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A Study of the Ancient and Contemporary Berbers of North Africa

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Title: A Study of the Ancient and Contemporary Berbers of North Africa


1
The Free People
  • A Study of the Ancient and Contemporary Berbers
    of North Africa
  • Amanda Brown, Anum Khan, and Chelsea Rendelman

2
Historical Perspective
  • The history of the Berbers is somewhat
    problematic
  • Though their specific local origins are
    unspecified, they have been known to have
    occupied regions in North Africa (the Maghreb
    region) and Spain

3
  • Berbers were first mentioned in ancient Egyptian
    writing in 3,000 B.C
  • They are thought to have been a part of a
    Mediterranean racial group that included Celtic,
    Iberian, and Semitic people, or as being related
    to the Canaanites, the Phoenicians, and the
    Caucasians

4
  • Historically, Berbers were nomadic shepherds and
    cattle herders
  • They were also small farmers and lived in
    villages that had small local industries
  • They manufactured products such as, iron, copper,
    lead, pottery, weaving, and embroidery
  • The Berbers even sold slaves to other states
    during this time

5
  • By the third century B.C, the Berber-Maghreb
    region had now included Morocco, Algeria, and
    Tunisia
  • These areas were ruled by the Moors, the
    Massaesylins, or the Massylins

6
  • The Berber kings were known to have lived a very
    luxurious lifestyle
  • The first Berber ruler that reliable historical
    data makes reference to, is King Sphax.
  • King Massinissa was another prominent ruler

7
  • The Berbers were of many different religious
    denominations including pagan, Christian, and
    Jewish
  • Islam came to the Maghreb region during the 7th
    century
  • They were quickly integrated into the Islamic
    faith and wanted to help spread their newly
    learned religion

8
  • The Berbers united with Arab-Muslims to spread
    Islam throughout the rest of the world
  • One such region that was a main focus was Spain
  • The conquest in Spain brought about two main
    Berber ruling groups, the Almoravids and the
    Almohads.

9
Almoravids and Almohads
  • Both shared the same Hamito-Semitic language.
  • The Almoravids followed a less strict version of
    Islam
  • They moved this form of Islam into Morocco and
    established Marrakech as their capital in 1070
  • The Almoravids were able to keep command in Spain
    for quite some time.
  • The Almohads followed a stricter, more
    conservative form of Islam.
  • They focused on purifying their religion
  • In 1147, the leader of the Almoravids was killed,
    and the capital city of Marrakech was taken over
    by the Almohads.
  • Almohad power declined during the Christian
    reconquest
  • In 1212, the Almohads left Spain, due to the
    Christian army aggression and the seizure of
    Seville 1248.
  • Other civilizations continuously conquered the
    Almohads and the Almoravids because they could
    never unite to form a strong force

10
This is a picture of an incomplete mosque from
the Almohad dynasty
11
  • The Islamic influence soon had an effect on the
    language of the Berbers.
  • The so-called Arabization of North Africa, has
    contributed to many Berbers adopting the Arabic
    language.
  • Arabic was the language of the conquerors, their
    religion, and their administration
  • Arabic soon became the universally accepted
    language of learning, business, and trade
  • The Berber language was isolated during this
    time, and was regarded as an unintelligible
    language

12
  • There was certain discrimination based on
    physical appearance that existed between the
    Arabs and the Berbers.
  • The Berbers generally wore turbans and Arabs wore
    bonnets
  • As the two ethnic groups interacted with one
    another, they began to adapt some of each others
    practices, such as the Arabs beginning to wear
    turbans themselves by the fourteenth century

13
  • Europe had long been heavily invested in this
    region for trade purposes
  • In 1881, Tunisia was made a French Protectorate,
    in 1911-12, Italy invaded Libya, and France and
    Spain split up Morocco
  • Some Berbers were at a disadvantage during this
    time, and some benefited

14
Independence
  • Libya (1951)
  • Morocco (1956)
  • Tunisia (1956)
  • Algeria (1962)

15
Culture
  • Amazigh, Not Arab.

16
  • Imazighen are usually portrayed as nomadic
    peoples constantly crossing the Sahara on camels
    however, contrary to popular belief, most
    actually are sedentary subsistence farmers in the
    mountains and valleys of North Africa.

17
  • Women do all the house work, help the men with
    the harvest, and take newly cut grain to the
    threshing floor. Amazigh men are also involved
    in flour milling, wood carving, and quarrying
    millstones.

18
Religion
  • The ancient Amazigh religion pagan and
    animalistic
  • Imazighen embraced Judaism, and helped spread
    Christianity
  • Now, the majority of Imazighen are Muslim, and
    follow the orthodox, Sunni, branch of the
    religion of Maliki

19
Tamazight
Tifinagh
Translation
All human beings are born free and equal in
dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason
and conscience and should act towards one another
in a spirit of brotherhood.
20
Cuisine
Couscous
Tajine
21
Music
  • There are three main varieties of Amazigh music
    village, ritual and popular music.
  • Village music mainly includes instruments like
    the flute, tambourines and drums, and is
    performed for dancing.
  • Ritual music is performed to celebrate marriages,
    protect against evil spirits and other important
    ceremonies.
  • The most popular Amazigh musician is Idir.
  • Berber Music from the Atlas Mountains

22
Dance
  • There are many different varieties of Amazigh
    dance, such as ahwash, taskawine and guedra
  • Guedra is the most well known Amazigh dance.
  • Video Clip

23
Human Rights Issues
  • Modern Struggles for the Amazigh

24
  • Although the Berbers do face discrimination
    because of many different aspects of their lives,
    their major struggles revolve around the issue of
    language and the implications that the
    suppression of their language has on their
    cultural identity.

