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Journey through Time…the Path of the Moroccan Berbers

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Sharifi and Hakmoun

Welcome to Morocco, an ancient and exotic land of both natural and created splendor. The "Kingdom of Morocco," as it is known, lies just 14 kilometers from Europe, on the Northwest edge of Africa. It is situated between the Atlantic Ocean on the west and the Mediterranean Sea to the north. Among the inhabitants of this richly cultured land are Arabs, black Africans, Jews, Spaniards and the Berbers.

Of these varied races, the bulk of the Moroccan population is made up of the Berbers. You may be wondering who the Berbers are, or you may already know of them and would like to learn more. Either way, the history and tradition of the Berbers in Morocco is an intriguing chapter in the world history book. In fact, to this day, they continue to play a significant role in the areas they inhabit, specifically Morocco.


Indigenous - Native to the area

Consensus - Agreement

Dwell - To live in

Pivotal - Important

Nominally - By appearance

The Berbers are the indigenous North African, non-Arab, tribal people who dominate large areas of Morocco, as well as potions of Algeria, and Libya. Their communities are scattered throughout the North African countries, often found in the mountains or other smaller settlements. Due to inaccurate historical records, the origin of the Berbers is a topic of debate. While some believe they came from Europe, others support the theory that the Berbers represent the original population of North Africa. However, within the context of this debate, it is a general consensus that the Berbers have occupied Morocco for at least 4000 years, comprising approximately 75% of the total Moroccan population.

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Berber fields in the Atlas Mountains
Berbers are also referred to as Amazigh, which translates into "free man." These mountain tribesmen and women have a history of being strong warriors who have guarded their culture with great intensity. Throughout their history they have resisted outside influences and defended themselves from such powers as the Phoenicians, Romans, French, Arabs, and Spaniards. The region they live in has also been a source of great protection.

One example of this resistance took place in 1921. Fueled by the goal of ending corruption and exploitation on the part of the French and Spanish, a Berber by the name of Abd-el Kim gathered a rebel force of tribesmen in the Rif Mountain Range in revolt against Spanish and French rule. Although the rebel group was eventually thwarted, the significance of the effort is remembered. For more information about the Berbers, refer to:

The Berbers have dominated the mountain regions of Morocco dating back to the Arab conquest in the 7th century AD. During these conquests, many of the Berber tribes relocated to the interiors of the country, such as the Atlas and the Moroccan Sahara. Those living in the rural mountain areas generally dwell in tents and clay huts, while the Berbers in the larger villages tend to make their homes in stone houses. Raising livestock and crop cultivation play pivotal roles in these loosely joined tribal villages.

Berbers in Morocco are sub-divide into three regions: the Tamazight live in the High and Middle Atlas, the Berbers of Tashelhayt originate in the Anti-Atlas Mountains of the Deep South, and the Zenatiya Berbers come from the Rif Mountains of the North. The linguistic tradition of the Berbers is oral rather than literary. As a result, there is very little written Berber in existence. The Berbers have their own distinct language.

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A Berber encampment
Although Berbers comprise between 75% of the Moroccan population, it is estimated that only approximately 40% are considered "pure" Berber in both race and identity. The other 35% are of Berber descent, yet identify with the Arabic culture. Many Berbers consider themselves to be Arabic, rather than Berber. With modernization and a long, intertwined history together, Morocco's people have all been influenced by one another: Berbers by Arabs and vice-versa.

The official state religion of Morocco is Islam. The conversion of the Berbers to Islam spanned the course of centuries. In many areas, Islam did not take hold until the 16th century. While most Berbers are at present at least nominally Muslim, many retain traces of an atavistic animism in their practice of Islam. Throughout their history, certain Berber tribes have reverted back to preIslamic pagan practices. Usually these were tribes inhabiting more remote areas and were eventually reintegrated into the Muslim mainstream by religious missionaries.

A Berber family

Modernization has inevitably impacted the Berbers to some degree, yet for the most part, the villages continue to exist and function much as they have throughout their history. Berber dialects are still common and tribal structures strong. With education and modern transportation and communication, many Berbers have moved into a more "modern realm." However, many Berbers continue to identify themselves as true Berbers. As a result, the tradition, culture and perseverance are alive and strong, continuing the path of Berber history.


Relevant Link:
An official website for the Berbers of Morocco

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