Romans call them Berbers, Arabs call them
Barbar BUT they call themselves
Imazighen (Berbers) are the indigenous peoples of North Africa west of the Nile Valley. They are discontinuously distributed from the Atlantic to the Siwa oasis, in Egypt, and from the Mediterranean to the Niger River. Historically they spoke various dialects called Tamazight, which together form a branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Today Arabic is spoken almost universally by Amazigh, along with Darija, as well as French (in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria) and some Spanish (in Moroccan Sahara and some other parts of Morocco), due to European colonization of North Africa. Today most Tamazight-speaking people live in Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Mali and Niger.
Arabs call them Barbar and Romans call them Berbers but they call themselves Imazighen (singular: Amazigh), possibly meaning "free people" or "free and noble men” (the word has probably an ancient parallel in the Roman name for some of the Imazighen, "Mazices").
The best known of the ancient Imazighen were the Numidian king Masinissa, the Roman author Apuleius, Saint Augustine of Hippo, and the Roman general Lusius Quietus, who was instrumental in defeating the major Jewish revolt of 115–117. Famous Imazighen of the Middle Ages included Tariq ibn Ziyad, a 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 in pre-modern times; and Estevanico, an early explorer of the Americas. Well-known modern Imazighen include Zinedine Zidane, a French-born international football star, and Ibrahim Afellay, a Dutch-born footballer.
The name Berber appeared for the first time after the end of the Roman Empire. The use of the term Berber spread in the period following the arrival of the Vandals during their major invasions. The history of a Roman consul in Africa made reference for the first time to the term "barbarian" to describe Numidia. Muslim historians, some time after, also mentioned the Berbers. The English term is introduced in the 19th century, replacing earlier Barbary, as a loan from Arabic. Its ultimate etymological identity with barbarian is uncertain, but the Arabic word has clearly been treated as identical with Latin barbaria, Byzantine Greek βαρβαρία "land of barbarians" since the Middle Ages.
According to Leo Africanus, Amazigh meant "free men," though this has been disputed, because there is no root of M-Z-Gh meaning "free" in modern Tamazight language. It also has a cognate in the Tuareg word "amajegh," meaning "noble". This term is common in Morocco, especially among Central-Upper-North Morocco Tamazight and Central-Upper-North-South Morocco Tamazight speakers, but elsewhere within the Amazigh homeland a local, more particular term, such as Kabyle or Chaoui, is more often used instead.
Main article: Prehistoric Central North Africa
Northern African cave paintings, dating back 12 000 years, have been found at Tadrart Acacus in Libya. A Neolithic culture, marked by animal domestication and subsistence agriculture, developed in the Saharan and Mediterranean region (the Maghreb) of northern Africa between 6000 B.C and 2000 B.C. This type of life, richly depicted in the Tassili n'Ajjer cave paintings of southeastern Algeria, predominated in the Maghreb until the classical period. The proto- Imazighen lacked a written language and so have tended to be overlooked by written historical accounts.
The modern Imazighen are assumed to be descended from the tribes of Ancient Libya which are mentioned in records of Ancient Egypt. During the New Kingdom, the Egyptians later fought against the Meshwesh and Libu tribes on their western borders.
In historical times, the Imazighen expanded south into the Sahara (displacing earlier populations such as the Azer and Bafour), and have in turn been mainly culturally assimilated in much of North Africa by Arabs, particularly following the incursion of the Banu Hilal in the 11th century.
The areas of North Africa which retained the Tamazight and traditions have, in general, been the highlands of Kabylie and Morocco, most of which in Roman and Ottoman times remained largely independent, and where the Phoenicians never penetrated far beyond the coast. These areas have been affected by some of the many invasions of North Africa, most recently that of the French.
The prehistoric populations of North Africa are related to the wider group of Paleo-Mediterranean peoples. The Afroasiatic phylum probably originated in the Mesolithic period, perhaps in the context of the Capsian culture. By 5000 BC, the populations of North Africa are an amalgamation of Ibero-Maurisian and Capsian stock blended with a more recent intrusion associated with the Neolithic revolution. Out of these populations, the proto-Amazigh tribes form during the Late Bronze to Early Iron Age.
The Imazighen enter historicity gradually during the Roman era. The oldest known Tifinagh inscription is dated to ca. 200 BC. Byzantine authors mention the Mazikes (Amazigh) as tribal people raiding the monasteries of Cyrenaica.
