Saint Veneration and Nature Symbolism in North Africa

Tamaki Kitagawa


In spite of the recent rise of fundamentalism within Islam, Muslims have continued to engage in religious activities involving the veneration of natural objects, usually in connection with the veneration of saints. These practices represent the modification of the pre-Islamic beliefs into saint veneration rituals, enabling them to exist within monotheism. This paper aims to demonstrate how saint veneration is connected with natural objects and how saint-associated natural objects obtain their symbolic function at certain sanctuaries along the border between Arab and Amazigh villages in South Tunisia. It is discovered that at the sanctuaries of established saints, the veneration of natural objects is explained as originating from saints’ actions and preferences during their lifetimes. Such explanations are valid for villagers in places where human saints have a major presence. On the other hand, in places where archaic Amazigh traditions are well preserved, more importance is attached to the natural objects and the ancestral or spiritual saints than to the historical figures. It is assumed that the elements of indigenous animism have survived the pressure by Islam under Arabization, and it have been transformed into something acceptable within Islam, namely, belief in saints, or jinn used by saints.


Saint Veneration, Nature Veneration, Islam, Amazigh culture, History of religions.

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