|A man painting the Amazigh flag|
Historically, they spoke Berber languages, which together form the Berber branch of the Afro-Asiatic family. Since the Muslim conquest of North Africa in the seventh century, a large number of Berbers inhabiting the Maghreb have acquired different degrees of knowledge of varieties of the languages of North Africa.
Today, most Berber people live in Northern African countries, mainly in Algeria and Morocco; a small Berber population is also found in Niger, Mali, Libya, Mauritania, Tunisia, Burkina Faso and Egypt, as well as large immigrant communities living in France, Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and other countries of Europe.
More information: Phoenicia.org
There are some twenty-five to thirty million Berber speakers in North Africa. The number of ethnic Berbers (including non-Berber speakers) is far greater, as a large part of the Berbers have acquired other languages over the course of many decades or centuries, and no longer speak Berber today. The majority of North Africa's population is believed to be Berber in origin, although due to Arabization most ethnic Berbers identify as Arabized Berbers.
Berbers call themselves some variant of the word i-Mazigh-en, possibly meaning free people or noble men. The name likely had its ancient parallel in the Roman and Greek names for Berbers, Mazices.
|An Amazigh tent in the desert|
The Maghreb region in northwestern Africa is believed to have been inhabited by Berbers from at least 10,000 BC. Local cave paintings, which have been dated to twelve millennia before present, have been found in the Tassili n'Ajjer region of southern Algeria. Other rock art has been observed in Tadrart Acacus in the Libyan desert.
A Neolithic society, marked by domestication and subsistence agriculture, developed in the Saharan and Mediterranean region, the Maghreb, of northern Africa between 6000 and 2000 BC. This type of life, richly depicted in the Tassili n'Ajjer cave paintings of south-eastern Algeria, predominated in the Maghreb until the classical period. Prehistorical Tifinagh scripts were also found in the Oran region.
More information: Casa Amaziga de Catalunya
The areas of North Africa that have retained the Berber language and traditions best have been, in general, Morocco and the highlands of Algeria, most of which in Roman and Ottoman times remained largely independent. The Ottomans did penetrate the Kabylie area; Turkish influence can be seen in food, clothes and music, and to places the Phoenicians never penetrated, far beyond the coast. These areas have been affected by some of the many invasions of North Africa, most recently that of the French.
|Extension of Amazigh language|
Uniparental DNA analysis has established ties between Berbers and other Afro-Asiatic speakers in Africa. Most of these populations belong to the E1b1b paternal haplogroup, with Berber speakers having among the highest frequencies of this lineage. Additionally, genomic analysis has found that Berber and other Maghreb communities are defined by a shared ancestral component. This Maghrebi element peaks among Tunisian Berbers. It is related to the Coptic/Ethio-Somali, having diverged from these and other West Eurasian-affiliated components prior to the Holocene.
The Maghreb today is home to large Amazigh populations, who form the principal indigenous ancestry in the region. The Semitic ethnic presence in the region is mainly due to the Phoenicians, Jews and Arab Bedouin Hilallians migratory movements which mixed in. However, the majority of Arabized Berbers, particularly in Morocco and Algeria, claim an Arabian heritage; this is a consequence of the Arab nationalism of the early twentieth century.
More information: Middle East Research and Information Project
Regarding the remaining populations that speak a Berber language in the Maghreb, they account from 50% to 60% of the Moroccan population and from to 15% to 35% of the Algerian population, besides smaller communities in Libya and Tunisia and very small groups in Egypt and Mauritania.
|A Tuareg in Algeria|
The Berber languages form a branch of the Afro-Asiatic family, and thus descend from the proto-Afro-Asiatic language. These Berber speakers are mainly concentrated in Morocco and Algeria, followed by Mali, Niger and Libya. Smaller Berber-speaking communities are also found as far east as Egypt, with a southwestern limit at Burkina Faso.
The Berber languages comprise many closely related varieties. Among these idioms are Riff, Kabyle, Shilha, Siwa, Zenaga, Sanhaja, Tazayit in the Central Atlas Tamazight, Tumẓabt in Mozabite, and Tamasheq, as well as the ancient Guanche language. Tamazight is a generic name for all of the Berber languages.
I only have my nails to scratch with and my feet to walk on