c. 1300 BCE
Egyptians record the presence of semi-nomadic tribes in the Maghreb.
c. 814 BCE
Traditional founding date for the Phoenician colony of Carthage by Tyre.
Greek colonists from the island of Thera found the city of Cyrene in North Africa.
Massinissa of Numidia betrays Carthage and joins forces with the Roman Republic.
The Roman Republic legitimises various Numidian tribal leaders to ensure stability and prevent a single ruler from becoming too powerful.
85 BCE - 46 BCE
Life of Juba I, a Numidian chieftain who united the Numidians and Mauretanians against Caesar.
In 702 the Berbers submitted to the armies of Islam and adopted Islam. The first Moroccan states formed during these years, but many were still ruled by outsiders, some of whom were part of the Umayyad Caliphate that controlled most of northern Africa c. 700 CE. In 1056, a Berber empire arose, however, under the Almoravid Dynasty, and for the next five hundred years, Morocco was governed by Berber dynasties: the Almoravids (from 1056), Almohads (from 1174), Marinid (from 1296), and Wattasid (from 1465).
It was during the Almoravid and Almohad dynasties that Morocco controlled much of North Africa, Spain, and Portugal. In 1238, the Almohad lost control of the Muslim portion of Spain and Portugal, known then as al-Andalus. The Marinid dynasty attempted to regain it but never succeeded.
Tifinagh script, a Berber alphabet.
Berber languages are closely related and belong to the Afro-Asiatic language group. There are hundreds of dialects among the Berber population, but the vast majority of Berbers speak one of seven dominant Berber dialects. It is not possible to ascertain the exact populations of Berber speakers since most of the Maghreb countries do not have language data. It is estimated that 14 to 20 million people in Africa speak the Berber language. Berber languages include Tarifit, common in Morocco, Kabyle in Algeria, and Tashelhyt in Central Morocco. There has been a strong movement by the Berbers to unite all the languages into a single standard known as Tamazight. Other notable Berber languages include Siwa, Zenanga, and Sanhaja.
Berbers in Northwest Africa
Today, of course, Berbers are associated with people indigenous to northwest Africa, not east Africa. One possible situation is that the northwestern Berbers were not the eastern "Barbars" at all, but instead were the people the Romans called Moors (Mauri or Maurus). Some historians call any group living in northwest Africa "Berbers", to refer to the people who were conquered by Arabs, Byzantines, Vandals, Romans, and Phoenicians, in reverse chronological order.
Rouighi (2011) has an interesting idea that the Arabs created the term "Berber", borrowing it from the east African "Barbars" during the Arab Conquest, their expansion of the Islamic empire into North Africa and the Iberian peninsula. The imperialist Umayyad caliphate, says Rouighi, used the term Berber to group the people living nomadic pastoralist lifestyle in northwestern Africa, about the time they conscripted them into their colonizing army.
Berber Social Customs
In terms of religion, the vast majority of Berbers are Muslim and have practiced their faith for centuries. But there are some unique aspects of their culture that has survived the introduction of new and different religions, especially when it comes to women.
For example, unlike many of their settled neighbors, Berber women rarely wear veils and in some of their communities, women even choose their own husbands.
Berber society is centered around the concept of the tribe, which is usually composed of extended family clans. Each tribe has its own chief who often claims to be a descendant of the Prophet Mohammad. The chief is in charge of dispensing justice and resolving disputes as well as making important decisions for the tribe.
Similar to other nomadic cultures, Berber clans live in portable tents that are set up when they find a good area to graze their animals. One particularly unique part of Berber culture is guest rights. Once someone is given food and water by a Berber, they become their guest. The host then takes responsibility for the guest’s safety.
This may seem strange from a Western perspective, but in a place where finding a place to rest and a drink of water is a matter of life and death, hospitality is very important.
The Indigenous Berbers of Africa – By Natural Mystics
Indigenous Berber, the Blue men, with the eponymous blue cloth veil
One of the most misrepresent people in North Africa are the indigenous Berber people. These beautiful women are not shown on mainstream television, movies and rarely in print. These are the descendants of the ancient Berbers that the ancient Romans spoke of and wrote about.
