Monday marks the first day of the year 2964 for the pre-Arab inhabitants of North Africa.
The Berbers of North Africa are celebrating their New Year, with festivities planned in several cities, including the Moroccan capital of Rabat.
Monday marked the first day of the year 2964 for the indigenous pre-Arab inhabitants of the region, although anthropologists say it is difficult to establish with precision the possible historical roots of the Berber New Year, known as the Yennayer.
“Some historians associate him with the enthronement as pharaoh of the Amazigh king Chachnaq after having defeated Ramses III [believed to have happened in 950 BC]Â», Declared the archaeologist Mostafa Ouachi, referring to the ancient Amazigh language of the Berbers.
“For others, it corresponds to what in Morocco is called the agricultural calendar, celebrated around January 13,” said Ouachi, professor at the University of Rabat.
The celebration of the New Year “marks the reaffirmation of certain important aspects of agrarian society, a return to the land”, he declared, describing the festivities as a means for the Berbers to “refresh their collective memory”.
In addition to the festivities in Rabat, celebrations were planned in a number of other regions of Morocco with concentrated Berber populations, such as Agadir and Tiznit in the southwest.
In the mountains of northern Algeria, meanwhile, more than 4,500 Berber villages celebrated the New Year. The local community has spent the last six months preparing the traditional âTimechretâ, a ritual that involves sharing pieces of meat with 2,000 families in the village.
âRich and poor have the same meal. The aim is to bring together all the inhabitants and those who are far away, âsaid villager Kadi Larbi.
The Berbers of Morocco, who several years ago obtained official recognition of their old Amazigh language in a new constitution, are also asking that January 13 be a public holiday.
“We want the Amazigh New Year to be considered a public holiday, like other calendars,” activist Meriem Demnati said.
Ahmed Assid, an academic and activist, said the traditional Berber New Year celebration had become a political cause.
“If the first of [the Islamic month of] Moharram is a public holiday in Morocco, and the first day of the Christian calendar is a public holiday, why not also the first day of the Amazigh New Year? He asked.
The Berbers, who are now spread across Algeria, Morocco, Libya and Tunisia, were the original inhabitants of North Africa before the 7th century Arab invasion, and they make up a fifth of the 33 million inhabitants of Algeria. The largest number of Berbers are believed to be in Morocco.
The Berbers call themselves “imazighen”, or free men, and their resentment towards the Arab-dominated central government means that they have long campaigned, sometimes violently, for autonomy.