Berber people

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Berber people are the indigenous peoples of North Africa west of the Nile Valley. Historically Berbers have been variously known, for instance as Libyans by the ancient Greeks, as Numidians and Mauri by the Romans, and as Moors by medieval and early modern Europeans.



Moorish Spain[edit]

  • Christianity destroyed for us the whole harvest of ancient civilization, and later it also destroyed for us the whole harvest of Mohammedan civilization. The wonderful culture of the Moors in Spain, which was fundamentally nearer to us and appealed more to our senses and tastes than that of Rome and Greece, was trampled down (—I do not say by what sort of feet—) Why? Because it had to thank noble and manly instincts for its origin—because it said yes to life, even to the rare and refined luxuriousness of Moorish life! … The crusaders later made war on something before which it would have been more fitting for them to have grovelled in the dust -- a civilization beside which even that of our nineteenth century seems very poor and very "senile".
  • The noble Moor of Spain is anything but a pure Arab of the desert, he is half a Berber (from the Aryan family) and his veins are so full of Gothic blood that even at the present day noble inhabitants of Morocco can trace their descent back to Teutonic ancestors.
  • 'Moorish' Spain does at least have the merit of reminding us that the bulk of the invaders and settlers were Moors, i.e. Berbers from northwest Africa.
  • Who were these conquerors, who had so quickly and so completely overturned the strongest western European monarchy of their day ? It is customary to refer to these stirrings events as 'Arab' or the 'Islamic' invasion and conquest of spain. But only in a very limited sense was it either Arab or Islamic : it was mainly Berber. The Berbers were, as they still are, the indigenous inhabitants of northwest Africa, the Maghrib.
  • The Andalusians themselves were of varied origins. The numerically tiny Arab elite had intermarried with other people, including local Iberians, ever since they arrived. Berbers were still the most numerous of the conquerors, while the Jewish community was also large and influential. The descendants of African and European slaves were fully integrated; but the most numerous Muslim community stemmed from local Iberians. By the 11th century these had fused together to form y new Andalusian people.
  • For a century, the Arabs tribes gave Islam the first of these victories. Then the rough mountain peoples of North Africa, the Berbers, helped it to conquer Spain and organize Fatimid Egypt.
  • In one sense the word 'Moor' means the Mohammedan Berbers and Arabs of north-western Africa, with some Syrians, who conquered most of Spain in the eighth century and dominated the country for hundreds of years, leaving behind some magnificent examples of their architecture as a lasting memorial of their presence. These so-called 'Moors' were far in advance of any of the peoples of northern Europe at that time, not only in architecture but also in literature, science, technology, industry, and agriculture; and their civilization had a permanent influence on Spain. They were Europids, unhybridized with members of any other race. The Berbers were (and are) Mediterranids, probably with some admixture from the Micromanaged sub race of ancient times. The Arabs were Oriental-ids, the Syrians probably of mixed Orientalid and Armenian stock.
    • John Baker, Race, Oxford University Press, 1974, p. 226
  • These Moors cultivated the sciences with success, and taught Spain and Italy for five centuries.
    • Voltaire, A Philosophical Dictionary, J. and H. L. Hunt, 1843, p. 172
  • It was, however, from Spain, and not from Arabia, that a knowledge of eastern mathematics first came into western Europe. The Moors had established their rules in Spain in 747, and by the tenth or eleven century had attained a high degree of civilisation.
    • W. W. Rouse Ball, A Short Account of the History of Mathematics (1888), Courier Dover, 1960, p. 164
  • Our obligations to the Spanish Moors in the arts of life are even more marked than in the higher branches of sciences.
    • John William Draper, A History of the Intellectual Development of Europe, Harper & brothers, 1863, p. 356
  • I want to see the gardens and palace of the Alcazar where the Moorish Kings used to live. It is as perfect an architecture as the Egyptian, Greek or Gothic and just as beautiful, maybe more beautiful and it is well built for it looks as new as if it had just been done. We have to thanks these Moors for our greatest sciences, they did the big work for us, they started them, Algebra, Chemistry, Astronomy. They are our masters.