Roman era Cyrenaica became a center of Early Christianity. Some pre-Islamic Imazighen were Christians (some evolved their own Donatist doctrine), some were Jewish, and some adhered to their traditional polytheist religion. Roman era authors of Amazigh background include Apuleius and St. Augustine. There were three African popes of possible Amazigh ancestry who came from the Roman province of Africa. Pope Victor I served during the reign of Roman emperor Septimus Severus, who was a North African of Roman/Punic ancestry (perhaps with some Amazigh blood).
Main article: Numidia
Numidia (202 BC – 46 BC) was an ancient Amazigh kingdom in present-day Algeria and part of Tunisia that later alternated between being a Roman province and being a Roman client state. It was located on the eastern border of modern Algeria, bordered by the Roman province of Mauretania (in modern day Algeria and Morocco) to the west, the Roman province of Africa (modern day Tunisia) to the east, the Mediterranean Sea to the north, and the Sahara Desert to the south. Its people were the Numidians.
The name Numidia was first applied by Polybius and other historians during the third century BC to indicate the territory west of Carthage, including the entire north of Algeria as far as the river Mulucha (Muluya), about 100 miles west of Oran. The Numidians were conceived of as two great tribal groups: the Massylii in eastern Numidia, and the Masaesyli in the west. During the first part of the Second Punic War, the eastern Massylii under their king Gala were allied with Carthage, while the western Masaesyli under king Syphax were allied with Rome. However in 206 BC, the new king of the eastern Massylii, Masinissa, allied himself with Rome, and Syphax of the Masaesyli switched his allegiance to the Carthaginian side. At the end of the war the victorious Romans gave all of Numidia to Masinissa of the Massylii. At the time of his death in 148 BC, Masinissa's territory extended from Mauretania to the boundary of the Carthaginian territory, and also southeast as far as Cyrenaica, so that Numidia entirely surrounded Carthage (Appian, Punica, 106) except towards the sea.
(Main article: Jugurthine War)
Masinissa was succeeded by his son Micipsa. When Micipsa died in 118, he was succeeded jointly by his two sons Hiempsal I and Adherbal and Masinissa's illegitimate grandson,Jugurtha, of Amazigh origin, who was very popular among the Numidians. Hiempsal and Jugurtha quarreled immediately after the death of Micipsa. Jugurtha had Hiempsal killed, which led to open war with Adherbal. After Jugurtha defeated him in open battle, Adherbal fled to Rome for help. The Roman officials, allegedly due to bribes but perhaps more likely because of a desire to quickly end conflict in a profitable client kingdom, settled the fight by dividing Numidia into two parts. Jugurtha was assigned the western half. However, soon after conflict broke out again, leading to the Jugurthine War between Rome and Numidia.
Main article: Mauretania
In antiquity, Mauretania was originally an independent Amazigh kingdom, under king Bocchus I (110-80 BC), on the Mediterranean coast of north Africa, in western present-day Algeria, and northern present-day Morocco.
After the Muslim conquest, the Amazigh tribes of coastal North Africa became Arabized. Besides the Arab influence, North African population also saw influx via the Barbary Slave Trade (some estimates place the number of European slaves brought to North Africa during the Ottoman period as high as 1.25 million). Interactions with neighboring Sudanic empires, sub-Saharan Africans, and nomads from East Africa also left impressions upon the Amazigh peoples.
Before the 11th century, most of Northwest Africa was a Tamazight-speaking Muslim area. The process of Arabization only became a major factor with the arrival of the Banu Hilal, a tribe sent by the Fatimids of Egypt to punish the Amazigh Zirid dynasty for having abandoned Shiism. The Banu Hilal reduced the Zirids to a few coastal towns, and took over much of the plains; their influx was a major factor in the Arabization of the region, and in the spread of nomadism in areas where agriculture had previously been dominant.
According to historians of the Middle Ages, the Imazighen were divided into two branches (Botr and Barnès), descended from Mazigh ancestors, who were themselves divided into tribes, and again into sub-tribes. Each region of the Maghreb contained several tribes (e.g. Sanhadja, Houaras, Zenata, Masmouda, Kutama, Awarba, Berghwata, etc.). All these tribes had independence and territorial decisions.
Several Amazigh dynasties emerged during the Middle Ages in the Maghreb, Sudan, Andalusia, Italy, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Egypt, etc. Ibn Khaldun provides a table summarizing the Amazigh dynasties: Zirid, Banu Ifran, Maghrawa, Almoravid, Hammadid, Almohad, Merinid, Abdalwadid, Wattasid , Meknassa and Hafsid dynasties.
They belong to a powerful, formidable, brave and numerous people; a true people like so many others the world has seen - like the Arabs, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans. The men who belong to this family of peoples have inhabited the Maghreb since the beginning.
