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Berber

BERBER

person(s), language(s), and culture of north african groups descended from the pre-arab mediterranean-type indigenous populations.

The term Berber was first applied centuries ago by foreign conquerors. Modern-day Berbers generally prefer their own designationsamazigh (male Berber) and tamazight (female Berber or Berber language/dialect)or the local variants of these. Speakers of Berber languages, those who are now referred to as Berbers, are most numerous today in western North Africa, but they can be found as far east as eastern Libya and even western Egypt (Siwa) and as far south as the Sahara Desert, northern Saharan regions of Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso. The nation of Senegal takes its name from a Berber-speaking group, the Zenaga, who live in an area of southwestern Mauritania.

No Berber race can be distinguished, rather the variety of features found throughout the Maghrib (North Africa) are essentially those associated with Mediterranean peoples generally. There seems always to have been a considerable mixture and, at present, one is confronted with Berbers having a wide spectrum of skin colors, statures, and cranial and facial proportions.

Several of the largest groups of Berbers that are characterized by linguistic and cultural distinctiveness are referred to using terms of non-Berber origin, usually from Arabicthe Kabyles in Kabylia (Djurdjura mountains, east southeast from Algiers); the Chawia (Aurès mountains in eastern Algeria, south of Constantine); the Tuareg (Saharan Algeria, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso); the Chleuh (High Atlas and Anti-Atlas mountains, Sous valley in southern Morocco); and the Braber (also called simply imazighen, plural of amazigh ) of the Middle Atlas mountains of Morocco. Virtually all other Berbers go by terms referring to the name of their place or region of origin: Nefusi, Djerbi, Mzabi, Rifi, and so on.

North African countries have not chosen to include native language data in their census processbut taking Berber speakers as constituting between 30 percent and the commonly cited 40 percent of Morocco's population, around 20 percent of Algeria's, adding several tens of thousands each from Tunisia, Libya, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania, one could very roughly assess the total to be somewhere around 12 million in the mid-1990s.

The overwhelming majority of Berbers have their homes in rural environments, far from the urban centers. In general, they can be found on the least productive landsthe mountains, the high plateaus, the pre-Saharan hammada, and in the Sahara Desert. Although the Tuaregcamel nomads of the central Saharamore vividly capture our imagination by their fascinating aspect and institutions, their lifestyle is not particularly representative. Most Berbers areand have been throughout recorded historysedentary agriculturalists. Along the mountains bordering on the high plateaus and desert, some Berbers practice forms of seminomadism, or transhumance, during part of the year to maintain their flocks (especially in the Aurès mountains and the southern part of the Middle Atlas).

Sedentary Berbers typically live in villages and eke out a meager peasant existence from small irrigated gardens, dry cereal culture, arboriculture, and small flocks of sheep and goats, occasionally a cow or two. In today's world, it is necessary for many of the most able-bodied men to export, for a time, their most marketable asset, their labor. It is not uncommon to find villages largely devoid of men between the ages of sixteen and forty. They emigrate temporarily, usually without families, both to North African cities and to European industrial centers and, from there, send home the money that, by living frugally, they are able to accumulate. Without their support, these villages and areas simply could not survive.

In many instances, by virtue of a natural tendency of younger emigrants to follow their elder family members, a village or even a whole area becomes specialized in a particular vocational field to the extent that they hold a near monopoly on one or another activity or commercial enterprise. Interestingly, this has happened in the grocery trade in all three of the main Maghrib countries. In each case, Berbers from a specific area have come to dominate to such an extent that, in the towns and cities, one typically does not go to the grocer's: In Tunisia one goes to the Djerbi's (from the island of Djerba), in Algeria to the Mzabi's (pre-Sahara), in Morocco to the Sousi's (Sous river valley and Anti-Atlas mountains). It is a significant instance of very successful adaptation to nontraditional ways, but it should be noted that its purpose, for the overwhelming majority, is precisely to permit the maintenance of the traditional homeland and lifestyle.


Art

The forms of Berber artistic expression, at least in the modern period, are primarily linked to utilitarian objectspottery, weaving, and architectureand to jewelry. All are characterized by predominantly geometrical, nonrepresentational patterns. Neither the forms and patterns nor the techniques appear to have changed significantly since ancient times, and they can be related directly to forms found in the Mediterranean basin from as early as the Iron Age. While they are not especially original or exclusive to Berbers, one is struck by the extraordinary persistence and continuity, in Berber country, of the tradition. Some of the most remarkable examples of Berber artistic expression are: (1) the fortified architecture of the southern Moroccan ksars, massive but majestic rammed earth and adobe-brick structures with intricate decorative patterns seemingly chiseled into their towers and facades; (2) Kabyle and Chawia pottery, extraordinary for the variety and elegance of its modeled forms as well as the composition and proportion of its applied patterns; (3) silver jewelry, embossed and inlaid with stones as well as with enameled cloisonné, especiallybut by no means exclusivelythat represented by the Kabyle tradition; (4) textiles throughout North Africa, but particularly in southern Tunisia and in central and southern Morocco.


