Berbers are the indigenous peoples of North Africa west of the Nile Valley. They are discontinuously distributed from the Atlantic to the Siwa oasis, in Egypt, and from the Mediterranean to the Niger River. They speak various Berber languages, which together form a branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Between fourteen and twenty-five million Berber speakers live within this region, most densely in Algeria and Morocco and becoming generally scarcer eastward through the rest of the Maghreb and beyond.
Many Berbers call themselves some variant of the word Imazighen (singular Amazigh), meaning "free men". This is common in Morocco, but elsewhere within the Berber homeland a local, more particular term, such as Kabyle or Chaoui, is more often used instead. Historically Berbers have been variously known, for instance as Libyans by the ancient Greeks, as Numidians and Mauri by the Romans, and as Moors by medieval and early modern Europeans. The modern English term is borrowed from Arabic, but the deeper etymology of "Berber" is not certain. (See also: Berber (Etymology).)
According to historians of the Middle Ages, the Berbers are divided into two branches (Botr and Barnès), descended from their ancestor Mazigh, which are further divided into tribes, and again into sub-tribes. Each Maghreb region is made up of several tribes, such as Sanhadja, Houaras, Zenata, Masmouda, Kutama, Awarba, Berghwata ... etc. All these tribes have independence and territorial decisions.
Several Berber dynasties have emerged during the Middle Ages to the Maghreb, Sudan, in Andalusia, Italy, in Mali, Niger, Senegal, Egypt ... etc.. Ibn Khaldun has a table summarizing the Maghreb dynasties whose Berber Dynasties: Zirid, Banu Ifran, Maghrawa, Almoravid, Hammadid, Almohad, Merinid, Abdalwadid, Wattasid , Meknassa, ,,... Hafsides dynasties.
The Berbers have lived in North Africa between western Egypt and the Atlantic Ocean for as far back as records of the area go. The earliest inhabitants of the region are found on the rock art across the Sahara. References to them also occur often in ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman sources. Berber groups are first mentioned in writing by the ancient Egyptians during the Predynastic Period, and during the New Kingdom the Egyptians later fought against the Meshwesh and Libu tribes on their western borders. From about 945 BC the Egyptians were ruled by Meshwesh immigrants who founded the Twenty-second Dynasty under Shoshenq I, beginning a long period of Berber rule in Egypt. They long remained the main population of the Western Desert—the Byzantine chroniclers often complained of the Mazikes (Amazigh) raiding outlying monasteries there.
For many centuries the Berbers inhabited the coast of North Africa from Egypt to the Atlantic Ocean. Over time, the coastal regions of North Africa saw a long parade of invaders and colonists including Phoenicians (who founded Carthage), Greeks (mainly in Cyrene, Libya), Romans, Vandals and Alans, Byzantines, Arabs, Ottomans, and the French and Spanish. Most if not all of these invaders have left some imprint upon the modern Berbers as have slaves brought from throughout Europe (some estimates place the number of Europeans brought to North Africa during the Ottoman period as high as 1.25 million) Interactions with neighboring Sudanic empires, sub-Saharan Africans, and nomads from East Africa also left impressions upon the Berber peoples.
In historical times, the Berbers expanded south into the Sahara (displacing earlier populations such as the Azer and Bafour), and have in turn been mainly culturally assimilated in much of North Africa by Arabs, particularly following the incursion of the Banu Hilal in the 11th century.
The areas of North Africa which retained the Berber language and traditions have, in general, been the highlands of Kabylie and Morocco, most of which in Roman and Ottoman times remained largely independent, and where the Phoenicians never penetrated far beyond the coast. But, these areas have been affected by some of the many invasions of North Africa, most recently including the French. The trans-Saharan slave trade was operated by the Berbers and Arabs.
Nonetheless, the Islamization and Arabization of the region were complicated and lengthy processes. Whereas nomadic Berbers were quick to convert and assist the Arab conquerors, not until the twelfth century, under the Almohad Dynasty, did the Christian and Jewish communities become totally marginalized.
The first Arab military expeditions into the Maghrib, between 642 and 669, resulted in the spread of Islam. These early forays from a base in Egypt occurred under local initiative rather than under orders from the central caliphate. But, when the seat of the caliphate moved from Medina to Damascus, the Umayyads (a Muslim dynasty ruling from 661 to 750) recognized that the strategic necessity of dominating the Mediterranean dictated a concerted military effort on the North African front. In 670, therefore, an Arab army under Uqba ibn Nafi established the town of Qayrawan about 160 kilometers south of present-day Tunis and used it as a base for further operations.
