Monday, September 15, 2008

How the term "Berber" stuck to modern day Amazighan speakers

Regardless of the ultimate origins of the term "Berber", it seems pretty clear that the term became particularly synonymous with contemporary Imazighen speakers from the Medieval era onwards, specifically during "Moorish" rule in Europe. And of course today, within the scholarly world of the so-called 'West', the application of this term is justified on the condition that it is strictly a linguistic construct for a Afrasan (Afro-Asiatic) subphylum of certain closely related languages. The term itself is never applied by Imazighen groups to refer to themselves, and so, in that sense, foreign to them. Imazighen groups generally refer to themselves as '- mazigh' in one dialect variant or another. There are several theories out there, as to how the term came to particularly designate Imazighen groups, as opposed to random groups of "strange" or "foreign" people, but the most plausible of these, is the Arab/Moorish connection in Europe. Let's examine...

To the ancient Greeks, the idea of strangers or foreigners wasn't limited to just northwest Africans; rather, it also covered 'strange' people in their own European backyard. Europeans to their north were generally seen as strange, if not uncultured, from the ancient Greek standpoint; their cultural manners were seen as peculiar and foreign to ancient Greeks, and so, they were referred to as 'barbary' (barbarians). Certainly, this term was applied to elements of northeast African populations in the Nile Valley as well; consider this piece on Achilles Tatius' thoughts for instance, with regards to late dynastic delta ancient Egyptians:

"All were huge, black-skinned [not the pure black of the Indians , more as you would imagine a half-caste Ethiopian], bare-headed, light of foot but broad of body. They were all speaking a barbarian language. " - Extracts presumably from Achilles Tatius: Leucippe and Clitophon

Tim Whitmarsh who translated the work and Helen Morales who gave a synopsis of the work, characterize the above description as a reference to some Nile Valley elements who were apparently seen as a nuisance to Greek interest, because we are told that the folks who were so-described [aka the "boukoli" bandits of the coastal areas of the Nile Valley], where one of those groups who were singled out by this sort of characterization, which amounts to an image of "unculturedness"; whereas...

All of the characters, weather they are natives of Phoenicia, Byzantium, Egypt, or Ephesus, speak in Greek, have Greek names, and demonstrate Greek paideis or culture. The exceptions are the boukoli, the bandits who ambush Leucippe and Clitophon. They are described as ''terrifying savages". - by Helen Morales (Introduction) and Tim Whitmarsh (Translator)

But Morales and Whitmarsh warn of any premature conclusions to be drawn from this "Greekifying" of things not actually Greek:

But to read Achille's description as a reflection of reality is grossly to underplay his rhetoric of demonization. The boukoli are caricatures , like other ethnocentric stereotypes of Egyptians elsewhere in the novel [eg at 4.4: ''Thus it is with an Egypt: in times of fear cowardice leads him to servility''] Geographic and description ethnographicreinforce this construction of the alterity of Egypt...

The description of the Egyptian clod of earth emphasizes its different and strangeness [3.13, and cf. the description of the Nile's duplicity at 4.12].

Despite Achillies' being a native of Alexandria, he perpetuates the ethnocentric stereotypes of Egypt familiar from many centuries' construction of Greek self-definition against the 'Barbarian'. - by Helen Morales (Introduction) and Tim Whitmarsh (Translator)

What does this say of the Greeks? The last bit about "Greek self-definition against the Barbarian" goes back to what the above authors reckon to be Greek arrogance of "reaffirmation of Hellenic superiority"; it serves to explain why the aforementioned point about "Greekifying" things not Greek where convenient or the opportunity to do so, was done so; to recap: All of the characters, weather they are natives of Phoenicia, Byzantium, Egypt, or Ephesus, speak in Greek, have Greek names, and demonstrate Greek paideis or culture. The exceptions are the boukoli, the bandits who ambush Leucippe and Clitophon. They are described as ''terrifying savages". - by Helen Morales (Introduction) and Tim Whitmarsh (Translator)

Perhaps might explain why Egyptian names were given Greek alternatives, like say Ausar for example, which is given the Greek alternative of "Osiris"; it might well tie into that theme of "reaffirmation of Hellenic superiority". All things great, even if not Greek, but has been brought into sphere of Greek interest, would have to be "Greekified" in some way or another. At any rate, the point here, was to show lack of restrictiveness to Greek application of "barbarian" to anyone or anything that was out of the norm from the Greek standpoint; it certainly wasn't restricted to coastal northwest African regions, and so, the idea of ancient Greeks being the source of this designation vis-a-vis northwest African Imazighen groups by sections of European scholars from the Medieval era onwards is a questionable one. The Roman application of such a term faired no differently.

