1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mzabites

MZABITES, or Beni-Mzab, a confederation of Berber tribes, now under the direct authority of France. Of all the Berber peoples the Mzabites have remained freest from foreign admixture. Their own country is a region of the Algerian Sahara, about 100 m. south of El-Aghuat. It consists of five oases close together, viz. Ghardaia, Beni-Isguen, El-Ateuf, Melika and Bu Nura, and two isolated oases farther north, Berrian and Guerrara. The total population numbered at the 1906 census 45,996, of whom about too were Europeans and a very small proportion Arabs and Jews. The Mzabites are of small and slender figure, with very short necks and under-developed legs. Their faces are flat, with short nose, thick lips and very deep-set eyes, and their complexion pale. Their dress is a shirt of thick wool, usually many-coloured. They are agriculturists, and are also famed as traders. The butchers, fruiterers, bath-house keepers, road-sweepers and carriers of the African littoral from Tangier to Tripoli are nearly all Mzabites. Their industries, too, are highly organized. The Mzabite burnooses and carpets are found throughout North Africa. Their commercial honesty is proverbial. Nearly all read and write Arabic, though in talking among themselves they use the Zenata dialect of the Berber language, for which, in common with other Berber peoples, they have no written form surviving. They are Mahommedans, of the Ibadite sect, and are regarded as heretics by the Sunnites.

According to tradition the Ibadites, after their overthrow at Tiaret by the Fatimites, took refuge during the 10th century in the country to the south-west of Wargla, where they founded an independent state. In 1012, owing to further persecutions, they fled to their present quarters, where they long remained invulnerable. After the capture of El-Aghuat by the French, the Mzabites concluded with the Algerian government, in 1853, a convention by which they engaged to pay an annual contribution of £1800 in return for their independence. In November 1882 the Mzab country was definitely annexed to Algeria. Ghardaia (pop. 7868) is the capital of the confederation, and next in importance is Beni-Isguen (4916), the chief commercial centre. Since the establishment of French control, Beni-Isguen has become the dépot for the sale of European goods. French engineers have rendered the oases much more fertile than they used to be by a system of irrigation works. (See also Algeria.)

See A. Coyne, Le Mzab (Algiers, 1879); Rinn, Occupation du Mzab' (Algiers, 1885); Amat, Le M’Zab et les M’Zabites (Paris, 1888). Also Algeria and Berbers.