    • Thomas Eakins, in Vistas de España, Mary Elizabeth Boone, Yale University Press, 2007, p. 77
  • Many of the traits on which modern Europe prides itself came to it from Muslim Spain. Diplomacy, free trade, open borders, the techniques of academic research, of anthropology, etiquette, fashion, various types of medicine, hospitals, all came from this great city of cities. Medieval Islam was a religion of remarkable tolerance for its time, allowing Jews and Christians the right to practise their inherited beliefs, and setting an example which was not, unfortunately, copied for many centuries in the West. The surprise (...) is the extent to which Islam has been a part of Europe for so long, first in Spain, then in the Balkans, and the extent to which it has contributed so much towards the civilisation which we all too often think of, wrongly, as entirely Western. Islam is part of our past and our present, in all fields of human endeavour. It has helped to create modern Europe. It is part of our own inheritance, not a thing apart.


  • Africa north of the Sahara, from a zoological point of view, is now, and has been since early Tertiary times, a part of Europe. This is true both of animals and of the races of man.The Berbers of north Africa to-day are racially identical with the Spaniards and south Italians.
    • Madison Grant, The Passing of the Great Race, Scribner's sons, 1916, p. 137
  • In north Africa there are large areas with a predominantly Mediterranean population : the whole of the northern edge from Egypt to Morocco, and beyond Morocco a tract along the coast southwards and reaching over to the north-west African islands. The Spaniards have always been astonished at the likeness of their Berber foes in Morocco with themselves. In all these regions of north-west Africa, however, there are found also Oriental, Negro, and (especially, it would seem, in Algeria and Morocco) Hither Asiatic strains. Among the Berbers, particularly the Kabyles in the Riff and in the Aures range, a Nordic strain shows itself clearly, and in the Canary Islands there seems to be a strain of the Cro-magnon race.
  • The Berbers, among whom even today one finds light skins and blue eyes, do not go back to the Vandal invasions of the fifth century A.D., but to the prehistoric Atlantic Nordic human wave. The Kabyle huntsmen, for example, are to no small degree still wholly Nordic (thus the blond Berbers in the region of Constantine form 10 % of the population; at Djebel Sheshor they are even more numerous).
  • Part of my time had been passed of what is called "La Grande Kabylie", that portion of the province of Algiers which is inhabited by he Kabyles, the most direct descendants of the Ancient Libyans. They are strange people these Kabyles, both in customs and physical aspects. Native of Africa time out of mind, many of them present the purest type of the blonde races, blue or gray eyes, tawny beard, fair complexion, curly light or reddish hair, muscular in build and often tall in stature. When I came to look at the many evidently portraits busts on the tombs of the ancient Etruscans, there was something in the features, in the shape of head and face, which reminded me of these Kabyles.
    • Daniel Garrison Brinton, The Ethnologic affinities of the Ancient Etruscans, Proceedings, American Philosophical Society, vol. 26, 1889, p. 504
  • Of the Berbers there is much good to be said. Whether in the olive-clad mountains of Kabylia or the terraced valleys of their Aurasian fastnesses, they are white men, and in general act like white men. Among them the virtues of honesty, hospitality, and good-nature are conspicuous. It is not their misfortune alone that the lowlands know them no more ; not their misfortune only that Mohammedanism has debarred them from entering as they would otherwise have entered on the path of European progress and liberality : it is the misfortune of the whole civilised world. Descendants of a mighty race whose culture once spread from the Atlantic to the Red Sea and the Hauran, from Crete to Timbuctoo and the Soudan, there are still to be found among them the vestiges of the arts and sciences, of the spirit of conquest, of the capacity for self-government which, if developed, would make them again a great nation.
