The Berbers

The origin of Berbers

Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, vandals and Byzantines followed one another before the Arab invasion and the Islamization which followed in a Maghreb occupied since ancient times by Berber peoples which leave many researchers perplexed.

We know these peoples that the Greeks called barbaros under the names of Numids, Libyans, Gétules… In fact, barbaros means”not Greek”,”foreigner”.

Tamazgha, The Berber world

At a time when borders did not exist, extended from the Atlantic Ocean, including the Canary Islands, to the Nile; from the shores of the Mediterranean to those of Niger and Senegal. They are nomadic pastoralists, farmers, stockbreeders, sedentary or semi-nomadic arboriculturists, craftsmen, mountain dwellers or men of the plains and the desert; all knew how to take advantage of an often austere environment.

The Berbers speak Tamazight, a Chamito-Semitic language that comes in many forms depending on the region. Language mostly oral, its alphabet is called tifinagh. Long used by only a few scholars and the Tuareg people who knew how to preserve it, the tifinagh returns to the honor and begins to be learned in Moroccan and Algerian schools.

There are two families: the languages of the Zenet or not group

The dialects of the Atlas and Kabylia belong to the first family. The languages of the Zenet’s group are: the Rifain in the north-east of Morocco including the Zenet’s Eastern Speakers, the Berber of the Middle Eastern Atlas in the centre-east of Morocco, the Speakers of the north-west of Algeria, the Chaoui of the Aures, the Northsaharian Speakers as well as the Zenet’s Dialects of Tunisia and Libya.

The number of Berber speakers is difficult to determine and the political stakes raised by this estimate make the figures put forward by the various parties more or less questionable and/or contested.

Official language in Morocco and Algeria (about 20 million Berber speakers in these two countries), it can reasonably be thought that the number of Berber speakers is around 40 million people in the world. Spoken by more than 1.5 million people, Berber, with its Kabyle, Chaoui, Rifaine and Chleuh variants, is the second most spoken language in France.

The Berber calendar

The desire to create a Berber era has always been very present among North African Berber militants. Thus in 1960, at the initiative of the Berber Academy of Paris 7, research was undertaken to try to define a zero point. The Berber peasant used an agrarian calendar to set the rhythm for seasonal agricultural work.

For a long time hidden by the post-colonial Maghreb governments who saw in it an attempt to assert a Berber identity, Yennayer the Berber New Year was variously celebrated in Tamaghza. Until now, it went almost unnoticed in Morocco, whereas it has always been very popular in Kabylia.

The designers of the Berber calendar chose the installation on the throne of Egypt of the Berber king Chachnaq and the foundation of the 23rd Egyptian dynasty which reigned until 715 B.C. as the first historical fact marking the zero point, 950 years BC.

In Tamaghza, in 2018 of the Christian era, we are thus in 2968 and Amenzu Yennayer, the First of the Berber year, is thus celebrated on January 12 or 13 of the Gregorian calendar.

The great Berber dynasties in Morocco

In the first centuries of the Christian era, three great Berber families at the origin of different dynasties: the Zenet semi-nomadic builders, the Sanhadja Saharan nomads and the sedentary Masmudas, fought bitterly over this space. They linked their stories to the Rif, Atlas and Jbel Saghro mountains, the large palm groves of southern Morocco and the caravan trails.

The Sanhadja

Also called Zenaga, the Sanhadja, isenhadjen in Berber, are nomads from the Western Sahara, mainly from present-day Mauritania. The tribes belonging to this confederation have largely influenced the history of Morocco, Mauritania, Algeria and Spain.

Divided into three great tribes: the Lemtuna, the Godala and the Messoufla, the Sanhadja were at the same time nomadic herders, caravanners and warriors. Nomadic in the western Sahara, from the Mauritanian Adrar to the Moroccan Tafilalet, like the Tuaregs to whom they were close, they were veiled. The litham whose head they covered earned them the name “moulathimoun”, the veiled ones.

Almoravid dynasty. 1060-1147

The Sanhadja are at the origin of the Almoravid dynasty founded in the 11th century in present-day Mauritania. The Almoravids will conquer the Moroccan South and Sijilmassa then Souss before founding Marrakech in 1062.

They then extended their domination over Al Andalus in southern Spain from 1086 to 1142. Youssef Ben Tachfin’s Almoravid dynasty, the first sultan and third imam of the dynasty, assured its authority over this nascent Morocco until 1147, when it was defeated by the Almohads.

Major tribal confederations

Hereditary enemies for centuries, the tribal confederation Aït Atta and that of sAït Yafelmane composed of the tribes Aït Izdeg, Aït Yahia, Aït Merghad and Aït Hdiddou are the most important tribes descending from the nomads Sanhadja.

The Aït Atta, nomadic shepherds and fierce warriors occupy a territory ranging from the Draa valley to that of Ziz in south-east Morocco and from the Sahara to Dades and Todra. Nevertheless their main habitat is constituted by the Jbel Saghro.

