Suitcase and World: Berber. ⵉⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖⴻⵏ

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Berber. ⵉⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖⴻⵏ

Berbers are the indigenous peoples of North Africa west of the Nile Valley They are continuously distributed from the Atlantic to the Siwa oasis, in Egypt, and from the Mediterranean to the Niger River.

The Berbers have lived in North Africa for thousands of years and their presence has been recorded as early as 3000 BC. Greeks, Romans, and ancient Egyptians have indicated the presence of Berbers in their records.

"Once upon a time " the Berbers lived in a region that extended from Egypt to the Atlantic Ocean but in the 7 AD, the Arabs invaded North Africa and pushed the Berbers towards the Atlas Mountains and other areas near the Sahara.   Today the majority of Berbers live in Morocco and Algeria accounting for about 40 percent of Morocco's population and 30 percent of Algeria's population. There are also smaller communities of Berbers living in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Mauritania.  The region they inhabit in North Africa is often referred to as "the Maghreb". Outside the Maghreb, there are Tuareg Berber communities in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.

Over time, the Berbers have intermingled with many other ethnic groups, most commonly the Arabs. As a result, the term Berber relates more to the language spoken and not necessarily to a specific race.

Across all the various populations of Berber, language is the common identifier.  The language of the Berbers belongs to the Afro-Asiatic language family and it can be broken down into 300 different dialects.

The three main Berber dialects used in Morocco are Tachelhit, Tamazight and Tarifit. Collectively, they are known as "shilha" in Arabic.  

"Tachelhit "which is sometimes known as "soussi" or "cleuh") is spoken in south-west Morocco, in an area between Ifni in the south, Agadir in the north and Marrakesh and the Draa/Sous valleys in the east.  

"Tamazight " is spoken in the Middle Atlas, between Taza, Khemisset, Azilal and Errachidia.  

"Tarifit "or Rifia is spoken in the Rif area of northern Morocco.

Photo by danceswithfaeriesunderthemoon
Berber is basically a spoken language and its written form is rarely used or seen, though there have been (and still are) attempts to gain acceptance for a written form. A Berber alphabet, probably derived from the ancient Punic script, has existed for around 2,500 years.

In Morocco, political tensions have arisen between the Berbers and the government over language issues, threatening to divide the kingdom in much the same way the battle between French and English speakers divides Canada.  Although the Berbers constitute the majority of the Moroccan population, their sentiment is that they are treated like a minority by the members of the dominant Arab culture.  

Arabic was imposed on the Berbers by the Muslims who conquered Morocco in waves of invasions beginning in the 7 AD. Its influence waned a bit during the French colonial period, but after Morocco gained its independence in 1956, it surged again. In the 1970s, the government launched a campaign to impose stricter standards for the use of Arabic in place of French in government and education.

Today, Arabic is Morocco's official language; it is the only language recognized by the constitution.  From the Moroccan government's point of view, of the Moroccan identity and of the Koran so if you are moroccan, you have to speak Arabic.

"Preserving a heritage "From the Berber point of view, the fight for their native language to be recognized is at some level a fight to preserve their heritage.   At the police registries where Moroccans go to officially designate their childrens' names, non-Arab names like Jurgurtha and Messina -- the names of ancient Berber kings -- are blacklisted. Only Arabic names like Hassan and Ahmed are allowed. Over time, there will not an Moroccan who will carry a Berber name.  That will be a cultural loss

The Arabs also brought their Muslim faith to the Berbers.  However, the Berbers have retained some of their original beliefs and many of their rituals contain animistic references and elements retained from earlier pagan religions.

The Western stereotype of the Berbers is that they are nomadic.  While some like the Tuareg and Zenaga are, the vast majority of Berbers are actually farmers; living in rural areas where they raise sheep and cattle and grow crops. In the larger villages, Berbers live in stone houses but in the smaller villages they live in tents or clay huts.

Berbers are involved in flour milling, wood carving, and quarrying millstones. They also produce various agricultural implements and utensils for domestic use. Their arts and crafts include the making of pottery, jewelry and goods of leather.

"I have so much to learn so I can appreciate "While Morocco possesses a diverse and lively history that witnessed a long succession of different ruling people such as the Romans, French, Spanish and the Jews, modern day Moroccan culture is a reflection of its Berber and Arab roots  While Arab culture may dominate is some areas, a lot of what Westerners stereotypically associate with Morocco is Berber influenced.  But aside from thing from Berber influences like couscous and Berber rugs, I'll be the first to admit that I know very little, if anything about true Berber culture.  I have a lot of reading to do before I leave and I plan to soak it all in when I set foot in Morocco!