Tunisian people or Tunisians (Tunisian Arabic: Twensa
توانسة), are a Maghrebi ethnic group and nation living mainly
in Tunisia, speaking Tunisian, the most widely spoken language in
Tunisia and sharing a common
Tunisian culture and identity. In
Tunisian diaspora has been established with modern
migration, particularly in Western Europe.
Prior to the modern era, Tunisians were known as Afāriqah (Roman
Africans), from the ancient name of Tunisia,
Ifriqiya or Africa in
the antiquity, which gave the present day name of the continent
1.1 Africa and Ifriqiya
1.3 French protectorate
1.4 Republic and Revolution
3 Tunisian culture
3.1 Cultural diversity
3.2 Cultural symbols
3.2.2 Coat of arms
3.2.5 Sign of Tanit
4 Tunisian Diaspora
4.1 Notable people of Tunisian descent
4.2 Links with Tunisia
See also: History of Tunisia
Numerous civilizations and peoples have invaded, migrated to, or have
been assimilated into the population over the millennia, with
influences of population from Phoenicians/Carthaginians, Romans,
Vandals, Greeks, Arabs, Normans, Italians, Spaniards, Ottoman
Turks/Janissaries, and French.
Africa and Ifriqiya
Main articles: History of early Tunisia, History of Carthage, History
of Roman-era Tunisia, Roman Africans, History of early Islamic
Tunisia, and History of medieval Tunisia
The first people known to history in what is now
Tunisia were Berber
people related to the Numidians.
the 12th to the 2nd century BC, founded ancient
progressively mixed with the local population. The migrants
brought with them their culture and language that progressively spread
from Tunisia's coastal areas to the rest of the coastal areas of North
Iberian Peninsula and the Mediterranean islands. From
the eighth century BC, most of Tunisians were Punics, a population
born from the mix of the
Phoenicians with the local Numidians.
Carthage fell in 146 BC to the Romans the coastal
population was mainly Punic, but that influence decreased away from
the coast. From the Roman period until the
Greeks and Numidian people further influenced the Tunisians,
which were called Afariqa: (Roman) Africans.
Muslim conquest of the Maghreb
Muslim conquest of the Maghreb in 673, a small number of
Arabs, Persians and other Middle-Eastern populations settled in
Tunisia which was called Ifriqiya, from its ancient name the Roman
province of Africa. In the early-11th century,
Kingdom of Sicily
Kingdom of Sicily took over
Ifriqiya and founded the Kingdom of
Africa which lasted from 1135 to 1160.
Sicilians and Normans
settled in Tunisia, mixing with the population and leading to a
contact of different cultures among the
Tunisian people which gave
birth to the Norman-Arab-
Reconquista and expulsion of non-Christians and Moriscos
from Spain, many Spanish
Jews also arrived. According to
Matthew Carr, "As many as eighty thousand Moriscos settled in Tunisia,
most of them in and around the capital, Tunis, which still contains a
quarter known as Zuqaq al-Andalus, or Andalusia Alley."
See also: Ottoman Tunisia
During the 17th to the 19th centuries,
Ifriqiya came under Spanish,
then Ottoman rule and hosted
Morisco then Italian immigrants from
Tunis was officially integrated into the Ottoman Empire
as the Eyalet of
Tunis (province), eventually including all of the
Maghreb except Morocco.
Under the Ottoman Empire, the boundaries of the territory inhabited by
Ifriqiya lost territory to the west
(Constantine) and to the east (Tripoli). In the 19th century, the
Tunisia became aware of the ongoing efforts at political and
social reform in the Ottoman capital. The
Bey of Tunis
Bey of Tunis then, by his
own lights but informed by the Turkish example, attempted to effect a
modernizing reform of institutions and the economy. Tunisian
international debt grew unmanageable. This was the reason or pretext
for French forces to establish a Protectorate in 1881.
A remnant of the centuries of Turkish rule is the presence of a
population of Turkish origin, historically the male descendants were
referred to as the Kouloughlis.
See also: History of French-era
Tunisia and French protectorate of
Republic and Revolution
See also: History of modern
Tunisia and Tunisian Revolution
France was achieved on March 20, 1956. The State was
established as a constitutional monarchy with the Bey of Tunis,
Muhammad VIII al-Amin
Muhammad VIII al-Amin Bey, as the king of Tunisia. In 1957, the Prime
Habib Bourguiba abolished the monarchy and firmly established
Neo Destour (New Constitution) party. In the 1970s the economy of
Tunisia expanded at a very healthy rate. Oil was discovered, and
tourism continued. City and countryside populations drew roughly equal
in number. Yet agricultural problems and urban unemployment led to
increased migration to Europe.
