Local Culture


Relizane (1895/1905) 

     Throughout his guidebook, Hyam explains what, not who, a native is. He depicts them as “primitive”, “barbaric” and “wild”, everything a white European is not painted to be. From his portrayal, native Algerians and their culture become the Other to Europeans and their innate belief in cultural superiority. Hyam constantly constructs what a native is to illustrate his racist belief in a natural contrast between native Algerians and Europeans.

     He provides this belief to entice his audience to become tourists and see the exotic and inferior Others he speaks about. He also presents this belief to inform tourists of their own position within the French empire which is as upholders of it, especially when they travel to different territories of the empire. Yet Hyam’s beliefs are not unique to him. At this time (20th century), his beliefs were a part of a larger European discourse that saw Africans and their culture as primitive, barbaric and unknowingly unrefined, almost childlike. It was the time of colonialism, imperialism, and ultimately racist talk and behavior.   

     Hyam describes “The Negro Fêtes of Relizane” which is a Black Algerian cultural festival that happens in the streets of Relizane every Thursday and involves parading, music and animal sacrifices. Within his description, Hyam compares Black Algerians to animals. He writes, “thousands of ragged Arabs invade the streets … looking like ants around an open nest” and “a negro … spins round and round a number of times, squats down on his heel and raises himself upright on tiptoe without slackening for a moment his giddy whirligig, somewhat suggestive of the antics of an unsteady weathercock”. First, Hyam’s use of “negro” not just here, but throughout this section and guidebook, is a part of European racist discourse. Second, his reduction of Black Algerians to animals dehumanizes their life and devalues their culture. Third, he leaves tourists left desiring to see Black Algerians perform their bodies and culture for them when they visit, much like animals in a zoo. In sum, Hyam’s writings on this event establishes a racist exoticism of Black Algerian culture. He is supporting racial discourses about Black folks being animals that goes back to slavery.

     Similar to this narrative, Hyam places this section at the beginning of the guidebook, under the title “General Description” and lumps it together with accounts of the geography from the town of Algiers to the climate. He is equating native Algerians and their culture to Algerian geography. Hyam is announcing that Black Algerian culture is a site of “curious”, “interesting” and “picturesque” “sickening dances” and “reckless barbarism” that is a sight for tourists to see. As a result, Hyam is encouraging tourists to come and consume Black Algerians and their way of life for themselves and the empire. He is speaking to his belief in tourists’ right to invade the culture of the Others. His belief keeps alive the racial hierarchies at the time.      

     As raised earlier, Hyam’s tone in his talk of Black Algerian culture is racist. In various ways, he calls native Black Algerians “madmen” and “fanatical” with “superhuman vigor” and moves “like demons”. His racist tone and language are constant and repetitive because he intends to instill the European belief in cultural superiority to his audience. In turn, his audience becomes tourists who carry out the goal of the French empire.


Local Culture