Echoes of French colonialism: the Harki weavers from Algeria sent to make carpets


In 1964 around 60 Harki families – the Algerians who had fought on France's side in the recently-ended Algerian War of Independence – were shunted off to a housing estate at Lodève in the south of France. The women from the families, all skilled weavers, were put to work in what was to become a small offshoot factory for the manufacture of high-quality rugs and carpets in Paris, and in a bid to revive the local textile industry. But as Prisca Borrel reports, the shadow of French colonial attitudes in Algeria was to loom over this initiative for years to come.

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There are few visible traces remaining from this episode in post-colonial French history. The first Harki weavers from Algeria to work at Lodève in the south of France are either retired or dead. The housing block where they lived, the 'Cité de la gare', has been pulled down and the corrugated iron sheets of the initial shed-like factory have long since gone. All that remains is a mixture of pride and bitterness, twin emotions that continue to impact later generations of Harkis. “They were very proud of making these beautiful carpets. Part of their heritage was stolen from them,” says Dehiba Noureddine, the daughter of one such weaver.