The Berbers, or Imazighen, as they often prefer, are the indigenous people of North Africa, whose regions of occupation stretch from Egypt right across to Morocco and then down into Mauritania and Mali. They make up roughly 40% of the Moroccan population and the Berber language has been adopted as one of the three official state languages. The word "Berber" is thought by many to derive from the Latin word "barbarus" used by the Romans to describe foreigners, especially those from the untamed hinterlands of their empire. The Berber mountain communities were Jewish and Animist until the conquest of Morocco by Islam in the 7th century, and there was a large, residual Jewish population in Morocco until the mid-20th century, when many moved to Israel.
There are three main divisions of the Berber language: Taririft in the Rif area; Tamazight in the Mid-Atlas; and Tashlahit in the High Atlas, Anti-Atlas, and Souss. There is no linguistic connection to Arabic, although Moroccan Arabic and the Berber languages have infiltrated each other. They used to be primarily oral languages, but in 2003, the Neo-Tifinagh alphabet was adopted.
The Berber Way
Attention to local sensitivities is much appreciated and often rewarded with the celebrated Berber hospitality. Smiling goes further than anything in creating good will. Dressing modestly is always appreciated. Smoking is an urban phenomenon, so everyone (particularly women) should smoke discreetly. Many High Atlas villagers are outraged that their children behave as beggars by demanding money, pens, or sweets from foreigners; the polite way to refuse is to say, "Allah esahel," which means "God make it easy on you." If you would like to contribute something to these regions, ask your hotel or guide how you can do so through one of the local associations that provide much of the local health care and education in the region. Always be sure to ask permission before you photograph Moroccans.