Definition of Berber & Etymology of Imazighen

The perplexed term ‘Berber’ is shrouded with mystery, just as the Berbers themselves. Regardless of whether some people like or dislike the use of the term ‘Berber’, the name had entered the international vocabulary, and therefore it will be used here when writing in English. The matriarchal name ‘Tamazight’, albeit more popular in its recent masculine and patriarchal form Amazigh, is gradually becoming known to the outside world. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with using the term Berber, just because it was mistakenly associated with Greek barbarous and the negative connotation it conveys; as it existed long before the Greeks and the Romans, and was also used by the Ancient Egyptians and the Berbers long before them. The etymology of the name ‘Berber’ was altogether misunderstood, and it never meant ‘barbaric’ or ‘savage’, simply because the Romans used it to describe the Ancient Egyptians whom we all know were far more advanced and civilised than both the Romans and the Greeks.

The etymology of ‘Imazighen’, namely ‘The Free People’, also has no etymological basis nor historical foundation, and it was merely a superstitious conjuncture that somehow gained widespread popularity amongst both Berberists and European scholars, probably after it was introduced to them by Berber Leo Africanus without questioning its authority or explaining how it came to have this bizarre etymology. Which part in the term ‘Imazighen’ that says ‘free’ and which part that means ‘people’ remain to be explained. The only etymology that can be concluded, so far, is “nobel”, as in Tuareg Tamaheqt majegh (‘nobel’). Nobel, they are, no doubt; but free is far from true! Freedom starts in the mind, then manifests in the real world.

Imazighen is the plural form of the masculine singular Amazigh or Mazigh, while ‘Timazighin’ is the plural form of the feminine singular Tamazight. This means that the recent use of the term “Amazigh” to describe a group of people, as in “the Amazigh of Libya” or “the Amazigh of Algeria”, is inaccurate because the term is singular; and therefore the correct form to use is the plural “Imazighen”, as in “the Imazighen of Libya” — in the same way one cannot say: “the Berber of Libya” because the correct form to use is “the Berbers of Libya”. However, there are instances where one can use the singular form to describe a group, like “the Berber people”; but “the Berber of North Africa” (or “the Amazigh of North Africa”) is also incorrect.

And so the term Berber was used by foreigners, or aliens some would say, while the Berbers call themselves Imazighen or Imushagh; as they came to call Berber language by the name of “Tamazight”, (also ‘Tamaheqt’ or ‘Tamasheght’, depending on language and dialect). The popular and masculine form used almost world-wide, namely “Amazigh Language”, does not exist, violates the sacred “Tamazight”, and is heading towards threatening the very base on which it was founded — the matriarchal nature of the whole Berber culture & society. Tamazight by itself means exactly that: ‘Berber language’; full stop.

‘Tamazgha’, meaning the ‘land of the Imazighen’, namely North Africa, was also invented by activists to describe what the Berbers have always prescribed as ‘Tamort’, or ‘Thamorth’, (‘land, village, town, country, earth’). Terms like ‘Amazighity’, which mixes the English suffix -ty with the Berber noun Amazigh- in a rare percussion, and ‘Imazighenautes’ (‘the Berber geeks of the Internet’) give the amusing impression that “things are getting complicated”. For some unknown reason, there seems to be an attempt, not quite sure by whom, to abandon the original matriarchal form of the appellation “Tamazight” and ultimately all its associated forms.

Some might say this is not bad and should not pose a threat, but one can only agree that modernisation, in the context that was applied to justify elimination of identities rather than illuminate, is part of biological evolution overall and is not man’s invention. TEK (‘Traditional Environmental Knowledge’) is already taking care of modernising all aspects of human existence in one complete system we know as evolution. This extensive TEK system of indigenous People’s heritage and accumulative wisdom, which modern scientists now seek for new insights, insures culture’s continuation and inspires new inventions of material types, smart tools and even new human societies altogether; encompassing all aspects of human’s existence. Yet despotic systems, in contrast, emphasise only one single aspect on the expense of all other aspects including the desecration of nature, polluting the environment, and feeding the earth with toxic waste. This reckless and temporary expression will not succeed in evolutionary terms because it violates long range perspective with which nature sees its future offspring thriving as ever!

Given the fact that Berber mentality, their cheerful attitude to life, their customary egalitarian justice and tribal council of the elders (both female and male transparent members of the society who could lead by example), and all the good and unique elements that distinguish Tamazight society from most of the warring ideals of the neighbouring and far distant countries may well become affected, and may even become infected with the new cultureless direction towards which the Berber society may one day find itself led to — something the Imazighen of today should be concerned with right now rather than shortsightedly endure later. If the Berbers loose their own cultural unique identity, as a Berber, one may no longer wish to remain a Berber, since there will be no one in essence.

To take away from indigenous people the values at the heart of their existence, rather than preserve their priceless world heritage, goes against all human ideals reverberating across the moral world. The Tuareg of the Sahara have also come under the patriarchal hammer in the last decade or so, where they were forced to perform some patriarchal con-sessions, and even were pressurised to abandon a number of Tamazight matriarchal institutions including the “sacred matrilineal naming system”.

“If the only tool we have is a hammer, I guess all problems must look like a nail.”

Berber Nesmenser; Zuwarah, Libya.
All Rights Reserved © 2011.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

The Insatiable Traveler

Embrace Adventure. World Travel | Award-winning Photography| Inspiration | Tips

Idiot Joy Showland

This is why I hate intellectuals


some of us are brave

The Gloria Sirens

Leap Out of the Deep and Sing

Danny Gregory

Inspiration for creative folks like you.

BEN TROVATO – Durban Poison

Columns, letters and rants


A place of unexpected discoveries and fortuitous happenstance


something to suck on

My Least Favorite Child Today

A daily ranking of my children


The blog of the Journal of the History of Ideas, committed to diverse and wide-ranging intellectual history.

Lipstick and Laundry

Celebrating Imperfection One Pile at a Time

Echoes from the Vault

a blog from the Special Collections of the University of St Andrews

The Blog

The latest news on and the WordPress community.

%d bloggers like this: