The hidden Mediteranean Culture( Berber Culture)

         Since time immemorial, North Africa has been inhabited by the indigenous people known as Imazighen*. These Berber populations, across northern Africa, have known a series of invasions and occupations that date back thousands of years, including those of the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Vandals, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Spanish, the Turks and the French. Despite ceaseless efforts by each colonizer to erase and eradicate this indigenous culture, the latter not only survived but also constitutes the foundation onto which the other cultural layers were added. In addition, North Africa has also benefited from centuries-long contact with the Andalusian culture in the north and the sub-Saharan civilizations in the south. The Berber culture stretches from Egypt’s Siwa oasis in the east to the Canary Islands in the West, and from the Mediterranean shores in the north to the desert plains of the Sahara. The Berbers, whose total population is estimated at 25 million, are principally concentrated in Morocco and Algeria, with significant communities also living today in Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania (see appended map, page 21). Their language (usually referred to as Tamazight) is composed of a number of varieties, all of which are derived from the Afro-asiatic linguistic family. Berber groups inhabiting coastal North Africa today identify themselves by the terms Kabyles, Riffis or Chenwas. Others, living further inland are known as Chawis, Siwis, Chleuhs, Mozabites and Tuaregs (in the Sahara Desert). Many Berbers today are Muslim (essentially Sunnis belonging to the Maliki madhhab). Prior to conversion to Islam in the 8th century the Berbers had polytheistic and animistic religious practices.

World-renowned Berber authors from antiquity to our modern times, namely Saint Augustine, Tertullian, Apuleius, Arnobius, Franto, Saint Cyprian, Lactantius, Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Battuta, Jean Amrouche, Kateb Yacine, Mouloud Mammeri, among others, have contributed immensely to world culture, but they are often inaccurately labeled in anthologies and history books as Roman, Arab, or French, depending on the period and the language they have used. In addition, until very recently, the Berber language (with its many dialects across North Africa) was not recognized as a national or official language in any of the countries where it was spoken and was not even allowed to be taught in schools. However, in both Morocco and Algeria the cultural status and historical importance of Berbers is now gradually being recognized by the governments of those countries.

   Why are Berber studies important?

Despite the recent emergence of Berber studies in North Africa and Europe as an important field of research and scholarship, academic focus on the Berber world is virtually absent in North America. No teaching or research programs devoted to Berber studies exist in any North American university today. For a number of years the University of California at Los Angeles offered a small-scale Berber studies program which was dependent on a single faculty member. However, since the retirement of Professor Tom Poncheon at UCLA, the only comprehensive teaching program in the United States devoted to the Berber world has vanished. Today, university courses focusing on Berber culture are few and far between, usually operating with marginal validation under the umbrella of either Middle Eastern Studies or Africana Studies departments. Given this dire situation, Oregon State University is committed to improving the presence of Berber studies in US institutions of higher education.

The paucity of teaching and research emphasis in the field of Berber Studies in the United States has, in part, contributed to current misunderstandings about the cultural personality of the entire North African region. Often confused with the Middle East and sometimes not well defined geographically, North Africa largely remains ignored and misunderstood, even among academics. Often categorized as the occidental fringe of the Arab world (the Maghreb), North Africa is rarely perceived from the vista of its Berber foundation. This foundation has profound genetic and biological roots: 60% of Moroccans are of Berber origin, as are 20% of Algerians. Many of North Africa’s Berbers do not primarily identify with Muslim civilization, nor are they necessarily drawn in any indigenous or even utilitarian way to Islam and Arabic, any more than they were to Catholicism and French. Often steering a course that avoided the dangerous waters of nationalism, and always accepting the cloak of multiple identities, Berber culture has been an ever prudent chameleon. In many ways it is because of this tenacity and modesty that it has simultaneously survived the torments of history and that it has not, heretofore, found its way into the university curriculum and into the mainstream of Western scholarship. In very practical terms, this means that an entire stratum of the Arab world (and specifically of the North African or Maghrebi world), remains on the educational sidelines. There is a need, therefore, to expand opportunities for teachers and researchers to gain a comprehension of the complexities of Berber North Africa. Berber culture is a well-worn, but necessary, key to both the understanding of the ancient Mediterranean basin and to the interpretation of the current dynamics of the Muslim sphere. It seems, particularly at this point in time, important to identify the cultural specificity of the Berber communities in Africa, and to disclose the potential importance of these communities in the dialog between Western and Mediterranean worlds.

