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 The Berbers: origins and lifestyle

From the Arab conquest (7th century) to the Almohad Empire (12th century)

The Berbers: the origins and lifestyle
From the Arab conquest (7th century) to the Almohad Empire (12th century)
In their conquest of North Africa, the Arabs who triumphed over the Byzantines, had to oppose the Berber king Koceila (683-686) and Queen of the Aures, el-Kahena (695-700). Despite this resistance, the Berbers had to bow down and convert to the religion of their conquerors: Islam. They found room for a different resistance. Through kharijism, they quickly went into revolt against the Orientals.
The movement began in about 740 AC to the West and then spread throughout the Maghreb. Its magnitude was such that the Arab troops began over twenty years to recover only Ifriqiya.

Berber art expressed mainly in the ornamentation of everyday objects (pottery, furniture, fabrics, jewelry, carpets, etc.) and architecture. It is often characterized by varied linear geometric designs. The painted pottery best illustrates the predilection of Berber for this type of decoration whose origins date back to prehistoric times. Throughout the berber territory - except the Sahara and the extreme western Morocco-  women adorn vases and dishes with painted geometric patterns in brown or black or a white earthen coating (Kabylia, eastern Algeria, Tunisia, North-West) or red (Grande Kabylie) or directly to the same smooth paste (Tunisia and South Nemencha). The procedures vary from one region to another, but the motifs remain almost identical lozenges, triangles, checkerboard, herringbone, zigzag lines or pectinate ciliate. At these motifs common to pottery, weaving and even those tattoos are added, more elaborate and almost as old, sets of decoration carved in wooden boxes for clothing, doors, roof ridges and large tent pegs. The rounded cross and the hexagram that grace the beautiful Kabyle grounds furniture already used in the Christian era.
The geometrical aspect prevails also in the Tuareg jewelry, ornaments which form triangular or diamond-shaped contours are salient. The Berber aesthetics are endless, however, the strict expression of geometric decoration, jewelry Maghreb Northern surprised by its variety - necklaces, anklets, brooches, pins, bracelets, earrings - and the richness of its Plant and animal motifs.

Berber Social Organization
The Berber social organization is hierarchical and segmental.  The family is the smallest social unit; above is the lineage, a group of several homes linked by a common ancestry settled in the village of nomads. Then come the entire clans and villages, then the tribe (group of fractions), finally confederation (occasional alliance of tribes). Within these segments, the actual blood ties to small unit level, in large shadow - form the foundation of social cohesion and maintain among members of the group a strong sense of solidarity (collective use stocks and collective chores, etc..). Social life is governed by customary law which ensures the protection of the group.

Before the arrival of Islam to the region, most Berber groups were either Christians or animists, and a number of Berber theologians were important figures in the development of western Christianity. In particular, the Berber Donatus Magnus was the founder of a Christian group known as the Donatists. The 4th century Catholic Church viewed the donatists as heretics and the dispute led to a schism in the Church dividing North African Christians.
In the absence of written documents, it is difficult to understand the religious ideas of the Berbers of antiquity. Only the discoveries of archeology - position of bodies, objects of offering animal sacrifices - reveal the existence of funeral rituals at that time. Then, because of the contact with other populations and civilizations, those of many deities were added to the indigenous religions - sometimes overlaying them . Of these foreign contributions, the Phoenician was the strongest. Long after the demise of Carthage, Berbers continued to worship the names of Saturn and Juno Caelestis, Phoenician deities Baal Hammon and Tanit.

The Berbers conversion to Islam was massive. Located primarily in cities, the new religion gradually spread to the countryside and flatlands till the southern Sahara. By converting to Islam, the Berbers did not give up their spirit of independence. On the ground of the religion they expressed their opposition to the Orientals. The two main dissenters were born in discussions about succession of the Prophet and the Shiite Kharijism, the latter was a Berber from high profile Austere and Africa, Kharijism reminds in the history of the Islamic Maghreb Berber Donatism of the Christian era. On the contrary, Khariji Berbers after bloody riots, formed independent kingdoms like those of Tahert and Sijilmassa.

The Berber language is now a set of local dialects scattered over a vast territory. Apart from some areas with large geographical unit - such as the Kabyle in Algeria or in Morocco Chleuh country – the rest of the dialects are rarely comprehencible by other groups. The Arab like Punic or Latin before - allows communication between the groups of Berbers of different origins. Their dialects are not original but despite their diversity, these Berber dialects have common syntactic structures.
Assume a homogeneous Berber language existed before bursting into 4 000 to 5 000 idioms. The history of the Berber language reconstruction remains difficult. The linguist has some fragments of texts in Berber, the ethnic and place names anthroponomy kept by the medieval Arabic sources. This little to restore the evolution of ancient times, is held to an ancient form of Berber, without scientific evidence has been provided.

