The Berbers lived in north Africa long before the arrival of the Arabs, and their culture probably dates back more than 4,000 years. Berber states known as Mauritania and Numidia existed inclassical times.
Between the 11th and 13th centuries, two great Berber dynasties – the Almoravids and the Almohads – controlled large parts of Spain, as well as north-west Africa.
Today, there are substantial Berber populations in Morocco and Algeria, plus smaller numbers in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. In Morocco, about 40% acknowledge a Berber identity, though many more have Berber ancestry.
Berbers are identified primarily by language but also by traditional customs and culture – such as the distinctive music and dances.
There is a tendency in Morocco to regard the Berbers as backward, partly because their culture is strongest in the less-developed rural areas. Many of the children in these regions drop out of school because they are taught in what, to them, is a foreign language - Arabic. The language barrier often remains a problem throughout adult life, especially when dealing with officialdom.
Berber is not officially recognised in Morocco, though French (the old colonial language) is. There was some pressure in 1996, when the constitution was being revised, to have Berber recognised. For more about this see the Berber manifesto.
In January 2010 Morocco established its first Amazigh TV channel, broadcasting in the Tachelhit, Tarifit and Tamazight dialects.
Linguistically, Berber belongs to the Afro-Asiatic group, and has many dialects. The three main dialects used in Morocco are Tachelhit, Tamazight and Tarifit. Collectively, they are known as "shilha" in Arabic.
Tachelhit (sometimes known as "soussi" or "cleuh") is spoken in south-west Morocco, in an area between Ifni in the south, Agadir in the north and Marrakech and the Draa/Sous valleys in the east.
Tamazight is spoken in the Middle Atlas, between Taza, Khemisset, Azilal and Errachidia.
Tarifit (or Rifia) is spoken in the Rif area of northern Morocco.
Berber is basically a spoken language, though there have been (and still are) attempts to gain acceptance for a written form. ABerber alphabet, probably derived from the ancient Punic script, has existed for around 2,500 years.
More about Berbers:
BBC "The story of Africa" series
The Amazigh (phoenicia.org)
Photographs by William Coupon
Images of daily life in Morocco
by James Miller
The Amazigh Question and National Identity in Morocco
By Said Bennis (Professor, Mohammed V University – Faculty of Literature and Social Sciences). Arab Reform Initiative, July 2009
Libyan Berbers struggle to assert their identity online
By Aisha al-Rumi. Arab Media & Society, Spring 2009
Morocco: Lift Restrictions on Amazigh (Berber) Names
Human Rights Watch, September 2009
Algeria, Saudi Arabia partner for first-ever Tamazight Qur'an
Magharebia, 21 August 2009
Morocco: The Berber Dance Is Over
By Daan Bauwens. Global Analyst Online, 13 August 2009
Television wiping out ‘satanic’ Berber culture in Morocco
Daily Star, 14 August, 2009
The Tamazight issue in 2009
Regarding Algerian Berbers. The Moor Next Door, 25 March, 2009
French among Algeria's elite
A discussion of the politics of language. Jabal al-Lughat, 25 April, 2009
Morocco's Berbers battle to keep from losing their culture..
by Peter Prengaman (San Francisco Chronicle, 16 March, 2001)
The Amazigh revival in Morocco
by Driss Benmhend (wafin.com, June 1997)
Reflections on the Amazigh consciousness in Morocco
by Ahmed El Asser
Renaissance berbère au Maroc
Joël Donnet (Le Monde diplomatique, January 1995)
The Berbers: fighting on two fronts
About Algeria's berbers. BBC 28 June, 1998
The ancient Berber culture is extrordinarily rich and diverse, with a variety of musical styles. These range from bagpipes and oboe (Celtic style) to pentatonic music (reminiscent of Chinese music) - all combined with African rhythms and a very important stock of authentic oral literature. These traditions have been kept alive by small bands of musicians who travel from village to village, as they have for centuries, to entertain at weddings and other social occasions with their songs, tales, and poetry. To hear the sounds visit the excellent Azawan amazigh website, or check out the musicians below:
His website: www.abdelli.com
Album: "South Moroccan Motor Berber"
Bnet Marrakech (Morocco)
Hasnia El Becharia (Algeria)
Master Musicians of Jajouka
Their website: www.jajouka.com
Moh Alileche (Algeria)
Details of her album, Country Girls and City Women
Their website: www.numidiamusic.com
Orchestre National de Barbes (France)
His website: www.adrum.com
His website: www.yelas.com
Amazigh Cultural Association in America
(Tiddukla Tadelsant Tamazight di Marikan)
Amazigh Voice (Taghect Tamazight)
Berbere Radio Television
Broadcasts from France in tamazight and French. The radio can be heard over the internet.
Berber World (Monde Berbere)
A comprehensive site in English, French and Berber
Berber cultural association
Berber cultural association in France
Libyan amazigh website. (Inactive since February 2009, but still online – see article.)