Thursday, October 27, 2005

Nalut - my city!

As part of the "TELL US ABOUT YOUR CITY" series, I am writing about Nalut my place of origin in Libya (see map below). First, I would like to give you all a brief overview of berbers in Libya for those who know relatively little about their "jbalia" peers..

About Berbers
Berbers or Amazigh were the original inhabitants of North Africa. There are at least six Berber/Amazigh populations in Libya who currently live in remote areas whether in the mountains (Nafussa) or in desert areas (such at the Tamacheq in the South) where they isolated themselves to avoid waves of Arab migration, escape invaders and keep their culture intact. Compared to our other North African neighbors Algeria and Morocco, Libya has much fewer berbers constituting of less than 5% of the population and with pro-Arab government policies it is unlikely that the berber culture will sustain itself for generations to come.

Berbers and Arabs
By and large, the differences between Arabs and Berbers lay in culture and language. It would be impossible to distinguish between the two based on physical attributes, although berbers are said to be much paler and exotic looking, with colored eyes not being an uncommon trait (I am definately no example of this!). The biggest separator between Arabs and Berbers remains language - Berbers still use the amazigh language among each other although all know the Arab language and culture. The berber dialect is becoming more and more Arabised with many Arab words used (sort of like Tunisians with French), this is probably due to the fact that the Amazigh language has no written form. Culturally, there are differences in rituals and foods but with emergence of Satellite TV it is all becoming increasingly homogenous. As a people Berbers do not have much of an identity, compared to the more unified Arabs who see themselves as one nation. Berbers live more by tribal and familial lines and tend to identify with a clan rather than a common coherent culture. Religiously, all berbers are Muslims; the Arabs brought Islam to Libya, in fact berbers were marginally Christian before.

Nalut: My Hometown
My entire family is from Nalut in Libya, which is part of the Jabal Nafusa (mountains of Nafusa) and that technically qualifies me as an Amazighia! With a population of 170,000, the Nafusa range contains most of Libya's amazigh population. Nalut is a small town on the top of the mountain and is located halfway between Tripoli and Ghadames and marks the end of the Nafusa mountains.

Often, Nalut is visited as a part of a desert tour for tourism. The city is known for its incomparable old town where it is possible to see how people lived up til about a century ago andwhere remanants of an old castle and mosque may be found. The castle or "Kasr" was used in those days for the storage of foods such as grains and olive oils - which serve the basis of many of our foods. Each year as I go to visit the home of my ancestors, I am increasingly impressed with the expansion in building and the continued growth within Nalut. We now even have a "downtown" for shopping named "Lebanon Road" where all items of clothing and for the house are brought up from Tripoli and sold at the quarter of the price. There are also several restaurants in the downtown area! In addition, there are several colleges and schools as well as a large hospital where the staff is predominantly Eastern European (apparently we have quite the Ukrainian population)! Regardless though, as soon as you enter Nalut.. you will undoubtedly be impressed at how well the culture has remained intact and you will be overcome by a mystical feeling that time just went back a few hundred years...

Beautiful pictures of Nalut:
Website for Libyan berbers:

***Please read Ayman's comments for further information on the Amazigh people - he is by far much more knowledgeable on this topic!!!***


  • Azul Nura !!

    Do u mind if i correct some facts about Amazigh? "U may not aware of it" ?!

    1- Berbers !! Is not our name, We used to be called berebr by the invaders of North Africa " Roman"..whome ruled by an amazigh emperor one day " Septimos " the one who ruled egypt " cisank i guess "
    So we r " AMAZIGH " and some of them live in the mountains where they r called " Jbalia or Kbayli "
    OR LIVING IN THE DESERT and called Tuareg " like VW Tuareg" !

    2- The "Tamazight" is not a dialect!! it has its a live Language and has it's own written form "tifinagh".
    And about some arabic words "very rare" in Tamazight..i think cultural interaction played the rule..for example u,ll find a huge number of amazigh words in the arabic slang..
    5% ? haha..this is the population of libyans who still preserve their original language!!..Almost 89% of libyans are amazigh descents.

