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Title: Pieds-noirs  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Algerian War, May 1958 crisis
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


This article is about the Ethnic group. For other uses, see Pied-Noir (disambiguation).

Pied-Noir (French pronunciation: ​[pjenwaʁ], Black-Foot), plural Pieds-Noirs, is a term referring to people of French and other European ancestry who lived in French North Africa, namely French Algeria, the French protectorate in Morocco, or the French protectorate of Tunisia, often for generations, until the end of French rule in North Africa between 1956 and 1962. Specifically, the term Pieds-Noirs is used for those European-descendent citizens who "returned" to mainland France as soon as Algeria gained independence, or in the months following.[1][2] The Europeans arrived in Algeria as immigrants from all over the western Mediterranean (particularly France, Spain, Italy and Malta), starting in 1830. The term is sometimes also used to include the indigenous Sephardi Jewish population, who have settled in the Maghreb long before 1830, but many of whom likewise emigrated after 1962. From the French invasion on 18 June 1830 until its independence, Algeria was administratively part of France and its European population was simply called Algerians or colons (colonists), whereas Muslim people of Algeria were called Arabs, Muslims or Indigenous. The term Pieds-Noirs began to be used commonly shortly before the end of the Algerian independence war in 1962. As of the last census in Algeria, taken on 1 June 1960, there were 1,050,000 non-Muslim civilians in Algeria (10 percent of the total population including 130,000 Algerian Jews).[3]

During the Algerian War the Pieds-Noirs supported colonial French rule in Algeria and were naturally opposed to Algerian nationalist groups such as the Front de libération nationale (FLN) and Mouvement national algérien (MNA). The roots of the conflict reside in political and economic inequalities perceived as an "alienation" from the French rule as well as a demand for a leading position for the Berber, Arab, and Islamic cultures and rules existing before the French conquest. The conflict contributed to the fall of the French Fourth Republic and the mass exodus of Algerian Europeans and Jews to France.[2][4]

After Algeria became independent in 1962, about 800,000 Pieds-Noirs of French nationality were evacuated to mainland France while about 200,000 chose to remain in Algeria. Of the latter, there were still about 100,000 in 1965 and about 50,000 by the end of the sixties.[5]

Those who moved to France suffered ostracism from the Left for their perceived exploitation of native Muslims and some blamed them for the war, thus the political turmoil surrounding the collapse of the French Fourth Republic.[2] In popular culture, the community is often represented as feeling removed from French culture while longing for Algeria.[2][4] Thus, the recent history of the pieds-noirs has been imprinted with a theme of double alienation from both their native homeland and their adopted land. Though the term rapatriés d'Algérie implies that they once lived in France, they were born in Algeria, and many families lived there for generations.

Origin of the term

The actual origin of the term Pied-noir is unknown and therefore debated. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it refers to "a person of European origin living in Algeria during the period of French rule, especially a French person expatriated after Algeria was granted independence in 1962."[1] The Le Robert dictionary states that in 1901 the word indicated a sailor working barefoot in the coal room of a ship, who would find his feet dirtied by the soot. In the Mediterranean, this was often an Algerian native, thus the term was used pejoratively for Algerians until 1955 when it first began referring to "French born in Algeria."[6][7] This usage originated from mainland French as a negative nickname.[1] There is also a theory that the term comes from the black boots of French soldiers compared to the barefoot Algerians.[8] Other theories focus on new settlers dirtying their clothing by working in swampy areas, or trampling grapes to make wine.[9]


French conquest and settlement

European settlement began in the 1830s when France conquered Algeria. The invasion was instigated when the Dey of Algiers struck the French consul with a fly-swatter in 1827, although economic reasons are also cited. In 1830, the government of Charles X blockaded Algeria and an armada sailed to Algiers, followed by a land expedition. A troop of 34,000 soldiers landed on 18 June 1830, at Sidi Ferruch, 27 kilometres (17 mi) west of Algiers. Following a three-week campaign, the Dey Hussein capitulated on 5 July 1830, and was exiled.[10][11][12]

In the 1830s, the French controlled only the northern part of the country.[11] Entering the Oran region, they faced resistance from Emir Abd al-Kader, a leader of a Sufi Brotherhood.[13][14] In 1839, al-Kader began a seven-year war by declaring jihad against the French. The French signed two peace treaties with al-Kader, but they were broken because of miscommunication between the military and the Parisian government. In response to the breaking of the second treaty, al-Kader drove the French to the coast. In reply, a force of nearly 100,000 troops marched to the Algerian countryside and forced al-Kader's surrender in 1847.[13] In 1848, Algeria was divided into three départements of France, Alger, Oran, and Constantine, thus becoming part of the French state.[12][13]

