1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Berbers
BERBERS, the name under which are included the various branches of the indigenous “Libyan” race of North Africa. Since the dawn of history the Berbers have occupied the tract between the Mediterranean and the Ethnology. Sahara from Egypt to the Atlantic. The origin of the name is doubtful. Some believe it to be derived from the word βάρβαροι (barbarians), employed first by the Greeks and later by the Romans. Others attribute the first use of the term to the Arab conquerors. However this may be, tribal titles, Barabara and Beraberata, appear in Egyptian inscriptions of 1700 and 1300 B.C., and the Berbers were probably intimately related with the Egyptians in very early times. Thus the true ethnical name may have become confused with Barbari, the designation naturally used by classical conquerors. To the Egyptians they were known as “Lebu,” “Mashuasha,” “Tamahu,” “Tehennu” and “Kahaka”; a long list of names is found in Herodotus, and the Romans called them Numidae, Gaetuli and Mauri, terms which have been derived respectively from the Greek νομάδες (nomads), the name Gued’oula, of a great Berber tribe, and the Hebrew mahur (western). To speak of more modern times there can be enumerated the Zouaoua and Jebalia (Tripoli and Tunisia); the Chauwia, Kabyles and Beni-Mzab (Algeria); the Shlûh (Chlouah), Amazîgh and Berbers (Morocco); the Tuareg, Arnóshagh, Sorgu, &c. (Sahara). These tribes have many sub-tribes, each with a distinctive name. Among the Azgar, an important division of the Tuareg, one of the noble or free tribes, styled Aouraghen, is said to descend from a tribe named Avrigha. The Avrigha, or Afrigha, in ancient times occupied the coast lands near Carthage, and some scholars derive the word Africa from their name (see Africa, Roman). In regard to the ethnic relations of the Berbers there has been much dispute. The antiquity of their type is evidenced by the monuments of Egypt, where their ancestors are pictured with the same comparatively blond features which many of them still display. The aborigines of the Canary Islands, the Guanches, would seem almost certainly, from the remains of their language, to have been Berbers. But the problem of the actual origin of the Berber race has not yet been solved. Perhaps the most satisfactory theory is that of Sergi, who includes the Berbers in the “Mediterranean Race.” General L. L. C. Faidherbe regards them as indigenous Libyans mingled with a fair-skinned people of European origin. Dr Franz Pruner-Bey, Henri Duveyrier and Prof. Flinders Petrie maintain that they are closely related to the ancient Egyptians. Connexion has been traced between the early Libyan race and the Cro-Magnon and other early European races and, later, the Basque peoples, Iberians, Picts, Celts and Gauls. The megalithic monuments of Iberia and Celtic Europe have their counterparts in northern Africa, and it is suggested that these were all erected by the same race, by whatever name they be known, Berbers and Libyans in Africa, Iberians in Spain, Celts, Gauls and Picts in France and Britain.