The original indigenous Berbers were the North African ancestors of the present day dark-brown peoples of the Sahara and the Sahel, mainly those called Fulani, Tugareg, Zenagha of Southern Morocco, Kunta and Tebbu of the Sahel countries, as well as other dark-brown arabs now living in Mauretania and throughout the Sahel, including the Trarza of Mauretania and Senegal, the Mogharba as well as dozens of other Sudanese tribes, the Chaamba of Chad and Algeria.” The Westerners have chosen to concentrate on the most recent world of the Arab and Berber-speaking peoples and present it as if it is a world that has always been. “It is like comparing the Aztecs of five hundred years ago with the ethnic mix of America today,” wrote Reynolds. “The story of when North Africa was Moorish and Arabia, the land of Saracens, has yet to be told.”
– Dana Reynolds, Anthropologist
Anthropologist, Dana Reynolds traced the African roots of the original North African peoples through a dozen Greek and Byzantine (neo-Roman writers) from the first to the sixth century A.D. “They describe the Berber population of Northern Africa as dark-skinned [modern Europeans call dark brown skin color, as black-skinned] and woolly-haired.” Among these writers who wrote about the Berbers were Martial, Silius Italicus, Corippus and Procopius.
Saint Augustine was a dark-skinned Berber and many of the later Roman emperors would have trouble getting citizenship in some of today’s European states.
– Professor Mikuláš Lobkowicz, the former rector of the Munich university and current director of the Institute of Central and East European Studies in Eichstätt.
There are those who say that the Berber is part of the African story of Ham, from the land of Ber, the son of biblical figure Ham.
The original inhabitants of Ireland before the Celts invaded were Berber people who stretch all the way from Saharan Africa to Western Ireland. In North Africa they are known as Berbers, the original people before the Arab invasion of North Africa, they were known to the ancient Greeks and Romans as “barbarians,” the Tuaregs of Nigeria, Niger, Chad, etc. are a Berber people.
[Editors note: the Kanuris of North-Eastern Nigeria are known as the Iberi-beris. They are Berbers originally from Fezzan Libya]
In Spain and Portugal they were known as “Iberians,” which is the name of the Peninsula. In Ireland the Berbers are known as “Hibernians.” The Celts and later invaders pushed them back to the West of Ireland, where you most commonly see the “black Irish” with black hair and brown eyes. The most popular recreational organization of Irish Americans is the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH).
Modern Berber family having a traditional meal
The images that are shown in mainstream television, movies and in print are of the lighter skinned people that are also referred as Berber. Modern north Africa has changed a great deal, from waves of invasions such as the Persians, Greeks, Romans, Germanic tribes, Arabs, Turks and the French have led to the amalgamation in the region. The role of literally millions of enslaved Indo-Europeans and concubinage in the creation of admixed populations in cities like Tunis, Tripoli, Fez, Sale and Algiers are well documented. This is the formation of populations in north Africa today. These now lighter skinned people do not call themselves African. In fact, the term “African” is a very demonized term to many, more than likely because of the modern European invasion into Africa, Europeans had to justify their behavior (some still do), and the term African is the object of ridicule and humiliation. The term Berber is now a regional word to apply to these people that now share many common cultural ideas and customs. “
Khārijite Berber resistance to Arab rule
Political life of the Maghrib in the 8th century was dominated by the contradiction in the position of the Arab rulers who, while posing as the champions of a religion recognizing the equality of all believers, emphasized their ethnic distinctiveness and exercised authority with little regard for Islamic religious norms. This contradiction surfaced in their relations with the Berbers after the latter became Muslim in large numbers—especially through serving in the Arab army, which is known to have included Berber contingents when it was commanded by Ḥassān ibn al-Nuʿmān and his successor Mūsā ibn Nuṣayr. Many Berber warriors participated in the conquest of Spain in 711. Though professing Islam, they were treated as mawālī (“clients”) of the Arab tribes and consequently had a status inferior to, and received less pay than, the Arab warriors. Furthermore, the Arab ruling class alone reaped the fruits of conquest, as was clearly the case in Spain. The grievances of the warriors highlighted the resentment of Berbers in general, caused by such practices as levying human tribute on the Berber tribes, through which the Arab ruling class was provided with slaves, especially female slaves. ʿUmar II (717–720) was the only Umayyad caliph who is known to have condemned the levying of human tribute and ordered that it be discontinued. He also sent 10 tābiʿūn (“followers” disciples of the Prophet Muhammad’s companions) to teach Islam to the Berbers. The enlightened policy of this pious caliph did not survive his short reign, however. Rather, it contributed toward confirming the conviction of Muslims in the Maghrib that Islam could not be equated with Umayyad caliphal rule.