    3- Identity?! Who said that amazigh have no Identity? 40 millions with out identity?! if it's true..they would be disappeared since 5000 years!!
    There were established amazigh states along the history like "The murabeteen state" and the "muahedeen state", "the idresian state".."the amazigh states in andalucia"..all of them were islamic amazigh states.
    There were no Arabic was Jahiliya " We were all one under islam".
    and yes amazigh were christians and jewish before islam, Arabs were pagans before islam too.

    3- I wa s so impressed with the statement of the algerian president " Mr Abdul aziz boutafliqa"..He defined the Algerian identity in a on sentence and said in a public speech " We Are Amazigh, Islam is our religion, And Arabic is our civilization"..and this is my view too.


    And's a good contribution for Nalut !!

    Thanx Nura...Have a Great day!!

    By Blogger AGRADA, at October 28, 2005 12:05 PM  

  • Ayman, I am very happy to read your comments - thank you for your contribution!!!

    1. Absolutely you are correct - the name berber has been attributed to the Amazigh people by the ancient Romans it was thought to derive from the word "barbari" whereas Berbers collectively refer to themselves as Amazighan loosely meaning "free men."

    2. As far as I knew, Tamazight is a dialect originatic from the Afro-Asiatic language famiy (found that out through research). And although there is a language, there is no universal written form among all the Amazigh and so has no written literature. I have never seen books written in the Tamazight language Ayman, please correct me if I am wrong.

    3. As for identity - I meant be no common identity among the Amazigh. Of course each has their own identity but I meant as a community the identity is more along tribal and family lines rather than a sense of unification in comparison with Arabs. But then again, it is not such a great comparison because when you look at the world nowadays, it's not like Arabs are all that united either!!!

    4. That's a great statement by Boutafliqa. Thanks for sharing!

    By Blogger Nura, at October 28, 2005 1:09 PM  

  • First of all im not Jbali, but I think it is soo interesting to have diversity within our own country. Here in Ottawa, we have internatinal language programs for elementary school children through the public board of education and one of the languages that is actually taught is Berber or Tamazight, and I remember that when they were applying to have the program funded, they were having a hard time because the language is mainly an oral one, and I think one of the conditions of teaching your language was that it has both oral and written forms, from what I remember there is a written form of it, but it is no longer commonly used, as said by the actual people applying to teach the program. It is being taught, so maybe I can go check it out one day and let you guys know for sure whether they are writing and reading the language or not.
    Also a question: is the tamazight language universal across of all of North Africa? Is it like Arabic where there is the classical form, and then different dialects spoken in each of the countries?

    By Blogger aisha, at October 29, 2005 12:14 PM  

  • Thank you Nura for such an informative piece. It's the first time I come across a piece written by an Amazigh with so much objectivity and not much ideology and emotions that ruin the Amazigh cause most, if not all, of the time!

    I'm not an Amazigh, and don't view myself as an Arab. I'm simply Libyan, with whatever mix that carries with it. So starting from here, I have the following questions for you Ayman:

    - Are you saying Septimus Severus was Amazigh? To my knowledge, he was a Roman born and raised in Libya. I'd appreciate it if you provide the facts behind your claim.

    - According to you, Arabic words are very rare in Amazigh language, but there's a huge number of Amazigh words in Arabic slang. Which Arabic slang are we talking about here? Each region has its own, as you probably know. I know a lot of Italian words in Libyan dialects, but can't recall any Amazighi words in them. Not saying there aren't any, I'm just not aware of that. Could you please give examples.

    - You said "Almost 89% of libyans are amazigh descents." Is this a fact or a wild guess?

    - Recently, there has a been a rise in the Libyan-Amazigh sector calling for recognition and full rights. This is absolutely what people in their situation should ask for and ultimately get. Without getting in details and politicizing the discussion, I think their calls are bringing more harm to the issue than benefits. For example, The Amazigh rightfully reject how they are forcefully being Arabized. But aren't you at the same time forcefully Amazighizing those Libyans who believe they are Arabs by saying 85% of Libyans are of Amazigh descent? I would be careful making such claims unless I have the solid facts to support those claims.

    I too would like to know the answer to Aisha's question. Could Amazigh from the different regions communicate with no language barrier?

