Today, many of the Berbers no longer live nomadic lives and have settled down to become farmers doing agriculture and raising cattle, sheep and goats in the mountains and valleys of Morocco. They participate actively in the Moroccan economy, especially in the area of tourism where their natural hospitality makes them competent tourist guides.
My fascination with the Berbers started when we visited the parts of Spain formerly ruled by the Almoravids and the Almohads. Inspired by what I saw of their achievements in the Spanish cities of Cordoba and Granada, I immediately accepted the invitation of family members to visit Morocco.
They are the indigenous people inhabiting the land that stretches from Egypt to the Sahel. They include these tribes: the Drawa, inhabiting the Draa Valley; the Dades, who live in the North-East; the Mesquite, Seddrat and Zeri, who live in the North-West; and the Ghomara, who call the Rif Region home.
The Berbers proudly call themselves “Imazighen” ( “Amazigh” for males; Tamazight for females) which means noble people. Unhappily, most of us equate the Berbers with barbarians because of the Greek word, barbarous (barbarian), used then to refer to foreigners who did not speak Greek. Eventually, the name became associated with those who were uncivilized and, today, this is its widespread use.
- Ramesses II, the third Pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty of Egypt (1279-1213 BC);
- Saint Augustine, a 4th-century Christian theologian and philosopher from Algeria;
- Ibn Battuta, a 14th-century Moroccan traveller and explorer who travelled throughout Africa, the Near and the Far East;
- Zinedine Zidane, a former French footballer who now coaches Real Madrid;
- Saoud Massi, an Algerian acoustic singer-songwriter whose soulful tunes you will often hear playing in the medinas of Essaouira and Marrakech; and
- Tinariwen, the much-loved and highly-acclaimed Tuareg musicians from the Saharan region of Mali.
Furthermore, the Berbers were responsible for establishing many of the trading routes between the West-African and the Sub-Saharan region. In their camel caravans, they transported goods in five trans-Saharan trade routes to cities like Timbuktu in Mali. From here, these goods reached the far corners of the world. One of these goods transported was rock salt, the then Saharan desert prime resource.
The Berbers, initially been Christians or Jews, to survive and stay in their land, converted to Islam in the middle of the 7th century. That was the start of the Arabization of their language, tribal laws and literary traditions.
Despite the modernization of the Berbers, about 40% of them in Morocco only speak their native dialect. They talk not one language but several dialects which are different from each other. Of these dialects, most of them prefer to speak mainly: Tarifiyt in the north, Tashelhiyt in the south-west, and Tamazight in the centre. This Tamazight language has 38 consonants but only three vowels. The Berber dialects have elements of the Germanic languages because the Vandals ruled the northern part of Africa for about a hundred years.
It was interesting to meet the families living in the area. Our guide told us stories of how some family members moved and worked in the city and come and visit the families every so often. As they bring back home their earnings, improvements in their standards of living appear.
A piece of us stayed there, but a more significant bit of them came back with us forever etched in our memory.