The Appearance of the Original Berbers According to European Perceptions
All the early major Berber tribes including the Masmuda, Sanhaja, Ketama Zenata and Nafusa are described as dark reddish brown like the “Indi’ or as “blacks” or Ethiopians in early documents. The notion of the early Berbers as being “whites” or Caucasoid is a new and racist one related to the concept of the African “Hamite”. Certainly the original Berber-speakers were never referred to as anything but “black” or something near it until the 12th century and were otherwise considered the color of Abyssinians and other so called “Indi”.
Even the Kabyles a notoriously fair-skinned “Berber” people of North Africa are up until the 19th century described as “brown” “apart from a few clans”. (See quotes below). The knowledge that Europeans were changing the complexion literally and figuratively of North Africa up until the 19th century has disappeared from modern European histories. Most know about the large part played by sub-saharan black slaves in the making of modern North Africa and Arabia while the white slave trade which was in fact dominant trade in North Africa until the fall of Constantinople (Istanbul in Turkey) in the 15th century had been largely ignored in historical writings of the 20th. Yet it was only a few centuries ago that Europeans visiting North Africa commenting on the fact that, “on almost every street of the cities of Barbary, Europeans could be seen harnessed to carts like draught horses or selling water from jars loaded on the backs of donkeys”.
1809 Commentary on those called “Moors” by an early 19th century observer: “They carry the Christian captives about the desert to the different markets to sell them for they soon discover that their habits of life render them unserviceable , or very inferior to the black slaves of Timbuktoo. “ from An Account of the Empire of Marocco, by J. G. Jackson published 1809 and 1814.
2003 – “From 1500 to 1650 when trans-Atlantic slaving was still in its infancy more Europeans were taken to Barbary than black African slaves to the Americas. See, Robert Davis Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800, MacMillan Publishers, published 2003.
The impact of the white slave trade and its contribution to the modern biology and appearance of the modern North African stems from before the Arabian and Muslim waves into Africa. The Roman ruler Claudian spoke concerning Gildo, the “Moorish” ruler of Africa and treatment of Roman women from the Levant by this North African chief and his countrymen:
4th century – Claudian wrote, “ when tired of each noblest matron Gildo hands her over to the Moors. These Sidonian mothers, married in Carthage city must needs mate with barbarians. He thrusts upon me an Ethiopian as a son-in law, a Berber as a husband. The hideous hybrid affrights its cradle.” Claudian, by Claudius Claudianus, translation by Maurice Platnauer, Published by G.P. Putnam’s sons, 1922 p. 113. (Gildo was brother to other Berber chiefs Firmus and Maseczel. Gildo is related to Aguellid or Galdi which remains the modern Tuarek word for chief. Masek, Amazigh ot Imoshagh was the name for the ancient and modern Tuareg clans in general. The Mezikes tribes were called “Ethiopians” in a Roman text of the time. )
1stt c. A.D. – “Diodorus Siculus speaks in reference to the expedition of Agathocles a Sardinian general, of three Libyan tribes on the coast of Tunisia, the Micatani and Zufoni (see Zafan ),who were nomads and the Asfodelodi, who by the color of their skin resembled the Ethiopians” , p. 50 The Mediterranean Race Book XX, 38, 57 Guiseppe Sergi, 1901. The Micatani were also called Ukutameni and Khethim by Josephus. In later writings they are called Ketama Berbers. The name Maketa or Imakitan remains a name for the eastern branches of the Tuareg.
1st century A.D.– Marcus Valerian Martial was one of the earliest Europeans to use the phrase “woolly hair like a Moor” in one of his Satires, and the phrase was commonly used up until the Middle Ages. See Nature Knows No Color Line by J.A. Rogers, 1952. p. 50 The Muslim era didn’t begin until the birth of Muhammed, the Prophet, over four centuries after Martial. By the 7th century the word came to be used for Arabians who in the early era of Islam for the most part were also described as of near “black” complexion.
1st century Silius Italicus also describes the Moors with the term ‘Nigra’ meaning black. In the 3rd century Roman dramatist Platus or Plautus maintained the name Maure was a synonym for “Niger” which was a common term for the word black. 6th century Isidore Archbishop of Seville claimed the word Maure meant black according to Brunson and Runoko Rashidi in “The Moors in Antiquity” in Golden Age of the Moor, 1991.
6th A.D.- Corippus uses the phrase “facies nigroque colorus” meaning faces or appearance of black color to describe the North African Berbers. In his book Johannis, I/ 245.