Social Organization

Traditional social organization is family based and therefore quite segmentary. Relations between extended familiesor, if need be, between clans or villageshave in the past been (and continue to some extent to be) mediated by an assembly of heads of family, or elders, called the Djemaʿa. In today's more centrally administered bureaucratic world, many of the traditional competencies of the assembly have been taken over by government agencies. Nonetheless, a number of issuesthose concerning local resources of common interest and responsibility: Maintenance of paths, irrigation canals, mosques, and Qurʾanic schools; hiring of the Qurʾanic teacher; usage of forests and pastureland; setting of plowing and harvest dates; protection of crops; cooperative support (usually in the form of labor) of disadvantaged families; collective meat purchasing; hospitality for outsiders; organizing local religious or secular celebrations; and so forthcontinue to require consensus decisions and the shared provision of labor and material resources. While the term democratic, which has often been applied to Berber institutions, does not appear appropriate, one is struck by their profound egalitarianism, less as a moral imperative than one born of a distrust of power concentrated in the hands of one segment or another. This is often summarized in the terms balance and opposition: balance of power maintained by a constant resistance to the other segments' natural self-interest and by vigilance to assure that all segments bear burdens and reap benefits equally.

Berbers seem always to have had, and earned, a reputation of fierce independence, of inclination to rebellion, of resistance to any imposition of control over their lives. North African history is extremely fragmented, constantly jostled by new revolts, realignments, and alliances. Every schismatic movement seems to be welcomed against the previous orthodoxy, Donatism when the Berbers were being Christianized, Kharijism in the early years of Islamization. As often as not, the not yet entrenched conqueror is joined with to throw off the previous tyrantwhether either or both were Berber or not. Each time that a choice was to be made, it was seemingly made in the direction of greater local control and independence. Only on rare occasions in their history did the Berbers put together something like a Berber nation, uniting for a time over a vast territory to create a state or empire. In the two most important instances, the Almoravid and the Almohad dynasties of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, they were drawn together by the ideal of reform of the previously dominant regime(s), seen as having fallen into corrupt ways. This search for ever purer forms is, along with their deep cultural conservatism, one of the most constantly recurring themes throughout their history.


Religion

Virtually all Berbers by the twenty-first century were Muslims and, like most North Africans, are of Sunni Islam orthodoxy. In the Mzab and in Ouargla in Algeria, on the island of Djerba in Tunisia, and in the Nefusa mountains of Libya, there subsist Ibadite communitiesall essentially Berber-speakingwho trace their history back to the Kharijite schism of the seventh and eighth centuries.

Little reliable detail can be given as to the nature of the Berbers' pre-Islamic religious beliefs and practices. There is evidence from archaeology, from the remarks of observers in antiquity, and also from popular practices that have survived into the present in North Africa, of a generally animistic set of beliefs manifested in sacralization of promontories, outcroppings, caves, trees, and water sources. The usages seem to have been highly varied and local in their expression but widespread and reflective of the quasi-universal need to assuage the spirits to which the vicissitudes of everyday life can beand are stillattributed. Much of the North African fondness for the veneration of local saints, so-called Maraboutism, tolerated by the central tradition of Islam as somewhat deviant and marginal, can be understood as deriving in large part from this sub-stratum: Saints' "tombs" are often situated next to trees, caves, topographical features, or water sources that give evidence of cultic activity going back well before the life of the nominal vessel of baraka (blessedness, protection, God's power made present).


Language and Literature

Berber languages constitute together one branch of the AfroAsiatic (or HamitoSemitic) language family, whose other four branches are Semitic, Egyptian, Cushitic, and Chadic. Berber languages show a high degree of homogeneity in their grammar, somewhat less in their phonology. The differences that one notes between them are fewer and less considerable than those within the Semitic, Cushitic, or Chadic branches (Egyptian is manifested as essentially homogeneous at any historical moment). In a number of important respects, Berber bears a closer resemblance to Semitic languages than to the other branches: (1) the sound system employs contrasts of consonant "length" and pharyngealization (emphatics); (2) there are three basic vowels a, i, u with an archaic contrast of short versus long vowels found in the important set of Tuareg languages; (3) the morphological system is highly complex, characterized by a prevalence of tri-radical roots (less than Semitic, however), and considerable use of both consonant length and intraradical vowel alternation to express grammatical categories such as verb aspect and noun number; (4) the verbal system is based on a fundamental contrast of perfective versus imperfective aspect, with tense being secondary; (5) word order is predominantly V(erb) S(ubject) O(bject), though SVO is very frequent in main clauses.


