Berbers, or Amazighs, are an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa, primarily inhabiting Algeria, northern Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, northern Niger, Tunisia, Libya and a part of western Egypt.
Berbers are distributed in an area stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Siwa Oasis in Egypt and from the Mediterranean Sea to the Niger River in West Africa. Historically, they spoke Berber languages, which together form the Berber branch of the Afroasiatic family. Since the Muslim conquest of North Africa in the 17th century, a large number of Berbers inhabiting the Maghreb (Tamazgha) have in varying degrees used a lingua franca, which in most cases is a Maghrebi Arabic dialect. After the colonization of North Africa by France, "the French government succeeded in integrating the French language in Algeria by making French the official national language and requiring all education to take place in French." Foreign languages, mainly French and to some degree Spanish, inherited from former European colonial powers, are used by most educated Berbers in Algeria and Morocco in some formal contexts, such as higher education or business.
Most Berber people live in North Africa, mainly in Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. Small Berber populations are also found in Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Egypt as well as large immigrant communities living in France, Spain, Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and other countries of Europe.
The majority of Berbers are Sunni Muslim. The Berber identity is usually wider than language and ethnicity and encompasses the entire history and geography of North Africa. Berbers are not an entirely homogeneous ethnicity, and they encompass a range of societies and ancestries. The unifying forces for the Berber people may be their shared language or a collective identification with Berber heritage and history.
There are some 25–30 million Berber speakers in North Africa. The number of ethnic Berbers (including non-Berber speakers) is far greater, as a large part of the Berbers have acquired other languages over the course of many decades or centuries and no longer speak Berber today. The majority of North Africa's population is believed to be Berber in origin, although due to Arabization most ethnic Berbers identify as Arabized Berbers.
Berbers call themselves some variant of the word i-Mazigh-en (singular: a-Mazigh), possibly meaning "free people" or "noble men". The name probably had its ancient parallel in the Roman and Greek names for Berbers, Mazices. Some of the best known of the ancient Berbers are the Numidian king Masinissa, king Jugurtha, the Berber-Roman author Apuleius, Saint Augustine of Hippo, and the Berber-Roman general Lusius Quietus, who was instrumental in defeating the major wave of Jewish revolts of 115–117. Dihya, or Kahina, was a religious and military leader who led a fierce Berber resistance against the Arab-Muslim expansion in Northwest Africa. Kusaila was a 7th-century leader of the Awraba tribe of the Berber people and King of the Sanhadja confederation. Yusuf ibn Tashfin was king of the Berber Almoravid dynasty; Tariq ibn Ziyad the general who conquered Hispania; Abbas Ibn Firnas, a prolific inventor and early pioneer in aviation; Ibn Battuta, a medieval explorer who traveled the longest known distances of his time.
Item Number: 198
Photo: Prayer in the Sahara by the Descendants of Baranis Berbers in Algeria
Date of Original Photo:1800s
Type: Photo printed on high-quality matt photograph paper
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