The French modeled their colonial system on their predecessors, the Ottomans, by co-opting local tribes. In 1843, the colonists began supervising through Bureaux Arabes[10][15] operated by military officials with authority over particular domains.[15] This system lasted until the 1880s and the rise of the French Third Republic, when colonization intensified.[3] Large-scale regrouping of lands began when land-speculation companies took advantage of government policy that allowed massive sale of native property. By the 20th century Europeans held 1,700,000 hectares; by 1940,  2,700,000 hectares, about 35 to 40  percent;[10] and by 1962 it was 2,726,700 hectares representing 27 percent of the arable land of Algeria."[16] Settlers came from all over the western Mediterranean region, particularly Italy, France, Spain, and Malta.[2]

Relationship to mainland France and Muslim Algeria

The Pied-Noir relationship with France and Algeria was marked by alienation. The settlers considered themselves French,[17] but many of the Pieds-Noirs had a tenuous connection to mainland France, which 28 percent of them had never visited. The settlers encompassed a range of socioeconomic strata, ranging from peasants to large landowners, the latter of whom were referred to as grands colons.[17][18]

In Algeria, the Muslims were not considered French and did not share the same political or economic benefits.[17] For example, the indigenous population did not own most of the settlements, farms, or businesses, although they numbered nearly 9 million (versus roughly one million Pieds-Noirs) at independence. Politically, the Muslim Algerians had no representation in the Algerian National Assembly and wielded limited influence in local governance.[19] To obtain citizenship, they were required to renounce their Muslim identity. Since this would constitute apostasy, only about 2,500 Muslims acquired citizenship before 1930.[18][19] The settlers' politically and economically dominant position worsened relations between the two groups.

Sephardic Jewish community

Jews were present in North Africa and Iberia for centuries, some since the time when "Phoenicians and Hebrews, engaged in maritime commerce, founded Hippo Regius (current Annaba), Tipasa, Caesarea (current Cherchel), and Icosium (current Algiers)."[20] A tradition told they arrived from Judea after the First Jewish-Roman War (66–73 AD) while it is known historically many Sephardi Jews came following the Spanish Reconquista.[21] In 1870, Justice Minister Adolphe Crémieux wrote a proposal, décret Crémieux, giving French citizenship to Algerian Jews. Thus, the Jews of Algeria came to be considered part of the Pied-Noir community.[21] This advancement was resisted by part of the larger Pied-Noir community. In 1897 a wave of anti-Semitic riots occurred in Algeria. During World War II the décret Crémieux was abolished under the Vichy regime, and Jews were barred from professional jobs.[20] Citizenship was restored in 1943. Many Jews fled the country in 1962, alongside most other Pieds-Noirs, after the Algerian War.[22]

Algerian War and exodus

Algerian War

Main articles: Algerian War and Evian Agreements

For more than a century France maintained colonial rule in Algerian territory. This allowed exceptions to republican law, including Sharia laws applied by Islamic customary courts to Muslim women which gave women certain rights to property and inheritance which they did not have under French law.[20] Discontent among the Muslim Algerians grew after the World Wars, in which the Algerians sustained many casualties.[20] Algerian nationalists began efforts aimed at furthering equality by listing complaints in the Manifesto of the Algerian People, which requested equal representation under the state and access to citizenship, but no equality for all citizens to preserve Islamic precepts. The French response was to grant citizenship to 60,000 "meritorious" Muslims.[11] During a reform effort in 1947, the French created a bicameral legislature with one house for the French citizens and another for the Muslims but made a European's vote equal seven times a Muslim's vote.[18] Paramilitary groups such as the Front de Libération nationale (FLN) appeared, claiming an Arabo-Islamic brotherhood and state.[20] This led to the outbreak of a war for independence, the Algerian War, in 1954.

From first armed operations of November 1954, 'Pieds-Noirs' civilians have always been targets for FLN, either by assassination, bombing bars and cinemas and mass massacres, torture and rapes in farms.[23] At the onset of the war, the Pieds-noirs believed the French military would be able to overcome opposition. In May 1958 a demonstration for French Algeria, led by Pieds-Noirs but including many Muslims, occupied an Algerian government building. General Massu controlled the riot by forming a Committee of Public Safety demanding that his acquaintance Charles de Gaulle be named president of the French Fourth Republic, to prevent the "abandonment of Algeria". This eventually led to the fall of the Republic.[17] In response, the French Parliament voted 329 to 224 to place de Gaulle in power.[17] Once de Gaulle assumed leadership, he attempted peace by visiting Algeria within three days of his appointment claiming "French Algeria!" but in September 1959 he planned a referendum for Algerian self-determination that passed overwhelmingly.[17] Many French political and military leaders in Algeria viewed this as betrayal and formed the Organisation de l'armée secrète (OAS) that had much support among 'Pieds-Noirs'. This paramilitary group began attacking officials representing de Gaulle's authority, Muslims, and de Gaulle himself.[17] The OAS was also accused of murders and bombings nullifying reconciliation opportunities between the communities,[24] while 'Pieds-Noirs' themselves never believed such reconciliation possible as their community was targeted from the start.[23]