For these reasons, it would be timely to give full consideration to the history and culture of Berber civilization, to trace its path from the earliest archeological evidence to its modern living form in the 21st century. A cultural exploration of Berber North Africa should include not only an understanding of its historical itinerary but also its contemporary nature revealed through cultural expressions such as literature, the plastic arts, crafts and music.

An NEH Summer Institute would constitute a first-time occasion for college and university teachers in the United States to be given the opportunity to consider the multiple dimensions of Berber North Africa. We propose to hold a four-week Institute at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, that will convene 24 college and university teachers from a range of disciplines seeking to situate Berber studies in their undergraduate or graduate coursework. The Institute will draw on the expertise of some of the leading scholars in the area of Berber studies.

The foremost practical goal of this project is to expose scholars and college faculty to the hidden face of this Berber world. This exposure should be particularly germane to those scholars conducting research in the field in North Africa and to teachers seeking to integrate Berber culture into their curriculum. For this reason, it is anticipated that prospective applicants will have ethnology-related backgrounds in the following academic fields: art history, Islamic studies, anthropology, human geography, Mediterranean cultural history, French and Francophone studies, linguistics, religious studies, music, and film studies.

The original name of the Berber people, meaning free men. Some activists prefer this name, as the word “Berber” is pejorative. It was derived from the term « barbari » that the Romans gave to the people they conquered.


Les juifs de l’Anti-Atlas

     Ifrane signifie en Tamazight (berbère) grottes, (singulier:Ifri). Nombreuses dans la région, les grottes ont transmis leur nom à la région…Ifrane renferme l’une des plus anciennes traces de presence juive au Maroc: c’est la tombe du Rabbin Youssef ben Mimoun qui serait mort en l’an 5 av.J.C. Elle se trouve au cimetière juif connu sous le nom de “Lmiâra” ( nom donné par les juifs marocains à leurs cimetières). “Rabbin youssef ben Mimoun” fut l’un des plus venerés saints juifs dont la réputation attire chaque anneé des touristes juifs venant des quatres coins du monde. Dans les anneés soixante les derniers juifs ont quitté Ifrane en direction d’Israél , les vieux du village se souviennent encore des adieux pénibles car -loin de toutes considération religieuse ou autre- ces juifs berbères faisaient tout simplement partie de l’histoire et la culture d’Ifrane d’Anti-atlas, ils avaient vécu avec eux dans la paix le respect et la fratérnité

      Ifrane signifie en Tamazight (berbère) grottes, (singulier:Ifri). Nombreuses dans la région, les grottes ont transmis leur nom à la région, plus connue des juifs sous forme : Oufrane.
Les premières traces de l’installation humaine dans la région remontent au Néolithique. Des grottes telles que celles de Tizguite ainsi que les vestiges archéologiques remontant à la Préhistoire à Zerouka, Ghabt, Al Bahr et Itto en témoignent.
Par la suite, la région d’Ifrane fut habitée d’abord par les berbères puis par les juifs, et ce, depuis environ trois milles ans avant Jésus-Christ. On prétend qu’elle a été la cité de la plus ancienne colonie juive au Maroc.
Selon la tradition orale, les israélites ont quitté la Palestine au temps de Nabuchodonosor, roi de Babylone (160 Km au sud de Bagdad) après la première destruction du temple en 587 av.J.C. Il traversèrent l’Egypte et la bordure septentrionale du Sahara, puis parvinrent au rivage atlantique de l’anti-atlas en 361 avant Jésus-Christ et s’installèrent en premier lieu dans les grottes en bordure de l’oued Ifrane, et ce, après qu’ils aient pu acheter l’autorisation de s’installer aux autochtones.
A la suite d’une alliance avec ces derniers ils fondèrent un royaume dont le roi était “Ephrati” (de la tribu d’Ephraïm : l’une des douze tribus d’Israël). 
  La beauté naturelle et artistique de Ifrane