The 84-year-old President Bourguiba was overthrown and replaced by Ben
Ali his Prime Minister on November 7, 1987. However, the Ben Ali
regime came to an end 23 years latter on January 14, 2011, in the
events of the Tunisian Revolution, following nationwide demonstrations
precipitated by high unemployment, food inflation, corruption,
a lack of political freedoms like freedom of speech and poor
Following the overthrow of Ben Ali, Tunisians elected a Constituent
Assembly to draft a new constitution, and an interim government known
as the Troika because it was a coalition of three parties; the
Ennahda Movement in the lead, with the centre-left Congress
for the Republic and the left-leaning
Ettakatol as minority
partners. Widespread discontent remained however, leading to
the 2013–14 Tunisian political crisis. As a result of the
efforts made by the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, the
Constituent Assembly completed its work, the interim government
resigned, and new elections were held in 2014, completing the
transition to a democratic state. The Tunisian National Dialogue
Quartet was awarded the
2015 Nobel Peace Prize
2015 Nobel Peace Prize for "its decisive
contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in
the wake of the
Tunisian Revolution of 2011".
Beyond the political changes, which lead to
Tunisia becoming a
recognised democracy in 2014, those events also brought important
changes to the post-2011 Tunisian culture.
Main article: Demographics of Tunisia
Tunisians are primarily of Berber ancestral origin (>60%).
Whilst the Ottoman influence has been particularly significant in
forming the Turco-Tunisian community, other peoples have also migrated
Tunisia during different periods of time, including Sub-Saharan
Africans, Greeks, Romans,
Phoenicians (Punics), Jews, and French
settlers. Nonetheless, by 1870 the distinction between the
Tunisian Arabic-speaking mass and the Turkish elite had blurred.
There is also a small purely Berber (1% at most) population
located in the Dahar mountains and on the island of
Djerba in the
south-east and in the
Khroumire mountainous region in the north-west.
From the late 19th century to after World War II,
Tunisia was home to
large populations of French and
Italians (255,000 Europeans in
1956), although nearly all of them, along with the Jewish
population, left after
Tunisia became independent. The history of the
Tunisia goes back some 2,000 years. In 1948 the Jewish
population was an estimated 105,000, but by 2013 only about 900
Tunisians are predominantly genetically descended from Berber groups,
with some Phoenician/Punic, other Middle eastern and Western European
input. Tunisians are also descended, to a lesser extent, from African
and other European peoples. In sum, a little less than 20 percent of
their genetic material (
Y-chromosome analysis) comes from the present
day Levant, Arabia,
Europe or West Africa.
"In fact, the Tunisian genetic distances to European samples are
smaller than those to North African groups. (...) This could be
explained by the history of the Tunisian population, reflecting the
influence of the ancient
Punic settlers of
Carthage followed, among
others, by Roman, Byzantine,
Arab and French occupations, according to
historical records. Notwithstanding, other explanations cannot be
discarded, such as the relative heterogeneity within current Tunisian
populations, and/or the limited sub-Saharan genetic influence in this
region as compared with other North African areas, without excluding
the possibility of the genetic drift, whose effect might be
particularly amplified on the X chromosome.", This suggests a
fairly significant Middle Eastern and European input to Tunisian
genetics compared to other neighbouring populations.
However, later research has suggested instead that Tunisians exhibit a
mostly indigenous North African genetic make up similar to other
Maghreb populations; characterized by a high amount of native North
African genes, but with higher Middle Eastern input than in
Listed here are the human
Y-chromosome DNA haplogroups in Tunisia.
Main article: Culture of Tunisia
Tunisian culture is a product of more than three thousand years of
history and an important multi-ethnic influx. Ancient
Tunisia was a
major civilization crossing through history; different cultures,
civilizations and multiple successive dynasties contributed to the
culture of the country over centuries with a varying degrees of
influence. Among these cultures were the Carthaginian – their native
civilization, Roman (Roman Africans), Vandal, Jewish, Christian, Arab,
Islamic, Turkish, and French, in addition to native Amazigh. This
unique mixture of cultures made Tunisia, with its strategic
geographical location in the Mediterranean, the core of some great
civilizations of Mare Nostrum.
The important elements of
Tunisian culture are diverse and represent a
unique, mixed heritage. This heritage can be experienced first-hand
in: museums such as the Bardo Museum, the contrast and diversity of
city architecture such as
Sidi Bou Said
Sidi Bou Said or the medina of Tunis,
cuisine such as cheeses and French croissants, music reflecting
Andalusian and Ottoman influences, literature, cinema, religion, the
arts, and sports and other areas of Tunisian culture.