Some sources suggest that the earliest north European examples of exclusive reference of "Berber" — that is, in that form as we know it, which is not exactly "Barbarian" as the Greek word itself, occur in French texts. The French word itself for anything strange or foreign is "étranger", and "babarian" — "barbare". Incidentally, Arabs in the Medieval era, during their endeavors in north Africa, exclusively called coastal northwest Africa, as opposed to the whole of coastal north Africa, as Bilad al Barbar ~ essentially meaning: Land of the Barbar/”Berber”. Could the Arab term have ultimately been attained from Indo-European infusion? Perhaps possible, but unless brought to immediate attention, no other north African region, save for the northwest region — which was also designated as Maghreb al Aksa by Arabs from the so-called Near East — has been so-designated as "Bilad al Barbar". Coincidentally, this is also the same region from where Arab and Moorish rule in southwest Europe would be launched. It would therefore seem that exclusivity of application of this with respect to Imazighen speakers by Europeans has its roots in Moorish-controlled southwest Europe, from wherein the alternative generic Arab geographical designation for the Maghreb diffused into European vocabulary. So, the term initially used as a generic geopolitical reference to people in coastal northwest Africa, the Africans then — in the Medieval era — best known to Europeans and were in relatively more regular contact with them, would evolve into a linguistic reference, which would tie coastal northwest Africans with other groups who spoke closely related languages.

As far as primary text attestations are concerned, Arabic-sources have been reliable; for example Ibn Khaldun, likely an Arabized Amazighan writer in Moorish-ruled southwest European era, born in Tunisia, wrote an auto-biography Ta’reef in Egypt, as part of his work in what he calls, Kitab al-’Ibar wa-Diwan al-Mubtada’ wa-l-Khabar fi Ayyam al-’Arab wal-’Ajam wal-Barbar wa man ‘asarahum min dhawi as-Sultan al-Akbar [courtesy of]

We now revisit several interesting explanations of how the term "Berber" as a generic reference to Amazighan speakers came about...

From a "Non-Governmental Organization For the defense of the rights of the Amazigh" called ‘Tamazigha’, we are told:

North Africa, an Amazigh land

All the historians of North Africa attest that the country has been populated by the Amazighs (Berbers) since very ancient times. Ibn Khaldoun in his Histoire des Berbères, wrote concerning the country which is usually referred to as the Maghreb and which we call Tamazgha or country of Imazighen (= plural of Amazigh):

«Since ancient times, this race inhabited the Maghreb of which it populated plains, mountains, shores, cities and countryside (Ibn Khaldoun, Histoire des Berbères, Paris, Geuthner, 1999, p. 167).»

And relating to Tamazight, the language of the Amazighs:

«Their language is a foreign idiom, different from all idioms: the very reason the name Berber was given to them (Ibn Khaldoun, 1999, opus quoted p.168). »

Finally regarding the religions practiced in North Africa:

«Among them there were [tribes] which practiced the Jewish religion; others practiced the Christian one, and others pagan ones, and among the latter were sun, moon and idol worshipers. Having at their head kings and leaders, they carried out against the Muslims several very famous wars (Ibn Khaldoun, 1999, opus quoted, p. 177).»

Closer to us, in 1931, the anti-colonialist historian Charles-André Julien observed that:

«Today, it is generally unknown to the majority that Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia are populated by Berbers. These are boldly referred to as Arabs, all the while the natives often called themselves Amazigh (Tamazight for the feminine and Imazighen for the plural) which literally means "free people", or sometimes "noble people" and was used by several tribes as far back as before the Roman occupation. (C.-A. Julien, Histoire de l'Afrique du Nord, Paris, Payot, 1931, p. 2).»

