The name "Berber" is derived from the Latin word barbari, meaning "barbarians." This term was used by the Romans in the third century A.D. to describe the "people of the Maghrib." (The Maghrib refers to the regions of North Africa that were conquered by Muslims between 670 and 700 A.D. It included Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and the western portion of Libya). The Berbers define themselves as the Imazighen, which means "man of noble origin." Their various languages belong to the Hamito-Semitic language family which includes five major groupings as well as a large number of dialects. Although the Berber languages differ greatly from one another in sound, they only vary slightly in grammar and vocabulary. Berbers are scattered across the vast regions of North Africa. Their tribes stretch from the Siwa Oasis in Egypt to the Atlantic Ocean. Most likely they once inhabited the entirety of North African, forcing the black population to move further southward through the desert. However, the exact origins of the Berbers and how they arrived in North Africa still remain a mystery. Although the Maghrib has been, for the most part, "Arabized" by language and Islamic culture over the centuries, there are still groups of Berbers who have retained much of their original Berber traditions and characteristics. One of these groups is the Ghadames Berbers who live only in Libya.
No Berber tribe depends exclusively on farming for survival, yet their economy rests on a fine balance between farming and raising cattle. Hunting rarely adds to the food supply. They depend on domestic animals for carrying heavy loads, milk and dairy products, meat, and hides. In regard to labor, the men do most of the farming, while the women are responsible for milking and gathering. The Berbers are often noted for their skills in various crafts. Domestic tasks such as weaving and pottery are the main work of the women. The men specialize in woodworking, metalworking, and, more surprisingly, fine needlework. The Ghadames are now free to display their traditional beautiful needlework at cultural festivals. They also can speak their own dialect of Berber without much interference from the Libyan government which is almost non-existent. Berber societies can be broken down into three basic units: the community, the district, and the tribe. The community is a political collection of clans; the district is a cluster of communities; and the tribe is a group of districts that are characterized by a common territory, name and culture. Government at the community level is notably democratic. All authority is vested in an assembly called the jemaa. The jemaa, composed of all adult males, usually meets weekly. The primary purpose of these assemblies is to preserve peace within their region, and the threat from insurgents is making their job much more difficult. In view of the general acceptance of Islam, it is particularly interesting that almost all Berbers prefer monogamous marriages. Even the oasis dwellers and the Tuareg Berbers have such a preference. In the few tribes where polygamy does exist, only a few wealthy men practice it.
Unlike orthodox Muslims, Ghadames Berbers believe the spirits of their ancestors are gods. They consult these ancestral spirits, and then sleep in their tombs to await responses in dreams. Ghadames Berbers are nominally Muslim; observance of Islamic law is generally lax. The concept of baraka, or holiness, is highly developed in North Africa. The Ghadames Berbers believe that many people are endowed with baraka, of which the holiest are the shurifa, or the direct descendants of Mohammed. Another class of holy people is known as the marabouts. Among some Ghadames Berbers, marabouts are considered to be different from ordinary men. They are believed to possess, even after death, the powers of protection and healing.
The quality of life for the Ghadames Berbers is very poor. The need for community development projects may provide open doors through which Christ's ambassadors may enter. Since the Ghadames live in Libya, they really need protection from armed insurgents.
Pray for a church planting movement among every Berber people in Libya. Pray that the Ghadames Berbers will have a hunger for spiritual truth and allow Jesus Christ to satisfy it. Pray for the Ghadames Berbers to have many chances to hear and respond to the gospel.
Scripture Prayers for the Ghadames in Libya.
|Profile Source: Joshua Project
|People Name General
|People Name in Country
|Population this Country
|Population all Countries
|Frontier People Group
|1 (per PeopleGroups.org)
|Pioneer Workers Needed
|Africa, North and Middle East
|3 (Open Doors top 50 rank, 1 = highest persecution ranking)
|Location in Country
|Nalut district, Ghadamès, a small oasis near Algeria-Tunisia border. Source: Ethnologue 2016