Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Morocco: Disappearing the Amazigh

So it looks like the Moroccans are at it again. Instead of just letting people be who they are, the government is still going on about their naming laws. In other words, if you want to give your child an Amazigh (Berber) name, tough luck. Moroccan human rights groups recently proposed a list of Amazigh names be added to Morocco’s approved list of names, however, the proposal was quickly struck down. Alarabiya reports:

The Moroccan civil registry recently rejected 13 Berber names after receiving a list from the Ministry of Interior with specific Berber names considered in violation of law 99-37 that determines names fit for males and females.

Now, realistically, it’s a much smaller percentage of Moroccans who would choose to do so, but the fact of the matter is, Amazigh people are the true Moroccan natives. They are spread throughout the country and beyond. They are urban and rural. And the Moroccan government is trying to tell them that, by naming their child an Amazigh name, they are giving them a name which is “contrary to Moroccan identity.”

What exactly, then, is Moroccan identity? Is it Arab identity? The official language of Morocco certainly is Arabic (although it could be argued that what is actually spoken on the streets is only a distant cousin). Still, it is estimated that 23 of Morocco’s 30+ million people speak one of three Amazigh dialects. And according to sociologist and writer Mohammed Chafik, up to 80% of Moroccans are of Amazigh ethnicity.


The flag of the Amazigh people

In neighboring Algeria, where the number of people speaking a Berber dialect is significantly lower (at about 29%), Berber is actually considered a “national language” (though not an official one). Now, I’m not 100% sure, but it seems that in Algeria, there is more naming freedom; either Amazigh names are on the “approved” list, or the law has been done away with entirely. In Morocco, however, you must select a name from a list of (entirely Muslim) names which reflect “Moroccan identity.”

Oddly enough, in the past few years, trendy new names have been cropping up in Morocco; names popular in the Levant, such as “Rime,” or popular in Iran, such as “Nasreen,” have made their way into the Moroccan identity. But try to name your daughter Numidia, and all hell breaks loose.

When will Morocco realize that Amazigh are part of their national identity? Once the languages have died off (another contentious issue is the teaching of Tashelheit, Tamazight, and Tarifit)? Once there are no more Tanasts, Shadens, or Numidias? Once all Amazigh political parties have been banned for good? Or will the history of the Amazigh simply be erased?

27 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for bring attention to this subject. It’s a subject my husband is very passionate about. My husband is from Morocco and is 100% Berber. He speaks and writes Tashelheit. In fact, my husband and his one brother are the only ones in his entire family to marry outside the Berber tribe.

    I will tell you this; my husband’s brother was able to give his son a Berber name. However, it was VERY DIFFICULT. He had to fight like hell to get it approved by the Moroccan government. It’s definitely frowned upon.

    My in-laws are very passionate people and value their Berber heritage. They are from the southeast part of Morocco. Within the family, they only speak Berber. Outside the family they will speak Arabic, French and a little English. I have done a great deal of research on the Berbers. They are fascinating people. I try to explain to people that are unfamiliar with Berbers that Berbers in Morocco are what Native Americans are in the United States. Both are the original people and both are kept in the shadow of life as if they don’t matter.

    I don’t think its right for the Moroccan government to dictate what name a child must be given. After all, the King of Morocco has Berber in him. In my husband’s home town, they have a lot of demonstrations in hopes to basically free the Berbers from the government. Berbers are all about being “free”. They want what any of us want. To be free to speak, worship and live out there life in whatever way they see fit.

    Well obviously this is a subject I could go on and on. I will spare your readers. Again, thank you so much for bringing attention to the indigenous people of Morocco.

  2. It’s a complete disgrace. The government is playing with fire on this. They are stupid but the extent of backwardness is just un-measurable. “National identity,” a weird notion: let’s talk about it; let’s assume there’s such a thing as “national identity”; if we acknowledge the fact that Amazighs are the original inhabitants of the country, it is them who are the closest to achieving the “purest” form of genuine Moroccan identity…
    It’s just absurd. I never believed in such a thing as standard identity for any given country. This rubbish is reminiscent of fascism and sounds very racist to me.
    Amazighs should be given every right to give the name of their choosing to their children and the impotent Moroccan government, has no mandate whatsoever to dictate anything to anybody.
    Thank you for bringing this matter to light!