—Ibn Khaldun, 14th century Arab historian.
Unlike the conquests of previous religions and cultures, the coming of Islam, which was spread by Arabs, was to have pervasive and long-lasting effects on the Maghreb. The new faith, in its various forms, would penetrate nearly all segments of society, bringing with it armies, learned men, and fervent mystics, and in large part replacing tribal practices and loyalties with new social norms and political idioms.
Nonetheless, the Islamization and Arabization of the region were complicated and lengthy processes. Whereas nomadic Imazighen were quick to convert and assist the Arab conquerors, not until the 12th century, under the Almohad Dynasty, did the Christian and Jewish communities become marginalized.
The first Arab military expeditions into the Maghrib, between 642 and 669 CE, resulted in the spread of Islam. These early forays from a base in Egypt occurred under local initiative rather than under orders from the central caliphate. But, when the seat of the caliphate moved from Medina to Damascus, the Umayyads (a Muslim dynasty ruling from 661 to 750) recognized that the strategic necessity of dominating the Mediterranean dictated a concerted military effort on the North African front. In 670, therefore, an Arab army under Uqba ibn Nafi established the town of Qayrawan about 160 kilometers south of present-day Tunis and used it as a base for further operations.
Abu al Muhajir Dinar, Uqba's successor, pushed westward into Algeria and eventually worked out a modus vivendi with Kusaila, the ruler of an extensive confederation of Christian Imazighen. Kusaila, who had been based in Tilimsan (Tlemcen), became a Muslim and moved his headquarters to Takirwan, near Al Qayrawan.
But this harmony was short-lived. Arab and Amazigh forces controlled the region in turn until 697. By 711, Umayyad forces helped by Imazighen converts to Islam had conquered all of North Africa. Governors appointed by the Umayyad caliphs ruled from Kairouan, capital of the new wilaya (province) of Ifriqiya, which covered Tripolitania (the western part of present-day Libya), Tunisia, and eastern Algeria.
The spread of Islam among the Imazighen did not guarantee their support for the Arab-dominated caliphate due to the discriminatory attitude of the Arabs. The ruling Arabs alienated the Imazighen by taxing them heavily; treating converts as second-class Muslims; and, at worst, by enslaving them. As a result, widespread opposition took the form of open revolt in 739-40 under the banner of Kharijite Islam. The Kharijites had been fighting Umayyad rule in the East, and many Imazighen were attracted by the sect's seemingly egalitarian precepts.
After the revolt, Kharijites established a number of theocratic tribal kingdoms, most of which had short and troubled histories. But others, like Sijilmasa and Tilimsan, which straddled the principal trade routes, proved more viable and prospered. In 750, the Abbasids, who succeeded the Umayyads as Muslim rulers, moved the caliphate to Baghdad and reestablished caliphal authority in Ifriqiya, appointing Ibrahim ibn al Aghlab as governor in Kairouan. Though nominally serving at the caliph's pleasure, Al Aghlab and his successors, the Aghlabids, ruled independently until 909, presiding over a court that became a center for learning and culture.
Just to the west of Aghlabid lands, Abd ar Rahman ibn Rustam ruled most of the central Maghrib from Tahert, southwest of Algiers. The rulers of the Rustamid imamate, which lasted from 761 to 909, each an Ibadi Kharijite imam, were elected by leading citizens. The imams gained a reputation for honesty, piety, and justice. The court at Tahert was noted for its support of scholarship in mathematics, astronomy, astrology, theology, & law. But the Rustamid imams failed, by choice or by neglect, to organize a reliable standing army. This important factor, accompanied by the dynasty's eventual collapse into decadence, opened the way for Tahert's demise under the assault of the Fatimids.
The Muslims who invaded Iberia in 711 were mainly Imazighen, and were led by an Amazigh, Tariq ibn Ziyad, though under the suzerainty of the Arab Caliph ofDamascus Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan and his North African Viceroy, Musa ibn Nusayr. A second mixed army of Arabs and Imazighen came in 712 under Ibn Nusayr himself. They supposedly helped the Umayyad caliph Abd ar-Rahman I in Al-Andalus, because his mother was an Amazigh. During the Taifa era, the petty kings came from a variety of ethnic groups; some—for instance the Zirid kings of Granada—were of Amazigh origin. The Taifa period ended when an Amazigh dynasty—the Almoravids from modern-day Morocco—took over Al-Andalus; they were succeeded by the Almohad dynasty from Morocco, during which time al-Andalus flourished.