    By Blogger Hannu, at October 29, 2005 1:58 PM  

  • the post by agrada was correct, I believe, we had a L.C.S (Libyan Cultural Society) lecture by a Libyan history buff in London and he was talking about how a high percentage of Libyans have Berber blood as well as Kurdish not just Arabic blood (i.e the two main arab tribes that came from Arabia) as well as the Turkish blood that everyone talks about...he actually asked for volunteers, at the lecture, so he could find the origins of more Libyans for the books he is publishing on the origins of Libyans. Sadly for me it was going to be published in Arabic, I asked him to publish in English....he may do.

    By Blogger magda, at October 29, 2005 6:55 PM  

  • Azul fellawen..Assalam alykum

    At first, I,ll start with some verses of the holy Quran.

    بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

    " وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ خَلْقُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلَافُ أَلْسِنَتِكُمْ وَأَلْوَانِكُمْ إِنَّ فِي ذَلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّلْعَالِمِينَ"، سورة الروم الآية 22

    " يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَى وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ" سورة الحجرات الاية 13

    "يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ كُونُواْ قَوَّامِينَ لِلّهِ شُهَدَاء بِالْقِسْطِ وَلاَ يَجْرِمَنَّكُمْ شَنَآنُ قَوْمٍ عَلَى أَلاَّ تَعْدِلُواْ اعْدِلُواْ هُوَ أَقْرَبُ لِلتَّقْوَى وَاتَّقُواْ اللّهَ إِنَّ اللّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ" سورة المائدة الاية 8

    " إِنَّمَا المُؤْمِنُونَ إِخْوَةٌ فَأَصْلِحُوا بَيْنَ أَخَوَيْكُمْ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُرْحَمُونَ " سورة الحجرات الاية 10

    My beloved libyans !!

    Thanx alot for your comments, and thanx alot Nura for your saying that i,m "more knowledgeable "...
    Actually I,m just a person trying to reach the truth, and my knowledge in that topic is limited to the " most important elements of our history".

    Actually i wish if i got enough time to talk about this topic in details...So I,ll answer some questions.

    1- Aisha !!

    The Tamazight written form is called "Tifinagh"..It's recently approved internationally by "ISO"
    And soon will be incorporated into the computer systems, "I installed it already and started sending some scripts to my friends..haha".
    There is an impressive progress in using the tifinagh in the literature and education..alot of websites and other media are evolving everyday...

    Tamazight is the classical universal language among the Amazigh across north africal from the siwa oasis in egypt to the canari islands..and down to Mali, Niger and Chad.

    For example..if i met one from algeria and one from mali and one from the canari islands..we will talk to each other with the universal tamazight.
    As any Language..Tamazight has different "accents"..due to the geographical effect. ex: arabic accents of iraq is different from the egyptian accent..and so..
    Thanx Aisha for sharing informations about tamazight in canada..i want to add that there is an Amazigh radio of montreal, and the "center amazigh de montreal".

    2- Hanu !!

    Let us keep it short and sweet!!
    Plz no more conspiracy theories..!

    -Is Septimus Severus Amazigh ??

    Check " Did you know " paragraph by click on this link

    "Berbers are first mentioned in writing by the ancient Egyptians who fought against the Lebu (Libyans) on their western borders. In 945 B.C. the Lebu conquered Egypt and founded the 26th dynasty. Berbers also led the Islamic conquest of Spain in A.D. 711. Famous Berbers include the Roman emperor Septimus Severus; Ibn Battuta, the Moroccan traveler and explorer; and French soccer star Zinedine Zidane."...etc

    - Amazigh words in the Arabic slang

    Arabic slang in libya has alot of amazigh words! why? It is the cultural influence.

    زي , غاوية , دفل, بلبوش, مرطة, غرارة, كوشة, خطم, شلط, الزواق, التكة, التوكة, هرول, طارق, فكرون, زميطة, الكيلاني, كامور....etc

    - 89% of libyans are amazigh descents !

    this is a an official statistical fact based in alot of studies and researches.

    Clue : " Do you think that the arabic immigrantions will settle in the hard great desert of libya ?"...i guess they would look for life egypt, tunisia..or contrast to the native people who will stick to thier land struggling the Nature since 50.000 years!
    Islamic civilization is the answer for why the 89% r speaking's the language of the holy quran..some of them still and will preserve their heritage until the end of time! it's natural !

    Also It is a fact that the Amazigh were founded thousands of years before the presence of arabs and hebrews..