Abu al Muhajir Dinar, Uqba's successor, pushed westward into Algeria and eventually worked out a modus vivendi with Kusaila, the ruler of an extensive confederation of Christian Berbers. Kusaila, who had been based in Tilimsan (Tlemcen), became a Muslim and moved his headquarters to Takirwan, near Al Qayrawan.
But this harmony was short-lived. Arab and Berber forces controlled the region in turn until 697. By 711, Umayyad forces helped by Berber converts to Islam had conquered all of North Africa. Governors appointed by the Umayyad caliphs ruled from Kairouan, capital the new wilaya (province) of Ifriqiya, which covered Tripolitania (the western part of present-day Libya), Tunisia, and eastern Algeria.
The spread of Islam among the Berbers did not guarantee their support for the Arab-dominated caliphate due to unislamic racist attitudes of the Arabs. The ruling Arabs alienated the Berbers by taxing them heavily; treating converts as second-class Muslims; and, at worst, by enslaving them. As a result, widespread opposition took the form of open revolt in 739-40 under the banner of Kharijite Islam. The Kharijites objected to Ali, the fourth caliph, making peace with the Umayyads in 657 and left Ali's camp (khariji means "those who leave"). The Kharijites had been fighting Umayyad rule in the East, and many Berbers were attracted by the sect's seemingly egalitarian precepts.
After the revolt, Kharijites established a number of theocratic tribal kingdoms, most of which had short and troubled histories. But others, like Sijilmasa and Tilimsan, which straddled the principal trade routes, proved more viable and prospered. In 750, the Abbasids, who succeeded the Umayyads as Muslim rulers, moved the caliphate to Baghdad and reestablished caliphal authority in Ifriqiya, appointing Ibrahim ibn al Aghlab as governor in Kairouan. Though nominally serving at the caliph's pleasure, Al Aghlab and his successors, the Aghlabids, ruled independently until 909, presiding over a court that became a center for learning and culture.
Just to the east of Aghlabid lands, Abd ar Rahman ibn Rustam ruled most of the central Maghrib from Tahert, southwest of Algiers. The rulers of the Rustamid imamate, which lasted from 761 to 909, each an Ibadi Kharijite imam, were elected by leading citizens. The imams gained a reputation for honesty, piety, and justice. The court at Tahert was noted for its support of scholarship in mathematics, astronomy, astrology, theology, & law. But the Rustamid imams failed, by choice or by neglect, to organize a reliable standing army. This important factor, accompanied by the dynasty's eventual collapse into decadence, opened the way for Tahert's demise under the assault of the Fatimids.
In the power hierarchy, Berbers were situated between the Arabic aristocracy and the Muladi populace. Ethnic rivalry was one of the most important factors driving Andalusi politics.
Soon after the independence in the middle of the 20th century, the countries of North Africa established Arabic as their official language, replacing French (except in Libya), although the shift from French to Arabic for official purposes continues even to this day. As a result, most Berbers had to study and know Arabic, and had no opportunities until the 21st century to use their mother tongue at school or university. This may have accelerated the existing process of Arabization of Berbers, especially in already bilingual areas, such as among the Chaouis.
Berberism had its roots before the independence of these countries, but was limited to some Berber elite. It only began to gain success when North African states replaced the colonial language with Arabic and identified exclusively as Arab nations, downplaying or ignoring the existence and the cultural specificity of Berbers. However, its distribution remains highly uneven. In response to its demands, Morocco and Algeria have both modified their policies, with Algeria redefining itself constitutionally as an "Arab, Berber, Muslim nation".
Now, Berber is a "national" language in Algeria and is taught in some Berber speaking areas as a non-compulsory language. In Morocco, Berber has no official status, but is now taught as a compulsory language regardless of the area or the ethnicity.
Berbers are not discriminated against based on their ethnicity or mother tongue. As long as they share the reigning ideology, they can reach high positions in the social hierarchy; good examples are the former president of Algeria, Liamine Zeroual, and the current prime minister of Morocco, Driss Jettou. In Algeria, furthermore, Chaoui Berbers are over-represented in the Army for historical reasons.
Berberists who openly show their political orientations rarely reach high hierarchical positions. But, Khalida Toumi, a feminist and Berberist militant, has been nominated as head of the Ministry of Communication in Algeria.