In his thesis study on Tunisian Cultural Policy, Rafik Said has mused
that, "this relatively small area has produced estates, overlapping of
cultures, and a confrontation of morals and doctrines throughout its
history. Janice Rhodes Deledalle has referred to Tunisian culture
as "cosmopolitan" and has said that "
Tunisia cannot be considered in
the category of as other colonies", because of the diversity of
cultures embedded in Tunisia's heritage throughout the ages.
National identity is strong and Tunisian efforts to create a national
culture have proved stronger than in the nineteenth century. National
culture and heritage is constantly referred to with reference to the
country's modern history, in particular, the fight against the French
protectorate and the construction of the modern state that followed
from the 1950s. This is celebrated through national holidays, in the
names of streets recalling historical figures or key dates or the
subject of films or documentaries.
Main article: Flag of Tunisia
The national flag of
Tunisia is predominantly red and consists of a
white circle in the middle containing a red crescent around a
five-pointed star. The crescent and star recalls the
Ottoman flag and
is therefore an indication of Tunisia's history as a part of the
Coat of arms
Main article: Coat of arms of Tunisia
As for the national coat of arms, they are officially adopted in 1861
and include revised versions on June 21, 1956 and May 30, 1963. The
top has a Carthaginian galley sailing on the sea while the lower part
is divided vertically and on the right depicts a black lion seizing a
silver scimitar. A banner bears the national motto: "Liberty, Order,
Imported by the Andalusians in the sixteenth century, jasmine has
become the national flower of Tunisia. The gathering takes place
at dawn and then, upon nightfall, when young boys collect small
bouquets, and later sell them to passersby on the street or to
motorists stopped at intersections.
Furthermore, jasmine is the subject of a specific sign language. A man
who wears jasmine on his left ear indicates that he is single and in
addition, offering white jasmine is seen as a proof of love while on
the contrary, offering odorless winter jasmine is a sign of
Main article: Hamsa
The hamsa (Tunisian Arabic: خمسة, also romanized khamsa), is a
palm-shaped amulet popular in
Tunisia and more generally in the
Maghreb and commonly used in jewelry and wall hangings.
Depicting the open right hand, an image recognized and used as a sign
of protection in many times throughout history, the hamsa is believed
to provide defense against the evil eye. It has been theorized that
its origins lie in
Carthage (modern-day Tunisia) and may have been
associated with the Goddess Tanit.
Sign of Tanit
Main article: Sign of Tanit
The sign of
Tanit is an anthropomorph symbol present on many
archaeological remains of the
Punic Civilization. Both the symbol
and the name of the goddess Tanit, are still frequently used within
Tunisian culture such as with the tradition of Omek Tannou or the
grand film prize of the
Tanit d'or. Some scholars also relate the
name of the capital
Tunis and by extention the one of the modern
country and its people to the Phoenician goddess Tanith ('
Tanut), as many ancient cities were named after patron
Main articles: Languages of
Tunisia and Tunisian Arabic
Tunisian people are homogeneous in terms of language, since nearly
all of them speak Tunisian as their mother-tong in addition to
mastering French and/or Arabic. The Tunisian language is built upon a
Latin (African Romance) and
Neo-Punic substratum, while its vocabulary is mostly derived
from a morphological corruption of Arabic, French, Turkish, Italian
and the languages of Spain.
Tunisia and in
Tunisian diaspora makes it common for Tunisians to code-switch,
mixing Tunisian with French, English or other languages in daily
Moreover, Tunisian is closely related to the Maltese language,
that descended from Tunisian and Siculo-Arabic.
Main article: Tunisian cuisine
Tunisian cuisine is a blend of
Mediterranean cuisine and traditions.
Its distinctive spicy fieriness comes from neighbouring Mediterranean
countries and the many civilizations who have ruled Tunisian land:
Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Spanish, Turkish, Italians
(Sicilians), French, and the native Punics-Berber people. Tunisian
food uses a variety of ingredients and in different ways. The main
dish that is served in
Tunisia is Couscous, made of minuscule grains
that are cooked and usually served with meat and vegetables. In
cooking they also use a variety of flavors such as: olive oil,
aniseed, coriander, cumin, caraway, cinnamon, saffron, mint, orange,
blossom, and rose water.
Like all Mediterranean cultures,
Tunisian culture offers a "sun
cuisine", based mainly on olive oil, spices, tomatoes, seafood (a wide
range of fish) and meat from rearing (lamb).
