Introduction / History
Berber tribes stretch from the Siwa Oasis in Egypt to the Atlantic Ocean. They probably once inhabited the entire North African territory, 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 remains a mystery.
What Are Their Lives Like?
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. Although the Maghrib has been, for the most part, "Arabized" by language and Islamic culture over the centuries, there are still groups of Berbers, like the nine regional Saharan Berber tribes, who have retained much of their original Berber traditions and characteristics. One of these is the Zekara Berbers.
Since the Sahara Desert is a harsh environment, most Saharan tribes, like the Zekara, occupy various oases.
What Are Their Beliefs?
Zekara Berber economy rests on a fine balance between farming and raising cattle. Every tribe, without exception, depends heavily on domestic animals for carrying heavy loads, milk and dairy products, meat, and hides or wool. No Berber tribe depends on farming for survival. Hunting rarely adds to the food supply.
Zekara Berbers are noted for their craft skills. 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. Regarding labor, the men do most of the farming, while the women are responsible for milking and gathering.
Zekara 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.
In nearly every Zekara Berber society, each district, and sometimes each community as well, is divided into two opposing factions called sofs. Membership into the sof is hereditary. Among tribes that no longer live in their original environments, the political units are allied with one another in identical divisions of higher levels known as lefs. Bonds of alliance are re-confirmed by traditional forms of hospitality as well as by huge annual feasts to which members invite one another. If warfare occurs, it is almost exclusively between districts of the opposite lef. However, since lefs are primarily defensive rather than offensive alliances, their primary purpose is to preserve peace in a region.
Berber groups such as the Zekara are nominally Muslim. Their observances of Islamic law are generally lax. The concept of baraka, or holiness, is highly developed in North Africa. Zekara Berbers believe that many people are endowed with baraka, of which the holiest are the shurifa, or the direct descendants of Mohammed.
What Are Their Needs?
Another class of holy people is known as the marabouts. They are believed to possess, even after death, the powers of protection and healing.
In view of the general acceptance of Islam, it is particularly interesting that almost all Zekara Berbers prefer monogamous marriages. In the few tribes where polygamy does exist, it is practiced only by the few wealthy men.
Zekara Berbers have few Christian resources available to them. Because it is difficult to reach them geographically, they must be the focus of individual church planting efforts.
The quality of life for the Zekara Berbers is very poor. The need for community development projects may provide open doors through which missionaries may enter.
Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to North Africa and share Christ with the Zekara Berbers.
Pray that God will raise up loving African Christians to reach out to their Muslim neighbors.
Ask God to strengthen, encourage and protect the small number of Berber Christians who are scattered throughout North Africa.
Pray that God will raise up faithful intercessors who will stand in the gap for the Zekara Berbers.
Ask the Lord to raise up a strong local fellowship of believers among the Zekara Berbers of Morocco.
Scripture Prayers for the Berber, Zekara in Morocco.