In spite of a history of foreign conquest—Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Vandal, Arab and French—the Berber physical type and the Berber temperament and nationality have persisted since the stone age. The numerous invasions Character-istics. have naturally introduced a certain amount of foreign blood among the tribes fringing the Mediterranean, but those farther inland have preserved their racial purity to a surprising degree. Though considerable individual differences of type may be found in every village, the Berbers are distinctively a “white” race, and the majority would, if clad in European costume, pass unchallenged as Europeans. Dark hair and brown or hazel eyes are the rule; blue-eyed blonds are found, but their frequency has been considerably overstated. The invaders who have most affected the Berber race are the Arabs, but the two races, with a common religion, often a common government, with the same tribal groupings, have failed to amalgamate to any great extent. This fact has been emphasized by Dr R. G. Latham, who writes: “All that is not Arabic in the kingdom of Morocco, all that is not Arabic in the French provinces of Algeria, and all that is not Arabic in Tunis, Tripoli and Fezzan, is Berber.” The explanation lies in a profound distinction of character. The Arab is a herdsman and a nomad; the Berber is an agriculturist and a townsman. The Arab has built his social structure on the Koran, which inculcates absolutism, aristocracy, theocracy; the Berber, despite his nominal Mahommedanism, is a democrat, with his Jemáa or “Witangemot” and his Kanum or unwritten code, the Magna Carta of the individual’s liberty as opposed to the community’s good. The Kanum forbids no sort of exercise of individual will, so long as it is not inimical to the right or rights of other individuals. The Arabizing of the Berbers is indeed limited to little beyond the conversion of the latter to Islam. The Arab, transported to a soil which does not always suit him, so far from thriving, tends to disappear, whereas the Berber becomes more and more aggressive, and yearly increases in numbers. At present he forms at least three-fifths of the population in Algeria, and in Morocco the proportion is greater. The difference between the Berber and the Arab of the Barbary States is summed up by Dr Randall MacIver in the following words:—“The Berber gives the impression of being, as he is, the descendant of men who have lived in sturdy independence, self-governing and self-reliant. The Arab is the degenerate offspring of a race which only from its history and past records can claim any title to respect. Cringing, venal, avaricious, dishonest, the Arab combines all the faults of a vicious nature with those which a degraded religion inculcates or encourages. The Berber, on the other hand, is straightforward, honest, by no means averse to money-making, but not unscrupulous in the methods which he employs to this end, intelligent in a degree to which the ordinary Arab never approaches, and trustworthy as no Arab can be.”
The Berber’s village is his state, and the government is vested in an assembly, the Jemáa, formed of all males old enough to observe the fast of Ramadan. By them are determined all matters of peace or war, legislation, taxation Government. and justice. The executive officer is the Amin, a kind of mayor, elected from some influential family in which the dignity is often in practice hereditary. He owes his position to the good-will of his fellows, receives no remuneration, and resigns as soon as he loses the confidence of the people. By him are appointed certain Temman (sing. Tamen) who act as overseers, though without executive powers, in the various quarters of the village. The poorest Berber has as great a voice in affairs as the richest. The undue power of the Jemáa is checked by vendetta and a sort of lynch law, and by the formation of parties (sofs), within or without the assembly, for trade, political and other purposes. The Berbers are a warlike people who have never been completely subjugated. Every boy as soon as he reaches sixteen is brought into the Jemáa and given weapons which he carries till he is sixty. Though each village is absolutely independent as far as its internal affairs are concerned, two or more are often connected by administrative ties to form an Arsh or tribe. A number of these tribes form a Thakebilt or confederation, which is an extremely loose organization. An exception to this form of government is constituted by the Tuareg, whose organization, owing to their peculiar circumstances of life, is monarchical. Wars are declared by special messengers; the exchange of sticks or guns renders an armistice inviolable. In some tribes a tablet, on which is inscribed the name of every man fit to bear arms, is placed in the mosque. The Berbers, though Mahommedans, do not often observe the prescribed ablutions; they break their fast at Ramadan; and eat wild boar’s flesh and drink fig brandy. On the other hand, saints, both male and female, are paid more reverence by Berbers than by Arabs. Around their tombs their descendants settle, and thus sacred villages, often of considerable size, spring up. Almost every village, too, has its saint or prophet, and disputes as to their relative sanctity and powers cause fierce feuds. The hereditary caste known as Marabouts are frequently in open opposition to the absolute authority of the Jemáa. They are possessed of certain privileges, such as exemption from the chief taxes and the duty of bearing arms. They, however, often take a foremost part in tribal administration, and are frequently called upon to perform the office of arbitrators in questions of disputed policy, &c. In the Jemáa, too, the Marabout at times takes the place of honour and keeps order. The Berbers, if irreligious, are very superstitious, never leaving their homes without exorcizing evil spirits, and have a good and evil interpretation for every day of the week. Many Berbers still retain certain Christian and Jewish usages, relics of the pre-Islamitic days in North Africa, but of their primitive religion there is no trace. They are seldom good scholars, but those under French rule take all the advantage they can of the schools instituted by the government. Their social tendencies are distinctly communistic; property is often owned by the family in common, and a man can call upon the services of his fellow villagers for certain purposes, as the building of a house. Provision for the poor is often made by the community.