Tunisian architecture is traditionally expressed in various facets in
Roman architecture and
Islamic architecture. Through
Kairouan forms the epicenter of an architectural
movement expressing the relationship between buildings and
spirituality with the ornamental decoration of religious buildings in
the holy city. In Djerba, the architecture such as the fortress of Kef
reflects the military and spiritual destiny of a
Sufi influence in the
Mosque in Kairouan
The influential role of the various dynasties that ruled the country,
particularly in building cities and princes of Raqqada Mahdia,
illuminates the role of the geopolitical context in the architectural
history of the country. Thus, many original fortresses that protected
the coast from
Byzantine invasions evolved into cities, like Monastir,
Sousse or Lamta.
The medina of Tunis, is
World Heritage Site
World Heritage Site of UNESCO, and is a
typical example of
Islamic architecture. However, in the areas between
the ports of
Bizerte and Ghar El Melh, settlements founded by the
Moors fleeing Andalusia were reconquered by Catholic sovereigns and
has more of a
Medina of Tozeur
Given the cosmopolitan nature of cities in Tunisia, they have retained
a diversity and juxtaposition of styles. Many buildings were designed
by many different architects, artisans and entrepreneurs during the
French protectorate. Among the most famous architects of that time
were Victor Valensi, Guy Raphael, Henri Saladin, Joss Ellenon and
Jean-Emile Resplandy. Five distinct architectural and decorative
styles are particularly popular: those of the eclectic style
(neo-classical, baroque, etc..) Between 1881 and 1900 and then again
until 1920 the style was neo-Mauresque, between 1925 and 1940 it was
Art Deco style and then the modernist style between 1943 and
Main article: Music of Tunisia
Tunisian Bendir (frame drum) with snare
According to Mohammed Abdel Wahab, Tunisian music has been influenced
by old Andalusian songs injected with Turkish, Persian and Greek
influences.Of major note in Tunisian classical music is the Malouf.
Deriving from the reign of the
Aghlabids in the 15th century, it is a
particular type of Andalusian music. In urban areas it uses stringed
instruments (fiddle, oud and Kanun) and percussion (darbuka) while in
rural areas, it may also be accompanied by instruments like the
mezoued, gasba and the zurna.
The emergence of new patterns of racial and improvised music since the
late 1990s changed the musical landscape of Tunisia. At the same time,
the majority of the population is attracted by the music of Levantine
origin (Egyptian, Lebanese or Syrian). Popular western music has also
had major success with the emergence of many groups and festivals,
including rock music, hip hop, reggae and jazz.
Among the major Tunisian contemporary artists include Hedi Habbouba,
Saber Rebaï, Dhafer Youssef, Belgacem Bouguenna,
Sonia M'barek and
Latifa. Other notable musicians include Salah El Mahdi, Anouar Brahem,
Zied Gharsa and Lotfi Bouchnak.
Main article: Cinema of Tunisia
Tunisian cinema is today recognized as one of the most liberal, most
inventive (and one of the most prize-winning) cinemas of Africa and
the Middle-east. Since the 90s,
Tunisia became an attractive place for
filming and numerous companies has emerged serving the foreign film
industry and have become successful.
Tunisia also hosts the
Carthage Film Festival which has been taking place since 1966. The
festival gives priority to films from African and Middle-eastern
countries. It is the oldest film festival on the African continent and
In over a century of existence, Tunisian theatre hosted or gave birth
to big names, such as Sarah Bernhardt, Pauline Carton, Gérard Philipe
Jean Marais to mention a few. On November 7, 1962, Habib
Bourguiba, whose brother is a playwright, devoted his speech to this
art, which he considers "a powerful means of disseminating culture
and a most effective means of popular education". From this date,
November 7 is regarded as the Tunisian National Day of drama.
Folklore Troupe of Kerkennah
The variety of dances performed by the Tunisians probably reflects the
migration flows that have traversed the country throughout the
centuries. Thus, the early
Phoenicians brought with them their songs
and dances, whose traces are rooted in the region of Tunis, while the
Romans have left few traces of art in relation to their architectural
contribution. Religious dances were influenced by
Sufism but by
the end of the 15th century, had progressively become Andalusian with
their dances and urban music.
