The Shawia people, or Chaouis (Algerian Arabic: Shawiya: Išawiyen‎) are a Berber people who live mainly in the Aurès, Nememcha and Belezma regions located in and surrounded by the Aurès Mountains, a large part of eastern Algeria known in ancient times as Numidia. They call themselves Išawiyen Icawiyen (pronounced [iʃawijən]) and speak the Shawiya language.

Historically, the Aurès Mountains served as a refuge for Berber peoples, forming a base of resistance against the Roman Empire, the Vandals, the Byzantine Empire and Arabs. Aurès was also a district of Algeria that existed during and after the Algerian War from 1954 to 1962. It was in this region that Berber freedom fighters started the war.

The patriarch of Berbers is believed to be Madghacen, common ancestor of the Zenata and of the Botri as well. Ibn Khaldun identified the Zenata as Berbers. Modern historians rank this Berber region within the group of Numidians and Gaetuli or the much more ancient such as Meshwesh, Maesulians and Mazaxes, from whom formed the Zenata, the main inhabitants of the Aurès in the Middle Ages. Chaoui clans known by Ibn Khaldoun were the Ifren, Maghrawa, Djerawa, Abdalwadides, Howara and Awarba.

Etymologically, the term Chaoui/Shawi derives from the word Ic “horn”, allegedly a reference to the national god of the Numidians, Amun, who is depicted as a human head with the horns of a ram.

After the independence of Algeria, the Chaouis remained localized mainly in the Auresian region. They represent the first ethnic group in Algeria and second Berber-speaking group in terms of number of speakers, the first being the Kabyle.

The Shawiya language (Berber: Tachawit) is a Zenati variety of the Berber language. Shawiya is a closely related cluster of dialects spoken in the Aurès region (Berber: Awras) of eastern Algeria and surrounding areas including Batna, Khenchela, south Sétif, Oum El Bouaghi, Souk Ahras, Tébessa, and the north part of Biskra.

Recently the Shawiya language, together with the Kabyle language, has begun to achieve some cultural prominence due to the Berber cultural and political movements in Algeria.


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