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The Berbers

The coastal regions of present-day Morocco shared in an early Neolithic culture that was common to the whole Mediterranean littoral. Archaeological remains point to the domestication of cattle and the cultivation of crops in the region during that period. Eight thousand years ago, south of the great mountain ranges in what is now the Sahara Desert, a vast savanna supported Neolithic hunters and herders whose culture flourished until the region began to desiccate as a result of climatic changes after 4000 B.C. Since the beginning of history there have been Berbers in North Africa. The Berbers entered Moroccan history toward the end of the second millennium B.C., when they made initial contact with oasis dwellers on the steppe who may have been the remnants of the earlier savanna people. The Berbers were already well established when the Phoenicians made their first incursions in 1200 BC. Their origins are uncertain but thought to be Euro-Asiatic, The generic name Berbers, was imposed on them by the Arabs meaning those who were not Arabs.

Sanhaja, Masmoda, and Zenata are the three tribes constituting the Berbers. The Sanhaja, from which sprang the Almoravide dynasty (the founders of Marrakesh) were nomads who in the 11t Century conquered the desert and much of the region to the south of it for Islam; the Masmouda were quiet farming people who lived in the north and west and in the High and Anti Atlas mountains and it was they who gave rise (from out Tin Mal , S of Marrakesh to the Almohade Dynasty which displaced the Almoravides; the Zenata a sub-group of which the - Beni Marin- swept in from the empty region between the Tafilalet and Algeria to become the great Merinide dynasty, were tough, horse-riding nomads of the cold high plateaux of the interior.

Joined to the Arabs only by Islam, the Berhers have always held themselves proudly separate in all other matters, especially in the rural and mountain areas. There is no standard form of Berber language since each tribal group has always used its own version, and there is no recognized Berber script or literature. Their strongest form of self-expression is music and dancing, which is rhythmic but with little harmony, compelling, loud and often quite intoxicating.

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