Berber People

Berber People

Berbers (Berber: ⵉⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖⴻⵏ Imazighen / Imaziɣen) are the indigenous ethnic group 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. Historically they spoke the Berber language and local varieties of it, which together form the "Berber branch" of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Today, varieties of Maghrebi colloquial Arabic are spoken by a large portion of Berbers besides the Berber language itself. Foreign languages like French and Spanish, inherited from European occupation, are used by some educated Berbers in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria in some formal contexts such as higher education or business.

Today, most Berber-speaking people live in Morocco and Algeria. Smaller Berber-speaking populations are scattered throughout Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania, Mali and Niger, as well as large migrant communities living in Europe.

The presence of the Arabic language and dialects is due to the spread of Islam and to the immigration of some Arab tribes to the region centuries ago. A Berber person is not necessarily only someone who happens to speak Berber. The Berber identity is usually wider than language and ethnicity, and encompasses the entire history and geography of North Africa. Berbers are not a homogeneous ethnic group and they encompass a range of phenotypes, cultures and ancestries. The unifying forces for the Berber people could be their Berber language, belonging to the Berber homeland, or a collective identification with the Berber heritage and history.

Linguistically speaking, there are some 25 to 35 million Berber-language speakers in North Africa.

Many Berbers call themselves some variant of the word imazighen (singular: Amazigh), possibly meaning "free people" or "free and noble men". The word has probably an ancient parallel in the Roman and Greek names for some of the Berbers, "Mazices".

Some of the best known of the ancient Berbers are the Numidian king Masinissa, king Jugurtha, the Berber-Roman author Apuleius, Saint Augustine of Hippo, and the Berber-Roman general Lusius Quietus, who was instrumental in defeating the major wave of Jewish revolts of 115–117. Dihya or Kahina was a female Berber religious and military leader who led a fierce Berber resistance against the Arab-Muslim expansion in Northwest Africa. Kusaila (died in the year 690, Berber: Aksil or Aksel, Tifinagh script: ⴰⴽⵙⴻⵍ) was a 7th century leader of the Awraba tribe of the Berber people and head of the Sanhadja confederation.

Famous Berbers of the Middle Ages include Yusuf ibn Tashfin, king of the Berber Almoravid empire; Tariq ibn Ziyad the 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 Berbers in Europe include Zinedine Zidane, a French-born international football star of Algerian Kabyle descent, Loreen the Swedish-born winner of Eurovision 2012 and Ibrahim Afellay, a Dutch-born footballer of Moroccan Riffian descent.

Read more about Berber People:  Name, Prehistory, History, Contemporary Demographics, Diaspora, Languages, Main Berber Groups, Religions and Beliefs, Architecture, Berber Culture

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