The dress of the Berbers was formerly made of home-woven cloth, and the manufacture of woollen stuffs has always been one of the chief occupations of their women. The men wear a tunic reaching to the knees, the women a longer Customs. garment. For work the men use a leather apron, and in the cold season and in travelling a burnous, usually a family heirloom, old and ragged; the women, in winter, throw a coloured cloth over their shoulders. The men’s hair is cut short but their beards are allowed to grow. In some districts there are peculiar customs, such as the wearing of small silver nose-rings, seen in El-Jofra. The Berbers’ weapons are those of the Arab: the long straight sword, the slightly curved and highly ornamented dagger, and the long gun. Berbers are not great town-builders. Their villages, however, are often of substantial appearance: with houses of untrimmed stones, occasionally with two storeys, built on hills, and invariably defended by a bank, a stone wall or a hedge. Sometimes their homes are mere huts of turf, or of clay tiles, with mortar made from lime and clay or cow-dung. The sloping roof is covered with reeds, straw or stones. The living room is on the right, the cattle-stall on the left. The dwelling is surrounded by a garden or small field of grain. The second storey is not added till a son marries. In the villages of the western Atlas the greater part of the upper storey consists of a sort of rough verandah. In this mountain district the natives spend the winter in vaults beneath the houses, and, for the sake of warmth, the tenements are built very close. Agriculture, which is carried on even in the mountain districts by means of laboriously constructed terraces, is antiquated in its methods. The plough, often replaced on the steeper slopes by the hoe, is similar to that depicted in ancient Egyptian drawings, and hand irrigation is usual. A sickle, toothed like a saw, is used for reaping. Corn is trodden by oxen, and kept in osier baskets narrowing to the top, or clay granaries. The staple crop is barley, but wheat, lentils, vetches, flax and gourds are also cultivated. Tobacco, maize and potatoes have been introduced; and the aloe and prickly pear, called in Morocco the Christian fig, are also found. The Kabyles understand grafting, have fine orchards and grow vines. The Beni-Abbas tribe in the Algerian Atlas is famed for its walnuts, and many tribes keep bees, chiefly for the commercial value of the wax. The Berber diet largely consists of cucumbers, gourds, water-melons and onions, and a small artichoke (Cynara humilis) which grows wild. At the beginning and end of their meal they drink a strongly sweetened liquid made from green tea and mint. Tea-drinking probably became a habit in Morocco about the beginning of the 19th century; coffee came by way of Algiers. At feasts the food is served on large earthenware dishes with high basket-work covers, like bee-skeps but twice as high.
The Berbers have many industries. They mine and work iron, lead and copper. They have olive presses and flour mills, and their own millstone quarries, even travelling into Arab districts to build mills for the Arabs. They Industries. make lime, tiles, woodwork for the houses, domestic utensils and agricultural implements. They weave and dye several kinds of cloth, tan and dress leather and manufacture oil and soap. Without the assistance of the wheel the women produce a variety of pottery utensils, often of very graceful design, and decorated with patterns in red and black. Whole tribes, such as the Beni-Sliman, are occupied in the iron trade; the Beni-Abbas made firearms before the French conquest, and even cannon are said to have been made by boring. Before it was proscribed by the French, the manufacture of gunpowder was general. The native jewellers make excellent ornaments in silver, coral and enamel. In some places wood-carving has been brought to considerable perfection; and native artists know how to engrave on metal both by etching and the burin. In its collective industry the Berber race is far superior to the Arab. The Berbers are keen traders too, and, after the harvest, hawk small goods, travelling great distances.
