16 Apr ’14
The name Berber comes from the Latin word, “Barbarian,” but the Berbers are commonly known as Amazighs, meaning “the freeborn.” The Berbers are descended from the pre-Arab inhabitants of north Africa west of the Nile river, and have been in North Africa since at least 3000 B.C. Prior to the Arabization period and Arabic becoming the main language in Morocco, half of the country was Berbers, representing Christian, Jewish and polytheist Berbers in pre-Islamic times. Today, Morocco still has the majority of Berbers—40 % of the population. This 40% that speaks a Berber dialect, as read in the chapter “Split Identity” found in the novel Morocco, observe Berber customs and produce Berber art. This dialect can be divided into three main groups with different dialects, and two-thirds of Berbers live in rural and mountainous areas.
The nomadic Berbers can be found using tents of wool and goat hair, and the stationary housing of the Berbers is made out of clay, adobe, stone and/or brick. While many Berbers are nomadic peoples, most are farmers in those mountainous areas and valleys in northern Africa, including both Morocco and Algeria. Historically, Berber merchants were responsible for transporting goods by camel caravans. Today, many Berbers are migrant workers in France or Spain and send money to their families back home.
In recent years, small groups of Moroccan Berber activists have expressed interest in their blended history, especially their Jewish roots. The Berber culture movement, which supports the recognition of the Berber identity in Morocco, has had a recurring theme of Jews and Israel. There is now a Berber-Jewish friendship association that promotes anti-Semitism in Morocco, but there still remains a need for movement by the Berbers. In 2011, their goal to be recognized by the state in areas such as demography, history, and culture was accomplished, and in July 2011, Morocco’s ethnic diversity was proclaimed and Tamazight was recognized as an official language of the state.
However, Berbers still fight today for remedial economic, social, cultural and educational measures to begin addressing decades of neglect and injustice. As of February 2014, activists claim that the language has yet to be integrated into public life and there are still reports of officials refusing to register babies with Berber names. Despite the hardship presented by the government, a research in Rabat claims, “People have been liberated from the belief that their identity is banned. That is out biggest achievement.”
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