  • [About the Chawias in the Aures]. A very large proportion of fair (sometimes golden) hair, blue eyes, and complexions, especially in the case of young children, who lack the tan produced by years of exposure to the fierce heat of the summer sun, often paler than our own, were the physical characteristics which at once arrested our attention, while their strange Berber tongue, akin to that spoken by the Kabyles in the North, bore no resemblance to the Arabic of the nomads and of the oasis of the Sahara.
  • Berbers are undoubtedly the descendants of the races known to the Greeks and Romans under the generic name of Libyans. The Kabyles of the hills between Algiers and Bougie, and the Shawia of the Aures Mountains are very similar to one another and may be taken as typical Berbers. They are distinctly white-skinned, even when sunburned. Usually they have black hair and brown or hazel eyes, some have yellow hair and blue eyes. In the royal necropolis of Thebes of about 1300 B.C., certain Libyans are depicted as having a white skin, blue eyes and fair beards. Blonds are represented on Egyptian monuments from 1700 B.C. and were noted by the Greeks in the fourth century B.C. In the east the blonds have quite died out, but there are patches of this race in the west of North Africa. This fair race still remain an unsolved problem. Some students bring them from Spain, other authors from Italy, others again from the east. Perhaps they were a sporadic invasions and formed an aristocratic class. One suggestion is that they were Proto-Nordics who formed a part of the various groups of Asiatics who raided Egypt about 1300 B.C. and moved westwards.
    • Alfred Cort Haddon, The Races of Man and Their Distribution (1924), University Press, 1924, p. 36
  • Like all other Berbers, the Riffians include standard Mediterraneans in their tribal populations. Among these Mediterraneans the incidence of elements of blond hair and blue eyes is a bit higher than the usual twenty-five percent. I attribute the slight excess to several factors : isolation in a cloudy and cool mountain habitat and mixture with an older strain. Concentrated in the more isolated tribes in the central Rif, the older strain is characterized by individuals of stocky build, with large heads, broad faces, low orbits, large teeth, and broad noses. While variable in pigmentation, these individuals, who look like Irishmen, run to red hair, green eyes, and freckles. They cannot be explained by any historical invasion of North Africa, real or fancied; the bones of their preagricultural ancestors have been excavated from North African soil in sufficient quantity to confim the local antiquity of the genes which produces them. A broad head, a wide face, a snub nose, freckles, and other individual traits derived from this racial combination may be seen in other Riffians and in other Berber populations. Green eyes, for example, are common among the Middle Atlas Beraber (as anyone who was with the Goums in the last war may remember). Fair hair has been recorded from the Kabyles in Algeria, but actual statistical work shows them to be almost entirely Mediterranean with only a slight excess of blondism.
    • Carleton S. Coon, Caravan - The Story of Middle East: The Story of Middle East (1951), Read Books, 2007, p. 163
  • The third discrete racial element in Africa is the Caucasoid, which, as indicated earlier, first entered the continent in massive invasions about 15,000 years ago, certainly from Western Asia and possibly also from Europe. The descendants of those invaders who are still fully or essentially Caucasoid are the Berbers.
    • Carleton S. Coon, The Living Races of Man, New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1965, p. 115
  • After having achieved this immense work, an important scientific conclusion remains to be drawn: the anthropological study and the microscopic analysis of hair, carried out by four laboratories: Judiciary Medecine (Professor Ceccaldi), Société L'Oréal, Atomic Energy Commission, and Institut Textile de France showed that Ramses II was a 'leucoderm', that is a fair-skinned man, near to the Prehistoric and Antiquity Mediterraneans, or briefly, of the Berbers of Africa.
