to continue production. In 1954, after decades of a tension-filled work relationship, the Algerians waged war for independence. The charge was called the Restoration of the Algerian State and was won in 1962.

While the victory was celebrated, Algerians faced the dilemma of the ethics of wine production in a Muslim majority country. The government did not want to continue engaging in a practice that symbolized their people’s subjugation. Subsequently, overall production of the vineyards evolved to other uses.

Conclusion

Grape Harvest in Algeria. China Daily.

Wine remains in production today, as do wheat, barley, pulses, vegetables, dates, table and wine grapes, figs, olives, and citrus. Algeria’s agriculture remains one of the most impressive in the region. However, Algerian peasants remain largely absent from the history of French wine production. Nevertheless, the history which Algerians keep is one of pride for the freedom-fighting farmers.

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