Berber people

ethnic group indigenous to North Africa

Berbers or Imazighen (singular Amazigh, plural Imazighen) are an ethnic group. They were the first people to live in the countries of Morocco, Algeria, Libya[1] and Tunisia in North Africa.[2] There are more than 100 different tribes/groups of the Amazigh people that live in different parts of North Africa.[1] Imazighen live in two different ways. They always move around to live in different places or they have land and stay in one place. The way they live is different in different parts of North Africa. The Amazigh people speak Tamazight and this language has many different dialects.[1] The dialects use the Tifinagh script.[1]

Berbers, Amazighs | Imaziɣn
Total population
c. more than 30 million Berber speakers; 40 m. Arabic speakers
Regions with significant populations
Morocco: 17 million (60% of total pop.)

Algeria: 13 m (40% of total pop.).
Mali: 800,000
Niger: 750,000
Mauritania: 680,000
Libya: 470,000

Europe: 4 million
Amazigh languages
local dialects
Islam (mostly Sunni)
Related ethnic groups
Egyptian, Semitic people, Iberian people, Moorish people, Haratin people

The Amazigh people have a different culture from the Arabs who live in Morocco. The art Imazighen create is unique to them. This can be pottery, carpet making, blanket making or tattooing. The colours and designs they use are different in each group. Groups are known by these colours and designs. This is how groups show their differences.[1]

The terms "Berber" and "Amazigh"


After the start of the Arab conquest, the native people started being called Berbers.[3] The term Berbers means barbarians. Barbarians are people who live and behave like animals. This term is not used by the Amazigh people.

The term "Amazigh" is what Imazighen liked to be called instead. Amazigh is the singular, Tamazight is the word for females and Imazighen is the plural. The translation of the word means "free people."[1]





Amazigh people were the first people to live in the Maghrebi region. There were a lot of different tribes that lived in different regions. They lived next to Roman provinces.

Arab conquest


The Arab conquests which started in the 7th century, brought the Umayyads to the region. They took some control of the region and converted the populace to Islam. The people in control were from the Umayyad dynasty. In 711, Imazighen took part in taking over al-Andalus. This was part of Spain[4] During the time between 1040-1147, the Almoravid dynasty created an important empire. People were selling their things to other continents. Amazigh kingdoms were replaced with Arab ones and Arabic was spoken in lots of places.[2]

Berber empires


After Arab rule in the region, powerful Berber dynasties such as the Almoravids and Almohads arose; the Almoravids and Almohads controlled Al-Andalus in Europe and the Maghreb.[5]

Colonial era


In the 19th and 20th century, the French took control of Algeria and Morocco and made a difference between Arabs and Amazigh people. They continued to call Amazigh people Berbers. The French thought that Amazigh people's way of life was not modern. Berbers moved out of cities and close to the Atlas mountains. People were farming, working with leather, making pottery and selling things. Some Amazigh people had houses, while others were nomads and moved or lived in caves. Most of the time, Amazigh groups had their own rules and rituals. Many Berbers moved to bigger cities or Europe to look for better jobs.[2] After Morocco and Algeria became free countries, Tamazight languages were not studied at schools and people were not treated in a good way.[2]

Modern era

Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture

Amazigh people still live in North African countries and they are a big part of the population in countries like Morocco and Algeria. In 2005, the PDAM (Democratic Amazigh Moroccan Party) was established. It wanted to show the Moroccan state that the regions where Amazigh people lived were different. IRCAM (Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture) was another project which helped with teaching the Tamazight language and keeping the Amazigh identity. In 2011, Tamazight got the status of a national language in Morocco. An Amazigh festival has been created and it happens every year.[6]