The Muslim Khārijite sect exploited this revolutionary potential in their struggle against Umayyad rule. Khārijite doctrine apparently appealed to the Berbers because it rejected the Arab monopoly on political leadership of the Muslim community, stressed piety and learning as the main qualifications of the head of the community, and sanctioned rebellion against the head when he acted unjustly. In 740 a major Berber rebellion broke out against Arab rule in the region of Tangier. Its first leader was a Berber called Maysara who had come to Kairouan under the influence of the Ṣufriyyah, the extremist branch of the Khārijite sect. The Berber rebels achieved an astounding military success against the Arab army. By 742 they had taken control of the whole of Algeria and were threatening Kairouan. In the meantime the Ibāḍiyyah, who constituted the moderate branch of the Khārijite sect, had taken control of Tripolitania by converting the Berber tribes living there, especially the Hawwāra and Nafusa, to their doctrine. Ibāḍī domination in Tripolitania resulted from the activities of dāʿīs (“propagandists”) sent from the main centre of the group, in Iraq, after the Khārijite rebellion there had been suppressed by the Umayyad army in 697.
Umayyad caliphal rule in the Maghrib came to an end in 747 when the Fihrids, the descendants of ʿUqbah ibn Nāfiʿ—taking advantage of the Umayyads’ preoccupation with the ʿAbbāsid rebellion that led to their downfall—seized power in Ifrīqiyyah. The Fihrid dynasty controlled all of Tunisia except for the south, which was dominated at the time by the Warfajūma Berber tribe associated with the Ṣufrī Khārijites. Fihrid rule came to an end in 756 when the Warfajūma conquered the north and captured Kairouan. Immediately thereafter, however, the Ibāḍiyyah in Tripolitania proclaimed one of their religious leaders as imam (the Khārijite equivalent to the Sunni caliph) and in 758 conquered Tunisia from the Ṣufriyyah. An Ibāḍī state comprising Tunisia and Tripolitania thus came into being, which lasted until the ʿAbbāsids, having consolidated their authority as caliphs in the Middle East, sent an army to the region in 761 to restore caliphal rule in the Maghrib.
The ʿAbbāsids could impose their authority only on Tunisia, eastern Algeria, and Tripolitania. The authority of their governors of the reconstituted wilāyah of Ifrīqiyyah was hampered because they depended on an army that was recruited predominantly from among the unruly Arabs of the province. After Arab troops mutinied against the ʿAbbāsid governor in 800, Ifrīqiyyah was transformed into an Arab kingdom ruled by the Aghlabid dynasty in the name of the ʿAbbāsid caliphs. The founder of the dynasty, Ibrāhīm ibn al-Aghlab, had commanded until then the Arab army in eastern Algeria. After using his troops to restore order in Tunisia, he established himself as ruler of the province. The acquiescence of the caliph, Hārūn al-Rashīd, to Ibn al-Aghlab’s usurpation of authority was linked to the latter’s continued recognition of ʿAbbāsid suzerainty and payment of tributes to Baghdad.
Although the Berbers had been Islamized more than 1000 years ago they succeeded in preserving their unique way of life and their special civilization. Actually, it is very amazing that the Berber women could keep their high social status in Berber society withstanding the strong influences of patriarchal Muslim culture. This is already obvious by the fact that - in contrast to other patriarchal people - the education of the girls is of great importance. In fact, there are the Berber women who can read and write, do poetry. Also in case of matchmaking the women are the active part, they choose their husbands. Therefor it is not very astonishing that there existed famous Berber queens who were also military leaders. The most famous of them, Kahina and Tin Kahina, will be treated in detail.
Mâyu - the spring festival of the women in Tozeur
Every year in May, on the 13 th of May to be precise, there takes place a spring festival named Mâyu in the town Tozeur at the northern border of the Chott el-Djerid. It is a festival which is quite uncommon for Islamic way of life.
