Traditional Berber religion

The traditional Berber religion is the ancient and native set of beliefs and deities adhered to by the Berber autochthones of North Africa. Many ancient Berber beliefs were developed locally, whereas others were influenced over time through contact with other traditional African religions (such as the Ancient Egyptian religion), or borrowed during antiquity from the Punic religion, Judaism, Iberian mythology, and the Hellenistic religion. The most recent influence came from Islam and pre-Islamic Arab religion during the medieval period. Some of the ancient Berber beliefs still exist today subtly within the Berber popular culture and tradition. Syncretic influences from the traditional Berber religion can also be found in certain other faiths.

Funerary practices

Archaeological research on prehistoric tombs in the Maghreb shows that the bodies of the dead were painted with ochre. While this practice was known to the Iberomaurusians, this culture seems to have been primarily a Capsian industry. The dead were also sometimes buried with shells of ostrich eggs, jewelry, and weapons. Bodies were usually buried in a fetal position.[1]

Unlike the majority of mainland Berbers, the Guanches mummified the dead. Additionally, Savino di Lernia discovered a Libyan mummy older than any comparable Ancient Egyptian mummy in 1958.[2]

Cult of the dead

The authors of the book The Berbers stated that the cult of the dead was one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Berbers in antiquity.[3] Pomponius Mela reported that the Augilae (Modern Awjila in Libya) considered the spirits of their ancestors to be gods. They swore by them and consulted them. After making requests, they slept in their tombs to await responses in dreams.[4]

Herodotus (484 BC–ca.425 BC) noted the same practice among the Nasamones, who inhabited the deserts around Siwa and Augila. He wrote:

[..]They swear by the men among themselves who are reported to have been the most righteous and brave, by these, I say, laying hands upon their tombs; and they divine by visiting the sepulchral mounds of their ancestors and lying down to sleep upon them after having prayed; and whatsoever thing the man sees in his dream, this he accepts.[5]

The Berbers worshiped their kings, too.[6] The tombs of the Numidian kings are among the most notable monuments left by the Classical Berbers.

The veneration (not worship) of saints which exists among the modern Berbers in the form of Maraboutism—which is widespread in northwest Africa—may or may not contain traces of prior beliefs or customs concerning the dead.

Ancient Berber tombs

The tombs of the early people and their ancestors indicate that the Berbers and their forebears (the Numidians and Mauretanians) believed in an afterlife. The prehistoric people of northwest Africa buried bodies in little holes. When they realized that bodies buried in unsecured holes were dug up by wild animals, they began to bury them in deeper ones. Later, they buried the dead in caves, tumuli, tombs in rocks, mounds, and other types of tombs.[1]

These tombs evolved from primitive structures to much more elaborate ones, such as the pyramidal tombs spread throughout Northern Africa. The honor of being buried in such a tomb appears to have been reserved for those who were most important to their communities.

These pyramid tombs have attracted the attention of some scholars, such as Mohamed Chafik who wrote a book discussing the history of several of the tombs that have survived into modern times. He tried to relate the pyramidal Berber tombs with the great Egyptian pyramids on the basis of the etymological and historical data.[7] The best known Berber pyramids are the 19-meter pre-Roman Numidian pyramid of the Medracen and the 30-meter ancient Mauretanian pyramid.[8] The Numidian pyramid in Tipaza is also known as Kbour-er-Roumia or Tomb of Juba and Sypax, mistranslated by the French colonists as Tomb of the Christian Woman.[8] The Tomb holds the graves of King Juba II and Queen Cleopatra Selene II, sovereigns of Mauretania.

