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Section 3 - The "Denigrification" of Berbers and "Canaanites"

Dana W. Reynolds-Marniche


The term “Moorâ€and its variants have long been used throughout Europe as synonyms for Nigri or Negro and to denote various black-skinned and nearly black peoples. In the last century or so, it has been presumed that ancient “Moorish†Muslims in the Iberian peninsula were erroneously thought of as black by medieval Europeans. It has also been presupposed that the term “Moro†in the Iberian peninsula originally denoted Saracens and Berber-speakers that were distinct from modern “blacks†of Africa in phenotype and origin. It has been concluded that early “Berber†populations in North Africa were descendants of ancient “Caucasoids“ who have absorbed different black African populations in recent times. Similarly it is believed that the Arab populations of North Africa a thousand years ago were mainly “Caucasoid†groups affiliated with present populations of the Levant.

Historical documents, physical anthropology, archeology and traditional record in Muslim Africa and Asia, however, support the view that early “Berber†clans entering Europe were not only “blacks†and “near blacks†in the literal sense, but affiliated with early and current populations of the Fezzan, Mzab, Syrtica, the Moroccan Riff, Sudan, Sahara and Sahel designated Garawa, Jarawa or Wangara, and Zaghawa, Zaghai or Songhai. The Tuareg, as well, before intermingling with non-African populations, were undoubtedly representative of ancient populations called Mauri or Mezikes, Pharusii and Levathes in Tripolitania, the Pentapolis, Kabylia and the Aures and Fezzan stretching to Nubia and east of the Nile. Both of these groups, along with the early Fulani or Peul and black “vassal†groups among the Tuareg (Anbat, Inrad, Imghad, Haratin, Ikaradan, Karduwan, Kret, or Izaggaren) undoubtedly contributed to the “Moorish†or black element in Spain and southern Europe and were the bulk of the groups traditionally classified as “Berber†i.e., Sanhaja, Goddala, Masmuda, Zenata, and Hawara, or Luwata.

Anthropological “race†theories of dark or black “Caucasoid†types (“hamite,†“Eurafrican†and “Mediterranean raceâ€), colonial conceptions of “the Negro†and modern political constructs of “blackness†in Europe and of the “abid†or slave in the Near East, play a significant role in ethnohistoric interpretations of the origins of early North African Berber and Arabic-speakers. The neglect in contemporary historiography of the biological impact of documented movements of various northern groups over the last several centuries into North Africa and the same latitudes in Asia (including the ‘white slave tradeâ€) has had deleterious influence on early African historical study. It is a second primary factor contributing to current theoretical constructs that dismiss the predominant role of populations of "black African" and Afro-Arabian affiliation in the ethnic groups first designated “Mauri,†Berber and Arab.


Moors; Racial Terminology; Hamitic Theory; Tuareg; Andalus; Berber Identity; Jerma; Maghreb; Zaghawa; Wangara Origins; Arab Nationality

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West Africa Review. ISSN: 1525-4488 (online).
Editors: Adeleke Adeeko, Nkiru Nzegwu, and Olufemi Taiwo.

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