The Berbers are the native people of North Africa. They are known as the Amazigh people which means free people. The word Berber used to replace the word Barbary which was used by European to refer to the coastal regions of North Africa where the Berbers lived. The Berbers history goes back to prehistoric times for at least 4000 years. They fought fiercely against the Romans, Arab, and French invaders and managed to preserve their own language and culture.
Most of them live in Morocco and Algeria. Before the invasion of the Arabs in the 7th century their religion was either Christianity or Judaism. But some of them were atheist. After being conquered by the Arabs Muslims, the Berbers were forced to convert to Islam. This was the first stage of Berber Arabization. Secondly, with the arrival of the Bedouins in the 11th century. The Bedouins are a grouping of nomadic Arab people who have historically inhabited the desert regions in North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq and the Levant. The third stage of Arabization started during the Spanish inquisition between the 15th and 17th centuries and was accelerated by the arrival of Andalusian refugees.
The ancient Berbers have a long history. But they had no written language. Consequently, the ancient history was overlooked. Now the Berber language is called Tamazight. It is basically oral, but Berbers have had their own writing system, called Libico-Berber. Now the Amazigh language is taught at schools in Morocco and is considered one of the national languages
The first trace of their history came with the discovery of cave paintings. North African cave paintings as old as 12,000 years have been found in Tadrart Acacus, Libya. Many of the paintings depict farming activities and domestic animals. There are also paintings that have been found at Tassili n’Ajjer in southeastern Algeria.
The Berber community or tribe has a specific hierarchy. Each tribe will have a leader and in the Middle Ages some leaders were females. The most famous is probably Kabylia who fought for her people against the French. In some tribes, the men choose his wife; while in others like the Tuareg tribe it is the woman who choose whom to marry. It will depend on the tribe whether the family structure is patriarchal or matriarchal. The strict adherence to custom has given the Berber people a strong sense of unity and has protected their culture.
Different tribes of Berbers inhabit different regions in Morocco. Drawa Berbers are found in the Draa Valley. The Dades live in the North East, The Mesgita, Seddrat and Zeri tribes are along the rives of the North West. Moroccan Rif region is home to the Ghomara.
To better know the Berbers of the Atlas Mountain book the tour Toubkal National Park Trek.
You will be fascinated by the hospitality of the people as well as enchanted by their cuisine. As with everything Berber, the style of cooking and range of food differs from tribe to tribe. Inevitably the various cultural invasions throughout the generations have influenced and evolved the Berber cuisine. Some of the staple ingredients such as couscous still remain though.