Megalithic culture

Augustine of Hippo mentioned that the polytheistic Africans worshipped the rocks.[9] Apuleius stated as well that rocks were worshipped in the second century.[9] The megalithic culture may have been part of a cult of the dead or of star-worship.[9]

The monument of Msoura is the best-known megalithic monument in northwest Africa. It is composed of a circle of megaliths surrounding a tumulus. The highest megalith is longer than 5 meters. According to legend, it is the sepulchre of the mythical Berber king Antaeus.[10] Another megalithic monument was discovered in 1926 to south of Casablanca. The monument was engraved with funerary inscriptions in the Berber script known as Tifinagh.[9]

Herodotus mentioned that the ancient Berbers worshipped the moon and sun and sacrificed to them. He reported:

They begin with the ear of the victim, which they cut off and throw over their house: this done, they kill the animal by twisting the neck. They sacrifice to the Sun and Moon, but not to any other god. This worship is common to all the Libyans.[11]

Tullius Cicero (105-43 BC) also reported the same cult in On the Republic (Scipio's Dream):

When I (Scipio) was introduced to him, the old man (Massinissa, king of Massyle) embraced me, shed tears, and then, looking up to heaven, exclaimed I thank thee, O supreme Sun, and you also, you other celestial beings, that before I departed from this life I behold in my kingdom, and in my palace, Publius Cornelius Scipio ....[12]

There were some Latin inscriptions found in Northwest Africa dedicated to the sun-god. An example is the inscription found in Souk Ahras (the birthplace of Augustine; Thagaste in Algeria) written "Solo Deo Invicto".[13] Samuel the Confessor appears to have suffered from the sun-worshiping Berbers who tried unsuccessfully to force him to worship the sun.

The Berber pantheon also contained multiple gods, known as the Dii Mauri, represented on reliefs and also the subject of dedications.[14] During the Roman period, Saturn was the focus of an important cult, subsuming that of Baal Hammon, a deity of Punic origin.

Libyan-Egyptian beliefs

The Ancient Egyptians were the neighbors of the Berbers. Therefore, it is sometimes supposed that some deities were originally worshipped by the Ancient Egyptians and the Ancient Libyans as well. The Egyptian-Libyans gods and goddesses can be distinguished according to their origin.

Egyptian deities

The Eastern ancient Berbers worshipped Isis and Set. That was reported by Herodotus when saying:

Cow's flesh, however, none of these [Libyan] tribes ever taste, but abstain from it for the same reason as the Egyptians, neither do they any of them breed swine. Even at Cyrene, the women think it wrong to eat the flesh of the cow, honoring in this Isis, the Egyptian goddess, whom they worship both with fasts and festivals. The Barcaean women abstain, not from cow's flesh only, but also from the flesh of swine.[15]

Those libyans supposedly did not eat the flesh of swine, because it was associated with Set, while they did not eat the cow's flesh, because it was associated with Isis.[16]

Osiris was among the Egyptian deities who were venerated in Libya. However, Dr. Budge (in addition to a few other scholars) believed that Osiris was originally a Libyan god saying of him that "Everything which the texts of all periods recorded concerning him goes to show that he was an indigenous god of North-east Africa ( modern day Libya ) a, and that his home and origin were possibly Libyan."[17]

Libyan deities

The Egyptians considered some Egyptian deities to have had a Libyan origin, such as Athena who has been considered, by Egyptians, to have emigrated from Libya to establish her temple at Sais in the Nile Delta. Some legends tell that Athena/Neith was born around Lake Tritons (in modern Libya).

It is also notable that some Egyptian deities were depicted with Libyans (ancient Libyan) characters. The goddess Ament was thus portrayed with two feathers, which were the normal ornaments of the Ancient Libyans as they were drawn by the Ancient Egyptians.

Ammon as a common deity

The most remarkable common god of the Berbers and the Egyptians was Ammon.[18] This god is hard to attribute to only one pantheon. Although most modern sources ignore the existence of Ammon in Berber mythology, he was maybe the greatest ancient Berber god.[19] He was honored by the Ancient Greeks in Cyrenaica, and was united with the Phoenician god Baal due to Libyan influence.[20] Early depictions of rams (related possibly to an early form of the cult of this deity) across North Africa have been dated to between 9600 BC and 7500 BC.
The most famous temple of Ammon in Ancient Libya was the augural temple at Siwa in Egypt, an oasis still inhabited by Berbers.

Phoenician-Berber beliefs

The Phoenicians were originally a Semitic people that inhabited the coasts of modern Lebanon and Tunisia. They were seafarers and they founded Carthage in 814 BC. They later gave birth to the so-called Punic culture which had its roots in the Berber and Phoenician cultures. Some scholars distinguish the relationships between the Phoenicians and the Berbers in two phases:

Before the Battle of Himera (480 BC)

When the Phoenicians established in Northwest Africa, they stayed in the coastal regions to avoid wars with the Berbers. They maintained their deities which they brought from their homelands. The early Carthaginians had two important deities, Baal and Astarte.