6th A.D. – Procopius in his History of the Wars book IV contrasting the Germanic Vandals who had settled in North Africa with the Maures claimed the Vandals were not “black skinned like the Maurusioi” . The tribes he classified as Maurusioi are those now classified as ancient Berbers, the Numidians, Masaesyle, Gaitules, Massyles and Mezikes several other “Berber” tribes then settled between Tunisia and Morocco.
After the 8th century the term Moor came to be used for the many Arabian clans who had invaded the Mediterranean and Africa because of their complexions which were the same dark brown or near black to absolutely black color of the Berbers.
1914 – Archeologists observance of the ancient North Africans portrayed in ancient Egyptian tomb paintings, “The brun Libyan type is the only one portrayed in the Old Empire, the xanthrochroids predominate in the New Empire representations.” P. 40 from The Eastern Libyan Oric Bates The intrusive xanthrochroids…do not appear before the XII dynasty… It safe to say that they were immigrants.” from The Eastern Libyans by Oric Bates Frank Cass publishers 1914. pp. 40 and 41. (These paintings of the ancient Libyans as a brown in color are in the works of Nina Davies.)
1939 – “The extreme long-heads, concentrated in the Hoggar and in parts of the Algerian plateau are the Tuareg and the purer families of ancestral nomadic Berbers, preserving the head form which they brought from East Africa, their Hamitic homeland.” Carleton Coon The Races of Europe, p. 257 1979 reprint.
Five major tribes of Berbers were spoken of by early Muslim writers including the Sanhaja, Masumuda Zenata, Ketama and Goddula which were categorized into dozens of others which in turn were divided into many more. Among them were the early Kabyles originally a group of Sanhaja Berbers. Most descriptions refer to the modern Kabyles as fair-skinned, but in the 19th century and early 20th, descriptions and in fact many photographs depict them as dark and near black. (Photos from the 19th century show both very dark-skinned and near white skinned Kabyle individuals from different villages in the region).
1890 – “The Kabyles or Kabaily of Algerian and Tunisian territories…besides tillage, work the mines contained in their mountains…They live in huts made of branches of trees and covered with clay which resemble the Magalia of the old Numidians…They are of middle stature, their complexion brown and sometimes nearly black.” Written in The Encyclopedia Britannica: Dictionary of Arts, Sciences and General Literature Henry G. Allen Company p. 261 Volume I 1890.
1834 The Scotsman Thomas Campbell says, “The Kabyles…dress like the Arabs and a part from a few tribes, are brown complexioned and black haired” p. 109 Barbary and Enlightenment: European Attitudes Toward the Maghreb in the 18th Century, Ann Thomson. Published 1987 by E. J. Bull
A description by Gillebert d’Hercourt in Etudes Anthropologiques sur Soixante-Seize indigenes de lAlgerie in 1865 said the Kabyle crania that were studied were generally dolichocephalic. In fact the physical anthropological studies done on ancient and modern North Africans show that early North Africans were dolichocephalic like the Tuareg and other dark-skinned berber tribes.
Not surprisingly most modern Berber-speakers who are fair skinned including modern Kabyles are predominantly mesocephalic (middle headed) or even brachycephalic. It is interesting that the dress of these modern Kabyle women resembles that modern women of the Balkans and that palm and blood group types are also like those of European Mediterranean Greeks. Many of these Kabyles also have a strong Turkish influence as judged from the recognizable Turkish Eurasian or even East Asian facial features. Obviously some groups other than a Berber one makes up the main genetic strain in many modern Kabyle-speakers. Culturally the modern fair-skinned Kabyles have been documented as among the most patrifocal people in North Africa whereas the ancient and modern Berbers like the Tuareg were notably matrilineal and matrifocal to the chagrin of early Muslim documenters who considered this among their ‘wicked” customs.
1901 – The Oases if Nafzawa and Wed Suef and Wed Regh and other Berbers of the Sus as “of very dark complexion” in Guiseppi Sergi The Mediterranean Race: The Study of the origin of European peoples The Walter Scott Publishing Company
On the Libyo Berbers called – Gaetules or Jeddala
The Gaitules were the most populous of the Libyan tribes of Strabo’s time (1st century AD). Josephus claimed they were descended from Havilah or the Avalioi who he says children of Kush child of Ham.
1st -2nd century – Juvenal, the Roman writer in his Satire V. 53 referred to “a Gaetulian, as a black a Moor “so black you’d rather not see him at midnight”.. Found in Madan’s translation of Juvenal, vol. I by J. Vincent published at Oxford.
Among the Gaetules were a tribe Dari or Darae Gaetuli, there was also a stream called Daradae Ethiopus (DARAE were a Gaetulian tribe in the W. of Africa, on a mountain stream called Dara, on the S. steppes of M. Atlas, adjacent to the Pharusii. (Plin. V. 1: Oros. i. 2: Leo Afr. P. 602.)