  3. hi, nicole

    thank you for your comment.

    I just want to correct you on your comparison of the amazigh people to the native americans.

    indeed imazighen are the native people of north africa, and so are the so called arabs !
    genetic evidence proves that there is no difference between amazigh and “arab” north africans.
    the demographic displacement never took place in north africa,the arabization that followed the islamization is a cultural phenomenon with a very limited gene contribution.

    so, the rulers of morocco are arabized amazigh who use the religion (islam) as a tool of domination.

    regards

    • Dalouh,

      It is a complete falsehood, what you have stated in your reaction: that there is no genetic difference between Arabs and Imazighan.

      The Arab rulers of today, who claim that they are Arabs are most likely arabized Imazighan with perhaps Arab ancestery, but there is surely no genetical evidence, which proofs that Imazighan and Arabs are identical.
      Recent study shows that remains of Imazighan (Numidian) skeletons found near Ancient Carthage (Tunis) are in no way linked to Arabs from the Arabian peninsula (where the original Arabs of the Maghreb descend from).

      And demographic displacement comes in many forms, like in the 60’s and 70’s. When the government send all young Riffian men (Imazighan of North Morocco) to work abroad . Or creating poor economic conditions and a very harsh political enviroment so that Riffians are forced to live in exile. And what about the dictorial rule of the late king Hassan II, who forbid the teaching of Amazigh language, who showed no mercy for any polital Amazigh movement, who totally ignored and punished all Riffians for showing little resistance.

      You are right, the Native Americans are in no way to be compared with Imazighan of Morrocco. The Native Americans at least got compensated with all kinds of privilege, WE got shit!

  4. Hi Dalouh,

    I’m a little confused as to what you are getting at. Are you saying that there were Arab People in North Africa before “Ealfoutouhat Alislamya” (Muslim Arabs who came from the Middle East and went into North Africa to spread the religion of Islam)?

    I’m basing my information on what I have personally researched and what my husband, who is Berber, has told me. If you go back and look at exactly what I wrote, I said “I try to explain to people that are unfamiliar with Berbers that Berbers in Morocco are what Native Americans are in the United States. Both are the original people and both are kept in the shadow of life as if they don’t matter”

    Berber people have mixed with Arab people since the spread of Islam occurred just as Native Americans have mixed with the Europeans when the European colonization occurred. Berbers were forced to convert to Isalm and forced out of their land. To this day in Morocco, you will find most of the Berbers living in the desert or in the mountains because of this. Nativer Americans were killed for their land and forced into laws that they didn’t agree with. In the United States, Native Americans have had to fight for their tribes resulting in their own identiy and freedoms. Berbers haven’t won anything. They still continue to fight for their rights. The new king in Morocco has improved things for Berbers but not 100%. Berbers are still looked down on as if they are uneducated low life people. Many Berbers have lost their own identiy by not speaking the language and continuing their way of life.

    Typically when we use the word Arab, we are referring to people of Middle Eastern decent. When I say Arab People, I’m not referring to Islam because Arab people existed before Islam did. Maybe I should have been clear on that when I initially spoke. So what I am saying is that Berber people are in fact the original people of North Africa, specifically Morocco. Maybe Arabs did live in North Africa but they definitely didn’t live in Morocco. All we can do is research to the best of our ability because there isn’t one single person on earth who can give 100% testament to what really existed or did happen.

    I by no means wish to create an argument or offend anybody by what I have said. The most important thing in all this is that Jillian has raised awareness for those who didn’t know anything about it. For this, I am thankful. I’m Caucasian from European decent. I haven’t had to fight my way into society (USA) like the Native Americans, Latino’s, African Americans and recently the Arab community. I can’t begin to know what it’s like to wake up and not be able to live my life the way I see fit because of the color of my skin, land I come from or religion I practice.

    The only thing that I know is we are all one. We are all in this together and we must speak up for those who can’t and stand up for what is right.

