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Berbers (Arabic: بربر) or the Berber peoples, also called by their contemporary self-name Amazigh (//) or Imazighen (Berber languages: ⵉⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖⵏ, ⵎⵣⵗⵏ, romanized: Imaziɣen; singular: Amaziɣ, ⴰⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖ ⵎⵣⵗ; Arabic: أمازيغ), are a diverse grouping of distinct ethnic groups indigenous to North Africa who predate the arrival of Arabs in the Arab migrations to the Maghreb. Their main connections are identified by their usage of Berber languages, most of them mutually unintelligible, which are part of the Afroasiatic language family. They are indigenous to the Maghreb region of North Africa, where they live in scattered communities across parts of Morocco, Algeria, Libya, and to a lesser extent Tunisia, Mauritania, northern Mali and northern Niger. Smaller Berber communities are also found in Burkina Faso and Egypt's Siwa Oasis.
Imaziɣen, ⵉⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖⵏ, ⵎⵣⵗⵏ
Arabic: بربر – أمازيغ
|Regions with significant populations|
|Morocco||14 million to 18 million|
|Algeria||9 million to ~13 million|
|Canada||37,060 (including those of mixed ancestry)|
|Berber languages (Tamazight) and Arabic|
|Predominantly Sunni Islam.|
Minorities Ibadis, Shias, Christianity (chiefly Catholicism), Judaism
|Related ethnic groups|
|Arabs and other other Afro-Asiatic speaking Mediterranean peoples|
Descended from Stone Age tribes of North Africa, accounts of the Imazighen were first mentioned in Ancient Egyptian writings. From about 2000 BCE, Berber languages spread westward from the Nile Valley across the northern Sahara into the Maghreb. A series of Berber peoples such as the Mauri, Masaesyli, Massyli, Musulamii, Gaetuli, and Garamantes gave rise to Berber kingdoms, such as Numidia and Mauretania. Other kingdoms appeared in late antiquity, such as Altava, Aurès, Ouarsenis, and Hodna. Berber kingdoms were eventually suppressed by the Arab conquests of the 7th and 8th centuries CE. This started a process of cultural and linguistic assimilation known as Arabization, which influenced the Berber population. Arabization involved the spread of Arabic language and Arab culture among the Berbers, leading to the adoption of Arabic as the primary language and conversion to Islam. Notably, the Arab migrations to the Maghreb from the 7th century to the 17th century accelerated this process. While local Arab dynasties came to rule parts of the Maghreb after the 7th century, Berber tribes remained powerful political forces and founded new ruling dynasties in the 10th and 11th centuries, such as the Zirids, Hammadids, various Zenata principalities in the western Maghreb, and several Taifa kingdoms in al-Andalus. Islam later provided the ideological stimulus for the rise of fresh Berber empires, the Almoravids and Almohads in the 11th to 13th centuries. Their Berber successors – the Marinids, the Zayyanids, and the Hafsids – continued to rule until the 16th century. From the 16th century onward, the process continued in the absence of Berber dynasties; in Morocco, they were replaced by Arabs claiming descent from the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
Berbers are divided into several diverse ethnic groups and Berber languages, such as Kabyles, Chaouis and Rifians. Historically, Berbers across the region did not see themselves as a single cultural or linguistic unit, nor was there a greater "Berber community", due to their differing cultures. They also did not refer to themselves as Berbers/Amazigh but had their own terms to refer to their own groups and communities. They started being referred to collectively as Berbers after the Arab conquests of the 7th century and this distinction was revived by French colonial administrators in the 19th century. Today, the term "Berber" is viewed as pejorative by many who prefer the term "Amazigh". Since the late 20th century, a trans-national movement – known as Berberism or the Berber Culture Movement – has emerged among various parts of the Berber populations of North Africa to promote a collective Amazigh ethnic identity and to militate for greater linguistic rights and cultural recognition.
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