Source: ‘Tamazigha’, A Non Governmental Organization For the defense of the rights of the Amazigh, in submission to the ‘Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)’ in 2003.

Explanation given in a Kabyle dedicated site by an author going by the name of D. Messaoudi:

For some people, the origin of the word “Berber” would be Greek; their argument rely on the fact that the Greeks called people who spoke a language other than Greek “the Barbarians”. For the Arabs, the above word would be borrowed from Arabic, since in this language there is the verb “Barbara” (to roar) and “Al-barbarah” (“roar” and by extension, incomprehensible language – the equivalent of “baragouin”, meaning gibberish, the name given to the Breton language by the French).

But, in my view, these hypotheses rely on no logic, because in that period, the Berbers were not the only ones with whom the Romans or the Arabs had contacts. Why therefore other people as the Copts, the Kurds, the Sudanese, the Iranians, the Basques, etc, who spoke languages completely different from Latin and Arabic, had not been called “barbarians / Berbers”?

This incites us to search the origin of the above-mentioned appellation elsewhere, and more precisely in Berber language itself.

Our research in different Amazigh dialects led to the discovery of a group of terms and expressions with which we can associate the term “Berber”:

* Iber-iber: nomad in Touareg

* Sberber: be covered with clouds, when speaking about the sky in Kabyle, or to protect somebody or something by covering it with one’s body.

* Sbur: to cover one’s head in Kabyle

* Ibeṛbaṛen: a village located in Mcheddala, Bouira

* Tizi-n-Beṛbeṛ: another village in Kabylia.

* bbeṛbeṛ: very wet, in Kabyle.

My first assumption is that the term “Berber” would be a distortion or perhaps an evolved form of the word attested in Touareg, i.e. “Iberiber”. We know that the Berbers were called “Imazighen”, but maybe the appellation “iberiber”, which became then “Berber”, indicated only a particular grouping of Berbers, as the Touareg which were always big nomads. It would be then the Northern Berbers that would have created this nickname to indicate the Saharan, and the foreigners generalized it then to all Berbers.

My second assumption is that the term “Berber” would have a lexical relation with the words “sbur” and “Sberber”, which are both created on the basis of the same root: “BR”. In fact, if we refer to the dress habits of the North Africans, we will realize that the Berbers, since immemorial time, prefer broad clothings which cover them completely: Kabyle abernus, Shleuh tajellabit, Targui tagelmust, etc., are some examples. Even the Berber women wear long tiqendiar and timhermin or else asburru to protect their heads. It would be therefore the reason for which the Berbers were called, besides Imazighen, “Iberbaren”, which became then “Berber” in foreign languages.

Last but not least, explanation given by Richard L. Smith of the Ferrum College:

Moving beyond race, language—one of the defining characteristics in the modern concept of ethnicity—is rarely mentioned by classical or Arab authors except to note that their subjects spoke some form of gibberish. This began with Herodotus's offhand remark about the Ethiopian troglodytes: "The language they speak is completely different from any other language, and sounds like bats squeaking,"43 and continues through the sixth-century poet Corippus, who, in referring to Berber tribes, notes that their "barbaric languages bark in savage terms."44 Authors don't usually distinguish gibberishes from each other, nor do they state categorically that language was a major criterion for dividing the peoples of North Africa. Perhaps, however, we should assume this. Tacitus, who falls into the Sallust school in his discussion of North Africa but whose study of the German tribes is unsurpassed in classical ethnography, does refer to the importance of language in his review of peoples to the north of the Roman Empire.45 In other regions of Africa, including nearby West Africa, language has often served as an insignia of ethnicity.