After the Battle of Himera

Carthage began to ally with the Berber tribes after the Battle of Himera, in which the Carthaginians were defeated by the Greeks. In addition to political changes, the Carthaginians imported some of the Berber deities.

Baal was the primary god worshipped in Carthage. Depictions of this deity are found in several sites across northwest Africa. The goddess Astarte was replaced by a native goddess, Tanit, which is thought to be of Berber origin. The name itself, Tanit, has a Berber linguistic structure. Feminine names begin and end with "t" in the Berber languages. Some scholars believe that the Egyptian goddess Neith was related to the Libyan goddess Tanit (Ta-neith). There are also Massyle and Phoenician names that apparently contain roots from the god Baal, such as Adherbal and Hannibal.

Greek-Libyan beliefs

The ancient Greeks established colonies in Cyrenaica. The Greeks influenced the eastern Libya pantheon, but they were also influenced by Libyan culture and beliefs. Generally, the Libyan-Greek relationships can be divided into two different periods. In the first period, the Greeks had peaceful relationships with the Libyans. Later, there were wars between them. These social relationships were mirrored in their beliefs.

Before the Battle of Irassa (570 BC)

The first notable appearance of Libyan influence on the Cyrenaican-Greek beliefs is the name Cyrenaica itself. This name was originally the name of a legendary (mythic) Berber woman warrior who was known as Cyre. Cyre was, according to the legend, a courageous lion-hunting woman. She gave her name to the city Cyrenaica. The emigrating Greeks made her their protector besides their Greek god Apollo.[21]

The Greeks of Cyrenaica seemed also to have adopted some Berber customs and intermarried with the Berber women. Herodotus (Book IV 120) reported that the Libyans taught the Greeks how to yoke four horses to a chariot. The Cyrenaican Greeks built temples for the Libyan god Ammon instead of their original god Zeus. They later identified their supreme god Zeus with the Libyan Ammon.[22] Some of them continued worshipping Ammon himself. Ammon's cult was so widespread among the Greeks that even Alexander the Great decided to be declared as the son of Zeus in the Siwan temple by the Libyan priests of Ammon.[23]

The ancient historians mentioned that some Greek deities were of Libyan origin. The daughter of Zeus Athena was considered by some ancient historians, like Herodotus, to have been of Libyan origin. Those ancient historians stated that she was originally honored by the Libya around Lake Tritonis where she had been born from the god Poseidon and Lake Tritonis, according to the Libyan legend. Herodotus wrote that the Aegis and the clothes of Athena are typical for Libyan woman.

Herodotus also stated that Poseidon (an important Greek sea god) was adopted from the Libyans by the Greeks. He emphasized that no other people worshipped Poseidon from early times apart from the Libyans who spread his cult:

[..]these I think received their naming from the Pelasgians, except Poseidon; but about this god the Hellenes learnt from the Libyans, for no people except the Libyans have had the name of Poseidon from the first and have paid honour to this god always.[24]

Some other Greek deities were related to Libya. The goddess Lamia was believed to have originated in Libya, like Medusa and the Gorgons. The Greeks seem also to have met the god Triton in Libya. The modern day Berbers may have believed that the Hesperides was situated in modern Morocco. Some scholars situate it in Benghazi of Irassa where Antaeus lived, according to some myths. The Hesperides were believed to be the daughters of Atlas a god that is associated with the Atlas mountains by Herodotus. The Atlas mountain was worshipped by the Berbers and the Canary Islands represent to many the daughters of Atlas. But that could be wrong since all historical evidences states that the modern fay Benghazi orignal name which is Euesperides gave rise to the mythological associations of the garden of the Hesperides. Most gigantic creatures existed in northeastern Africa, Modren Libya, like the giant snakes, Hydra and The Berbary Lions on the coast of Tripoli.