    Amazigh were pivotal element during the Jihad against italian colonism , icons such as Bin Askar (related to nura), and solimann al-barouni. are memorial beside Sidi Omar al-mukhtar..and other heros..they were " all one under islam"

    The Algerian liberation front..sparked from the Amazigh atlas start liberation of algeria from the french colonism.

    The problems between Arabs and Amazigh started after the " Arabic Nationalism Project" wich is against islam..and tried to eliminate and erase the North african amazigh culture, the arabic nationalism destroyed it's self .. (empty propaganda).failed.

    Salah addin al-ayoubi..was a great kurdish muslim warrior.
    Taerq bin ziad..conquered spain was great muslim amazigh icon.

    They were (one under islam)..

    *Thanx hanu for your comments..and sorry if i bothered you.
    plz no hard feelings..and if u were the one in the picture..i can admit that you are a genius baby!!


    - Amazigh, Arab..we r all one under islam and our flag...we should accept each other.

    - We should be proude (As Libyans) of our ancient history and heritage...this is our treasure.

    - I,m not a radical amazigh ...i don,t carry any intentions toward arabs..we r libyans..i,m don,t like the way that some radicals (amazigh and arabs)..looking to eliminate each other...this is impossible!! we should look forward for better future..
    ex: composed of (french, germans, italians, native swiss)..r they eliminating each other?

    *Sorry if i was rude, actually i wrote this comment in a hurry..with a simple language.

    "Things should be made as simple as possible but not any simpler."

    Albert Einstein.

    thanx alot...and have blissed night


    Ayman Grada

    By Blogger AGRADA, at October 30, 2005 2:09 AM  

  • Hello dearest friends,
    I am so thrilled that this post has gathered interest and discussion.

    Thank you ladies for your contributions - Aisha that is very interesting to know about the Tamazight language in Canada, I had no idea and Magda in London.

    Hanu I had the same questions as you and I have the same feeling to be honest - I am proud of my Amazigh heritage, mostly I am proud of my family and being my father and mother's daughter.. but I just feel Libyan - if that. My background and heritage never makes me differentiate between people, I think we all have amazing stories to share and as Ayman said - Amazigh or Berbers do not carry ill intentions against Arabs for the most part, they just want their heritage to be perserved from the perceived threat (particularly of the pro-Arab political policies - did you know that it is illegal in Libya for berbers to speak their language in public??). Being from Switzerland, I definately understand the importance and beauty of co-existance!!

    Finally, jazak allahu kheir Ayman for taking the time to share your thoughts and information. I certainly learned a lot from you. :o)

    By Blogger Nura, at October 30, 2005 5:43 AM  

  • Ayman, Ayman... chill out, please. No body mentioned a conspiracy theory, so don't read between the lines please. And yeah, sweet is my treat, so let's move on. MY inquisitive mind can't rest without satisfying answers!

    - The language influence: You said "It is the cultural influence." So according to you, the cultural influence was a one-way road. Don't you agree that when two scieties interact the influence will travel both ways?

    - I wouldn't qualify the National Geographic as a reference for historic events and facts. I did a quick search now and came with results where they say he was phoenician, others say he was black... etc.

    - Saying that 89% of Libyans are Amazigh descent is not a fact without solid documented "facts." And repeating that it's a fact is not going to make it so. My point is, Libyans are a mixture of the many civilizations that passed through the region (check Magda's reply), so saying they are of Amazigh descent and leaving out all the rest does not suffice.

    In addition, what research? Official? By whom? And how was it conducted? We're talking about Libya and Libyans here. The government banned Amazigh from using their language and even naming their children with Amazigh names. So how could one run a research on such a topic? No such research could be done remotely.

    And, I'm really curious, why the odd number of 89%? Why not 80%, 85%, or even the 99.9% we're used to? Don't think... I'm not a cat, so curiosity isn't going to kill me ;-)

    Ayman, you haven't bothered me a bit. This is only a discussion that I don't and won't take personally, neither should you. Don't read too much into it if I'm blunt. I'm simply a person with lots of questions to ask (expect that a lot!)

    By Blogger Hannu, at October 30, 2005 8:11 AM  

  • I am wondering about all these numbers and researches conducted. Are they true? I may end up not an arab at the end. I am not being a racist and I respect all the views,on top is the verses from the Quran, but I think that these calculations are miscalculated.

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