Ibn Khaldun does distinguish the Berbers from the Arabs and other peoples by their language. According to him, the Arabs gave the Berbers their name, the origin of which meant something like gibberish: "The word berbera signifies, in Arabic, a jumble of unintelligible cries; from which one says in speaking of the lion that it berbère when it utters confused roars."46 *

[46 * - “ Histoire I:168. In another place, Ibn Khaldun offers an alternate if similar explanation. According to this, a Yemenite king named Afriqus b. Qays b. Sayfi, who lived at the time of Moses, often raided North Africa and killed many Berbers: "He gave them the name of Berbers when he heard their jargon and asked what that barbarah was." Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History, trans. Franz Rosenthal, ed. N. J. Dawood (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967), p. 14.” - Richard L. Smith]

Richard goes onto say:

The unintelligible cries were the many local dialects Berber was divided into, by one modern count an astounding twelve hundred, although the situation at the time of Ibn Khaldun can only be guessed. And while Berber languages show relatively little internal differentiation in comparison to other branches of the Afro-Asiatic family, a detailed language map of Berber speakers would have the pattern of spilled vegetable soup.47* [47* - “For a background on the origin of Berber and its derivatives, see P. Behrens, "Wanderungsbewegungen und Sprache der früken saharanischen Viehzuchter," Sprache und Geschichte in Afrika 6 (1984–85): 135–216.” - Richard Smith]

In the past scholars have tried to get a handle on this so-called "language of dialects" by recognizing two or three dialect clusters—Zanatiya, Sanhaja, and sometimes Masmuda (which, when not recognized as separate, is joined with Sanhaja)—based on phonetic and morphological variations and location. Zanata, Sanhaja, and Masmuda are not terms used in the writings of the ancients but do appear, full-blown, with Arab authors who draw a clear distinction between them. The Masmuda were concentrated in the High Atlas and surrounding areas while in the rest of North Africa the Zanata (those who speak Zanatiya) were more common in the north and east and the Sanhaja in the south and west. The word "Sanhaja" means those who speak Zenaga (Znaga), the major dialect of the western desert. - Richard L. Smith

Then there are legends of ‘Berber’ ancestry, one of which as already very briefly mentioned, is traced back to a personality(s) by the name of “Berr”:

According to the Arabian genealogies, all Berbers are descended from two men: Berr ibn Branes and Berr ibn Botr.79 These two Berrs, although possessing the same name, were not related. From them are descended the great families of Berbers such as the Masmuda, Senhaja, and Zenata. Of all these great families the earliest to spread seems to have been the Masmuda or Ghomara branch. This was followed traditionally by the Senhaja, who today include such varied peoples as the Siwans on the borderlands of Egypt, the Tuareg of the Sahara, and the Braber of the Middle Atlas in Morocco. The third great expansion was that of the Zenata, who were known in Roman times in Cyrenaica, but who did not reach Algeria and Morocco until the Middle Ages. In the thirteenth century these Zenata finally invaded Spain, conquering Arabs and earlier Berbers. One may compare the expansions of the Berber families to those of Kelts, Germans, Slavs, etc. in Europe. - Courtesy of

From the above, the present author can only imagine that the website is basing this on Arabic-speaking others cited in their reference, such as el Bekri and Ibn Khaldun

[More on these sort of legends, from Richard L Smiths analysis:

Unlike Herodotus, Ibn Abi Zar did recognize that his subjects lived in segmented societies,55 but the framework that he and other Arab writers imposed was genealogical rather than anthropological. Groups were defined as descendants of specific people, so exactly who the Berbers issued from was a much debated topic. The most popular starting place was the Holy Land, and first among the candidates was Goliath. After David killed Goliath, the Philistines, frequently confused with the Canaanites, were said to have left their homeland and migrated to North Africa, where they became the Berbers. Not everyone who wanted to keep the Berbers in the Old Testament was convinced of the Goliath connection. One of the most popular accounts goes back to Noah's children, Ham and Sem, among whom Satan was said to have sowed discord:

"Ham, having become black because of a curse pronounced against him by his father, fled to the Maghrib to hide in shame.... Berber, son of Kesloudjim [Casluhim], one of his descendants, left numerous posterity in the Maghrib."56* [56* - “Ibn Khaldun, [I]Histoire
I, 177–178. The Ham connection appears in al-Ya'qubi, Corpus, p. 21. The Goliath connection comes a little later in Ibn Hawqal, Corpus, p. 48. Much earlier, in the first century C.E., the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus claimed that the Gaetulians descended from Havilah, the son of Cush, grandson of Ham.” - Richard L. Smith]

Understandably, many of the Berbers did not want their family trees rooted in Goliath, Ham, or other Biblical ne'er-do-wells. Muslims all over the Islamic world often tried to establish ancestral connections with the Prophet's homeland, the Arabian peninsula, and the Berbers were no exception. A popular theory among them was that they were long-lost Yemenites.

