The Berbers or Amazighs (Berber: ⵉⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖⵏ ''Imaziɣen''/imazighen/, singular: ⴰⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖ ''Amaziɣ''/Amazigh) are an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa. They are distributed in an area stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Siwa Oasis in Egypt, and from the Mediterranean Sea to the Niger River. Historically, they spoke Berber languages, which together form the Berber branch of the Afro-Asiatic family. Since the Muslim conquest of North Africa in the seventh century, a large number of Berbers inhabiting the Maghreb have acquired different degrees of knowledge of varieties of Maghrebi Arabic. After the colonization of North Africa by France, "...the French government succeeded in integrating the French language in Algeria by making French the official national language and requiring all education to take place in French.". Other foreign languages, mainly French and to some degree Spanish, inherited from former European colonial powers, are used by most educated Berbers in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia in some formal contexts, such as higher education or business.
Today, most Berber people live in Northern African countries, such as Algeria and Morocco; a small Berber population is also found in Niger, Mali, Libya, Mauritania, Tunisia,〔Mughal, Muhammad Aurang Zeb. 2012. Tunisia. Steven Danver (ed.), ''Native Peoples of the World: An Encyclopedia of Groups, Cultures, and Contemporary Issues'', Vol. 3. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, pp. 688–689.〕 Burkina Faso and Egypt, as well as large immigrant communities living in France, Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands and other countries of Europe.〔(Morocco's Berbers Battle to Keep From Losing Their Culture ). San Francisco Chronicle. March 16, 2001.〕〔(Berbers: The Proud Raiders ). BBC World Service.〕
The Berber identity is usually wider than language and ethnicity, and encompasses the entire history and geography of North Africa. Berbers are not an entirely homogeneous ethnicity and they encompass a range of phenotypes, societies and ancestries. The unifying forces for the Berber people may be their shared language, belonging to the Berber homeland, or a collective identification with the Berber heritage and history.
There are some twenty-five to thirty million Berber speakers in North Africa. The number of ethnic Berbers (including non-Berber speakers) is far greater, as a large part of the Berbers have acquired other languages over the course of many decades or centuries, and no longer speak Berber today.
Berbers call themselves some variant of the word i-Mazigh-en (''singular:'' a-Mazigh), possibly meaning "free people" or "noble men".〔 The name likely had its ancient parallel in the Roman and Greek names for Berbers, "Mazices".
Some of the best known of the ancient Berbers are the Numidian king Masinissa, king Jugurtha, the Berber-Roman author Apuleius, Saint Augustine of Hippo, and the Berber-Roman general Lusius Quietus, who was instrumental in defeating the major wave of Jewish revolts of 115–117. Dihya or Kahina was a female Berber religious and military leader who led a fierce Berber resistance against the Arab-Muslim expansion in North-West Africa. Kusaila was a seventh-century leader of the Awraba tribe of the Berber people and head of the Sanhadja confederation.
Famous Berbers of the Middle Ages include Yusuf ibn Tashfin, king of the Berber Almoravid empire; Tariq ibn Ziyad the general who conquered Hispania; Abbas Ibn Firnas, a prolific inventor and early pioneer in aviation; Ibn Battuta, a medieval explorer who traveled the longest known distances in antiquity; and Estevanico, an early explorer of the Americas. Well-known modern Berbers in Europe include Zinedine Zidane, a French-born international football star of Algerian Kabyle descent, Loreen the Swedish-born winner of Eurovision 2012 and Ibrahim Afellay, a Dutch-born football player of Moroccan Riffian descent.
The name ''Berber'' derives from the Latin ''barbarus''.〔Its ultimate etymological identity with ''barbarian'' is uncertain, but the Arabic word has clearly been treated as identical with Latin ''barbaria'', Byzantine Greek βαρβαρία "land of barbarians" since the Middle Ages.〕
A history by a Roman consul in Africa made the first reference of the term "barbarian" to describe Numidia.〔(【引用サイトリンク】title=Untitled Document )〕
The use of the term ''Berber'' spread in the period following the arrival of the Vandals during their major invasions.
Muslim historians, some time after, also mentioned the Berbers.〔Ibn Khaldoun, ''Histoire des Berbères et des dynasties musulmanes de l'Afrique septentrionale''〕
The English term was introduced in the 19th century, replacing the earlier ''Barbary''.
The Berbers are the ''Mauri'' cited by the ''Chronicle of 754'' during the Umayyad conquest of Hispania, to become since the 11th century the catch-all term ''Moros'' (in Spanish; ''Moors'' in English) on the charters and chronicles of the expanding Christian Iberian kingdoms to refer to the Andalusi, the north Africans, and the Muslims overall.
For the historian Abraham Isaac Laredo the name Amazigh could be derived from the name of the ancestor Mezeg which is the translation of biblical ancestor Dedan son of Sheba in the ''Targum''. According to Leo Africanus, ''Amazigh'' meant "free man", though this has been disputed, because there is no root of M-Z-Gh meaning "free" in modern Berber languages. This dispute, however, is based on a lack of understanding of the Tamazight language as "Am-" is a prefix meaning "a man/one who is-." Therefore, the root required to verify this endonym would be "(a)zigh", free, this however is also missing from Tamazight's lexicon, but may be related to the well attested "aze" strong, "Tizzit" bravery, or "jeghegh" to be brave/courageous. The latter might also be related to the Arabic "Jahada" to wage war/apply ones self to.〔(【引用サイトリンク】title=Online Etymology Dictionary )〕
Further, it also has a cognate in the Tuareg word "Amajegh", meaning "noble". This term is common in Morocco, especially among Central Atlas, Rifian and Shilah speakers in 1980, but elsewhere within the Berber homeland sometimes a local, more particular term, such as Kabyle (Kabyle comes from Arabic: tribal confederation) or Chaoui, is more often used instead in Algeria.
The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines mentioned various tribes with similar names living in Greater "Libya" (North Africa) in the areas where Berbers were later found. Later tribal names differ from the classical sources, but are probably still related to the modern ''Amazigh''. The Meshwesh tribe among them represents the first thus identified from the field. Scholars believe it would be the same tribe called a few centuries afterwards in Greek as Mazyes by Hektaios and as Maxyes by Herodotus, while it was called after that "Mazaces" and "Mazax" in Latin sources, and related to the later Massylii and Masaesyli. All those names are similar and perhaps foreign renditions of the name used by the Berbers in general for themselves, ''Imazighen''.
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