Groups and languages


Tamazight is the general term for the different Berber dialects. People in North Africa speak Tamazight in different ways in each country and region. Amazigh languages are part of the Afro-Asiatic family and they use the Tifinagh script. When the Arabs arrived to North Africa, Arabic was introduced and Amazigh languages were not written anymore. Because of this, less Amazigh people spoke Amazigh dialects and switched to speaking Arabic. At the end of the 19th century, Tamazight languages started to be used again. They use the Latin and Tifinagh scripts. Today, Tamazight is taught in schools in Morocco and Algeria and the language has become an official language in Morocco.[2]

Diversity in Morocco


In Morocco, the 3 most widely spoken Amazigh languages are Shilha (Tashelhit), Tazayit (Atlasic) and Riffian (Tarifit). Tashelhit or Shilha is an Amazigh language, spoken largely in the Atlas mountains region in Morocco. It is the most spoken Amazigh language in the country. Because the region has not many cities, the language is shared outside cities by women. This is done through rituals, songs, telling stories to children and everyday-life tasks. Women in this area who did not go to school use Tashelhit. Men are around Arabic more because they teach in schools, watch televison and work in cities. Mothers teach their children the language and this way they keep the identity of the community. Even if Arabic is being spoken by local people, they do not want to forget their Amazigh identity.[7]

Main Berber groups
Group Country Notes
Blida/Médéa Atlas Berbers Algeria In Central Algeria.
Chaoui people Algeria Found mainly in Eastern Algeria.
Chenini and Douiret Berbers Tunisia
Chenoui Berbers Algeria Ouarsenis and Mount Chenoua (Western Algeria).
Chleuhs Morocco The High Atlas, Anti-Atlas and the Sous valley.
Djerba Berbers Tunisia Speakers of the Djerbi language.
Ghomaras Morocco Only two berber speaking tribes left. Found in the western Rif between Tetouan and Jebha.
Guezula Mauritania
Kabyles Algeria In Kabylie.
Matmata Berbers Tunisia In Southern Tunisia.
Mozabites Algeria In the M'zab Valley (southern Algeria).
Nafusis Libya In western Libya.
Riffians Morocco Primarily in northern Morocco, with some also in Beni Snous, Northwestern Algeria
Sanhaja Morocco Found in the Rif bordering Riffian speaking tribes.
Siwi Egypt In the Siwa valley of Egypt.
Beni Snous Algeria Aït Snouss villages of western Algeria. Closely related to the Riffians in Morocco.
Tuareg Algeria, Libya, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso Sahara (southern Algeria and north of the Sahel).
Zayanes Morocco Middle Atlas mountains of Morocco.
Zenaga Mauritania
Zuwaras Libya In northwestern Libya.
Benha Egypt A family called Al-Barbary lives in Benha.

Amazigh arts and culture


Morocco has the biggest amount of Amazigh people in North Africa.[1]

Amazigh arts in colonial Morocco


From 1926 to 1956, the French people in control of the Moroccan population chose what art and design Amazigh artists had to create. Areas where Amazigh people live had a design and colour given to the area and the artists in this area had to follow these rules when making art. Still today, carpets and blankets, for example, show where Amazigh artists are from because of the colour and design they have used in their art. The French controlled Amazigh arts to help the Moroccan economy. This would make sure that after Morocco is a free country, the country will have enough money to be a successful country.[8]  

Amazigh arts in independent Morocco


After Morocco became an independent country, the Moroccan government made sure not to talk about the Amazigh people. If they were seen as a different ethnicity, the government was afraid the country's Arab identity would not exist.[9] The Amazigh population, however, did not want to be forgotten by the government. Indigenous Amazigh art designs were therefore continued by Amazigh women and their daughters.[10] This is why Amazigh art is strongly connected with women's identity. Most Amazigh people live outside of the cities and this is where all their art is created.[11]

Amazigh Carpets

Amazigh weaving


Weaving is only done in places where sheep can survive and eat. Amazigh groups in the desert make other art like pottery.[11]

