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Traditional Sports in Algeria

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Many people take sports seriously, but this means something special in Algeria. In this lesson, we'll explore a few traditional Algerian sports and see how they're being used to maintain Algerian heritage in a globalized world.

Sports and Algeria

North Africa has long been a place where cultures meet, exchange ideas, and meld together. If you go to the Mediterranean nation of Algeria today, you'll see this in the unique blending of Arab, Tuareg, and Western influences. Much of Algerian society is a composite of old and new, traditional and modern, and this is true in the sports as well.

Algeria's number one pastime is soccer (or football, depending on what you call it), and the nation will proudly remind you of all the times that it competed in the World Cup. Algeria's also known to do well in the international Olympic Games in handball and track and field events.

Soccer/football is the most popular sport in Algeria, but the nation maintains a number of traditional sports as well
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However, these are mostly European sports, introduced to Algeria by Europeans during an era of colonialism. Since achieving independence from France in 1962, the Algerian government has placed a lot of influence on maintaining traditional sports, even mandating some as part of public education. To the Algerian government, this is a way to preserve a sense of Algerian identity and tradition in an ever-globalizing world where Western cultural influences are becoming more important. Algeria is just one a many countries in North Africa to see sports as a route to maintaining political sovereignty and independence in a globalized community. This is an instance when sports are much more than just a game.

Competitive Sports

So, what are some of the traditional sports that have been maintained in Algeria? A number of them are team or competitive sports, and in fact, many can be observed at international traditional sports festivals held among North African nations. The Arab Festival of Traditional Sports is one of the most popular, but there are others.

Did you know that ice hockey is actually pretty popular in Algeria? It may be surprising for an African nation situated along the Sahara Desert, but it's true. Part of this is thanks to the fact that Algerians have been playing a traditional game sort of like field hockey for generations. Often called sand hockey or grass hockey by outsiders (depending on the nature of the playing field), the game involves players trying to outmaneuver each other by manipulating a ball with long sticks or palm tree branches.

Martial Arts

Other forms of traditional athletic competition being maintained in Algeria are forms of North African martial arts. There are two that are most popular. First is a form of Tuareg wrestling called maabza, which was part of traditional ceremonies and festivals among semi-nomadic cultures of North Africa for centuries.

Algerian athletes also compete in el-matrag, which is a traditional form of stick-fighting native to Algeria. It is a sport of both attacking and dodging, one which requires honed reflections, speed and precision. Once used to train semi-nomadic warriors in swordsmanship, the goal today is to score points by hitting an opponent in target areas.

Table Games

Of course, not all games are overly athletic. Traditional Algerian pastimes also include a number of table games and card games. One of the most popular, which has been maintained for centuries, is a game sort of like chess or checkers, called siga (or sometimes kharbga).

Table games have been a popular form of entertainment in Algeria for a very long time
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