By : Prakhya
5 min read
As I take a picture of Revere’s gritty faded Ocean Plaza storefront that blends into Angkor Thom Market, an older Moroccan man strikes a pose and says with a big smile “Yes, take my picture please!” I laugh and ask if he speaks Shilha, Riffian, or another Amazigh language. Boston (specifically East Boston and the surrounding areas) has the largest Amazigh community in the US. Rapid new settlements along the Blue line are erasing these communities, stop by stop. Famous for their resistance against Arab and Islamic colonialism, the Amazigh people are the Indigenous people of North Africa (Tamazgha). They have tattoos demarcating their tribal affiliation and follow pre-Islamic spiritual traditions worshiping earth, sun, mountains, astrological formations, and the Tamazight language itself.
Famous Amazigh musician and revolutionary Lounes Matoub boldly proclaimed, "I said no! I played hooky in all my Arabic classes. Every class that I missed was an act of resistance, a slice of liberty conquered. My rejection was voluntary and purposeful."
At a Yennayer (Amazigh New Year) celebration in Somerville, when asked about Lounes Matoub, a young man exclaims “he is our hero.”
Land theft, chemical warfare, incarceration, forced conversion, environmental destruction, ethnic cleansing, language loss, and surveillance are regular features of Arabization and Islamization.
The Boston area is also home to the largest populations of Kurds, Assyrians, Copts, Mizrahi Jews, Baháʼís who have been victims of the same imperialism as Amazigh people. Mayans, Tibetans, Afro-Brazilians, Haitians, and Cape Verdeans all call Boston home. As well as Natives (mostly concentrated in Mashpee) and the Black diaspora, who were the first displaced peoples on this land.
What does it mean to displace the already displaced, those who come here with a legacy of displacement in their own homelands?
Amazigh activist, Nuunja Kahina, writes:
“We may be able to piece together fragments – names and stories of deities – from various regions of Tamazgha… Islamization and Arabization have worked hard to eradicate the spiritual history of Tamazgha.
As in much of the colonized world, religion was and is used as a tool of Arab colonization in North Africa, allowing for the destruction of Indigenous language and culture.
Mother tongue – [is considered] to be of highly spiritual, and even sacred, significance. The land, too, is sacred and conceptualized in the political Amazigh imagination as Tamazgha, a region transcending the borders of modern nation-states. This is a re-indigenized spirituality, not developed by ‘going back’ and looking at pre-colonial religious beliefs, but by constructing the present material world around them as sacred.
How do you decolonize and return to your Indigenous spirituality if you don’t know what it is?
This land- and language-based spirituality, then, is still very much engaged with the natural world, but also re-inscribes a sacredness that was previously taken and destroyed by the influence of outside religions. Imazighen themselves are the creators of this spirituality, rather than being necessarily endowed by a divine being.
The Amazigh people have survived extended and repeated processes of colonialism and continue to live under and struggle against Arab domination in their homeland. The destruction of our culture and beliefs will never be undone, but as Amazigh resurgence movements demonstrate, we are not static or entirely dependent on the past.”
The Amazigh philosophy of being unable to reproduce a pre-colonial world, but to create with the reality around them is the perfect metaphor for what refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers do when they come to Boston.
In between MBTA lines are pockets of these little worlds that come together. The immigrant is the greatest artist because from nothing, we create life.
(@verifiedspicequeen where I post about fun, important, and unique topics!)
*Originally published in-print in Boston Compass Newspaper March 202 #144
Check out all the art and columns of March's Boston Compass at www.issuu.com/bostoncccompass