    • Christiane Desroches Noblecourt, Colette Roubet, Lionel Balout, La Momie de Ramsès II: Contribution Scientifique à l'Égyptologie, Paris, Rech. sur les Civilisations, 1985, p. 383
  • Again, there is the problem of distinguishing between the hypothesis that Berbers originate from and admixture of North Africans with Europeans (and also with people from the Middle East), and a second one that Berbers are direct descendants of the North Africans, a fraction of whom settled Europe. The two hypotheses are not mutually exclusive and might both be true
  • The Berber populations nearer the Mediterranean coast were probably Caucasoids. There is little doubt that they came from the Middle East, and they have occupied the region since the Neolithic or even earlier. Experienced sailors like other Neolithic peoples, they colonized the Canary Islands. When the Spaniards conquered these islands in the fifteenth century, they found a distinct population with some blond-haired and blue-eyed people -traits that are still evident among some Berbers in Morocco. They spoke Guanche, an Afroasiatic Berber language. By the time the Spanish arrived, they had lost the ability to sail.


  • The genetic proximity observed between the Berbers and southern Europeans reveals that these groups shared a common ancestor. Two hypotheses are discussed: one would date these common origins in the Upper Paleolithic with the expansion of anatomically modern humans, from the Near East to both shores of the Mediterranean Sea; the other supports the Near Eastern origin, but would rather date it from the Neolithic, around 10,000 years ago (Ammerman & Cavalli-Sforza 1973; Barbujani et al. 1994; Myles et al. 2005; Rando et al. 1998). Common polymorphisms (i.e. those defining H and V lineages) between Berbers and south Europeans also could have been introduced or supported by genetic flows through the Straits of Gibraltar. For example, genetic exchanges could have taken place during prehistory, while European populations retreated from ice sheets and expanded from refuge, around 15,000 years ago (as evidenced by the H and U5b mitochondrial lineages). Alternatively, these exchanges could have occurred during history, with the invasion and the occupation during nearly seven centuries (from the 8th to the 15th century) of the Iberian Peninsula by Almoravide then Almohade Muslim Berber troops
  • We analyzed Y chromosome haplotypes, which provide the necessary phylogeographic resolution, in 1140 males from the Iberian Peninsula and Balearic Islands. Admixture analysis based on binary and Y-STR haplotypes indicates a high mean proportion of ancestry from North African (10.6%) (...) with wide geographical variation, ranging from zero in Gascony to 21.7% in Northwest Castile. (...) Some mtDNA studies find evidence of the characteristic North African haplogroup U6 within the Iberian Peninsula. Although the overall absolute frequency of U6 is low (2.4%), this signals a possible current North African ancestry proportion of 8%–9%, because U6 is not a common lineage in North Africa itself. (...) This might suggest that initial admixture involved movement of approximately equal numbers of males and females. (...) Immigration events from the Middle East and North Africa over the last two millennia, followed by introgression driven by religious conversion and intermarriage, seem likely to have contributed a substantial proportion of the patrilineal ancestry of modern populations of Spain, Portugal, and the Balearic Islands.
  • The genetic contribution of Greek chromosomes to the Sicilian gene pool is estimated to be about 37% whereas the contribution of North African populations is estimated to be around 6%. (...) The co-occurrence of the Berber E3b1b-M81 (2.12%) and of the Mid-Eastern J1-M267 (3.81%) Hgs together with the presence of E3b1a1-V12, E3b1a3-V22, E3b1a4-V65 (5.5%) support the hypothesis of intrusion of North African genes. (...) These Hgs are common in northern Africa and are observed only in Mediterranean Europe and together the presence of the E3b1b-M81 highlights the genetic relationships between northern Africa and Sicily. (...) Hg E3b1b-M81 network cluster confirms the genetic affinity between Sicily and North Africa.
  • The presence of chromosomes of North African origin (E3b1b-M81; Cruciani et al., 2004) [in Rio de Janeiro] can also be explained by a Portuguese-mediated influx, since this haplogroup reaches a frequency of 5.6% in Portugal (Beleza et al., 2006), quite similar to the frequency found in Rio de Janeiro (5.4%) among European contributors.

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