The Aït Yafelmane are mainly settled in the mountains of the Central and Eastern High Atlas. They still occupy a territory that extends north from the heights of Dades and Todra to the jbel Ayachi and Midelt; south, from the Ferkla oasis to Er-Rachidia; to the extreme east of the Atlas, from Gheris and Erfoud to Gourrama, from Boudnib to the surroundings of Bouarfa.

The Masmoudas

The Imasmouden in Tamazight are part of a Berber confederation from the High Atlas. In medieval times and on the eve of the Arab conquest, with the exception of Sanhadjian settlements in the south, sedentary, they occupied a vast territory ranging from the Mediterranean to the Draa valley.

The Almohad Dynasty 1145-1248

At the beginning of the 12th century, the Masmudas created in Tinmel in the High Atlas a religious movement called Almohade, “which proclaims divine unity”, Imweḥḥden in Berber. This spiritual movement will be at the origin of the eponymous dynasty which will reign on the Maghreb and Al Andalus from 1145 to 1248.

In the Moroccan South, famous tribes, Aït Bâamrane, Seksawa, Glaoua, belong to this Masmoudas confederation.

The Glaoua

The Iglaoua, in Berber, of Tachelhit language are originating from the High Atlas in the southwest of Marrakech. Their territory extends north to the Atlas foothills at Sidi Rahal and the Rdat valley; south to the confluence of the Mellah and Oulina rivers.

The village of Télouet has always been their stronghold and the kasbah whose construction began in the 17th century was completed in the 20th, their fortress.

Glaoua have always been renowned for their wealth. Wealth that they owe in part to the right of tax on the caravan trade which transited by the track connecting Marrakech to Ouarzazate via Aït-Benhaddou. The Pasha glaoui Thami El Glaoui nicknamed the “Lord of the Atlas” will then compose with the French protectorate to assert their power over the whole of southern Morocco.

He even conspired with the French to oust Sultan Mohammed V, grandfather of the current king, known for ideas of independence that threatened his power.

The Aït Baâmrane

For most of them, the Aït Baâmrane come from the Berber Guezoulas originating from the Moroccan northern Sahara since prehistoric times. The Guezoulas were called gétules by the Romans, and jazoula masmouda by the Arabs.

Over time, these tribes have become more or less mixed with the descendants of the Bedouin conquerors Beni Mâaquil from Yemen, some speaking hassanya, the Sahrawi language, as well as Berber.

Their confederation is made up of five Berber tribes: Ait Boubker, Ait Azza or Yaaza, Ait Khoms, Mesti, Ait Abdallah and an Arabic-speaking woman, the Sbouya.

The Zenets

Originally from the west of present-day Libya, where they settled in eastern Morocco as early as Roman times. Semi-nomadic Berber speakers, their language is Tazenatit.

They are at the origin of the foundation of several Berber states in the Maghreb and Spain under the Marinid reign and the creation of the kharidjite emirate of Sijilmassa.

The Merinid Dynasty 1244-1465

Fleeing the advance of the Banu Hilal Arab tribes, the Zenets of the Wasin tribe settled mainly in the Moulouya plain in northeastern Morocco in the 11th century.

Taking advantage of the disintegration of the Almohad dynasty, they rebelled against them in 1244 then returned to Marrakech in 1269 and founded a dynasty that ruled Morocco and the Andalusian coast until 1465.

Meknassa or Miknassa

The Meknassa are a Zenet tribe from the Kairouan region of Tunisia. After founding Meknes in 711, a Zenetan group took part in the Berber revolt sparked by Maysara in 739.

Some of them adopted Kharidjite Islam and then founded the city of Sijilmassa in 757 under the rule of Semgou Ibn Wassoul al Miknassi.

The Aït Seghrouchen

From the Zenet ethnic group, they are now settled in southern Morocco, from the south of Er-Rachidia to Gourrama and as far east as the High Atlas, as well as in the Figuig oasis region.

Their home is the jbel Tichoukt in the Middle Atlas, in the vicinity of the small town of Boulemane, scattered, their territory forms small enclaves there. Their probable ancestry with Moulay Ali Ben Amar Ben Yaya Ben Idriss II, of the Idrisside dynasty makes them enjoy great prestige in the region.

Prestige reinforced in 1924-1926 when they heroically resisted the French troops during two winters in their snow-covered mountains before the cold and lack of supplies made them surrender.

Some of them then joined France in the 2nd GTM, a group of Moroccan tabors. This light infantry corps of the African army existed from 1908 to 1956, date of Moroccan independence. He distinguished himself during the Second World War by participating in the liberation of Corsica, the island of Elba and during the Italian campaign, then in Indochina from 1946 to 1954 and obtained numerous medals and citations under the orders of General Guillaume.

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