25
  • The right to their native language, whether that
    is in national government, public education, or
    simply the right to have an indigenous name, is a
    major point of the United Nations Declaration on
    the Rights of Indigenous People. However, many
    nation states do not respect this right.

26
  • This is due to the Arabization of North Africa
    which resulted from the winning of their
    independence from France following WWII. This
    process is characterized by these new
    governments unifying their populations under
    Islam and the Arabic language.

27
  • However under the policy of Arabization there
    has been a complete disregard for Berber language
    and cultural practices.

28
  • Whether this disregard is done in an attempt to
    create oneness in these new nations or because of
    a fear of minority uprising, one can not be sure
    but these new Arab states have put their
    strongest forces behind protecting this ideal.

29
  • However, it is not the religion that upsets the
    Berbers, as many are practicing Muslims it is
    the restrictions made on their language and
    thusly their culture.

30
  • One of the ways which nation states practice
    language imperialism is through the legal
    sector. Constitutions and other legal documents
    blatantly discriminate and ostracize the Amazigh,
    most specifically their language.

31
  • One example is the Libyan national constitution
    which states that, that Arabic was the countrys
    official language. Again, there was no mention of
    the Berber language, and accordingly Berber was
    not recognized despite the fact that it was, and
    still is, a living reality in Libya. The Berber
    language was officially excluded.

32
  • However Berber languages are, without a doubt,
    being destroyed almost single handedly by the
    education system. Arabization of the national
    government collided with the school system and
    Arabic became the only acceptable standard.
    Because of this there is a high drop out rate
    among the Amazigh children.

33
  • One could make the correlation that the nation
    state diminished their language purposefully to
    keep them from receiving an education. They
    believed that education would cause them to
    demand greater indigenous rights and rebel
    against the nation state.

34
Recently there have been some reforms in this
system, specifically in Morocco where 60 of the
population speaks a Berber dialect. In 2001, King
Mohammad VI, announced a program to teach all
schoolchildren Tamazight and bankrolled a
research institute, IRCAM Royal Institute of the
Amazigh Culture, to develop a curriculum and
promote study of the language.
35
  • However there is still a strong resistance to
    the program and in many communities it is not
    implemented. In a similar way, many textbooks do
    not recognize Berber history as national history,
    citing that the earliest people in North Africa
    were ancient Arabs and it is almost as if ,
    the Berbers, their history, language, culture
    and civilization had never existed.

36
  • One interesting case that deals with the
    fundamental right for these groups to their
    indigenous language and the discrimination it
    receives in North Africa are indigenous names.

37
  • Both Libya and Morocco have these name laws
    which state that, Amazigh first names are
    prohibitedAmazigh parents are effectively forced
    to choose first names from a pre-established list
    of Arabic first names. They thus cannot choose an
    Amazigh name for their newborn.

38
  • This system is managed by the Ministry of the
    Interior of which all people must register. This
    control of the nation state combined with deep
    seated prejudices already present towards Berbers
    has resulted in the prohibition of many of their
    traditional names.

39
  • Many groups including the Human Rights Watch
    have spoken out against this system. Sarah Lee
    Wilson, Middle East and North Africa director at
    HRW, stated that, Unless a first name is
    patently offensive or objectionable or harmful to
    the interests of the child, authorities have no
    business curbing the right of parents to make
    this very personal choice especially not when
    the curb amounts to a form of ethnic
    discrimination.

40
  • This oppression of language which has resulted
    in the suppression of their entire culture has
    boiled down for the Berbers to a desire for the
    right of cultural identity which has so long been
    denied them.

41
  • The Berber Manifesto, declared in 2000 by the
    Amazigh community, has certain requests of North
    African governments including the recognition of
    Berber language included in the education,
    economic development of Berber communities,
    acknowledgment of Berber history in the evolution
    of the region, and a gained respect for Berber
    cultural attributes.

42
  • However, there is no indication that governments
    are willing to comply with these demands, a
    common characteristic of countries with large
    indigenous populations. This leads to one
    conclusion although the Sahara desert may remain
    a barren stretch of land forever, under the
    implementation of these discriminatory laws this
    ancient indigenous groups may not survive to
    watch over their homeland.

43
Conclusion
  • The Berbers of North Africa have had a turbulent
    and tumultuous history in North Africa. Ranging
    from their initial development in the region to
    their interactions with some of the greatest
    civilization of all time to even now under the
    pressures of Arabization from racist nation
    states, they have attempted and in many ways have
    been successful in maintaining their traditional
    way of life.

44
  • Resulting from that, the Amazigh have a culture
    that is rich and adaptive, taking on traits from
    all those they encounter. They appreciate the
    many different groups which have influenced their
    development and honor them in food, song,
    language, and dance. They have, without a doubt,
    one of the largest knowledgebase of survival
    skills, especially considering their environment,
    which is almost invaluable.

45
Most recently, they have unified once again as
an indigenous group to challenge stereotypical
ideas of them in order to gain their indigenous
rights and in the same sense their overall human
rights. They face harsh prejudices from their
nation states which suppress their language, even
will go so far as to not allow traditional names.
But the Berbers pull from their strong cultural
heritage and fight to perverse their cultural
identity, not only for themselves but the next
generation.
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