The advent of Islam divides precolonial Algeria into pre-Islamic and Islamic. Pre-Islamic Algeria is the favorite domain of colonial writers and more recently Kabyle-Berber oppositional intellectuals. They created a symbol of womanhood out of El Kahina (in Arabic, the “diviner” or “sorceress”), a Berber queen from the Djaraoua tribe of the Aurès Mountains, who unsuccessfully fought advancing Arab soldiers in the seventh century. 1 French writers saw in her an African Joan of Arc, and Arab chroniclers lauded her for her courage and her ultimate conversion to Islam. In general, Berbers see her as a symbol of the free woman in opposition to the stereotypical image of the “secluded” Arab woman. But their relation to her is complex, and may reflect a profound ambivalence towards women mediated by their hostility to their Arab compatriots. According to legend, El Kahina is said to have “adopted” an Arab prisoner, Khaled, who may have tipped off advancing troops who defeated her. Her presumed love for Khaled when combined with her defeat creates a problem for Berber men, who explain it away as a mark of a fundamental Berber trust betrayed by a wily enemy. These notable markers in El Kahina’s life are thus suppressed and her initial resistance to Arabs is emphasized, while at the same time her defeat is bemoaned as having dashed hopes for freedom and created an indomitable yearning for it. El Kahina’s character and its various transformations in historical accounts may be read as a trope for the feminine condition.