The opposition culminated in 1961 during the Algiers putsch of 1961, led by retired generals. After this failure, on 18 March 1962, de Gaulle and the FLN signed a cease-fire agreement, the Évian accords, and held a referendum. In July, Algerians voted 5,975,581 to 16,534 to become independent from France.[18] This was an occasion for a massacre of 'Pieds-Noirs' in Oran by a suburban Muslim population. European people were shot, molested and brought to Petit-Lac slaughterhouse where they were tortured and executed.[25]


The exodus began once it became clear that Algeria would become independent.[6] In Algiers, it was reported that by May 1961 the Pieds-Noirs'  morale had sunk because of violence and allegations that the entire community of French nationals had been responsible for "terrorism, torture, colonial racism, and ongoing violence in general" and because the group felt "rejected by the nation as Pieds-Noirs ".[6] These factors, the Oran Massacre, and the referendum for independence caused the Pied-Noir exodus to begin in earnest.[2][4][6]

The number of Pied-Noirs who fled Algeria totaled more than 800,000 between 1962 and 1964.[24] Hurried, many Pieds-Noirs left only with what they could carry in a suitcase.[4][24] Adding to the confusion, the de Gaulle government ordered the French Navy not to help with transportation of French citizens.[18] By September 1962, cities such as Oran, Bône, and Sidi-Bel-Abbès were half-empty. All administration, police, schools, justice, and commercial activities stopped within three months after many were told to choose either "la valise ou le cercueil" (the suitcase or the coffin).[20] 200,000 Pieds-Noirs chose to remain, but they gradually left through the following decade; by the 1980s only a few thousand Pieds-Noirs remained in Algeria.[5][17]

The flight of the Pied-Noirs dwarfed that of the Muslim harkis who had fought on the French side during the Algerian War. Of approximately 250,000 Muslim loyalists only about 90,000, including dependents, were able to escape to France and of those who remained many thousands were killed by lynch mobs or executed as traitors by the F.L.N. In contrast to the treatment of the European Pied-Noirs, little effort was made by the French government to extend protection to the harkis or to arrange their organised evacuation.[26]

Flight to mainland France

The French government claimed that it had not anticipated that such a massive number would leave; it believed that perhaps 300,000 might choose to depart temporarily and that a large portion would return to Algeria.[6] The administration had set aside funds for absorption of those they called "repatriates" to partly reimburse them for property losses .[18] The administration avoided acknowledging the true numbers of refugees in order to avoid upsetting its Algeria policies.[18] Consequently, few plans were made for their return, and, psychologically at least, many of the Pieds-Noirs were alienated from both Algeria and France.[2][4]

Many Pieds-Noirs settled in continental France, while others migrated to New Caledonia, Italy, Spain, Australia, North America, Israel, and South America.[27] In France, many relocated to the south, which offered a climate similar to North Africa. The influx of new citizens bolstered the local economies; however, the newcomers also competed for jobs, which caused resentment.[4][18] In some ways, the Pieds-Noirs were able to integrate well into the French community, relative to their Muslim counterparts.[28] Their resettlement was made easier by the economic boom of the 1960s. However, the ease of assimilation depended on socioeconomic class. Integration was easier for the upper classes, many of whom found the transformation less stressful than the lower classes, who had no other capital than all they left in Algeria. Many were surprised that they were often treated as an "underclass or outsider-group" with difficulties to get advancement in their careers. Also, many Pieds-Noirs contended that the money allocated by the government to assist in relocation and reimbursement was insufficient regarding their loss.[4][18]

Thus, the repatriated Pieds-Noirs frequently felt "disaffected" from French society. They also suffered from a sense of alienation stemming from the French government's changed position towards Algeria. Until independence, Algeria was legally a part of France; after independence many felt that they had been betrayed and were now portrayed as an "embarrassment" to their country or to blame for the war.[4][29] At times, the repatriates were stigmatized by assumptions that they had all been grands colons and were to blame for their misfortune. Conversely, the Pieds-Noirs felt unable to return to their birthplace, Algeria, because of the independence movement's violence.[2][4][30]

The Song of the Africans

The pied-noir community has adopted, as both an unofficial anthem and as a symbol of its identity, Captain Félix Boyer's 1943 version of listen to the Chant des Africains)

The "Song of the Africans" was banned as official military music at the end of the Algerian War in 1962 until August 1969, when the French Minister of Veterans Affairs (Ministre des Anciens Combattants) under Georges Pompidou, Henri Duvillard, lifted the prohibition.[32]

See also

Algeria portal
France portal


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