Ibn Khaldun chronicled all the stories he could find concerning Berber origins and demolished each in turn. He characterized one story that featured an invasion by an ancient Yemenite king as an "example of silly statements by historians.
"57* [57* - “Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimah, p. 14.” - Richard L. Smith] Nor did he mince words concerning another popular theory:

"The opinion which represents them as the children of Goliath or Amalecites, and which has them emigrate from Syria, willy-nilly, is so untenable that it merits classification as a fable."

But Ibn Khaldun proved more effective as a critic than in offering a viable alternative. In the end he, too, traced the Berbers back to Genesis:

"Now the real fact, the fact which dispenses with all hypothesis, is this: the Berbers are the children of Canaan, the son of Ham, son of Noah." Down this line came Berr who had two sons, Baranis and Madghis al-Abtar. All Berber tribes descended from one or the other of these brothers and were classified as either Baranes or Botr.
58* [58* - “Histoire I, 173–185. Also see R. W. Bulliet, "Botr et Beranes: Hypotheses sur l'histoire des Berbes," Annales Economies, Sociétés, Civilisations 36 (1981): 104–116.” - Richard L. Smith]


The Sanhaja were Baranes, and the Zanata were Botr. Further up the tree on the Baranes side were the Mulaththamun, who, according to al-Idrisi, descended from two eponyms, Sanhaj and Lamt. They lived in the Maghrib and were the sons of a mother named Tazakkat (Tizki), "the Lame." But Sanhaj and Lamt produced troublesome broods who tried to conquer the other Berbers and were finally driven into the desert, where they became nomads living in tents and surviving on the milk and meat of camels.59* [59* - “Corpus, p. 127.” - Richard L. Smith]

Arab-imposed, male-centered genealogy tells us more about contemporary Arab historiography than it does about Berber ethnography. This is not to dismiss the importance of perceived descent, which was matrilineal among most Berbers, particularly those of the desert. Etymological analysis seems to indicate that this tradition had its roots deep in the past: the words for brother and sister in proto-Berber, for example, are "son of my mother" and "daughter of my mother" respectively.60* [60* - “G. Marcy, "Les survivances juridiques de la parenté maternelle dans la coutume du Maroc Central," Actes du Congrès del'institut des Hautes Études Marocaines (Rabat, 1937), p. 33.” - Richard L. Smith]

The progenitor of Sanhaja and Tuareg alike was more often than not thought to be a woman, **Tin Hinan** of the Kel Ahaggar being the most well known. Whatever the real story behind the formation of a group like the Lamtuna, a large measure of their self-identity came from the commonly held belief that their eponymous ancestor was a woman named **Lamtuna**, and thus they were related "by blood" to each other.

More on legends, as cited by Richard:

One final aspect of Biblical-based genealogical history is worth noting: it did not start with the Arabs. About halfway through his work, Procopius suddenly announces that it is necessary to tell how the Maures came to Libya. He begins with Joshua and the Hebrews invading Palestine and thrashing everyone in sight. Several of the Canaanite tribes escaped by moving into Egypt, but finding it already crowded, continued on to Libya. Autochthonous people Procopius calls the "Children of the Soil" already lived there; Procopius does not say whether the Canaanites and the Children of the Soil fought or intermarried, only that the Canaanites became Maures.61* [67* - “.V. IV.10.12–24.” - Richard L. Smith] Procopius did not invent the tie between the peoples of North Africa and the Old Testament: for the Christians it goes back to St. Hippolyte in the early third century, but its origins can be seen even earlier in Flavius Josephus and Jewish tradition.62*[62* - “Yves Modéran, "Mythe et histoire aux derniers temps de l'Afrique antique: À propos d'un texte d'Ibn Khaldun," Review Historique CCCIII 2 (Avril–Juin 2001): 327–337.” - Richard Smith] However, Procopius's story does establish a link between portals two and three. It is one of the few strands of continuity, even though it concerns a perceived rather than a real relationship, which brings us back to our original problem: Why does there appear to be such a level of discontinuity?

