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  • Writer's pictureSaid Ait Bajja

10 Interesting Facts You Didn't Know About Berbers of Morocco

Moroccan Berbers have a history with tattoos which being an interesting part of their culture and belief system.
Moroccan Berber Tattoos (by Amayas Amazigh)

The Kingdom of Morocco, a mysterious yet intriguing land, is famous for so many things including delicious cuisines cooked with fragrant spices, relaxing teas, and beautiful historical sights. However, there is one more interesting thing about the place that travelers seem to miss - the large population of Berbers wandering around in colorful clothes.

Wondering what's so special about these people? Well, they have a rich history and fascinating culture that you will find pretty interesting. We'll tell you some pretty intriguing facts about Moroccan Berbers so you can see beyond their charismatic aura and lively Berber clothing the next time you see them.

1. They Don't Like Their Name:

Do you know that Berbers actually don't like being called this name? This moniker 'Berber' was coined by foreigners, including French, Romans, and Arabs, who first came into contact with them. It is a variation of Barbaros, which is a Greek word and means Barbarian in English. However, it wasn't seen as offensive back then like it is now.

The name was used to identify people who didn't speak the Greek language, unlike the way it is used now. Berber people of today, however, don't like this name. They want to be called 'Amazigh' for male, 'Tamazight' for female and 'Imazighen' for the plural, which basically means 'noble people' or 'free men.' It's a useful thing to know the next time you talk to a Berber; I mean Amazigh.

2. They Were in the Region Before Arabs:

You might know entire North Africa as being the Arab dominated region now, but the truth is that Amazighs were the people wandering around the land long before Arabs came in. The culture of Berber people goes back to more than 4,000 years, while Arabs came to the region in the 6th century.

The ancient states of Berbers, such as Numidia and Mauritania, predate virtually everything in the area, which also proves their existence before anyone else in North Africa.

3. They Have Several Dialects:

You think tuh·mei·tow and tuh·maa·tow from the U.S, and Britain English are confusing? Meet Berbers in Morocco who have several dialects, and some are so distinguished that they are nearly considered as different Berber languages.

However, on a general level, they have three main languages spoken in Morocco; Tashelhiyt (southwest region), Tamazight (central region), and Tarifiyt (north region). For up to 40% of the areas, the local dialect is their only language.

4. They Have Unique Wedding Traditions:

One of the most famous events in their wedding festivals is Imilchil, where local tribes gather at the High Atlas Mountains every September, according to the Lunar Calendar. There, they let the Berber men and Berber women meet and marry on the spot.

This kind of spontaneous wedding is done to pay tribute to the tragic love story of a girl and a boy from enemy tribes. According to the legend, both fell in love, but their tribes didn't approve of the marriage, so they committed suicide in the nearby lakes - Moroccan version of “Romeo and Juliet”.

5. Most of Them are Mountain People:

You might see them roaming around showing different crafts or performances in cities like Marrakech or Fez, but most of them don't live there. Berbers go to the cities to earn a living mostly through guiding tourists because of their vast knowledge about the land.

However, they reside in the mountainous regions of Morocco, where they live a self-sustaining life by farming their own food. Some of them even live a nomadic lifestyle.

Morocco Berber People and camp fire in Merzouga Paradise Luxury camp at heart of Sahara desert
Berber People

6. Their Traditions and Holidays Are Very Intriguing:

Since the majority of Berbers are Muslims, they celebrate the Islamic holidays like Ramadan, Eid al Fitr and Eid al Adha like the rest of the country. However, they have some traditions stemming from their ancient culture like Yennayer which is known as the Amazigh New Year. It is usually celebrated on 14th January with a big meal including the famous Couscous.

Do you know they have another tradition, which is basically the Berber version of Halloween? It is celebrated after Eid al Adha, where they show the encounter between evil and good. The event goes on for three days, where the participants wear creative dresses using goat skins, sheepskin, and bird feathers, etc.

7. They Weren't Treated Equally In the Past:

Berbers were considered as the second class citizens in the past; we know, it's sad. This is the same as Australian Aboriginals or the natives of other countries.

However, during the mid of the 20th century, they were recognized as equals to other cultures of Morocco. Even the Berber language is recognized as one of the official languages of Morocco.

8. They Have the Same Cuisines for Centuries:

Times change, people change, and most importantly, foods change. However, Berbers didn't lose the grip on their cultures and especially the food. Their cuisines have been the same for several centuries, mainly because they are so tasty. Some traditional recipes even spread across North Africa because of their deliciousness.Some of the main dishes that they have been hanging on to for a very long time include Couscous, Pastillas, Tajines, Bourjeje, and Tahricht.

9. Tattoos Were a Part of Their Culture:

Berbers have a history with tattoos which being an interesting part of their culture and belief system. Although the younger Berber generation doesn’t have tattoos nowadays, aged Berbers still have them.The tattoos were mostly worn by women to appear more beautiful and desirable. In the past, Berbers also used tattoos to represent their social status. Plus, they helped different Berber tribes distinguish between their people and outsiders.

The most common places for tattoos among Berbers include the face, feet, and arms, and the shapes are mostly based on geometric figures. Though it was a common belief among Berbers that a person with tattoos will be protected from magic and evil eye, there were some more values associated with them. Some of the most common tattoos that are still used today include; Berber Flag, which represents the Berber culture and a sign of belongingness. There's also a tattoo based on Olive Tree, which represents beneficent force. Lastly, a Partridge's Eye tattoo made of small diamonds with swollen ends is a symbol of beauty and is mostly worn by women.

Now the modern Berber generations have abandoned the art of tattooing. However, if you are really keen on seeing some, you can pay a visit to Berber grandmothers to have a glimpse of this dying tradition.

10. They Were Exceptional Horsemen:

Though they still ride horses on different occasions, but not as much as they once used to. Their talent for horse riding was the main asset in the battle called "Game of Gunpowder."

You might not see the same kind of horsemanship now, but if you really want to, you should attend one of their weddings. They typically perform during or at the closing of a wedding celebration.

The riders wear colorful Berber dresses, line their horses up, and move at the speed of 200 meters. They end this run after firing their weapons into the air at the same time, creating a synchronized sound.

Moroccan Berbers are beautiful people with a vast knowledge of the land, deep love and respect for their culture and an innocent heart. If you want to experience Berber life, come and join us at Sahara Sky Tours. As Morocco Berbers, we will bring you to taste authentic Berber cuisine, Berber Mint Tea and visit Nomad family at Sahara desert. You can visit our Youtube channel about Nomads in Morocco to see how they cook Berber pizza.

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