The process of the festival is following:
At this day the land tenants set up swings in the palm tree groves and the young women, the young girls and also the small ones have much fun swinging. Actually, the main event takes places at the Oued, the water channel which is essential for Tozeur. In the morning these women who are allowed to leave the house for the festival - women of wealthy families are excluded - go to the Oued to take a bath in there. Similar to the swinging in the palm tree groves there is much joy, fun and laughter. The young women do special rituals in the Oued. They open their hairs, sprinkle each other with water und say an incantation.
The married women take water from the Oued and bring it home. By saying a spell they change it to an aphrodisiac which is supposed to strengthen the love between their husbands and themselves.
It is quite obviously a festival with the focus on women. The scientists mainly agree that the origin must be a pre-Islamic vegetation festival. Already the date in May hints at its fertility nature. It is very remarkable that it is a women's festival and actually exclusively for women. It is all the more amazing because Tozeur is totally Islamic. The only role of the men at the festival is to set up the swings. It is a festival of young women and girls but also of married women. The main event takes place at the Oued, the lifeline of Tozeur. Without these natural water resources Tozeur could not exist. Water is undoubtedly connected with fertility. Without water there would be no vegetation and no life in the Djerid region. The sprinkling with the valuable water of the Oued is to be interpreted as a fertility ritual. The fertility of vegetation is connected with the fertility of women. The exclusion of the rich women from this ceremony hints at the egalitarian meaning of the festival. It is even possible that it implies a latent reminiscence of a past egalitarian civilization which revives for one day a year with this festival.
Actually, it is very amazing that the Mâyu festival - as a women's festival - could preserve itself in its current form in today's North Africa.
- Ideas concerning similarities between Berber tradition and the ancient tradition of the Libyan Amazons
- First of all, the Libyan Amazons were located in that part of Africa where the Berber peoples lived and still live. The Berbers are supposed to be aborigines.
- The Berbers call themselves »AMAZIGH« in their language. There is definitely a strong similarity between the words »AMAZON« and »AMAZIGH«.
- A further astonishing fact is the preeminent position of women in Berber society, though it depends to which extent the Berbers were absorbed by the Arabs. For about 1300 years the Berber peoples were threatened and in fact for the most part conquered and at last absorbed by Arab invaders.
There was a significant historical event at the first Arab invasion about 700 A.D. It was a female Berber leader named Kahina, who very successfully put up a fierce resistance to the Arab conquerors and even succeeded in driving them back, though in the end she was defeated and lost her life! Kahina led her life in the tradition of famous Amazon queens like Penthesilea. Isn't it very plausible that she was a descendant of the famous Libyan Amazons?
But the conquest of the Berber peoples was rather complete, so only the most secluded tribes have preserved their unique Berber culture.
Even today there are amazing parallels between the Berbers and the tradition of the Amazons. So there are fascinating Berber fortresses which have a strong resemblance to the picture of the Themiskyra fortress on a Greek vase. The conformity of tower battlements on both representations is very remarkable!
Berber fortress from Morocco
But even in social life of the Berbers there persisted elements of their unique culture. For the most part only the Berber women are literate and exclusively they know to write a special alphabet, the Tifinagh, which is founded upon the ancient Libyan writing.
So it is not very amazing that literature and poetry are handed down by the Berber women!
This book focuses on the numerous traces of the Amazons. It reports on latest findings and investigation in the legendary homeland of the Amazons at the river Thermodon and on the Amazon island Lemnos.
Fresh evidence indicates that the Amazons really existed! According to these new discoveries the lost history of the Amazons can be reconstructed.
The rather unknown North Aegean island Lemnos amazes with its great prehistoric past. About 5000 years ago there existed a highly-developed civilization which created imposing cities, mighty rock buildings and impressive sanctuaries on this Greek island. The discovery of Poliochni was sensational. Because of its largeness and refinement this Bronze Age settlement is regarded as the most ancient city of Europe. Also the discoveries at Myrina in the west and Hephaistia in the north witness the island's prehistoric importance. Presumably there was a further city in the Northeast - Chryse, which was sunken under the sea.
Moreover, the findings make evident that in this ancient civilization there was gender equality, it even seems that the women had the predominating gender role. Not without reason in antiquity Lemnos was described with the words »island dominated by women«.
=> Table of contents
At present, this book is only available in German.