Richard adds…

The almost complete break in nomenclature between the classical and Arab periods has to raise a few eyebrows. The names we use today come from the sources available to us. Some names originated with the people themselves, as in the case of the Mauri, at least according to Strabo.63* [63* - “Geography XVII.3.2. Later the transliteration became "Moors."“ - Richard L. Smith] Others came from neighbors, and some that ended up in Greek and Roman references were simply botched transliterations.64* [64* - “In the opening paragraph of his discussion on Libya, Pliny complains, "The names of its peoples and towns are absolutely unpronounceable except by the natives," N.H. V.1. See Gustave Mercier, "La langue libyenne et la toponymie antique de l'Afrique du Nord," Journal Asiatique 105 (1924): 189–320.” - Richard L. Smith] Authors confused names probably more often than we suspect. In his tour of the middle of the desert, Pliny notes that "the Blemmyae are reported to have no heads, their mouth and eyes being attached to their chests."65* [65* - “N.H. V.8.46.” - Richard L. Smith] Strabo and others describe a real people they referred to as the Blemmyae, who were nomads living below Egypt. Pliny's Blemmyae, minus the name, were borrowed from Herodotus's discussion of western Libya beyond the cultivated area: "There are enormous snakes there ... donkeys with horns, dog-headed creatures, headless creatures with eyes in their chests (at least, that is what the Libyans say), wild men and wild women...."66* [66* - }Geography VIII.7; 135; Histories IV.191.” - Richard L. Smith] Still others were made up by the Greeks and Romans. Diodorus Siculus provides some egregious examples in his tour of peoples living south of Egypt, which includes the Ichthyophagi (fish eaters), Chelonophagi (turtle eaters), Rhizophagi (root eaters), Hylophagi (wood eaters), Spermatophagi (seed eaters), Stnithophagi (bird eaters), and Acnclophagi (locust eaters). Just to show his scheme was not entirely based on diet, he threw in the Simi (flat nosed). It is unlikely that people actually thought of themselves as being Hylophagi or Simi.67* [67* - “.H. III.15.1; 21.1; 23.1; 24.1–2; 28.1–2; 29.1. On names the Greeks gave to the Libyans, see Olivier Masson, "Grecs et Libyens en Cyrenaique," Antiquités africaines 10 (1976): 49–62.” - Richard L. Smith]

Finally, a bio-anthropological trivia on Imazighen speaker...

Recaps from posts elsewhere: Language family association aside, the other thing that seems to tie in these groups, though perhaps relatively more loosely than the language connection, is reoccurring uniparental markers, that is suggestive of ultimate from descent a common recent ancestor in a proto-Amazighan speaking population; predominantly, from the paternal side, this is primarily the E-M81 marker, closely followed by various clusters of the E-M78 marker. On the maternal end, an interesting pattern is observed: a clinal distribution along geographic lines finds expression with recent European ancestry substantially represented along the the north coast regions, wherein its frequency thereof progressively fades as one proceeds further into the continent, through the Sahara to the Sahel, and ultimately into sub-Saharan Africa. By the same token, the more traditional/typical African markers are more considerably represented in Sahelian and Saharan Imazighen speakers. This maternal distribution pattern seems to parallel phenotypic trends like that of the clinal pattern invoked in skin tone variations; Imazighen (Berber) speakers sport noticeable degree of variation from tawny looking groups to noticeably dark hued groups, and intermediary grades in between the extremes of this phenotypic manifestation amongst Imazighen speakers; darker-toned Imazighen speakers seem to be predominant in the Saharan and Sahelian areas, while the coastal north regions is notably inhabited by considerable segments of populations, though not exclusively, of lighter-toned Imazighen and Arabized Imazighen speakers.