    Berber: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berber_peoples\

    Arab: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab

    North Africa: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Africa

  5. My understanding of what Dalouh said is that the number of Arabs who came to the Maghreb was not enough to genetically overtake the Amazigh; in other words, the Maghreb is still wholly Amazigh, with very little actual Arab blood mixed in.

    Does that sound right?

    • That is very true actually!

      I’m an Amazigh from Morocco.

      The comparison between the native Indians and the Amazigh people is not correct. It are genetically Amazigh who run Morocco, Algeria, Tunesia and even Libya. But either claim to be Arabs or try to connect with the Arab world. The countries have been, especially after the colonization, Arabized linguistically, not even culturally!

      Morocco for 50%
      Algeria 65%
      Libya 80%
      Tunisia 95%

  6. Yes it does…The majority are berbers but more and more speak nowadays Arabic due the Makhzen policy that has been going on for so long !!!
    P.S: I’ve just discovered this blog and I love it…

  7. yes, you got it right jillian !

    we are fighting a foreign ideology (arabo- islamism)

    this ideology acts and operates as some sort of body-snatchers !

    to understand that , just look to what happened to the great civilization of egypt ! is there today any egyptian identity left ?

    arabization follows islamization in no time, because arabism (or arab supremacy) is embedded in the religion itself !
    historically, this process as one can guess, benefit the ever expanding “arab nation”, and you can tell today by observing the ongoing conflict in the middleast .
    or by wondering why the muslim masses were muted about the darfur genocide (arab regime and janjawid killing black muslims), and yet, they go insane about some stupid danish cartoons !

    this is what we are up against !
    and not to mention the political support that our ‘arab’ regimes in north africa are enjoying from the EU and other western nations.

    genetics:

    http://www.dnatribes.com/sample-results/dnatribes-sample-moroccan-berber.pdf

    http://www.wafin.com/genes.pdf

    this abstract tells it all:

    Haplotype frequencies in Moroccan Arabs, north-central Moroccan Berbers, southern Moroccan Berbers, and Saharawis are given in table 1. Haplotype-frequency differences among those populations were tested via AMOVA. Only 0.8% of the genetic variance was found to be due to haplotype-frequency differences among the populations (statistically not significantly different from 0; P=.169). H38, which, according to Underhill et al. (2000), belongs to haplotype group III, is the most common haplotype in NW Africa (64%), with its highest frequencies found within the Saharawis (76%). H71, which belongs to group VI, is the second-most-frequent haplotype (11%) in this area. Other haplotypes, found at lower frequencies, are H22 and H35 (6% each) and H36 (5%), all belonging to group III. The remaining haplotypes, which jointly represent 8% of the NW African Y chromosomes, are found at frequencies of <3%. The genetic homogeneity of NW African Y chromosomes points to a common origin, for all populations analyzed, independent of ethnicity or language (Arab or Berber). These data support the interpretation of the Arabization and Islamization of NW Africa, starting during the 7th century a.d., as cultural phenomena without extensive genetic replacement.

    http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1275654

    this sounds really weird , when you hear the leaders of polisario brag about their ‘imaginary’ yemeni decent !

    (sorry for the length of my response !)

    regards

  8. Hi Dalouh,

    Thank you for clarifying what you meant. I completely misunderstood you. It makes complete sense now. I’m sorry if I came across rude. Thank you for the detailed information. It’s very interesting.

    Best of wishes!

  9. you welcome nicole

    no need for apology ! (my english is partly responsible for the confusion ha ha ha !)

    regards

  10. Jillian Yourk,
    Qorting Hisham, “thank you for bringing this to light”. It is a really steep walk for the Amazigh people who just want give meaningful manes to their kids. I know people who had to change manes from, for instace, Titrit to Nejma which mean the same thing. The gov supports Arabic translation. And it is just horrendous to accept names like “Talia” used from ages of “enough girls, o God!” and refuse names like Numidia who is still waiting for approval still now in her early teens. It is so bad, to say the least, that our government still follows these rules and recreates them. The infamous list the ministry of interiors reproduces is very ignorant and racist.
    Any way, thank you again, Jilian.
    @Dalouh, great notes, thank you.
    @Hisham, long time..