- Free Tifinagh fonts
- L'école d'amazigh - online lessons in Amazigh and the Tifinagh alphabet
- Tawalt - a Libyan Berber site in the Tifinagh and Arabic scripts
- Berber Language Page
- Monde Berbere (Berber World) - information on the Berber people of Morocco in Berber, French and English: http://www.mondeberbere.com
- Amazigh World - information about Berber language and culture (in Berber and French)
- Kra isallen - Le magazine en ligne de l'association Tamazgha
- TIFIN' ART - Calligraphies et peintures (Tifinagh calligraphy)
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People living in North Africa, from Morocco‘s west coast to the oasis Siwa in Egypt, from Tunisia‘s north tip to the oases in mid-Sahara.
Berbers comprise a clear majority of the population of North Africa in terms of race, but in terms of identity, a considerable minority. It is essential to understand this difference between race and identity in order to grasp the meaning of being Berber. The influx of Arabs in North Africa has been far too insignificant throughout history to justify those large numbers of people now claiming to be Arabs. And the influx of other peoples in North Africa has not been of any significance since the Vandals in the 5th century.
Thus, in terms of race, Berbers represent 80% of the population in Morocco and Algeria, more than 60% in Tunisia and Libya and 2% in Egypt, making up more than 50 million people. In addition there are about 4 million Berbers living in Europe, primarily in France.
But as the Arabization has swept away the indigenous language from many regions and, along with it, the Berber identity, many people with Berber ancestry, are now claiming to be Arabs. An estimated half of the ethnic Berbers living in Europe regard themselves as Berbers, making up 2 million.
Berbers, just as most other peoples in the world, easily blend in with other people. There are visible differences between Berbers reflecting a surprising past – European slaves and war prisoners were transported and sold to North Africa, and with them blond hair and red hair as well as green and blue eyes were introduced into the Berber face. Estimates go as high as 1 million Europeans arriving in North Africa this way, but many returned to Europe and how many actually reproduced and had children that would live among the Berbers is impossible to assess.
The origin of Berbers is not certain either, some believe they may have come from Europe, but it is safest to consider the Berbers as the original population of North Africa.
The Berber communities are scattered around in the North African countries. They often live in the mountains and in smaller settlements. There are around 300 local dialects among the Berbers. Berbers are Muslims, but there are many traditional practices found among them. Since Berbers typically outnumber Arabs in rural areas, traditional practices tend to predominate there. The conversion of Berbers to Islam took centuries and in many areas Islam was not dominant until the 16th century. This has resulted in Berber Islam being somewhat atypical in its incorporation of traditional beliefs, preserving more traces of former religious practice.
Of major cities in North Africa, only Marrakech has a population with a Berber identity. The Berber dominance in the mountains can be traced to the days of Arab conquest, when the Arabs took control over the cities, but left the countryside to itself. The number of Arabs being too small for a more profound occupation. Berbers in those days had the choice between living in the mountains, resisting Arab dominance, or moving into the Arab community, where Arab language and culture were dominant.
Until a few years ago, being Berber was considered to be second class (like in many societies in the West: Indians in America, Aboriginals in Australia, Lapps in Norway). For example, in the most modernized society in North Africa, Tunisia, being Berber has been (and still is to some extent) synonymous with being an illiterate peasant dressed in traditional garments.
As with other indigenous peoples in the world, Berbers are now protesting against the undervaluation of their culture and identity, and specifically about the absence of a written language and the lack of political influence. This has been most clear in Algeria but also quite evident in Morocco. In Algeria the situation has been so tense, especially through the 1990’s, that foreign commentators have speculated about the prospects for a civil war and a partition of the country. Algerian Berbers are often unfamiliar with Arabic and use French as second language. Arabs in Algeria and Morocco object very much to the blossoming of Berber identity in their countries, but so far there has been little aggression between the two groups.
Throughout history, Berbers have founded several dynasties strong enough to threaten countries in Europe. Numidia in Algeria was so strong in the 2nd century BCE, that Rome feared that it could become a new Carthage. In the 11th and 12th centuries, the Almoravids and later in the 12th and 13th centuries, the Almohads, were Berber dynasties strong enough to control major parts of Northwest-Africa and Spain. At the dawn of colonization, Abd al-Qadir in the Algerian Kabyles halted French occupation for many years (until 1847).