Berbers: the story of Africa’s oldest inhabitants
Berbers: the story of Africa: Some of the oldest inhabitants of North Africa are the Berbers, a nomadic people who have long inhabited the region west of the Nile Valley in Africa are the Berbers. In ancient times, these people were called Imazigenes, meaning “free people.” The rich mythology of the Berbers has persisted for thousands of years and, according to some scholars, influenced the religious beliefs of the ancient Egyptians.
Place of residence
Berbers: the story of Africa: At the moment, the Berbers are a large group of non-Arabic tribes, related in culture and language, inhabiting an area stretching from Egypt to the Canary Islands. Also, representatives of this nationality nowadays live in the territories located south of the Sahara, for example, in Niger and Mali.
According to scientists, the Berbers trace their history back to the ancient Caspian culture – one of the most developed civilizations of North Africa, which existed more than 10 thousand years ago. Representatives of this nationality, according to some experts, have lived on the African continent since ancient times. Berbers were first mentioned in the annals of the ancient Egyptians. 3000 years ago, in ancient times, the representatives of this nationality were called Themehu. References to Berbers are also found in Phoenician, Roman, and Greek texts.
Crossroads of peoples
Since prehistoric times, the Berber lands have been a kind of crossroads connecting the peoples of the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. In ancient times, these territories were invaded by the French, Spaniards, Turks, Arabs, Romans, Vandals and others. The Berbers themselves never created large empires. But there have always been many kingdoms and cultures on their territory.
Over the centuries, the Berbers mixed with other peoples inhabiting neighboring regions, including Europeans and Arabs. Therefore, at the moment these people are identified mainly by linguistics rather than by race. The Berber language is currently considered one of the oldest in the world. Linguists refer it to as the African branch of the Afro-Arabic language family. The ancient Egyptian language once belonged to this group.
A distinctive feature of this nationality, among other things, is a large number of ancient legends. The belief system of the Berbers for centuries was built around a pantheon of gods.
Scholars believe that many of the beliefs of these people were developed by them. Only some elements were introduced from the religious systems of other African peoples, in particular the Egyptians, Greeks, Phoenicians, and Jews.
In recent times, Arab beliefs have had the greatest influence on Berber culture, according to scholars. This is explained by the fact that in the IX century, the representatives of this nation were converted to Islam. However, pagan traditions are still very strong in Berber culture.
Berbers: the story of Africa: On the territory of Europe, there are several widely known megalithic complexes. That is, stones in this part of the world were elements of faith in many peoples. In Africa, there are practically no such complexes. The only exception is the territory of the Berbers.
Like many other very ancient peoples, representatives of this culture have long considered stones and rocks sacred. Some historians believe that in the beliefs of the Berbers, megaliths were of great importance in the cults of the dead and stars.
Many ancient historians wrote about the worship of stones by pagan African tribes. For example, the writer of the II century AD Apuleius, St. Augustine, the Bishop of Hippon Regia drew attention to it.
The Greek historian Herodotus even described the ancient ritual of animal sacrifice to rocks. According to the ancient sage, African pagans first cut off the ear of the victim and threw it in front of the gate of their house. The animal was then slaughtered.
Berbers: the story of Africa: The largest megalithic complex on the territory of Africa is Mzura. This unusual object is located in the Berber territories and represents a circle of huge stones with a large mound in the center.
The largest stone of Mzura has a height of 5 meters. The diameter of the complex is 55 meters. Western archaeologists became aware of this site only in 1830. However, there is irrefutable evidence that the ancient Romans knew about Mzura.
The mound in the middle of the complex is huge. Therefore, in ancient times there was a legend that the giant Antaeus himself was buried here, who was, among other things, one of the gods of the Berber pantheon. To verify this myth, the Romans in ancient times even conducted excavations in Mzura. According to an extant legend, they found the body of a huge man in the mound. After that, according to legend, the Romans were horrified and filled the mound back up.
Already in our time in Mzura, archaeological excavations have been conducted twice. And of course, nobody of the giant was found in this complex. This megalithic monument itself was defined by scientists as an ancient observatory. Specialists also established that Mzura was once built on approximately the same principle as Stonehenge and other similar megalithic objects in Europe.
Another megalithic monument associated with the Berbers is located south of Casablanca. This site was discovered by archaeologists in 1926. Among other things, it is notable for being covered with burial inscriptions in the Berber language.