  11. One thing to say,is that many Moroccans still don`t know their identity,it`s so bad.
    99% of Moroccan are Imazighan !
    the rest are Jews and Christian.
    Theroyal family are not 100% Arabs ?
    The Fassi families are originally Jews ?
    There`re too much to say, Those,they got the power now under thename of Islam,but they are not really muslim. I did live with some of those families.no fasting, drinking,smokin even women,they say they don`t need to go to MEKKA (pelgrimage) ?
    Why they prevent Amazighan names?
    Why they forced people to learn only in Classical Arabic ?
    Why they don`t build roads,hospitals,companies and so on …. in the countrysides,where Berber people live ? it`s a way to force people to move to the cities and learn Arabic if they want also a job ? Arabic Zionist ideas ?
    To Nicole,and others, IN MOROCCO WE SPEAK MOROCCAN ,not Arabic .Moroccan language is a mix of ( 80 % Spanish,French,Italian and Amazigh) and 20 % Arabic. there`re some words.
    SABAT,SANDALA,COUSINA,CONTINA,SHORTS,TOILET,CABINA…….
    THE TRUTH IS CLEAR ,BUT IT`S JUST THE POLITICS POWER ? TILL WHEN ?
    I`M SURE AND CERTAIN A BIG MEMORIAL HISTORY WILL HAPPEN !
    THE TIME WILL TELL

  12. AZUL / HI
    Please sign the petition against the imposition of non Amazigh first
    names in North Africa. To do so, please use the link below:
    http://www.amazighworld.org/human_rights/index_show.php?id=1783
    THANAMERTH / THANK’S FOR UR SUPPORT

  13. Syfax,

    Let me explain to you as to why I compared the Native Americans to Berbers. The average American doesn’t know what or who the Berbers are. If I say, “My husband is Berber”, the only thought that will come to their mind is Berber carpet. I’m not trying to make fun. I’m being very honest.

    I explain to them that the Berbers are like the Native Americans meaning native to the land. Native Americans were forced from their land just as the Berbers were. By using this comparison, it makes it easier for the average American to understand. I wasn’t trying to say they are identical. I never meant to offend anybody. My husband is a very proud Berber. I have learned a great deal from him and his family. He would tell me horror stories of how the Berbers were treated (especially under the old king). My husband only spoke his native language Tashelhiyt until he was about 6 years old. He learned the Moroccan dialect in school but doesn’t normally speak it within the family circle.

  14. BUT THIS SHOULDN4T MAKE US HATE ARABS MOST OF MAHREBIN PEOPLE ARE AMAZIGH GOVERNMENT ARE TRYING TO DELET THIS NATIVE ORIGIN OF MOROCCO AND MAKE US ARABS

  15. There IS a very big difference between arab-moroccans (like myself) and the berbers so please stop acting like its all the same peopl for once. The arabs brought islam to Morocco and other north african countries so ofcourse they want it to stay that way.

    Why name your child something like earth or wind or some other stupid name, its like if I want to name my newborn Adolf Hitler. They also would probably not let me do that.

    A modern study however shows a clear genetic difference between “Berbers” (defined as the Berber speaking population) and “Arabs” (defined as the Arabic speaking population in North Africa), these latter subjects “probably correspond to a heterogeneous group representing various ethnicities” [2].

    source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arabized_Berber

    • This comment is from Inas. He accidentally emailed it to me but gave me permission to correctly post it:

      “hi jaouad
      if a humain wants to name he’s chil earth or bird it’s he’s job it’s he’s HUMAIN RIGHT
      we shouldn’t say no the not allowed names are not these earth or sky it’s like “sifaou” wich is the equivalent of “nour ” ………..
      i dont hate arabs i’ve never said that befor our prophet is an arab dont forget this the coran is in arabic
      you should notic that am not an amazigh too i am andalouss purly andallouss wich is mean spanish origin so why the moroccan authorities let my parents name me inez wich is a spanish name why they leave people name maria and other names ITS SO CLEAR THE PROBLEM IS NOT ADOLF HITLER OR SKY EARTH IT4S A POLITICAL PROBLEM