After the Battle of Irassa

The Greeks and the Massyle began to break their harmony in the period of Battus II of Cyrene. Battus II began secretly to invite other Greek groups to Libya, Tunisia and East Algeria. The Libyans and Massyle considered that as a danger that had to be stopped. The Berbers began to fight against the Greeks, sometimes in alliance with the Egyptians and other times with the Carthaginians. Nevertheless, the Greeks were the victors.

Antaeus & Heracles (Nordisk familjebok)
Antaeus is depicted with long hair and beard, contrary to Heracles.

Some historians believe that the myth of Antaeus was a reflection of those wars between the Libyans and Greeks.[25] The legend tells that Antaeus was the undefeatable protector of the Massyle. He was the son of the god Poseidon and Gaia. He was the husband of the Berber goddess Tinjis. He used to protect the lands of the Libyans until he was slain by the Greek hero Heracles who married Tingis. The learned client king Juba II of Mauretania (died 23 BC), husband of the daughter of Antony and Cleopatra, claimed his descent from a liaison of Hercules with Tinga, the consort of Antaeus.  but it’s not true or even confirmed. Some sources describe Antaeus as the king of Irassa, Plutarch reported that his son founded Tingi (Tangiers) after his mother.[26] In Greek iconography, Antaeus was clearly distinguished as being different from the Greeks in appearance. He was depicted with long hair and a beard that was typical for the Eastern Libyans. Greeks of the 6th century bc, who had established colonies along the coast of North Africa in modern day Libya, placed Antaeus in the interior desert of Libya.[8]

Roman-Berber beliefs

The Romans allied firstly with the Massyle against Carthage. They defeated Carthage in 146 BC. But later, they also annexed Massyle to the Roman Empire.

The Imperial Period

According to Pliny the Elder, the Libyans honored the war goddess Ifri or Africa, who was considered to be the protector of her worshipers (and seemed to have been an influential goddess in North Africa) and depicted her on the Berber coins. This goddess was represented in diverse ways on Numidian coins from the first century BC. When the Romans conquered Northwest Africa, she appeared in sculpture and on the coins of the Roman states in North Africa.

The Roman pantheon seems to have been adopted generally, although the cult of Saturn, as mentioned above, was perhaps the most important.

A new god appears in later texts, identified with tribes such as the Austuriani outside the Roman frontiers of Libya. Gurzil was a war god who identified with the son of Ammon. He was taken by the Berbers to their battles against the Byzantines. Corippus mentioned that the chiefs of the Laguata took their god Gurzil into battle against the Byzantines and Arabs. It is very likely that the sanctuary of Gurzil was located in Ghirza, in Libya, where remarkable reliefs show a noble Libyan receiving tribute while seated on a curule chair.[27]

See also

References and notes

  1. ^ a b Ouachi, Moustapha. “The Berbers and the death.” El-Haraka
  2. ^ The mystery of the Black Mummy
  3. ^ Brett, Michael, and Elizabeth Fentress. 1996. The Berbers. Oxford: Blackwell, p. 35
  4. ^ Brett, Michael, and Elizabeth Fentress p. 35
  5. ^ Herodotus, Histories, Book 4, 170
  6. ^ James Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics Part 4 - p. 512
  7. ^ Tawalt, Libyan Massyle Site Archived 2007-01-02 at the Wayback Machine ‹See Tfd›(in Arabic), Chafik, Mohammed. Revue Tifinagh. Elements lexicaux Berberes pouvant apporter un eclairage dans la recherche des origines prehistoriques des pyramides].
  8. ^ a b Chafik, Mohammed. Revue Tifinagh. Elements lexicaux Berberes pouvant apporter un eclairage dans la recherche des origines prehistoriques des pyramides
  9. ^ a b c d . “The Berbers and rocks.”
  10. ^ Tertre de M'zora Archived 2004-06-24 at the Wayback Machine ‹See Tfd›(in French)
  11. ^ Herodotus, Histories, book IV, 168–198.
  12. ^ M. Tullius Cicero (105-43 BCE): from On the Republic (Scipio's Dream).
  13. ^ James Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics Part 4 p. 508.
  14. ^ Elizabeth Fentress, 1978, 'Di Mauri and Dii Patrii' Latomus 37, 2-16
  15. ^ Herodotus: The Histories.
  16. ^ Mohammed Mustapha Bazma, The Libyan Influence on the Egyptian and Greek Civilizations and their Influence on the Libyan Civilization.
  17. ^ Cited by Lewis Spence in Ancient Egyptian Myths and Legends; p. 64
  18. ^ William Shaler (1824). Communication on the language, manners, and customs of the Berbers or Brebers of Africa, in a series of letters to P.S. Duponceau, read before the Amer. phil. soc. and publ. in the new ser. of their transactions. pp. 18–.
  19. ^ H. Basset, Les influences puniques chez les Berbères, pp 367-368
  20. ^ Mohammed Chafik, Revue Tifinagh...
  21. ^ K. Freeman Greek city state- N.Y. 1983, p. 210.
  22. ^ Oric Bates, The Eastern Libyans.
  23. ^ Mohammed Chafik, revue Tifinagh...
  24. ^ Herodotus Book 2: Euterpe 50
  25. ^ Oric Bates. The Eastern Massyle, Franc Cass Co. p. 260
  26. ^ Plutarch, Life of Sertorius, 9. 4.
  27. ^ O. Brogan and D. Smith, 1984, Ghirza: a Libyan Settlement in the Roman Period. Tripoli.