Tombs and mausoleums
The ancient Berbers believed in an afterlife. Initially, they buried their dead in the ground. Later, they began to make mounds and tombs carved into the rocks. The tombs subsequently evolved and became more and more elaborate. Eventually, some of them became pyramidal in shape. Such tombs subsequently spread throughout North Africa.
The most famous Berber pyramids are the Dorim Numidian pyramids (19 m high) and the Moorish pyramids (30 m high). Also well known to archaeologists is the ancient Royal Mausoleum of Juba II and Cleopatra Selene II, who once ruled Numidia and Mauritania.
Analogies between Berber and Egyptian myths
Berbers: the story of Africa: The two cultures have overlapping deities, among other things. Berbers and Egyptians have been neighbors for thousands of years. And their beliefs have always been similar. For example, it is believed that such Egyptian deities as Seth, Osiris, and Isis were originally worshiped by Berbers.
Some scientists suggest that representatives of this nationality in ancient times ate neither pork nor beef. The meat of the first kind was associated with Seth and the second – with Isis. Berbers did not eat such food simply out of respect for these gods.
The most famous god, common to both Egyptians and Berbers, was Amon. King of all gods and of the wind, he was accepted by the Egyptians as Amon-Ra. The Greeks called him Zeus-Amon, and the Phoenicians Baal-Amon. The most famous Berber temple of this god (in Libya) was located in the oasis of Siwa.
Unfortunately, the existence of the god Amon in Berber culture is now ignored in many historical sources. However, historians believe that the unification of this god with Baal in Greek and Phoenician cultures was once due to Libyan influence.
The fact that some Egyptian deities were depicted in ancient times with Berber hieroglyphs is also considered interesting enough by many scholars.
Berber culture today
For a long time, the traditions of this numerous ethnicity were unfortunately suppressed. Today, however, Berber culture is experiencing a renaissance. In Tunisia since 2011, when dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown, for example, there are now more than 20 organizations actively promoting the ancient traditions.
The Berbers of the Arab Maghreb celebrate the New Year on January 12 and 13, 2973.
The Berbers of North Africa celebrate the first day of the Berber New Year, Yennaher, on January 12 and 13. This day was chosen to mark the beginning of the year because it was on that day that Seshonk, a Berber of Berber descent, became pharaoh of ancient Egypt and founded a dynasty that ruled Egypt for more than two centuries. The Berber calendar is therefore 950 years earlier than the Julian and Gregorian calendars. Therefore, the year 2023 corresponds to the year 2973.
The Berbers celebrate Yannar with food, music and traditional dances. The Amazigh celebrate the holiday by preparing a sumptuous meal and praying for food and prosperity for the coming year. As in most Moroccan festivals, the main dish of the day is couscous with chicken or rooster or seven vegetables. The rooster is also the symbol of the feast.
Amazigh, Amazihi (Berber): generic name for the indigenous peoples of North Africa, extending from Egypt in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west and from Sudan in the south to the Mediterranean in the north. The word “Amazigh” (Tamazigh for women) means “free and noble people.”
“Every year, the Amazigh of southeast Morocco prepare couscous on the evening of January 12. It is a ritual. They traditionally put an iguana, a date or an allouz seed and a slice of almond in the couscous,” explains Berber activist Lahcen Amokrein. Whoever finds the date or almond is given the key to the lahzin (room) where the family’s food is kept and is considered blessed throughout the year.”
Other traditional dishes are tagola (a mixture of corn kernels, butter, ghee, argan oil and honey) or ilkmen (a thick soup based on boiled beans and wheat).
Parades are also frequent in Amazigh villages, accompanied by traditional music, traditional costumes and green, yellow and blue Amazigh flags.
“The New Year coincides with the flowering of the almond tree and is a good start to agricultural activities,” explains Abdelmajid Niduisaadan, community organizer.
Berbers: the story of Africa
The Amazigh usually welcome the New Year with songs about love, fertility and prosperity. In rural areas, the focus is on brotherhood, sharing food and overcoming old misunderstandings and disagreements.
Yenar symbolizes fertility and longevity, so weddings are often held on this day, as well as agricultural initiation ceremonies, where children are sent to farms to pick fruits and vegetables.
In 950 BC, the Berbers defeated the army of the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II and the Berber ruler Sishnak was proclaimed Pharaoh. It was the beginning of the 22nd century. The Amazigh still remember this victory. The Amazigh still remember this victory today. For this reason, the holiday has another name: King’s Day.