Danel Bruun’s The Cave Dwellers of Southern Tunisia was first published in England in 1898. It is one of the most extraordinary accounts produced by any of the nineteenth-century travellers in Tunisia. Despite the French refinement of coastal Tunisia in the 1890s, the tribesmen from inland were largely untouched by colonialism, allowing their culture to remain unscathed.
Bruun describes his journey through the mountainous deserts where the people live in dwellings excavated from the earth. Some are spacious houses with ‘regular well-shaped chambers’, whilst others are tenement-like, clustered upon one like cells of a behive. The poorest are mere holes driven into the mountainside which thus has the appearance of a giant termite mound standing high above the stark landscape.
Indeed, the whole lifestyle of these cave dwellers takes on an insect-like quality, at once communal and predatory. The author has left to us a fascinating account of their lives and manners.