Friday, October 17, 2008

Who are the Berbers?

For a long time, the Berber people were the inhabitants of North Africa from the Nile to the Atlantic Ocean- there are records of them dating back to 3000 BCE from multiple sources. In other words, they were there for as long as anyone can remember.

The Berber language is an Afro-Asiatic language believed to have developed from the proto-East African language that dates back at least 12,000 years. In general, genetic evidence shows that most North Africans are of Berber origin.

Often stereotyped as nomads, most Berbers were actually farmers on the Mediterranean. However, the Tuareg of the Sahara were both Berbers and nomads.

In the seventh century CE, the Arabs conquered much of North Africa and pushed many of the Berbers out to the Sahara. The Berbers subsequently became Muslims, mostly Sunni but some Ibadites in the Sahara, but there was frequent warfare between Arabs and Berbers, against European colonists, and among Berber tribes for power in North Africa.

The Berber Revolt of 740-743 was the first successful revolt from the Arab caliphate (ruled from Damascus). The Berber rebels slaughtered much of the Arab aristocracy at the Battle of the Nobles in 741.

Before the Muslims came, many Berbers were Christians, and in fact, Saint Augustine of Hippo was a Berber. Berber Jews still occupy parts of the Maghreb and Israel. They were recorded from the time of the Arab conquests by Arab historian Ibn Khaldoun.

Several renowned Muslims were Berbers, including the great scholar and traveler Ibn Battuta, the poet Mohammad Awzal, and Abu Abd Allah Muhammad Ibn Tumart the religious teacher who was the spiritual founder of the Almohad Dynasty.

Berber cuisine is based on corn, bread, goat cheese, barley, ewe's milk, meat, honey, and game.

The Kabylia region of Algeria today has a large Berber population, and Kabylian Berber music is famous in France. Berbers are also 42% of the population in Morocco, while still being politically marginalized in the country. Libya and Tunisia also have large Berber populations.

Many Berbers call themselves some variant of the word Imazighen (singular Amazigh), meaning "free men".

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