There have been attempts by some parties to tie contemporary Imazighen speakers with Upper Paleolithic bio-anthropological records of Northwest Africa, but genetic studies have shown that while contemporary Imazighen groups carry lineages that derive from Upper Paleolithic provenance, the coalescent ages from typical Amazigh markers postdate the Upper Paleolithic; reoccurring markers like M1 and U6 also derive from the Upper Paleolithic, but are not evenly distributed in considerable frequency in different Imazighen locales, if not even relatively modest compared to some territorially-specific markers of an Imazighen habitation in question. One study found something interesting in the coastal northwest African mtDNA landscape: that an Arabized population had less traditional African-specific markers than the "Imazighen"-identified counterpart in Tunisia; they attribute this interesting find to the "patchy nature" of DNA samplings undertaken on contemporary Imazighen populations...

Female gene pools of Berber and Arab neighboring communities in central Tunisia: microstructure of mtDNA variation in North Africa.
Feb 2005

Cherni L, Loueslati BY, Pereira L, Ennafaa H, Amorim A, El Gaaied AB.

Laboratory of Molecular Genetics, Immunology, and Biotechnology, Faculty of Sciences of Tunis, University of Tunis, El Manar II 1060, Tunisia.

North African populations are considered genetically closer to Eurasians than to sub-Saharans. However, they display a considerably high mtDNA heterogeneity among them, namely in the frequencies of the U6, East African, and sub-Saharan haplogroups. In this study, we describe and compare the female gene pools of two neighboring Tunisian populations, Kesra (Berber) and Zriba (non-Berber), which have contrasting historical backgrounds. Both populations presented lower diversity values than those observed for other North African populations, and they were the only populations not showing significant negative Fu's F(S) values. Kesra displayed a much higher proportion of typical sub-Saharan haplotypes (49%, including 4.2% of M1 haplogroup) than Zriba (8%). With respect to U6 sequences, frequencies were low (2% in Kesra and 8% in Zriba), and all belonged to the subhaplogroup U6a. An analysis of these data in the context of North Africa reveals that the emerging picture is complex, because Zriba would match the profile of a Berber Moroccan population, whereas Kesra, which shows twice the frequency of sub-Saharan lineages normally observed in northern coastal populations, would match a western Saharan population except for the low U6 frequency.

The North African patchy mtDNA landscape has no parallel in other regions of the world and increasing the number of sampled populations has not been accompanied by any substantial increase in our understanding of its phylogeography. Available data up to now rely on sampling small, scattered populations, although they are carefully characterized in terms of their ethnic, linguistic, and historical backgrounds. It is therefore doubtful that this picture truly represents the complex historical demography of the region rather than being just the result of the type of samplings performed so far.

Recalling from a previous posting elsewhere...

Arredi et al. had already stated that there is no substantial "Paleolithic" contribution in North African west Afrasan-speaking groups (otherwise known as "Berbers"), even though the lineages themselves derive from ancestral lineages of Paleolithic extraction; whereas the Bosch et al. study sees E3b lineages in Berbers as of Upper Paleolithic extraction. Arredi et al.'s study post-dates (2004) that of the Bosch et al. study (2001). Moreover, Bosch et al. idea of what constitutes "sub-Saharan" Africa is messed up, judging from their seeming incapacity to note that E3b-M35 is of sub-Saharan origin. Nonetheless, Wikipedia's claim about ancestry, supposedly in attribution to Bosch et al., is a far cry from what is actually presented in the Bosch et al. study; and so, in reading Wikipedia, caution has to be in order before one accepts the said info as credible. This is what was stated in Wikipedia:

The Y chromosome is passed exclusively through the paternal line. The composition is: 48% E3b2, 12% E3b* (xE3b2), 17% R1*(xR1a) and 23% F*(xH,I,J2,K) ((Arredi et al., 2004) [1]), according to the method used by Bosch et al. 2001. We may summarize the historical origins of the Kabyle Y-chromosome pool as follows: 60% Northwest African Upper Paleolithic (H36/E3b* and H38/E3b2), 23% Neolithic (F*(xH,I,J2,K)) and 17% historic European gene flow (R1*(xR1a)). :