External links

Animism

Animism (from Latin anima, "breath, spirit, life") is the religious belief that objects, places and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence. Potentially, animism perceives all things—animals, plants, rocks, rivers, weather systems, human handiwork and perhaps even words—as animated and alive. Animism is used in the anthropology of religion as a term for the belief system of many indigenous peoples, especially in contrast to the relatively more recent development of organised religions.Although each culture has its own different mythologies and rituals, "animism" is said to describe the most common, foundational thread of indigenous peoples' "spiritual" or "supernatural" perspectives. The animistic perspective is so widely held and inherent to most indigenous peoples that they often do not even have a word in their languages that corresponds to "animism" (or even "religion"); the term is an anthropological construct.

Largely due to such ethnolinguistic and cultural discrepancies, opinion has differed on whether animism refers to an ancestral mode of experience common to indigenous peoples around the world, or to a full-fledged religion in its own right. The currently accepted definition of animism was only developed in the late 19th century (1871) by Sir Edward Tylor, who created it as "one of anthropology's earliest concepts, if not the first".Animism encompasses the beliefs that all material phenomena have agency, that there exists no hard and fast distinction between the spiritual and physical (or material) world and that soul or spirit or sentience exists not only in humans, but also in other animals, plants, rocks, geographic features such as mountains or rivers or other entities of the natural environment, including thunder, wind and shadows. Animism may further attribute souls to abstract concepts such as words, true names or metaphors in mythology. Some members of the non-tribal world also consider themselves animists (such as author Daniel Quinn, sculptor Lawson Oyekan and many contemporary Pagans).

Berbers

Berbers, or Amazighs (Berber languages: ⵉⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖⵏ, ⵎⵣⵗⵏ, romanized: Imaziɣen; singular: Amaziɣ, ⴰⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖ ⵎⵣⵗ), are an ethnic group of several nations indigenous mostly to North Africa and some northern parts of Western Africa.

Berbers constitute the populations of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania, northern Mali, northern Niger, and a small part of western Egypt.

Berber nations are distributed over an area stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Siwa Oasis in Egypt and from the Mediterranean Sea to the Niger River in West Africa. Historically, Berber nations spoke the Berber language, which is a branch of the Afroasiatic language family.

There are about 32 million Berbers in North Africa who still speak the Berber language. The number of ethnic Berbers (including non-Berber speakers) is far greater than the speakers of the Berber language, as a large part of the Berbers have lost their ancestral language and switched to other languages over the course of many decades or centuries.

The majority of North Africa's population west of Egypt is believed to be Berber in ethnic origin, although due to Arabization and Islamization some ethnic Berbers identify as Arabized Berbers.Most Berber people who speak Berber today live in Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, northern Mali, and northern Niger. Smaller Berber-speaking populations are also found in Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Egypt's Siwa town.