The Berbers live mainly in Morocco (between 42% of the population) and in Algeria (about 27% of the population), as well as Libya and Tunisia, though exact statistics are unavailable ; see Berber languages. Most North Africans who consider themselves Arab also have mainly Berber ancestry Prominent Berber groups include the Kabyles of northern Algeria, who number about 4 million and have kept, to a large degree, their original language and culture; and the Chleuh (francophone plural of Arabic "Shalh" and Tashelhiyt "ašəlḥi") of south Morocco, numbering about 8 million. Other groups include the Riffians of north Morocco, the Chaouia of Algeria, and the Tuareg of the Sahara. There are about 2.2 million Berber immigrants in Europe, especially the Riffians and the Kabyles in the Netherlands and France. Some proportion of the inhabitants of the Canary Islands are descended from the aboriginal Guanches--usually considered to have been Berber--among whom a few Canary Islander customs, such as the eating of gofio, originated.
Though stereotyped in the West as nomads, most Berbers were in fact traditionally farmers, living in mountains relatively close to the Mediterranean coast, or oasis dwellers; but the Tuareg and Zenaga of the southern Sahara, were nomadic. Some groups, such as the Chaouis, practiced transhumance.
Political tensions have arisen between some Berber groups (especially the Kabyle) and North African governments over the past few decades, partly over linguistic and cultural issues; for instance, in Morocco, giving children Berber names was banned.
A more recent and thorough study by Arredi et al. (2004) which analyzed five additional Arab and Berber populations from Algeria, Egypt, and Tunisia concludes that "the North African pattern of Y-chromosomal variation" (including both E1b1b and J haplogroups) "is largely of Neolithic origin", which suggests that "the Neolithic transition in this part of the world was accompanied by demic diffusion of Afro-Asiatic-speaking pastoralists from the Middle East". Further evidence for a significant Neolithic contribution to the population was later provided by Myles et al. (2005):
The data presented here are consistent with a scenario in which proto-Berber-speaking ovicaprid pastoralists introduced the –13910T allele, and thereby lactose tolerance, into North Africa. This scenario implies a genetic input from migrating pastoralists from the Middle East and suggests that contemporary Berber populations share a Middle Eastern dairying origin with other Eurasian populations.
Cruciani et al. (2004) note that the E1b1b1b (M81) haplogroup on the Y-chromosome, colloquially known as the "Berber marker", correlates closely with Berber populations.
Nebel et al. (2002) of the Hebrew University argue that J1-M267 rather reflects "recent gene flow caused by the migration of Arabian tribes in the first millennium of the Common Era(700-800 A.D)." According to Nebel, the indigenous population of the Maghrib, the Berbers, have always been a composite people. After the 8th century CE, a process of Arabization affected the bulk of the Berbers, while the Arab-Islamic culture and population absorbed local elements as well. Under the unifying framework of Islam, on the one hand, and as a result of the Arab settlement, on the other, a fusion took place that resulted in a new ethnocultural entity all over the Maghrib. Another study on Haplogroup J (Semino et al. 2004) agrees with Nebel et al.'s suggestion that J1-M267 may have spread to North Africa in historic times (as identified by the motif YCAIIa22-YCAIIb22; Algerians 35.0%, Tunisians 30.1%), which they assume to be a marker of the Arab expansion in the early medieval period.. This theory is disputed by Arredi et al. (2004), who argue like Bosch et al. 2001 that the J1-M267 haplogroup (formerly H71) and North African Y-chromosomal diversity indicate a Neolithic-era "demic diffusion of Afro-Asiatic-speaking pastoralists from the Middle East."
mtDNA, by contrast, is inherited only from the mother.
According to Macaulay et al. 1999, "one-third of Mozabite Berber mtDNAs have a Near Eastern ancestry, probably having arrived in North Africa ∼50,000 years ago, and one-eighth have an origin in sub-Saharan Africa. Europe appears to be the source of many of the remaining sequences, with the rest having arisen either in Europe or in the Near East." [Maca-Meyer et al. 2003] analyze the "autochthonous North African lineage U6" in mtDNA, concluding that:
The most probable origin of the proto-U6 lineage was the Near East. Around 30,000 years ago it spread to North Africa where it represents a signature of regional continuity. Subgroup U6a reflects the first African expansion from the Maghreb returning to the east in Paleolithic times. Derivative clade U6a1 signals a posterior movement from East Africa back to the Maghreb and the Near East. This migration coincides with the probable Afroasiatic linguistic expansion.
