Africa Guide

Berber People

Introduction

Location: Berbers have lived in Africa since the earliest recorded time. References date back to 3000 BC. There are many scattered tribes of Berber across Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. Forty percent of the Moroccan population is Berber, 30% live in Algeria, and 1% in Tunisia. There are smaller numbers of Berbers in Mauritania, Mali, and Niger. They tend to live in desert regions like the Sahara and in the Atlas Mountains. They live there because the Arabs conquered North Africa in the 7th century AD, and pushed the Berbers out. The number of Berbers in North Africa has slowly declined because more and more Berbers are adopting the language and culture of the Arabs.

Language: Berber is derived from the Roman term for barbarians. Berbers are non-Arabic tribes. Throughout the centuries Berbers have mixed with many ethnic groups, mostly Arabs. Because of this, Berbers have come to be identified by linguistics instead of racial basis. The Berber language has 300 closely related dialects. A number of tribes have their own distinct language. Some of the largest Berber tribes are Rif, Kabyle, Shawia, Tuareg, Haratin, Shluh, and Beraber. The written language is not commonly taught and is rarely used.

Daily Life: Berbers are traditionally Muslim, and societies are quite fragmented. Berbers have had a constant struggle for power in North Africa with Arab tribes for centuries. The Barbary Coast of North Africa was named after the word Berber, and was known as a place where Arab and Berber pirates would prey on ships on the Mediterranean Sea. Traditionally, Berbers raised sheep and cattle. However, some Berbers subsist by working in flourmills, doing woodcarving, quarrying millstones, and making pottery or jewelry. Women were generally involved with housework, weaving, and pottery. Berbers generally live in rural areas. Their housing is usually clay huts or tents made out of goat hair. In larger villages, however, houses are made of stone. Today, most Berbers are migrant workers who work in Spain or France.  

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