      IF AN AMAZIGH WANTS TO NAME HES CHILD EARTH IT4S HE4S RIGHT IT’s theire culture
      dont u forget that amazigh are the majority in morocco “

  16. wish you and your family all the best nicole
    from a berber in the uk

  17. Morocco is an Arab and a Muslim country. Berber who wants to have berber names are not Muslims, because if they were true Muslims they would not bother with the name, since Arab names are Muslim names. We don’t want berbers who are not Muslims because they would be different and they would cause war in Morocco. We need to be one people so we won’t have wars, like what happened in lebanon. We need to merge together to become one people and one nation.

    • Ahmed,

      How about those million Turkic Muslims?

      Hakan,
      Ghokan,
      Ugur,
      Djengiz,
      Barrish,
      Etc..

      Are they not Muslims is general?

      All names are Islamic. Even in English or Hebrew a name is Islamic if it has a meaning not contra to Islam. A Muslim just cant call his child “Abider of the rock” or Abider of the sun” like in pre-Islamic times! Thats it!!

      The rest is Arabic imperialism!

  18. The majority of Moroccans are Arabs. The berbers are a small minority that is why the Arabs could invade them. If the berbers were a majority they would’ve blocked the Arabs from invading. I am Arab Moroccan and proud to be and those who want to be different they can leave Morocco. They can go to Europe.

  19. To Ahmed,

    WOW you really are an ignorant and prejudice person. The Amazigh people deserve to be respected and given the freedom of choice. They are the backbone of Morocco. Why don’t you go to Saudi Arabia if you feel threaten by the Amazigh people? See, you probably didn’t like that comment. How does that feel to have someone say that? Well I can’t imagine your comment making a Berber feel good either. Why must the indigenous people of North Africa leave their home when it is their heritage? I really don’t understand your way of thinking. This world has bigger problems to deal with then your close minded comments. At the end of the day, should it really matter what name a child is given? Don’t you think there are more important things to worry about such as people starving, human trafficking, etc? Innocent people are dying all over the world in the name of religion or greed because of people who think just like you. You as an individual are the problem not the Berbers.

  20. Yes Nicole, you are correct! The problem has always been people like “Ahmed”.
    Let me tell you Ahmed, why don’t you leave and go to Saudi Arabia where people from your ideology belong? How can you ask Imazighen to leave their land?
    Tamazight and Imazighen will NEVER disappear; they have been resisting your ideology for centuries. They will continue to exist and promote freedom of speech, religion and democracy. Terms you don’t seem to be too familiar with.
    As one of the best Amazigh singer says “Akkar a Yelli, adnawi thilelli”, that means “Rise my little girl, we are going to bring freedom”!
    Guess what, my daughter’s name will be Thilelli!!!

  21. In 1000 B.C. the Imazighen people were already long established in North Africa . In Morocco for instance, they constitute at least 65% of the population distributed among three sub-ethnic groups and dialects . Owing to their political and geographical position, the Imazighen have been invaded by Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, and Europeans. Eventually, they all left, except for the Arabs. The Arabs brought Islam, a universalizing religion, and stayed to become an integral part of North African population and heritage. Their language, however, changed and gave rise to what is known as Darija, Aammia, North African countries, including Morocco, are considered today to be an integral part of the Arab World. Constitutionally, these countries claim to be Arab-Islamic Nations, which is totally wrong !!!
    The States of North Africa used various strategies to keep the Imazighen under control and even denied their existance ,and here’s one of the strategies examples !!!(denies Amazigh names).
    hope this will make a good conclusion for everyone,
    once again,thanks Jillian for bringing the subject up!!

  22. I can totally relate. I am Amazigh of slavic descent and I can tell that this is more than 100% true. I was gonna be named yider and it was refused because “it doesn’t stick to the standards” how unfortunate. Racism in Morocco takes an other whole dimension, and it’s hard to see it when you’re Moroccan. Even some of my foreigner friends now think that a Moroccan is Arab no matter if he is Berber or not.

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