The importance of weaving

Amazigh Women Weaving

Weaving is very important for Amazigh women. In Morocco, women who create fabrics will go to heaven when they die. The wool they use has been approved by God and must be protected. They believe the wool has a soul and the action of weaving is life's energy. The wool's soul is the same as the women's soul, so the carpet or blanket being made has to stay in the women's home. If the wool is taken somewhere else, the woman and her house will lose part of this soul.[11] In Tunisia, to keep the wool safe, Amazigh women put the blood of an animal around the tool they use to make carpets. In Morocco, they put salt around the tool to protect the wool from bad ghosts. When women are finished with their creations, they make a prayer.[12] Every time the women create more of the carpet, more life is created.[11]

Process of weaving

Before the women start colouring the wool, they must clean it. They do this by washing it and brushing it through like hair. Then the wool is made into thread which is thinner.[8] The Amazigh women make wool a different colour. Only in the South of Tunisia and the West of Libya do they do it the other way round. The carpet for example is created then the wool is made colourful. To create the colours that will dye the wool, women will use insects or plants. The colour purple for example can be made by using plants that grow in North Africa.[13]

Another thing that is used to make colour is henna. This type of plant is not only used to make colour on wool but also to create patterns on the body. The patterns made on the body are painted at different times of a woman's life.[14]

Motifs on the Material - From the Tifinagh Alphabet

Motifs on the materials


The designs on Amazigh textiles are said to protect the weavers.

  • Semi-circle with five lines coming out of it: fertility
  • Hands: keep people safe from evil
  • Plantlike shapes: fertility—when girls are old enough to marry.[12]
  • Hexagon
  • Arrows
  • Zigzags/triangles/diamonds: power of women
  • Triple line
  • Checkers
  • Circle[11]

Amazigh eyes



  • Red: blood, life, fertility
  • Blue and Indigo: these colours are good for the skin

Process of dyeing


Getting colours from plants or local materials is not easy. Overall, not much is known about the process because Amazigh women do not want to share what they do.

The fabric that women want to make colourful is dipped into different bowls. Each bowl has a different colour in it. Sometimes just a bit of the fabric is put in the bowl to make a small part of it colourful. Sometimes all the fabric is put in if the design they want is just one colour. After, all textiles created by Amazigh women never look the same because colours spread through the wool in different ways.[15]



Weddings for all Amazigh groups are important markers of their identity. Different groups of Amazigh people celebrate weddings differently. In the South of Morocco, the Ait Khabbash are the biggest group of Amazigh people. The way women celebrate their weddings always lasts three days and the celebration has not changed a lot over the years.[8]

Before the wedding


Women plan the weddings. A meeting between the groom and bride is organised. If they agree on marrying each other, the groom's mother meets the bride's family and brings them gifts.The gifts are henna, meat and tea.[8]


Before the wedding starts, a tent is put up. The groom chooses three men (isnain) to build this tent. They build the tent close to the grooms. All of the wedding happens in and around this tent. It is very important because it reminds the Aamzigh people of their nomadic life.[8]

What the woman wears is a very important process and tradition. She is dressed in red and white clothes and has silver jewelry around her neck. The clothes and jewlery are brought for her by her groom. She has henna painted onto her hands and while other women are doing this, they sing songs that have been in the family for a long time.[8] The groom wears the same coloured clothes as the woman and also has songs sung to him. While he is being dressed, he sits on his mother's lap. The process of dressing him is not as special as the bride's.[8]

During the wedding


On the first day, the bride arrives at her wedding tent. She arrives on a horse or camel. A red carpet from the woman's home is put on the back of the animal. A little boy called Muhammad sits on the horse with the woman. The woman is sung to while she goes to the tent. When she gets to the tent, she goes around it three times counterclockwise. She is given milk to drink and then puts a bit of it on the other people at the wedding. The woman's face is covered by a white cloth. This day is the first day that the bride and groom will sleep together.[8]