In the power hierarchy, Imazighen were situated between the Arabic aristocracy and the Muladi populace. Ethnic rivalry was one of the most important factors driving Andalusi politics. Imazighen made up as much as 20% of the population of the occupied territory.
There are past & present complaints of persecution of Imazighen by Arab authorities through both exclusivities: Pan-Arabism and Islamism, their issue of identity is due to the pan-Arabist ideology of the former Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, activists: "It is time—long past overdue—to confront the racist Arabization of the Amazigh lands."
Soon after the independence in the middle of the 20th century, the countries of North Africa established Arabic as their official language, replacing French (except in Libya), although the shift from French to Arabic for official purposes continues even to this day. As a result, most Imazighen had to study and know Arabic, and had no opportunities until the 21st century to use their mother tongue at school or university. This may have accelerated the existing process of Arabization of Imazighen, especially in already bilingual areas, such as among the Chaouis.
Tamazgha had its roots before the independence of these countries, but was limited to some Tamazight elite. It only began to gain success when North African states replaced the colonial language with Arabic and identified exclusively as Arab nations, downplaying or ignoring the existence and the cultural specificity of Imazighen. However, its distribution remains highly uneven. In response to its demands, Morocco and Algeria have both modified their policies, with Algeria redefining itself constitutionally as an "Arab, Amazigh, Muslim nation".
Now, Tamazight is a "national" language in Algeria and is taught in some Tamazight speaking areas as a non-compulsory language. In Morocco, Tamazight has no official status, but is now taught as a compulsory language regardless of the area or the ethnicity.
Imazighen have reached high positions in the social hierarchy; good examples are the former president of Algeria, Liamine Zeroual, and the former prime minister of Morocco, Driss Jettou. In Algeria, furthermore, Chaoui Imazighen are over-represented in the Army for historical reasons.
Imazighen who openly show their political orientations rarely reach high hierarchical positions. But, Khalida Toumi, a feminist and Amazighist militant, has been nominated as head of the Ministry of Communication in Algeria.
Imazighen represent the major ethnic origin in North Africa, but they were significantly Arabized following the Muslim conquest during the medieval period. The majority of the Maghreb today consisting of Arab and Arabized Amazigh populations. No clear line can be drawn culturally between Imazighen, Arabized Imazighen and Arab people of North Africa.
Regarding the remaining populations that speak a Tamazight, they account for about half of the Moroccan population and a third of the Algerian, besides smaller communities in Libya and Tunisia, and very small groups in Egypt and Mauritania. Tuareg Imazighen spread southwards to Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. Some 600,000 Tuareg Imazighen live in Mali and 400,000 in Niger.
Prominent Amazigh groups include the Kabyles of northern Algeria, who number about 4 million and have kept, to a large degree, their original language and culture; and the Shilha or Chleuh (French, from Arabic Shalh and Shilha ašəlḥi) of south Morocco, numbering about 8 million. Other groups include the Riffians of north Morocco, the Shawiya language of Algeria, and the Tuareg of the Sahara.
Though stereotyped in the West as nomads, most Imazighen were in fact traditionally farmers, living in mountains relatively close to the Mediterranean coast, or oasis dwellers; but the Tuareg and Zenaga of the southern Sahara, were nomadic. Some groups, such as the Chaouis, practiced transhumance.
Political tensions have arisen between some Amazigh groups (especially the Kabyle) and North African governments over the past few decades, partly over linguistic and cultural issues; for instance, in Morocco, giving children Amazigh names was banned.
Imazighen set up colonies in Mauritania near the Malian imperial capital of Timbuktu.
Tamazight form a branch of Afro-Asiatic, and thus descended from the proto-Afro-Asiatic language. Linguist Christopher Ehret specifically suggests identifying the Capsian culture with speakers of languages ancestral to Tamazight and/or Chadic, and sees the Capsian culture as having been brought there from the African coast of the Red Sea. It is still disputed which branches of Afro-Asiatic are most closely related to Tamazight, but most linguists accept at least one of Semitic and Chadic as among its closest relatives within the family (see Afro-Asiatic languages.)
There are between 30 and 40 million speakers of Tamazight in North Africa (see population estimation), principally concentrated in Morocco, Algeria, Mali, Niger, and Libya, and with smaller communities as far east as Egypt and as far south as Burkina Faso.
Their dialects, the Tamazight, form a branch of the Afroasiatic language family comprising many closely related varieties, including Riff, Kabyle and Shilha, with a total of roughly 30 million-40 million speakers. A frequently used generic name for all dialects is Tamazight, though this may also be used to refer specifically to Central Morocco Tamazight or Riff.