The Draa (Arabic: ???) (also spelled Dra or Draâ, in older sources mostly Darha or Dara) is Morocco’s longest river (1100 km). “The inhabitants of the Draa are called Draawa (an exonym), the most famous Draawi undoubtedly being mawlay Mohammed ash-Sheikh. Outside of the Draa region this name is mostly used to refer to the dark skinned people of Draa which make up the largest portion of its inhabitants.” Retrieved May 13th 2008 from
Descriptions of the Masmuda, Sanhaja, Ketama, Zenata Berbers of coastal North Africa and the Upper Atlas
Most Arab-speaking historians beginning as far back as the 8th century when Wah ibn Munabihh a South Arabian and descendant of an Iranian mercenary claimed the Berbers belonged to black races of Ham. Several Muslim writers claimed the Berbers were the sons of Berr who were said to descend from Mazigh ibn (son of ) Canaan Ibn Ham Ibn Nuh (Noah). The tradition found cited in Nafousa: Berber Community in Western Libya, Omar Sahli citing Dabbuz. Retrieved on-line from http://www.tawalt.com/monthly/fessato_1.pdf , July. 12, 2008.
The Zenata are called a Canaanite race by other Muslim writers see ‘The Berbers” Geo. Babington Michell, Journal of the Royal African Society, Vol. 2, No. 6 (Jan., 1903), pp. 161-194. The traditions state that in fact Berbers were descendants of Amalekites (Amalek) from Canaan and Himyarite from Yemen both descendants of “Adites” that had invaded Egypt before 1200 B.C. and “advanced toward the Maghreb”.
The Berbers as represented by the Tuareg especially appear to have called themselves Mashek or Mazigh who are associated with bringing the camel into Africa. Mashek is still the name of a tribe of the Mahra of Oman and Hadramaut who also claim an origin in the Yemen.
( In early Arabian tradition the lowland of Canaan or the Kenaniyya tribe was in an area of the western region of Arabia north of Yemen and not farther to the north in modern Palestine or Israel. See the Bible Came from Arabia. Kamal Salibi )
11th century – “The Berber women are from the island of Barbara, which is between the west and the south. Their color is mostly black though some pale ones can be found among them. If you can find one whose mother is of Kutama, whose father is of Sanhaja, and whose origin is Masmuda, then you will find her naturally inclined to obedience and loyalty in all matters, active in service, suited both to motherhood and to pleasure, for they are the most solicitous in caring for their children. “ 11th century the Christian Iraqi physician Ibn Butlan quoted by historian Bernard Lewis.
11th century – Nasr i Khusrau, an Iranian ruler described the Masmuda soldiers of the Fatimid dynasty as “black Africans”. See Yaacov Lev, “Army, Regime and Society in Fatimid Egypt, 358-487/968-1094”, International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 19.3 (1987) p. 342.
13th century – Primary Cronica General of Alphonso X of Spain describes the 300 Almoravid “Amazon” women whose leader is described as black and Moorish. They were “led by their leader Nugaymath al-Tarqiyya (the “star of the Tuareg archers” in Arabic) who led the Almoravid siege of Valencia”; cited in Nubian Queens in the Nile Valley by Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban, Ninth International Conference of Nubian Studies, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA. See also The Berbers in Arab Literature by H.T. Norris 1982.p. 20. Harvey , L.P. “Nugaymath Turquia, Primera Cronica General, Chapter 956” Journal of Semitic Studies 13, no. 2:232. Targiyyat or Targiya is a variant form or pronunciation in North Africa for the name Tuareg. 13th or 14th century Abu Shama, a Syrian, described the Masmuda Berbers as “blacks” in his, Kitab al-Ravdatayn. Found in Golden Age of the Moor, 1991 edition p. 57, edited by Dr. Ivan Van Sertima.
14th – The Almoravid or Al Murabitun dynasty coming from the Atlas was one of the last dynasties coming from Africa to rule in the Iberian peninsula. One of the 11th century rulers of Andalusia and North Africa was Yusuf Tachfin who had come from a long line of miltary rulers. According to “Roudh el-Kartas” (History of the Rulers of Morocco) by Abd Allah, and A.Beaumier’s French translation of the 14th century work, Yusuf was of “brown color”, of “middle height” with , “ thin, little beard, soft voice” and “woolly hair”. The Almoravid dynasty was supposedly composed mainly of Sanhaja clans of Massufa, Joddala (Gaetuli) and Lamtuna (or Auelimidden Tuareg)- the Auelamidden have since moved southward and live in Niger.