A genetic study by Fadhlaoui-Zid et al. 2004 argues concerning certain exclusively North African haplotypes that "expansion of this group of lineages took place around 10,500 years ago in North Africa, and spread to neighbouring population", and apparently that a specific Northwestern African haplotype, U6, probably originated in the Near East 30,000 years ago but has not been highly preserved and accounts for 6-8% in southern Moroccan Berbers, 18% in Kabyles and 28% in Mozabites. Rando et al. 1998 (as cited by ) "detected female-mediated gene flow from sub-Saharan Africa to NW Africa" amounting to as much as 21.5% of the mtDNA sequences in a sample of NW African populations; the amount varied from 82% (Tuaregs) to 4% (Rifains). This north-south gradient in the sub-Saharan contribution to the gene pool is supported by Esteban et al. Nevertheless, individual Berber communities display a considerably high mtDNA heterogeneity among them. The Berbers of Jerba Island, located in South Eastern Tunisia, display an 87% Eurasian contribution with no U6 haplotypes, while the Kesra of Tunisia, for example, display a much higher proportion of typical sub-Saharan mtDNA haplotypes (49%, including 4.2% of M1 haplogroup), as compared to the Zriba (8%). According to the article, "The North African patchy mtDNA landscape has no parallel in other regions of the world and increasing the number of sampled populations has not been accompanied by any substantial increase in our understanding of its phylogeography. Available data up to now rely on sampling small, scattered populations, although they are carefully characterized in terms of their ethnic, linguistic, and historical backgrounds. It is therefore doubtful that this picture truly represents the complex historical demography of the region rather than being just the result of the type of samplings performed so far." Additionally, recent studies have discovered a close mitochondrial link between Berbers and the Saami of Scandinavia which confirms that the Franco-Cantabrian refuge area of southwestern Europe was the source of late-glacial expansions of hunter-gatherers that repopulated northern Europe after the Last Glacial Maximum and reveals a direct maternal link between those European hunter-gatherer populations and the Berbers.
There are between 14 and 25 million speakers of Berber languages in North Africa (see population estimation), principally concentrated in Morocco and Algeria but with smaller communities as far east as Egypt and as far south as Burkina Faso.
Their languages, the Berber languages, form a branch of the Afroasiatic linguistic family comprising many closely related varieties, including Tarifit, Kabyle and Tashelhiyt, with a total of roughly 35-40 million speakers. A frequently used generic name for all Berber languages is Tamazight.
He took the title of amir al-muslimin (commander of the Muslims) after visiting the Caliph of Baghdad 'amir al-moumineen" ("commander of the faithful")and officially receiving his support. He was either a cousin or nephew of Abu-Bakr Ibn-Umar, the founder of the Almoravid dynasty. He united all of the Muslim dominions in the Iberian Peninsula (modern Portugal and Spain) to the Kingdom of Morocco (circa 1090), after being called to the Al-Andalus by the Emir of Seville.
Yusuf bin Tashfin is the founder of the famous Moroccan city Marrakech (in Berber Murakush, corrupted to Morocco in English). He himself chose the place where it was built in 1070 and later made it the capital of his Empire. Until then the Almoravids had been desert nomads, but the new capital marked their settling into a more urban way of life.
The name "Ibn Tumart" comes from the Berber language and means "son of the earth."Taric el Tuerto (Taric the one-eyed), was a Berber Muslim and Umayyad general who led the conquest of Visigothic Hispania in 711. He is considered to be one of the most important military commanders in Spanish history. He was initially the deputy of Musa ibn Nusair in North Africa, and was sent by his superior to launch the first thrust of an invasion of the Iberian peninsula. Some claim that he was invited to intervene by the heirs of the Visigothic King, Wittiza, in the Visigothic civil war.
On April 29, 711, the armies of Tariq landed at Gibraltar (the name Gibraltar is derived from the Arabic name Jabal Tariq, which means mountain of Tariq, or the more obvious Gibr Al-Tariq, meaning rock of Tariq). Upon landing, Tariq is said to have burned his ships then made the following speech, well-known in the Muslim world, to his soldiers:
Ziri ibn Manad was a clan leader of the Berber Sanhaja tribe who, as an ally of the Fatimids, defeated the rebellion of Abu Yazid (943-947). His reward was the governorship of the western provinces, an area that roughly corresponds with modern Algeria north of the Sahara.Muhammad ibn Ali Awzal or al-Awzali was a religious Berber poet. He is considered the most important author of the Tashelhiyt (southern Morocco Berber language) literary tradition. He was born around 1670 in the village of al-Qasaba in the region of Sous, Morocco and died in 1748/9 (1162 of the Egira). Jazulah which was settled in the Sus area of Morocco between the Atlantic Ocean and the Atlas Mountains. He is most famous for compiling the Dala'il al-Khayrat, an extremely popular Muslim prayer book.
Of all the fathers of the church, St. Augustine was the most admired and the most influential during the Middle Ages... Augustine was an outsider - a native North African whose family was not Roman but Berber... He was a genius - an intellectual giant.