Berber New Year in North Africa

In North Africa among the Berbers, January 12e is the 1st New Year’s Day 2971 of the Amazigh (Berber) calendar which begins in 950 BC. Egypt until 715 BC.

By Rabah Arkam

This Berber king had succeeded in unifying Egypt and then invading the kingdom of Israel. He is said to have captured the treasures of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem in 926 BC. This date is mentioned in the Bible and would therefore constitute the first date in Berber history on a written medium. King Sheshonq is referred to in the Bible as Sésaq and Shishaq in ancient Hebrew. This Berber New Year is called “Yennayer”, etymologically, the name is made up of “Yen”, which means “first”, and “Ayer”, which means “month”.

Long marginalized by regimes acquired in the Arab-Muslim ideology, that each year, the Islamists launch a campaign against the celebration of Yennayer, declaring this festival a sin (haram) which does not prevent this festival from being more in addition to popular.

The Berbers of North Africa today try to give shape to their history and their identity within society to celebrate the New Year. Yennayer marks New Year’s Day on the agrarian calendar, used since antiquity by the Berbers. It corresponds to January 12 of the Julian calendar, like the Gregorian calendar, the Berber calendar is divided into twelve months and has been used since Antiquity by the peoples of North Africa (Kabyles, Riffs, Tuaregs, Siwa…).

Families traditionally share a meal based on poultry couscous called (Imensi n’Yennayer) where the whole family gets together. It is customary to leave a ration and a spoon for anyone who is absent, distant relative or passing through poorly. This must be generous to symbolize the abundance of the opening year, a milestone event in the history of the Berber people.

The Amazighs, better known under the name of Berbers, constitute a mosaic of peoples, from Egypt to the Canary Islands, via Algeria, Tunisia, Niger or Mali. They are called “Imazighen”, plural of amazigh, which means “Free man”. Their language is called Tamazight. Although they have managed to secure more rights over the years, the Berbers continue to struggle for greater recognition of their identity and culture.

The Berbers have always been victims of marginalization, exclusion and denial of their cultural specificities, on the part of the States which identify themselves in their Constitution as being of the Arabic language and of the Muslim religion. Whether in Morocco or Algeria, as evidenced by the various uprisings in the Rif or in Kabylia, there are several types of discrimination, Berber organizations deplore a rejection of their culture, despite the relentless fight of the Kabyle people so that the country finally recognizes Yennayer as a national holiday.

As in Libya, after years of discrimination and repression, they are still fighting to obtain their language rights, also in Tunisia and Egypt, the demographic weight of the Amazighs is unknown, statistics by ethnicity or language being prohibited.

However, despite the differences of organized activists, and their identity claims whether in Algeria, as in Morocco, Libya or Tunisia, they will become the winners of history for future generations of the Amazigh people.

Assegas Amegaz!
Good year!

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About Wesley V. Finley

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