Ce royaume a été nommé “la petite ou la seconde Jérusalem” ou qui – selon leur croyance – fut chuté au moment ou ils ont refusé de répondre à l’appel de leurs prophète”AZAR” afin de pouvoir rejoindre “Jérusalem”. Les descendants d’Ephraïm perdaient alors leurs souveraineté au profit des berbères
Ifrane renferme le plus ancien document historique au nord africain: c’est la tombe d’un juif nommé “Rabbin youssef ben Mimoun” qui serait mort en l’an 5 av.J.C. Elle se trouve au cimetière juif connu sous le nom de “Lmiâra” ( nom donné par les juifs marocains à tous leurs cimetières
Ifrane est sera habitée plus tard par une population issue deux grandes tribus Sanhaja, les Béni M’guild et les Béni M’tir dont le flux vers le nord avait été “arrêté” au XVe siècle par la ceinture des Casbahs fondées par le Sultan Moulay Ismaïl, ce qui a eu pour effet de favoriser la création de noyau de sédentarisation des nomades et a permis la constitution d’agglomérations telles que Azrou et Aïn Leuh..
Bien plus tard, Ifrane sera désertée pour les autres villes du nord nées de la naissance du Royaume chérifien du Maroc par Moulay Driss Premier, Roi fondateur de la Dynastie qui porte son nom ( ) et du Maroc.
 Quelques siècles plus tard, plus exactement en 1928 et en hommage au passé lointain de la ville, par arrêté viziriel (ministériel marocain), les autorités du protectorat français décidèrent de créer un centre d’estivage appelé Ifrane (grottes en tamazighte). Deux projets de création d’une station d’estivage furent proposés à Eirik Labonne, secrétaire général du protectorat. Le premier était celui de l’actuelle ville d’Ifrane et le second optait pour la ville de Ksiba Moha ou Saïd.

Tamazight Language( Berber)

   The berber language (Tamazight) is one of the oldest languages of humanity. Nowadays, it is spoken by the people of North Africa , Egyptian oasis of Siwa and the Touaregs in the Sahara (desert). Since the earliest foundation of human societies, the Amazigh people occupied the Northern part of Africa which extends  from the red sea to the Canary Isles in the ocean, and from the Niger in the Sahara to the mediteranean sea.

  Amazigh people’s origin

  Recent anthropoligical discoveries enable us to account for the Amazigh people’s origin. Relying on the discoveries, it seems that this poeple can be considered as the origin from which ramified all the different white races of the globe. In fact, Eminent anthropologists agreed on the fact that Africa is the cradle of humanity this is notable in the work of the professor Leakey in Kenya and in Tanganika. Mr Eugene Guernier, professor in political studies institute in Paris university, reports in his book “L’apport de l’afrique à la pensée humaine” information he had collected from the professor Leakey himself about the conditions in which  he made the discovery that led him to consider Africa the continent of the human kind first apperance: he wrote : “In the Rusinga isle, near the east side of the lack Victoria, not far from the town of Risamu, Professor Leakey discovered the inferior jaw of a hominian of twenty million years old. The human being reconstitued, on this jaw got the name of Proconsul Africanus. This fossile seems to stand for the typical step from a non hominian being to a human. We should underline the fact that Africa is the sole continent where fossiles, corresponding to the different stages of humanity, have been found.

Relying on the these data, we can think that the racial diversity happened during centuries of the icy period, During their migration all over the world, some human groups, influenced by climatic conditions, nutrition and activities modes , by the angle of solar rays, were differencied in a black and a white race in the ancestral hemisphere and north Africa.

Mr Eugene Guernier, in his book said that the African used only archaic forms of expression, but Schematic ones until when he used some vocative signes in south Africa, Later Egyptians used ideographical signs such as the hieroglyphs and the berber also invented a set of vocatives called “Ti-finar”.

Amazigh language

It’s undeniable that the oldest documents of language expression found in North Africa, Either ideographic as “hieroglyphs” or consonants as the “TIFINAGH” express berber words. Mr Said Hanouz in his book “Knowledge and syntax of berber language” (Library Klincksieck, paris 1968) reported many examples of words writen in hierogliphs which express berber (amazigh) word of nowadays :


this word means “drink” : it is spelled “swi” of the amazigh verb “swa” of the same significance.

This wrod means “lady” : it is spelled “Ta metut” , amazigh word which refers to “lady”.

NB: extracted from elementary grammar of middle Egypt, by Dr A.Du Buck (la grammaire elementaire de Moyenne Egypte : in frensh)

Likewise, the Ti-finagh express berber words. mr Henri Lhote, in his book Touareg of hoggar, speaking about the Ti-finar inscription, says : “the oldest ones comprise signs which are no longer used and remain incomprehensible for the Touareg.