There are large immigrant Berber communities living in France, Spain, Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and other countries of Europe.The majority of Berbers are currently Sunni Muslim. Although recently some Berbers have openly converted to Shia Islam, Christianity and atheism.

The Berber identity is usually wider than language and ethnicity and encompasses the entire history and geography of North Africa. Berbers are not an entirely homogeneous ethnicity, and they encompass a range of societies, ancestries and lifestyles. The unifying forces for the Berber people may be their shared language or a collective identification with Berber heritage and history.

Berbers call themselves some variant of the word i-Mazigh-en (singular: a-Mazigh), possibly meaning "free people" or "noble men". The name probably had its ancient parallel in the Roman and Greek names for Berbers such as Mazices.Some of the best known of the ancient Berbers are the Numidian king Masinissa, king Jugurtha, the Berber-Roman author Apuleius, Saint Augustine of Hippo, and the Berber-Roman general Lusius Quietus, who was instrumental in defeating the major wave of Jewish revolts of 115–117 in ancient Israel. The Berber queen Dihya, or Kahina, was a religious and political leader who led a military Berber resistance against the Arab-Muslim expansion in Northwest Africa. Kusaila was a 7th-century leader of the Berber Awerba tribe and King of the Iẓnagen confederation and resisted the Arab-Muslim invasion. Yusuf ibn Tashfin was a Muslim king of the Berber Almoravid dynasty. Abbas ibn Firnas was a Berber-Andalusian prolific inventor and early pioneer in aviation. Ibn Battuta was a medieval Berber explorer who departed from Tanja, Morocco and traveled the longest known distances of his time and chronicled his impressions of hundreds of nations and cultures.

Kingdom of Altava

The Kingdom of Altava was an independent Berber kingdom centered on the city of Altava in present-day northern Algeria. The Kingdom of Altava was a successor state of the previous Mauro-Roman Kingdom which had controlled much of the ancient Roman province of Mauretania Caesariensis. This Kingdom collapsed following Eastern Roman military campaigns to decrease its influence and power after Garmul invaded the Exarchate of Africa.The collapse of the Mauro-Roman Kingdom lead to the rise of several petty berber kingdoms in the region, including the Kingdom of Altava, which was centered on the capital of the older kingdom. The kingdom continued to exist in the Maghreb until the conquest of the region by the Umayyad Caliphate in the seventh and eighth centuries.

Mauretania Tingitana

Mauretania Tingitana (Latin for "Tangerine Mauritania") was a Roman province located in the Maghreb, coinciding roughly with the northern part of present-day Morocco. The territory stretched from the northern peninsula opposite Gibraltar, to Sala Colonia (or Chellah) and Volubilis to the south, and as far east as the Mulucha (or Malva) river. Its capital city was Tingis, which is the modern Tangier. Other major cities of the province were Iulia Valentia Banasa, Septem, Rusadir, Lixus and Tamuda.

Mauro-Roman Kingdom

The Mauro-Roman Kingdom (Latin: Regnum Maurorum et Romanorum) was an independent Christian Berber kingdom centered on the city of Altava which controlled much of the ancient Roman province of Mauretania Caesariensis, located in present-day northern Algeria. The kingdom was first formed in the fifth century as Roman control over the province weakened and Imperial resources had to be concentrated elsewhere, notably in defending the Italian Peninsula itself from invading Germanic tribes.

The rulers of the Mauro-Roman Kingdom would repeatedly come into conflict with the Vandals of the neighbouring Vandalic Kingdom, which had been established following the Vandalic conquest of the Roman province of Africa. King Masuna of the Moors and Romans would ally with the armies of the Eastern Roman Empire during their reconquest of Northern Africa in the Vandalic War. Following the Eastern Roman victory over the Vandals, the Mauro-Roman Kingdom would maintain its alliance with the Eastern Roman Empire, assisting it in wars against invading Berbers of other tribes and kingdoms, such as the Kingdom of the Aures.

Eventually, the diplomatic ties between the Eastern Roman Empire and the Mauro-Roman Kingdom would break down. King Garmul would invade the Eastern Roman Praetorian Prefecture of Africa in an attempt at capturing Roman territories. His defeat in 578 AD led almost immediately to the end of the Mauro-Roman Kingdom, which was fragmented and partially reincorporated into the Roman Empire.