Some noteworthy features peculiar to Berber include the following: (1) as reflected in the words amazigh, tamazight (cf. supra), as well as many place names on maps, masculine nouns begin with a vowel and feminine nouns begin with t + vowel and most often end in t as well (the vowel is a in 80% of nouns); (2) a special form of the noun (the annexed or construct form), characterized by an alteration of the vowel of the first syllable (amazigh > umazigh, tamazight > tmazight), is used for the subject noun after its verb, after prepositions, and as the second element in a noun-complement construction; (3) the subject markers of finite verb forms are both prefixed and suffixed to the stem (with the prefix elements being clearly identifiable with those of the Semitic prefix conjugation); (4) pronominal objects of the verb basically go immediately after the verb but must precede it in a number of conditions (essentially those of subordination); (5) particles can be used with the verb to "orient" the verbal action: d = "toward speaker" and n = "away from speaker."

Berber languages are generally only spoken, seldom written. Among the Tuareg, however, there subsists an alphabet, the tifinagh, which descends from the Libyan alphabet that is found in ancient inscriptions throughout much of North Africa (but principally present-day Tunisia and eastern Algeria). This alphabet, which like Arabic is essentially consonantal, can be written right to left or left to right, occasionally vertically. Among the Tuareg, it is used primarily for short inscriptions on rocks and for brief messages but does not seem to be employed for the recording of stories, documents, or history, those uses for which writing is basic in our Western cultures. Some efforts have been made by advocates of Berber cultural affirmation, to adapt the tifinagh to such functions and to broaden its use to other Berber-speaking groups, as in Kabylia and in Morocco. These efforts have had only very limited success and those publications (several in Algeria and in Morocco) written in the Berber language generally use the Latin-based transcription system employed by the French.

Berber literature is then essentially oral. It includes many traditional storiestales of animals, marvelous tales with ogres and monsters, tales of kings and princesses (à la Thousand and One Nights ), hagiographic legends, and myriad other stories that hand down the moral and ethical base of Berber society. As for poetry, among the Berbers it goes with music and isunlike the tales and storiesconstantly regenerated around a wide spectrum of subjects. There are extremely traditional forms, such as the often bantering repartee in the context of celebra-tory line dances in Morocco. There are more lyrical forms, songs of the heart and its joys and pains. There are the elaborate and often quite lengthy commentaries by troubador-like itinerant singers who hold forth, often quite bitingly, on all subjects, including the political scene. And, of course, one cannot fail to mention Berber popular music, which constitutes the richest and most fertile field of Berber literary expression today.

Of the languages with which Berber has shared North Africa at different times and placesamong them Phoenician, Latin, Germanic (German and English), Turkish, Italian, Spanish, and Frenchnone has had the profound effect that the Arabic dialects have had. Most Berber languages have a high percentage of borrowing from Arabic, as well as from other languages (these often indirectly through Arabic, however). Least influenced are the Tuareg languages; most influenced, those that are near urban centers and from whose areas there has traditionally been much temporary emigration for work.

Berber languages survive because children learn their first language from their mothers and it continues to be the language of the home, of the private world, long after they become adults and the men become bilingual. Berber women continue, in most areas, to have little education and little contact with the Arabic-speaking world around them, so their children will doubtless continue to learn and to perpetuate Berber languages. The movements to preserve Berber culture, most developed in Kabylia and somewhat in Morocco, will also doubtless have a conservative effect. Where Berber is spoken only in a village or two surrounded by Arabic speakers, it is disappearing. In the larger Berber-speaking regions, however, it is quite resistant, and the numbers of speakers are growing at nearly the same rate as that at which the population increases.

In postindependence North Africa, Berber languages and cultures have been neglected and even repressed by the agencies of the central governments. This seems to have been caused by a perceived need to discourage cultural differences in the building of the nation-statecultural differences that, it was felt, had been exploited by the French colonial regimes to divide the colonized and impose their authority. On occasion, the reaction to this repression has been violent, as in 1980 in Kabylia. Not surprisingly, political movements have grown up around the issues of cultural expression and autonomy. In both Algeria and Morocco, there exist official political parties made up essentially of Berbers, with Berber cultural preservation as one of their highest priorities.

see also djemaʿa; maghrib; marabout; mauritania; sunni islam.


