The Berbers

C. S. Coon, & E. E. Hunt in The Living Races of Man, 1966, London, Jonathan Cape, reported on a racial phenomenon of North Africa. Many anthropologists know that some Berber tribes, such as the Riffians of the Atlas Mountains, have a large number of blond headed citizens, and that they also have high percentages of red-haired people comparable to that of the Celtic people of western Europe and Ireland.

Three Berber children from Morocco, with a cute little red-head.

A Berber beauty with a wisp of red hair showing in the sun light.

(The actual color of her hair may be as described as common in the Egyptian nobility: red-brown or auburn.)


Genetic analysis among the 22 main branches of the African people shows that Y-Chromosome Haplotype Frequencies for the Berbers is significantly different from the others. The genetic distances of the Berbers from the other African people vary from 50 for Arabs, to 80 to 110 for black African tribes. Further information on the use of the genetic classification of groups of people may be found at:



From the Columbia Encyclopedia:

The Berbers are an aboriginal Caucasoid peoples of North Africa. They inhabit the lands lying between the Sahara and the Mediterranean Sea and between Egypt and the Atlantic Ocean. The Berbers form a substantial part of the populations of Libya, Algeria, and Morocco. Except for the nomadic Tuareg , the Berbers are small farmers, living under a loose tribal organization in independent villages. They have developed local industries (iron, copper, lead, pottery, weaving, and embroidery). The Berbers are Sunni Muslims, and their native languages are of the Hamitic group (see under Hamito-Semitic languages ), but most literate Berbers also speak Arabic, the language of their religion. Berber languages are spoken by about 12 million people, not all of whom are considered ethnic Berbers. Despite a history of conquests, the Berbers have retained a remarkably homogeneous culture, which, on the evidence of Egyptian tomb paintings, derives from earlier than 2400 BC. The alphabet of the only partly deciphered ancient Libyan inscriptions is close to the script still used by the Tuareg. The origins of the Berbers are uncertain, although many theories have been advanced relating them to the Canaanites, the Phoenicians, the Celts, the Basques, and the Caucasians. In classical times the Berbers formed such states as Mauretania and Numidia.

For the following lecture see:





NOVEMBER 19, 2002


I am pleased to have the opportunity of addressing you on the theme of the Berbers whose history and culture are basic components of Algerian identity.

These groups of people also referred to as Amazighs or “free men” use different dialects with identical roots and indeed different alphabets. At one time, they spread from the Atlantic Ocean to the Nile river and from the Mediterranean Sea to areas South of the Sahara. Their dialects are still prevalent in 10 countries of Africa today including 45% of Morocco’s population and about 25% of Algeria’s. 

The Greek historian Herodotus said 5 centuries B.C. that Berbers descended from the inhabitants of Troy who had sought refuge in North Africa after their city was conquered by the Greeks. 

A few centuries later the Roman historian Sallustus claimed they originated in Persia. 

Later still the Byzantine historian Procopus saw the Berbers as being Cananeans who were expelled from Palestine by the tribes of Israel after the defeat of Goliath by David.

Perhaps one should ask oneself why the Berbers should have to come from some other land rather than have originated in this region of Northern Africa where traces of their civilization are found in the form of Capsian art (from contemporary Gafsa) from the 8th to the 5th millennium B.C. This population blended, as it seems, with Cananeans who first arrived at North African shores in 3200 B.C.

Managing domination from the North, the Berbers were quick to adopt the Christian faith when it was the religion of the oppressed against Pagan Rome. But when under the Emperor Constantine, Christianity was mainstreamed, the rural Berbers undermined Roman control by supporting the dissenting views of the Donatists as a way of challenging the Christian Establishment in Rome.

This was also a way for them to express their resentment to their romanized elitist compatriots who, not unlike their forbears in Carthage, became the adjuncts of the Roman Imperium. Amongst the latter were nevertheless such brilliant natives of contemporary Algeria as St Augustin who, in the 4th century A.D. had such a deep influence on Christiandom that it is still felt to this day.

During these 6 centuries of North-South linkage, the Romans gave citizenship rights to people from North Africa, and indeed the city of Caesarea, today called Cherchell, in Algeria was the birthplace of a Berber Emperor of Rome, Macrinus in the 3rd century A.D. Latin was spoken together with Berber or Tamazight and Punic languages. But Berber was rarely the official language under any regime with the possible exception of the Numidian State.

It was thus the Berbers who provided the first translations of the New Testament from Greek into Latin and an incontrovertible interpretation of Christian dogmas.


Notes on the above lecture by Jazairy.
For more information on the Donatists see:


Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) wrote and taught in Roman north Africa. He succeeded in a masterful self-presentation that has carried heavily in the Catholic Church until today, beyond his wildest dreams.
Marcus Opellius Macrinus was born in Caesarea in Mauretania around the year 165. While it is highly conjectural that, as a young man, the future emperor was the dedicatee of Ampelius' encyclopedic Liber memoralis, Macrinus undoubtedly received a literary education that enabled him to rise high as a bureaucrat in the imperial service during the reign of the emperor Severus. Caracalla made Macrinus a praetorian prefect, an equestrian post that was second to the emperor in power. Macrinus shared the position with the experienced soldier Adventus, and the pair served Caracalla during the emperor's campaigns in the East.

Macrinus was the first emperor who was neither a senator nor of a senatorial family at the time of his accession. His 14-month reign was spent entirely in the East, where he proved unable to maintain the influence gained in the region by the campaigns of his predecessor, Caracalla, nor was Macrinus able to shake the suspicion that he was responsible for Caracalla's murder.

While Idriss Jazairy may not have everything exactly correct most of his information is exceedingly helpful to understand the origins of the Berbers. Their early arrival on the northern part of Africa subjected these people to the great environmental changes that took place in all parts of the continent. As the once fertile lands began to dry up, the people who occupied the plains and mountains of northwest Africa became virtually isolated. They remained at an early form of cultural development, hunting wild animals, herding stock, or settling to simple agriculture. The Greek called them Libyans; the Romans referred to them as Barbarians, whence the name Berbers.

Here is the origin of Petrie's comparison of the Naqada people with the Libyans. The close physiological resemblance led to his remarks.

As we see from the above illustrations, the Berber were fair skinned people, closer to Indo-European than modern Semitic people, who gathered in tribes and practiced subsistence economy, either through basic farming or transhumance herding (the movement of flocks and herds from winter and summer pastures, some up to 200 miles apart!). Anthropologists believe that loose alliances were formed between farming and herding tribes to avoid the conflict of one tribe bringing their cattle through the crops of another.

We see from the above remarks of Jazairy that the Central Shilha are 99% Muslim; however, their religious practices are heavily influenced by their Christian past. Their views are based more on their traditions and the decisions of the community rather than on the Koran. In urban areas, orthodox Islam prevails; whereas, in rural areas, ancient beliefs and customs are intermingled with their Muslim faith.