From the sixth century BC, Berber was the subject of writing: the Libyan. Scores of inscriptions attest its use by the Berbers: ancient, a consonantal alphabet similar to that used today among the Tuaregs. Writing Libyan became customary, especially in areas under strong influence of Carthage – Tunisia, northern Constantine and Northern Morocco, despite some progress, it could not generalize and disappeared in Roman times.
The Berbers used foreign languages early enough. Islamization led subsequently to Arabization of the Berber language.
However, the Islamic period, there was still a literature written in Berber; sparse, and essentially religious in nature, it consisted of some text books and transcribed in Arabic characters with additional signs.
The Berber law - customary tradition - was documented at different times. So the criminal laws of nature were gathered into collections. Some of those documents originating in Chleuh areas date back to the fourteenth century AC, others were written in later periods. The body of customary law codes of Berber has recently expanded new Moroccan papers published in their original language.
Berber oral literature was and remains very important. Tales and legends faithfully preserved by the memory of women constitute a good portion of oral tradition. The poetry is rich and does not lack originality. The Berbers were great poets, some-such as the Kabyle Mohand (about 1845 to 1906) or Targuia Dacin-were true bards. Further, travelers and professionals, such as amedyaz the High Atlas in Morocco or Ameddah of Kabylia, were able to maintain long collective memory of Berber people.
Known by the name of the Berber populations, an area stretching from the Mediterranean south of the Niger and Nile to the shores of the Atlantic, speak - or have spoken - the dialects are related to a mother tongue: Berber . Originally discussed, the word already used by the Greeks and Romans, transmitted by the Arabs, they pointed to the indigenous and non-Romanized of North Africa. Established by custom, the appellation is not one that will give interested parties. The Berbers identify themselves by the name of their group (Touareg, Kabyle) and sometimes use the word Imazighen, meaning "free men" to describe all Berbers. The policy of Arabization by governments in the aftermath of decolonization has generated among the Berber need for recognition of cultural identity. Traditionally farmers or nomadic herders, they were nevertheless affected by the exodus and their location in urban areas have undoubtedly exacerbated this phenomenon.

Current distribution of Berber dialects
The most decisive character of 'Berber' is the language, and the current distribution of Berber can be sketched in defining the geographical areas of its use. We speak Berber, sporadically, within an African space between the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean and the Tropic of Cancer.
- In Morocco, three main Berber dialects areas cover mountainous areas of the country, north of the Rif - Tarifit dialect, in the center, in the Middle Atlas and in part of the High Atlas, Tamazight dialect; south - west into the High Atlas, the Anti-Atlas and the Souss, who form the chleuh region, the tachelhit.

Berber political organization
The Berber experienced several forms of political organization. The model most widespread and most characteristic seems to have been a kind of small village republic: a popular assembly, the Djemaa, in which only the elders and heads of families spoke.
These political units - village or town - but not the basis of power, it was taken over by larger entities, tribes and confederations. The political history of the Berbers is punctuated by large groups which - as in Numidia and the Moors in Antiquity - sometimes emerged on embryonic state. The most original and best known of a Berber political organization confederal is that of Ait Atta in south-eastern Morocco. Five segments or khoms constituted the confederation it was headed by a paramount chief elected each year by a different segment of voters in four segments. Each tribe, however, retained its independence and elected its own chief. This system of organization and segmental quinary, the Romans called quinquegentiani, had to be in ancient times that of the Berbers.

The High Atlas
This is the highest mountain range in North Africa. Rising some 750 km south-west to north-east, it forms in southern Morocco a huge barrier that dominates the depressions of the Sub and Dades south, and the Haouz plains and high Moulouya north; the high collars and Tizi'N'Test Tinza n'Tichka can cross it. The High Atlas is separated from the Middle Atlas Moulouya the north and the Anti-Atlas (2 351 m in the Jebel Bani) by Under the wadi to the south.
Refuge area for the majority Berber population, it is relatively densely populated, especially in the west where the Krauts assemble in large villages with housing and social structures very traditional. The farmers practice subsistence farming (grains) on irrigated terraces arranged along the slopes or in valleys. Agriculture is associated with a farm, a necessary complement, with winter transhumance in the valley, then up to summer pastures.
Transformations taking place under the influence of the city of Marrakech, tourist mecca, with a modification techniques and a new organization of marketing channels.

The Middle Atlas
Extensive limestone plateaus bordering the north of the folded which dominates the southern Moulouya higher. Although watered pastures and forests covering the slopes, the chain of the Middle Atlas mountain offers all the resources of the pastoral life. The Beni M'Guild and other Berber tribes living there are primarily, transhumant pastoralists, with two communal territories between which organized the seasonal movements of families and their tents, one mountain (Gebel) held in summer, one in the low countries (azarhar) where we stayed in winter. The pressure of population and because of the demarcation of forests, pastures collective, semi-nomadic decreases the benefit of physical inactivity with crop development and growth of cities (Azrou).

The Saharan Atlas
The Saharan Atlas is an extension of the High Atlas (mountains ksours, 2 000 m, Djebel Amour, Ouled Nail Mountains and Zab), which reaches farther east, in the Aures massif (2 328 m Jebel Chelia), double Tellian alignment. The Saharan Atlas is the southern edge of the Atlas above the base Sahara, stretching over 700 km from the Algerian-Moroccan Ziban, it represents the limit climate south of the Sahara and Mediterranean influences to the north. The population is mixed: farmers and sedentary mountaineers cultivate orchards in the valleys of the north side, while the nomads of the Saharan piedmont summer on the peaks where they settled gradually.

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