A Berber woman has in many ways a better position than her Arab sister. True, her birth is regarded as an event of no moment, while that of a boy is celebrated by great rejoicings, and his mother acquires the right to wear Women. on her forehead the tafzint, a mark which only the women who have borne an heir can assume. Her husband buys and can dismiss her at will. She has most of the hard work to do, and is little better than a servant. When she is old and past work, especially if she has not been the mother of a male child, she is often abandoned. But she has a voice in public affairs; she has laws to protect her, manages the household and goes unveiled; she has a right to the money she earns; she can inherit under wills, and bequeath property, though to avoid the alienation of real property, succession to it is denied her. But most characteristic of her social position is the Berber woman’s right to enter into a sacred bond or agreement, represented by the giving of the anaya. This is some symbolic object, stick or what not, which passes between the parties to a contract, the obligations under which, if not fulfilled by the contracting parties during their lives, become hereditary. Female saints, too, are held in high honour; and the Berber pays his wife the compliment of monogamy. The Kabyle women have stood side by side with their husbands in battle. Among many Berber tribes the law of inheritance is such that the eldest daughter’s son succeeds. South of Morocco proper, Gerhard Rohlfs, who travelled extensively in the region (c. 1861-1867), states that a Berber religious corporation, the Savia Kartas, was ruled over by a woman, the chief’s wife. The Berbers consult their women in many matters, and only one woman is really held in low esteem. She, curiously, is the kuata or “go-between,” even though her services are only employed in the respectable task of arranging marriages. Berber women are intelligent and hard-working, and, when young, very pretty and graceful. The Berbers, unlike the Arabs, do not admire fat women. Among the Kabyles the adulteress is put to death, as are those women who have illegitimate children, the latter suffering with their mothers.
Though Arabic has to a considerable extent displaced the Berber language, the latter is still spoken by millions of people from Egypt to the Atlantic and from the Mediterranean to the Sudan. It is spoken nowhere else, though, as Language. has been said, place-names in the Canary Islands and other remains of the aboriginal language there prove it to have been the native tongue. Although the Berber tongue shows a certain affinity with Semitic in the construction both of its words and sentences Berber is quite distinct from the Semitic languages; and a remarkable fact is that in spite of the enormous space over which the dialects are spread and the thousands of years that some of the Berber peoples have been isolated from the rest, these dialects show but slight differences from the long-extinct Hamitic speech from which all are derived. Whatever these dialects be called, the Kabyle, the Shilha, the Zenati, the Tuareg or Tamashek, the Berber language is still essentially one, and the similarity between the forms current in Morocco, Algeria, the Sahara and the far-distant oasis of Siwa is much more marked than between the Norse and English in the sub-Aryan Teutonic group. The Berbers have, moreover, a writing of their own, peculiar and little used or known, the antiquity of which is proved by monuments and inscriptions ranging over the whole of North Africa.
The various spoken dialects, though apparently very unlike each other, are not more dissimilar than are Portuguese, Spanish, French and Italian, and their differences are doubtless attributable to the lack of a literary standard. Even where different words are used, there is evidence of a common stem from which the various branches have sprung. The great difficulty of satisfactory comparison arises from the fact that few of the Beber dialects possess any writings. The Tawahhid (The Unity of God), said to have been written in Moroccan Berber and believed to be the oldest African work in existence, except Egyptian and Ethiopic, was the work of the Muwahhadi leader, Ibn Tumart the Mahdi, at a time when the officials of the Kairawan mosque were dismissed because they could not speak Berber. Most of the writings found, however, have been in the form of inscriptions, chiefly on ornaments. A collection of the various signs of the alphabet has shown thirty-two letters, four more than Arabic. De Slane, in his notes on the Berber historian Ibn Khaldūn, shows the following points of similarity to the Semitic class:—its tri-literal roots, the inflections of the verb, the formation of derived verbs, the genders of the second and third persons, the pronominal affixes, the aoristic style of tense, the whole and broken plurals and the construction of the phrase. Among the peculiar grammatical features of Berber may be mentioned two numbers (no dual), two genders and six cases, and verbs with one, two, three and four radicals, and imperative and aorist tense only. As might be expected the Berber tongue is most common in Morocco and the western Sahara—the regions where Arab dominion was least exercised. When Arabic is mentioned as the language of Morocco it is seldom realized how small a proportion of its inhabitants use it as their mother tongue. Berber is the real language of Morocco, Arabic that of its creed and government.