Mabrouk Jebahi (Archives nationales de Tunisie), “‘Orf, Democratic Spirit and Dissidence: Reading Muslim Tradition and Colonial Ethnography from the Tunisian South”
“The bedouins are more perverse and hypocritical”, Qur’an, IX, 97.
The Muslim tradition integrated the ancient Roman typology of the city and the limes in order to maintain the political supremacy of the city. In the Maghreb, medieval legal experts, from Sahnoun (776 – 854) to al-Borzuli (1339 – 1443) and al-Wansharissi (1430 – 1508), adopted the distinction between the space of the canonical law of the Sharî’a, that of the cities and the coast, versus that of the tribes of the interior, self-governed by the customs of the ‘Orf. This legal dichotomy gave rise to polysemous notions (hadhira vs badiya, makhzen vs siba), which have marked the literature of chronicles and travels for centuries, following the example of Ibn Khaldun (1332 – 1406), and Leon the African (1494 – 1555).
Examining the case of the Tunisian extreme south, and particularly the territories of the semi-nomadic tribe of the Ourghemma, abundantly evoked by the traveller Tidjani in 1306 as well as in military reports of the colonial period, this article aims at examining how tribal deliberative customs and solidarity was interpreted in the Tunisian medieval legal and historical literature. It also aims at discussing the way in which colonial ethnography interpreted these these layers of historicity.