They begin ordinarily with three or four points in line, followed by a circle, which is followed by three parallel hyphens drawn longitudinally :


They are located in the “Tassili”, in Hoggar , Adrar of Iforas.

He goes further :” inscriptions of the middle era contain initial signs which are a hyphens followed by three points in triangle :


And the meaning of which it still understood by the Touaregs. they mean : “nek” or “wanek” that mean “me”.

He adds : the most recent inscriptions are materialised by the begining :



improved form of :


And which has the same significance, followed by proper noun :


“tenet” =said, I say and expressing a wish or idea, It seems undoubtedly that the Ti-finagh are means of expression of the berber language and may be the first human signs, expressing in writen man’s idea. These sign are so elementary and archaic that they can’t emanate from any other form of writing. They are represented with geometric signs :


 which recall no other known alphabet. 

The oldest hieroglyphs seem to date back to four thousand (4000) years before the christian era, while chinese graphics didn’t appear until three thousand (3000) years before Jesus christ, and the pictographical writings of America (Mayas and Aztecs) just in the Eighth century before J.C.

The Tifinagh appeared, associated to hieroglyphs, in inscriptions of the oldest monuments and Egyptian statutes. The most telling in this respect, is a group of statutes in shist, discovered in Gizeh, in Cairo museum now, presenting the Mycerinus (fourth dynasty) between the goddess Hathor and the personification of the 17 th mome of upper Egypt (photo Oropeza) appeared in “Ancient Egypt history” by Jasques Pirenne.

The engraved text on the inferior part of the statute is constitued of hierogliphical signs and characters, like Tifinagh.


hence, we can think that those first geometric signs which are the Tifinagh, served as prototypes in the ulterior formation of the coming alphabets (Egeens, Akkadians, Summarians, phoenician and Greek).    

Tifinagh alphabet  

Berber Land

Berber musicThe ancient Berber culture is extrordinarily rich and diverse, with a variety of musical styles. These range from bagpipes and oboe (Celtic style) to pentatonic music (reminiscent of Chinese music) – all combined with African rhythms and a very important stock of authentic oral literature. These traditions have been kept alive by small bands of musicians who travel from village to village, as they have for centuries, to entertain at weddings and other social occasions with their songs, tales, and poetry. To hear some of the best tamazight songs check this

Imazighn( Berbers) In north Africa

    The Berbers lived in north Africa long before the arrival of the Arabs, and their culture probably dates back more than 4,000 years. Berber states known as Mauritania and Numidia existed in classical times.

Between the 11th and 13th centuries, two great Berber dynasties – the Almoravids and the Almohads – controlled large parts of Spain, as well as north-west Africa.

Today, there are substantial Berber populations in Morocco and Algeria, plus smaller numbers in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. In Morocco, about 40% acknowledge a Berber identity, though many more have Berber ancestry.

Berbers are identified primarily by language but also by traditional customs and culture – such as the distinctive music and dances.

There is a tendency in Morocco to regard the Berbers as backward, partly because their culture is strongest in the less-developed rural areas. Many of the children in these regions drop out of school because they are taught in what, to them, is a foreign language – Arabic. The language barrier often remains a problem throughout adult life, especially when dealing with officialdom.

Berber is not officially recognised in Morocco, though French (the old colonial language) is. There was some pressure in 1996, when the constitution was being revised, to have Berber recognised. For more about this see the Berber manifesto.

In January 2010 Morocco established its first Amazigh TV channel, broadcasting in the Tachelhit, Tarifit and Tamazight dialects.

Linguistically, Berber belongs to the Afro-Asiatic group, and has many dialects. The three main dialects used in Morocco are Tachelhit, Tamazight and Tarifit. Collectively, they are known as “shilha” in Arabic.

  • Tachelhit (sometimes known as “soussi” or “cleuh”) is spoken in south-west Morocco, in an area between Ifni in the south, Agadir in the north and Marrakech and the Draa/Sous valleys in the east.

  • Tamazight is spoken in the Middle Atlas, between Taza, Khemisset, Azilal and Errachidia.

  • Tarifit (or Rifia) is spoken in the Rif area of northern Morocco.

Berber is basically a spoken language, though there have been (and still are) attempts to gain acceptance for a written form. A Berber alphabet, probably derived from the ancient Punic script, has existed for around 2,500 years.

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