People & Culture

Mixed ancestry

Algerians are of mixed ancestry, mainly of Berber or Arab origins, but also with descendents of Europeans (such as the French or Spanish) and Sub-Saharan Africans. Skin, hair and eye colour vary greatly.

Mixed ancestryNine out of ten people live along the northern coastal region, where the major towns and cities are situated. In the Saharan regions of the south, some communities remain nomadic or semi-nomadic, such as the Tuaregs and Gnawa.

Most people speak a North African dialect of Arabic known as darja. But education and the written language are in classical Arabic. Many Algerians also use French, the language of the country’s coloniser – see History & Politics. However, younger generations tend to be less fluent in French, since schooling is in Arabic.

Around a fifth of the population speaks Berber as their mother tongue. This is not an official language of the country, although Berber groups – such as the Kabylie, Aures, M’Zab and Hoggar – would like it to be. Rather than learning Arabic, many Berbers prefer to use French as their choice of second language.

The place of religion

The vast majority of Algerians are Sunni Muslims, though in some places, there are minority groups of Christians. A rise in fundamental Islamic groups within Algeria caused serious conflict in the past – see History & Politics – and there is debate among many Algerians about the place of religion.

Some of the population practice very traditional versions of Islam, where women wear hijab dress, covering everything except the face and hands, and men leave beards untrimmed. Other Algerians prefer a more moderate religious approach and Western-style dress is common.

In certain places, such as Ghardaia – see Map – Islamic dress codes are enforced in public.

Dance, music and the arts

Playing Chaabi music, AlgeriaAlgerian culture has been experiencing something of a revival, with traditional forms of dance and music (such as Chaabi) becoming more widely taken up once again.

Famous films

Algeria is famous for its independent films, with Algerian movies frequently winning accolades both at home and abroad.

Local instruments such as the oud (a stringed lute-like instrument) and maqrunah (an Arabic wind instrument which can be fitted with a pouch, similar to a bag-pipe) provide unique regional sounds.

Music is also influenced by global trends. Rap-style Rai is a modern form of Algerian songs with a message and is popular among younger generations.

Traditional arts and crafts, such as rug-making, pottery, embroidery and jewellery-making, are practised across Algeria, though certain regions are known for particular items, such as the carpets of Ghardaia and the silver jewellery and swords of the Berber and Tuareg regions.