The kingdom was succeeded by some smaller romanized Berber successor states, such as the Kingdom of Altava. These petty kingdoms would last in the Maghreb until the conquest of the region by the Umayyad Caliphate in the seventh and eighth centuries.

North Africa

North Africa is a region encompassing the northern portion of the African continent. There is no singularly accepted scope for the region, and it is sometimes defined as stretching from the Atlantic shores of Morocco in the west, to Egypt's Suez Canal and the Red Sea in the east. Others have limited it to the countries of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, a region that was known by the French during colonial times as "Afrique du Nord" and is known by Arabs as the Maghreb ("West", The western part of Arab World). The most commonly accepted definition includes Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Sudan, the 6 countries that shape the top North of the African continent. Meanwhile, "North Africa", particularly when used in the term North Africa and the Middle East, often refers only to the countries of the Maghreb and Libya. Egypt, being also part of the Middle East, is often considered separately, due to being both North African and Middle Eastern at the same time.

North Africa includes a number of Spanish and Portuguese possessions, Plazas de soberanía, Ceuta and Melilla and the Canary Islands and Madeira. The countries of North Africa share a common ethnic, cultural and linguistic identity that is unique to this region. Northwest Africa has been inhabited by Berbers since the beginning of recorded history, while the eastern part of North Africa has been home to the Egyptians. Between the A.D. 600s and 1000s, Arabs from the Middle East swept across the region in a wave of Muslim conquest. These peoples, physically quite similar, formed a single population in many areas, as Berbers and Egyptians merged into Arabic and Muslim culture. This process of Arabization and Islamization has defined the cultural landscape of North Africa ever since.

The distinction between North Africa, the Sahel and the rest of the continent is as follows:

Nineteenth century European explorers, attracted by the accounts of Ancient geographers or Arab geographers of the classical period, followed the routes by the nomadic people of the vast "empty" space. They documented the names of the stopping places they discovered or rediscovered, described landscapes, took a few climate measurements and gathered rock samples. Gradually, a map began to fill in the white blotch.

The Sahara and the Sahel entered the geographic corpus by way of naturalist explorers because aridity is the feature that circumscribes the boundaries of the ecumene. The map details included topographical relief and location of watering holes crucial to long crossings. The Arabic word "Sahel" (shore) and "Sahara" (desert) made its entry into the vocabulary of geography.

Latitudinally, the "slopes" of the arid desert, devoid of continuous human habitation, descend in step-like fashion toward the northern and southern edges of the Mediterranean that opens to Europe and the Sahel that opens to "Trab al Sudan." Longitudinally, a uniform grid divides the central desert then shrinks back toward the Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea. Gradually, the Sahara-Sahel is further divided into a total of twenty sub-areas: central, northern, southern, western, eastern, etc.

In this way, "standard" geography has determined aridity to be the boundary of the ecumene. It identifies settlements based on visible activity without regard for social or political organizations of space in vast, purportedly “empty” areas. It gives only cursory acknowledgement to what makes Saharan geography, and for that matter, world geography unique: mobility and the routes by which it flows.

The Sahel or "African Transition Zone" has been affected by many formative epochs in North African history ranging from Ottoman occupation to the Arab-Berber control of the Andalus. As a result, many modern African nation-states that are included in the Sahel evidence cultural similarities and historical overlap with their North African neighbours. In the present day, North Africa is associated with West Asia in the realm of geopolitics to form a Middle East-North Africa region. The Islamic influence in the area is also significant and North Africa is a major part of the Muslim world.

Some researchers have postulated that North Africa rather than East Africa served as the exit point for the modern humans who first trekked out of the continent in the Out of Africa migration.

Traditional African religions

The traditional African religions (or traditional beliefs and practices of African people) are a set of highly diverse beliefs that include various ethnic religions. Generally, these traditions are oral rather than scriptural, include belief in a supreme creator, belief in spirits, veneration of the dead, use of magic and traditional African medicine. The role of humanity is generally seen as one of harmonizing nature with the supernatural. According to Lugira, "it is the only religion that can claim to have originated in Africa. Other religions found in Africa have their origins in other parts of the world."

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