Oriental dance would arrive later with the Ottomans, although some
experts in the history of North African art have said it was brought
Tunisia by the first Turkish corsairs in the sixteenth century
while others say that the origin of this dance goes back further to
the era of matriarchy in
Mesopotamia and founded by the early
Phoenicians. This form of oriental dance usually performed in
Tunisia insists on the movements of the pelvis in rhythm, movement
highlighted by the elevation of the arms to horizontal, and feet
moving in rhythm and transferring weight onto the right leg or
The Nuba, more rooted in popular practice, is linked to the dancers
Djerba to a lesser extent. Some experts say that
their dress is of Greek origin. Structured into several scenes, the
dance is often accompanied by acrobatic games with jars filled with
Main article: Tunisian literature
First page of a Tunisian book (1931) by Mohamed Salah Ben Mrad
Bust of Abou el Kacem Chebbi in Ras El Aïn (Tozeur)
Among the Tunisian literary figures include Douagi Ali, who has
produced more than 150 radio stories, over 500 poems and folk songs
and nearly 15 plays, Khraief Bashir and others such as Moncef
Mohamed Salah Ben Mrad
Mohamed Salah Ben Mrad or Mahmoud Messaadi. As for poetry,
Tunisian poetry typically opts for nonconformity and innovation with
poets such as Aboul-Qacem Echebbi. As for literature, it is
characterized by its critical approach. Contrary to the pessimism of
Albert Memmi, who predicted that
Tunisian literature was sentenced to
die young, a high number of Tunisian writers are abroad including
Abdelwahab Meddeb, Bakri Tahar, Mustapha Tlili,
Hele Beji or Mellah
Fawzi. The themes of wandering, exile and heartbreak are the focus of
their creative writing.
The national bibliography lists 1249 non-school books published in
2002 in Tunisia. In 2006 this figure had increased to 1,500 and
1,700 in 2007. Nearly a third of the books are published for
Main article: Tunisian diaspora
Statistics of the Office of Tunisians Abroad show more than 128,000
Tunisian families in
Europe with a concentration in
Germany. Young Tunisians (less than 16 years of age) represent 25% of
the Tunisian community abroad. Thus there is currently a
rejuvenation of the
Tunisian diaspora which is now in its third
generation. Women represent nearly 26% of the total community. In
France, their percentage is estimated at 38.2%. The portion of the
diaspora who are over 60 years old is around 7%.
Originally, the largest part of the Tunisians in
Europe worked in
sectors requiring minimal qualifications. In effect the migrants of
the 1960s and 70s were less educated (mostly farmers or manual
Subsequently, the majority of Tunisians settled in
France have worked
in the service sector (hotels, restaurants or retail) or have headed
small businesses. In 2008,
Tunisia became the first of the Maghreb
countries to sign a management agreement concerning the flow of
migrants, at the impetus of President Nicolas Sarkozy: it provides
easy access for almost 9,000 Tunisian students enrolled in French
institutions, but also almost 500 titres de séjour (residency
permits) for highly qualified individuals so that they can acquire
experience in France, valid for a maximum of six years. In the
Arab World the Tunisian population is mostly made up of very highly
qualified individuals while labourers and other unskilled individuals
form the majority in Asian countries like India, Pakistan, and
Notable people of Tunisian descent
Salah Mejri (United States),
Max Azria (United States), M. Salah
Baouendi (United States),
Poorna Jagannathan (United States), Mustapha
Tlili (United States),
Ferrid Kheder (United States), Oussama Mellouli
Leila Ben Youssef (United States), K2rhym (United
Bushido (rapper) (Germany),
Loco Dice (Germany), Sami Allagui
Änis Ben-Hatira (Germany),
Mounir Chaftar (Germany),
Sofian Chahed (Germany),
Nejmeddin Daghfous (Germany), Rani Khedira
Sami Khedira (Germany),
Ayman (Germany), Elyas M'Barek
Adel Tawil (Germany),
Amel Karboul (Germany), Michel
Azzedine Alaïa (France),
Tarak Ben Ammar (France),
Nolwenn Leroy (France), Nidhal Saadi (France), Samia
Yoann Touzghar (France), Aïda Touihri (France),
Hatem Ben Arfa
Hatem Ben Arfa (France), Sadek (France), Tunisiano
Afef Jnifen (Italy),
Sana Hassainia (Canada), Nabila Ben
Hinda Hicks (England), Yusra Ghannouchi (England),
Mohamed Hechmi Hamdi
Mohamed Hechmi Hamdi (England),
Hend Sabry (Egypt), Ghassan bin Jiddo
Links with Tunisia
In Tunisia, free courses of instruction in
Tunisian Arabic are
organised during the summer holidays for the children of Tunisian
residents abroad, who are heavily influenced by the culture of the
countries in which they live. Trips are also organised for them to
experience Tunisian culture, history and civilisation.
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