Bibliography

Brett, Michael, and Fentress, Elizabeth. The Berbers. Oxford, U.K., and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1996.

Eickelman, Dale F. Moroccan Islam: Tradition and Society in a Pilgrimage Center. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1976.

Gellner, Ernest. Saints of the Atlas. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1969.

Gellner, Ernest, and Micaud, Charles, eds. Arabs and Berbers: From Tribe to Nation in North Africa. London: Duckworth, 1973.

Westermarck, Edward. Ritual and Belief in Morocco. London: Macmillan, 1926.

Thomas G. Penchoen

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Berbers

Berbers, aboriginal Caucasoid peoples of N Africa, called Imazighen in the Tamazight language. They inhabit the lands lying between the Sahara and the Mediterranean Sea and between Egypt and the Atlantic Ocean. The Berbers form a substantial part of the populations of Algeria, Morocco, Libya, and Tunisia; many persons of Berber descent have been thoroughly Arabized and their Berber heritage has often been lost or is not acknowledged, especially in Tunisia. Except for the nomadic Tuareg, the Berbers traditionally were small farmers, living under a loose tribal organization in independent villages with local industries (iron, copper, lead, pottery, weaving, and embroidery). The Berbers are Sunni Muslims, and their native languages are Afroasiatic languages, but most literate Berbers also speak Arabic, the language of their religion. Berber languages are spoken by about 12 million people, not all of whom are considered ethnic Berbers.

Despite a history of conquests, the Berbers retained a remarkably homogeneous culture, which, on the evidence of Egyptian tomb paintings, derives from earlier than 2400 BC The alphabet of the only partly deciphered ancient Libyan inscriptions is close to the script still used by the Tuareg. The origins of the Berbers are uncertain, although many theories have been advanced relating them to the Canaanites, the Phoenicians, the Celts, the Basques, and the Caucasians. In classical times the Berbers formed such states as Mauretania and Numidia.

Until their conquest in the 7th cent. by Muslim Arabs, most of the Berbers were Christian (also, a sizable minority had accepted Judaism), and many heresies of the early African church, particularly Donatism, were essentially Berber protests against the rule of Rome. Under the Arabs, the Berbers became Islamized and soon formed the backbone of the Arab armies that conquered Spain. However, the Berbers repeatedly rose against the Arabs, and in the 9th cent. they supported the Fatimid dynasty in its conquest of N Africa.

After the Fatimids withdrew to Egypt, N Africa was plunged into an anarchy of warring Berber tribes that ended only when the Berber dynasties, the Almoravids and the Almohads, were born. Each of these dynasties succeeded in pushing back Christian kingdoms which had pushed south against the fragmented Moors. With the disintegration of these dynasties, the Berbers of the plains were gradually absorbed by the Arabs, while those who lived in inaccessible mountain regions, such as the Aurès, the Kabylia, the Rif, and the Atlas, retained their culture and warlike traditions. When the French and the Spanish occupied much of N Africa, it was the Berbers of these mountainous regions who offered the fiercest resistance. In more recent times the Berbers, especially those of the Kabylia, assisted in driving the French from Algeria. Contemporary relations between Berbers and Arabs are sometimes tense, particularly in Algeria, where Berbers rebelled (1963–65) against Arab ruled and have demonstrated and rioted against Arab discrimination.

See E. Gellner, Saints of the Atlas (1969); E. Gellner and C. Micaud, ed., Arabs and Berbers (1972); J. Waterbury, North for the Trade (1972).

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Berbers

Berbers Caucasian Muslim people of n Africa and the Sahara Desert. Some are herdsmen and subsistence farmers; others, like the Tuareg, roam the desert with their animal herds. The farmers live in independent villages, governed by tribesmen. Their remarkably stable culture dates back to before 2400 bc. Berber languages are spoken by more than 10 million people. See also Almohad; Almoravid

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Berber

Berber XIX. — Arab. barbar.

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Berber

Berberblubber, clubber, grubber, lubber, rubber, scrubber, snubber •Columba, cumber, encumber, Humber, lumbar, lumber, number, outnumber, rumba, slumber, umber •cucumber • landlubber •Addis Ababa • Córdoba •Aqaba • djellaba • mastaba •Berber, disturber, Djerba, Thurber

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