International Journal of Arts and Humanities

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Pilgrimage to old olive trees and saint veneration in North Africa.

Tamaki Kitagawa.



Accepted 14th November, 2017


Just as many North African Muslims perform ziyāra, or short local pilgrimages, to saints’ graves, olive farmers in South Tunisia also perform ziyāra to old olive trees as sacred sites. There, they observe harvest festivals and rites of passage and make personal petitions. Based on the results of my fieldwork, this paper examines this practice in an Amazigh community that I will call Village T, a particularly traditional and conservative village where ziyāra to olive trees is preserved. As ziyāra to olive trees is described by participants with ambiguous and obscure references to saints, spirits, or ancestors, the object of veneration is an olive-saint complex, revealing that archaic factors from outside Islam influence their belief and practice. The practice is an example of how the veneration of trees, spirits, ancestors, and the earth mother can survive within monotheism as saint veneration. Pilgrimage to olive-saint complexes is an agricultural ritual in which the experience of the tree’s presence awakens a sense of cosmogony and of healing and renewal in troubled times. The veneration of olive-saint complexes represents an experience of the world’s renewal through contact with the sacred through the peculiar symbolism of old olive trees.


Keywords; olive farming, saint veneration, pilgrimage, sacred site, Amazigh culture