This is what Bosch et al. actually said:

Group IX haplotypes (fig. 2gi) are found in the Middle East and are most prevalent in Europe (Underhill et al. 2000). Group IX also contains three local Iberian haplotypes: H101, H102, and H103. The latter, which is defined by derived mutation M167 (also known as "SRY-2627"), is equivalent to Y-chromosome haplogroup 22 as described by Hurles et al. (1999). These authors examined haplogroup 22 worldwide and showed that it has a geographical distribution almost restricted to northern Iberia. Moreover, on the basis of the dating of microsatellite and minisatellite diversity within haplogroup 22, they suggested that it arose in Iberia a few thousand years ago.

Group IX is found at a low frequency **(3%)** in NW Africa. In Iberia, 56% of the Y chromosomes carry H104, which is found across Europe, with increasing frequencies toward the west; its defining mutation, M173, may have been introduced by the first Upper Paleolithic colonizations of Europe (Semino et al. 2000). It may not have been the only lineage introduced into Iberia during the Upper Paleolithic, but it seems to have been the only one that has persisted in the extant Iberian gene pool. Of five H104 NW African chromosomes, one had an STR haplotype identical to that in an H104 Iberian chromosome, one was one mutation step away from Iberian H104 chromosomes, and the remaining three were two mutation steps away. Moreover, the mean repeat-size difference within 53 H104 Iberian STR haplotypes was 2.8 (range 011). The phylogenetic relations among H104 STR haplotypes is shown by a reduced median network (fig. 3c), in which the NW African chromosomes appear to be clearly embedded within the Iberian diversity. The time necessary to accumulate the STR-allele differences between NW African and Iberian H104 chromosomes was estimated at 2,100 ± 450 years. This close STR-haplotype similarity seems to indicate that H104 chromosomes found in NW Africa are a subset of the European gene pool and that they may have been introduced during **historic times.**

...meaning that European, more precisely Iberian male mediated gene flow, is much more recent in coastal North African west-Afrasan speakers, who are specifically the following:

H50 found in one Moroccan "Arab", and H104 found in one southern Moroccan "west-Afrasan/"Berber"" speaker, three Moroccan "Arab" speakers, and one north-central Moroccan "west-Afrasan" speaker.

Bosch et al. go onto conclude that:

So far, our analyses have allowed a clear dissection of almost all NW African and Iberian paternal lineages into several components with distinct historical origins. In this way, the historical origins of the NW African Y-chromosome pool may be summarized as follows: 75% NW African Upper Paleolithic (H35, H36, and H38), 13% Neolithic (H58 and H71), **4%** historic European gene flow (group IX, H50, H52), and 8% recent sub-Saharan African (H22 and H28). In contrast, the origins of the Iberian Y-chromosome pool may be summarized as follows: 5% recent NW African, 78% Upper Paleolithic and later local derivatives (group IX), and 10% Neolithic (H58, H71). No haplotype assumed to have originated in sub-Saharan Africa was found in our Iberian sample. It should be noted that H58 and H71 are not the only haplotypes present in the Middle East and that the Neolithic wave of advance could have brought other lineages to Iberia and NW Africa. However, the homogeneity of STR haplotypes within the most ancient biallelic haplotypes in each region indicates a single origin during the past, with possible minor reintroductions, with the Neolithic expansion, from the Middle East. Thus, Neolithic contributions may be slightly underestimated.

Whereby Hg E is denoted by the following:

H35=E3b-M78, H38=E3b-M81, and H36=E3b-M35; H22=E3a-M2, and H28=E1-M33

Hg J denoted by the following:


Hg F denoted by the following:


Hg I denoted by the following:

H50=I1b2-M26, and H52=I*-M170.

Hg R denoted by the following:


Thus note that the "4%" "historic", NOT pre-historic, European contribution quite likely from the Iberian peninsula, is a combination of I lineage (.6%), which was found in only one Moroccan "Arab" speaking individual AND R lineages (2.8%) found in five Moroccan individauls; three of them "Arab" speakers, and two of them "west-Afrasan" speakers.