Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Berber, the collective name of the western branch of the Hamitic race, extending along the Mediterranean seaboard from the Siwah oasis, west frontier Lower Egypt, to the Atlantic, and occupying the whole of the Sahara as far east as about 13° or 14° E. long. Here they are conterminous with the Tibbus of the East Sahara, and since the spread of Islam their own domain has been largely encroached upon by the Arabs. The Berbers, who give their name to the "Barbary" states, and who are undoubtedly the true aborigines of North Africa, are grouped in three great divisions: The Tuaregs of the Sahara; the Shilluhs (Shlulis) of Morocco; and the Kabyles of Algeria and Tunis, with whom may be classed the outlying tribes of the eastern oases, who have no collective name. The name Berber itself, though of doubtful origin, is of vast antiquity, and already occurs under the form Beraberata in an inscription in the Temple of Karnak dating from the time of Rameses II., about 1400 B.C. The Berber type, wherever it has not been modified by the negro of Sudan, is essentially Caucasian, that is, regular in the European sense; even the complexion is fair, often not more swarthy than that of Spaniards or Sicilians. Many of the Kabyles have even light hair and blue eyes, though this has been attributed to contact with the Romans, and later with the Vandals who invaded North Africa under Genseric, and became absorbed in the surrounding populations. But on the Egyptian monuments of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries B.C. the Libyans and other peoples west of Egypt (all Berbers) are already depicted with a pink complexion, blue eyes, and fair or red hair. The Berber language, current throughout the whole of the Berber domain in forms not differing from one another more than Italian from French, constitutes a distinct branch of the Hamitic linguistic family, and is consequently allied to the Old Egyptian and to the Ethiopian (Beja, Somal, Galla, etc.) of the north-east African seaboard. The Shluhs and Tuaregs apply to the national speech the term Tamashek (properly Tamazigt) in the sense of "noble" or "free," this word stripped of its feminine prefix and postfix t being identical with the Maxyes of Herodotus, that is, the Amzigh (Imazighen) or "Freemen" of Mauritania. Berber possesses an alphabet which dates from remote prehistoric times, but the existence of which was first discovered by Dr. Oudney in 1822. Specimens of this tafinagh writing, as it is called, occur in numerous rock inscriptions scattered over the Sahara and Mauritania. The letters, 35 in number, closely resemble old Semitic forms, and their Carthaginian (Punic or Phoenician) origin is now demonstrated, and is even indicated by their very name ta-finagh, where finagh=Phoenician. See Shaler, "Communications on the African Berbers," in the Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 1824; Graberg de Hemsaj, "Remarks on the Language of the Amazirghs, commonly called Berebbers," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1836; General Hanoteau, La Kabylie, etc., Paris, 1872-73.