Berbers: North Africa's marginalised indigenous people

2018-01-12 20:00
(iStock)

(iStock)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Algiers - The Berbers - descendants of pre-Arab populations across North Africa - are currently celebrating their New Year festivities.

On Friday - for the first time - the Yennayer New Year is being marked as a national holiday in Algeria.

The Berbers, who refer to themselves as the Amazigh, have long fought for greater recognition for their ancient ethnic group, their culture and language.

In Algeria they make up roughly a quarter of the country's total population of 40 million and live mainly in the mountainous northern region of Kabylie.

Here is some background on other Berber communities that have stretched across North Africa since long before the Arab conquests:

 Morocco 

On Africa's northwestern tip, Morocco is the country with the largest Berber community in the region.

Their language - of which there are three main dialects - was only given official status alongside Arabic in a new constitution in 2011.

One of the major consequences of this recognition has been the appearance of their Tifinagh alphabet on public buildings next to Arabic and French.

Since 2010 the Tamazight TV channel has been dedicated to promoting Berber culture.

Legislation currently under consideration by the government would diversify teaching in school to help bolster their language.

Several years back lawmakers created a major stir by talking in the Berber language in parliamentary sessions.

Despite advances, the Moroccan authorities still sporadically refuse to register Berber names on the official registry.

The Amazigh flag was a major symbol in protests that hit the depressed Rif region in the north of the country last year, where the group is a majority.

The Berbers in Morocco have long called for their New Year to be marked as national holidays like its equivalents in the Muslim lunar and gregorian calendar.

 Libya 

Persecuted under dictator Moammar Gaddafi, who denied their existence, the Berbers of Libya have called for their language be given official status and for greater political representation.

They make up around 10% of the 6.4 million and live mainly in the mountains west of Tripoli or in the vast desert regions.

Their demands have become more vocal in the turmoil-wracked country since Gaddafi's ouster and death in 2011. The Berber flag can now been seen on administrative buildings.

Textbooks in their language have also been produced but they have not been officially approved by the internationally backed government.

Under a draft constitution endorsed by parliament, but still awaiting ratification in a referendum, the languages spoken by the various communities, including Tamazigh, are recognised as part of Libyan cultural heritage but not given official status.

Tunisia 

In Tunisia estimating the number of Berbers is tough as official statistics based on ethnicity are prohibited.

Outside their traditional heartland in the south, Berbers are mainly found in the capital Tunis following an exodus from the countryside.

They complain of marginalisation and exclusion in a state that recognises only Arabic in its constitution.

Jallol Ghaki, the head of the Tunisian Association of Amazigh Culture, estimates that while some half of Tunisians may be of Berber origin, the vast majority have been fully Arabised and only one percent speak the local Chelha dialect.

While activists complain that the state takes no efforts to preserve or educate children about Berber culture, there have been some improvements since Tunisia's 2011 revolution.

Media and civil society has opened up and in 2017 the minister for human rights in the country marked the Yennayer festivities by wishing the Berber community a Happy New Year.

Read more on:    algeria  |  morocco  |  tunisia  |  north africa

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Inside News24

 
/News
 

5 scientific benefits of owning a cat

According to science, just the act of watching cats itself can bring about positive emotions – so it comes as no surprise then, that owning a cat has a number of benefits.

 

Paws

Why we love cats
8 great natural remedies for your pet
How to clean your dog’s eyes
This special pooch inspired his brother to learn to stand again
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.