Amazigh Wedding in Morocco

On the second day, the woman has gone from being a girl to a woman. The woman therefore wears white clothes with her own blood on. This blood is to show that she has become a woman. A lot of celebrations happen on the second day. Lots of songs are sung to the woman. Some songs ask God to look after the wedding. Other songs talk about what the woman is wearing. The men also sing songs for the bride. They perform for her so that her wedding and life is happy and successful. The most important part of this day is the killing of an animal. At twelve o'clock, this animal is killed because the Ait Khabbash group believes it brings good things to the couple and the blood makes the family united.[8]

On the third day, lots of orange and black paint is put onto the woman's face. The cloth that has been on her face all wedding is still not taken off. While women are painting the bride's face, they sing to her. The wedding ends when a big dance is performed. This is done after the white cloth is finally taken off of the bride's face.[8]



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Vandenbroeck, Paul (2000). L'art des femmes berbères. Gand ; Paris ; Bruxelles: Ludion ; Flammarion ; Société des expositions du Palais des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles. pp. 19–81. ISBN 9055442828.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 "Berber". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2 May 2015.
  3. Rouighi, Ramzi (2019-07-05), "Inventing the Berbers: History and Ideology in the Maghrib", Inventing the Berbers, University of Pennsylvania Press, p. 8, doi:10.9783/9780812296181, ISBN 978-0-8122-9618-1, S2CID 243569643, retrieved 2023-05-16
  4. Rouighi, Ramzi (2019-07-05), "Inventing the Berbers: History and Ideology in the Maghrib", Inventing the Berbers, University of Pennsylvania Press, doi:10.9783/9780812296181, ISBN 978-0-8122-9618-1, S2CID 243569643, retrieved 2023-05-16
  5. Hall, John G.; Chelsea Publishing House (2002). North Africa. Infobase Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7910-5746-9.
  6. "Bibliography", Nation-Building in Turkey and Morocco, Cambridge University Press, pp. 206–225, 2014-11-17, doi:10.1017/cbo9781107294387.007, ISBN 978-1-107-29438-7, retrieved 2023-05-16
  7. Hoffman, Katherine (2008). We Share Walls : Language, Land and Gender in Berber Morocco. Blackwell. pp. 229–231. ISBN 9781405154208.
  8. 8.00 8.01 8.02 8.03 8.04 8.05 8.06 8.07 8.08 8.09 Becker, Cynthia (2006). Amazigh Arts in Morocco: Women Shaping Berber Identity. Austin: University of Texas Press. pp. 95–161. ISBN 9780292712959.
  9. Becker, Cynthia (2017). "Amazigh Woven Textiles at Yale: Visual Expressions of Berber Women's Creativity and Inventiveness". Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin: 35. ISSN 0084-3539. JSTOR 26378746.
  10. Becker, Cynthia (2006). Amazigh Arts in Morocco: Women Shaping Berber Identity. Austin: University of Texas Press. p. 191. ISBN 9780292712959.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 Vanderbroeck, Paul (2000). Azetta : l'art des femmes berbères. Gand ; Paris ; Bruxelles: Ludion ; Flammarion ; Société des expositions du Palais des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles. pp. 28–34. ISBN 9055442828.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Becker, Cynthia (2017). "Amazigh Woven Textiles at Yale: Visual Expressions of Berber Women's Creativity and Inventiveness". Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin: 38. ISSN 0084-3539. JSTOR 26378746.
  13. Becker, Cynthia (2017). "Amazigh Woven Textiles at Yale: Visual Expressions of Berber Women's Creativity and Inventiveness". Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin: 39. ISSN 0084-3539. JSTOR 26378746.
  14. Becker, Cynthia (2017). "Amazigh Woven Textiles at Yale: Visual Expressions of Berber Women's Creativity and Inventiveness". Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin: 40. ISSN 0084-3539. JSTOR 26378746.
  15. Becker, Cynthia (2017). "Amazigh Woven Textiles at Yale: Visual Expressions of Berber Women's Creativity and Inventiveness". Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin: 39–40. ISSN 0084-3539. JSTOR 26378746.

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