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Tuareg men in the desert
The Berbers

"They belong to a powerful, formidable, brave and numerous people; a true people like so many others the world has seen - like the Arabs, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans.

The men who belong to this family of peoples have inhabited the Maghreb since the beginning."
Ibn Khaldun, 8th century Tunisian historian.

The Berber people had a particularly interesting role to play in the Maghreb. They alternately resisted and accepted new beliefs and political regimes, and yet remained ethnically a coherent group. They are found as far south as northern Nigeria and as far north as Morocco. They range in colour from dark to fair.

Some Berbers resisted the rules and regulations of Islam; many more accepted it, while others took on the role of reformers. Some Berbers became Christians, but evolved their own austere and uncompromising Donatist doctrine. This put them in direct conflict with the Church in Alexandria, which regarded them as heretics.

Famous Berbers
Jugurtha
King of Numidia, defeated by Romans 111 BC.
The Kahina
Priestess in the 7th century. Fought the Arabs, while prophesying their eventual victory.
St. Augustine of Hippo
Saint and evangelist.
Ibn Battuta
14th century traveler, writer and historian.
Abd el Krim
1882 -1963 nationalist, chief of the Rifains Berber people of Morocco, fought Spanish.
Matoub Lounes
Musician and Berber activist killed 1998.

Listen hereListen to a Berber grinding song, recorded in Morocco

Many Berbers became the mainstay of the Arab armies, indispensable for their riding and fighting skills. Berbers were at the centre of the Almoravid movement, which began with the piety of one man, the scholar and holy man, Abdallah Ibn Yasin. The Berbers maintained their historical role of being independently minded and tenacious fighters right into the twentieth century. From their retreat in the High Atlas, they resisted the French and Spanish attempts at colonisation successfully, until 1933.

Listen hereListen to The Berbers Of North Africa, the third programme in the BBC landmark radio series The Story of Africa, presented by Hugh Quarshie