Lalla Fatma N’Soumer: A Symbol of Feminine Strength

The title Lalla is given to women who are considered saints or of a high ranking, much like the title Sidi for men. From the start Lalla Fatma N’Soumer proved to be a force to be reckoned with, a girl with her own way of thinking and in later years a woman that was revered by others and became a legendary figure. Lalla Fatma N’Soumer became synonymous with the Kabyle Resistance Movement and was a key figure in the fight against the French invasion of Algiers.

It is estimated that Fatima N’Soumer was born in July 1830, and did have siblings, although the number is not determined. It is known that her father was a Koranic school director. She insisted on sitting in on her father’s lessons and working on her education, which was very unusual for a girl to do at that time. In line with their culture, a wedding was arranged for her at the age of sixteen, which she refused, rather adopting a solitary life and continuing her religious studies.

It was not long before people heard that N’Soumer could look into her own future, and many came from far and wide with gifts and asking for her advice. What most people noticed first is how well she took care of herself and her striking features.

The French began to move into Algerian territory in 1830, but it was a meeting with Bou Baghla (he referred to himself as Mohamed ben Abdallah) in 1849 that changed her life. Baghla fought against the French invasion with his guerilla army and refused to surrender. The attraction between the two was unmistakable but they were unable to be together as she was still seen as the wife of the husband chosen for her. Other women also assisted in the fight by making food and medicine, but Lalla Fatma N’Soumer was able to inspire men through her speeches and was present at many battles. Tragically, Bou Baghla was killed in 1854 and the resistance remained without a leader until 1855, when it was decided to hand leadership over to Fatma N’Soumer, with the assistance of her brothers.

The resistance was to be overwhelmed in 1857, outnumbered by the French army. Many, including Lalla Fatma N’Soumer, were forced to go into hiding, although she was the last to surrender. Stories on how her capture came about are based on speculation, but she was found, arrested and taken prisoner by the French. The Daughters of Lalla Fatma N’Soummer, a feminist organization, was named after her and her fearlessness, independence and bravery is still alive in songs and depictions in the country. In 1995, her remains were moved and reburied in El Alia, Algiers, the heroes’ cemetery.