Berber, Rif in Algeria

Map Source:  Bethany World Prayer Center
People Name: Berber, Rif
Country: Algeria
10/40 Window: Yes
Population: 500
World Population: 1,888,500
Primary Language: Tarifit
Primary Religion: Islam
Christian Adherents: 0.02 %
Evangelicals: 0.01 %
Scripture: New Testament
Online Audio NT: No
Jesus Film: Yes
Audio Recordings: Yes
People Cluster: Berber-Riff
Affinity Bloc: Arab World
Progress Level:

Introduction / History

The Northern Shilha of Algeria and Morocco, better known as the "Rif Berbers," are numerous tribes of tough and hardened people eking out an existence on the harsh, uninviting slopes of the Rif Mountains. The land, located in the northwestern portion of Africa, is a combination of deserts, mountains, and rolling fields. It is bordered by two rivers and 145 miles of coastline. The word "rif" is an Arabic word meaning "the edge of cultivated area." The Rif Berbers are actually made up of 19 tribes: five in the west along the Mediterranean coast, seven in the center, five in the east, and two in the southeastern desert area. The Rif Berbers live mainly in Morocco, but also in Algeria. Others have migrated to France and the Netherlands where they are migrant workers.

What Are Their Lives Like?

Despite the rugged environment, these people remain bound by strong family traditions. Their farming is done mostly by hand, providing a meager crop at best. Influenced by a Mediterranean climate, the winters are mild and the summers are hot and dry. Along the coast it is humid in the summer months. In contrast to the Southern and Central Shilha, raising livestock plays only a secondary role in the lives of the Northern Shilha (AKA, Rif Berbers). They grow some sorgums (grain) for feed, but the fig and olive trees that cover the mountain slopes make up their principal resources. Incomes are supplemented through job opportunities in major cities of Europe. In fact, such jobs lure up to one-third of the male population for most of the year. In rural communities the effects of modernization are scarce, despite government projects to aid farm production. The Rifs often reject these efforts as being an intrusion upon their culture and traditions. Rif houses are usually built of stone and have flat roofs. Some of the poorer people live in wood huts plastered with mud. Houses are often placed on ridges or other such locations, at least 300 meters from the nearest neighbor. This proves to be strategic in times of defense. Rif women wear colorful long dresses and head scarves. The men wear the traditional djellaba cloak, which is made of wool or cotton with wide sleeves and a hood. They also wear turbans, which are distinctive and unique to each particular tribe. Younger men often wear western style clothing. Rif Berbers follow a traditional Muslim, male-dominated family structure. When the man dies, each son sets up his own household, and the cycle continues. Education is strictly a male privilege, but it does not have a high priority. If a family has many sons, they may send their third and fourth sons to an Islamic school. Overpopulation and poverty are big problems among the Rifs. Too many children, insufficient crops, and increasing migration of the young men to the European cities are all major concerns that will undoubtedly change the lives of the Rif Berbers in the years to come.

What Are Their Beliefs?

Although they accepted Islam as a new religion, Rif Berbers also maintained their pre-Islamic cultural and ritual traditions. The acceptance of Islam and the adoption of Arabic ways never completely erased Berber culture. Although they are nominally Sunni Muslims, most Rif people have little knowledge of the practices of the Koran and other dimensions of Orthodox Islam. For example, Berber men often use verses from the Koran as part of their protective amulets. The concept of baraka, or holiness, is highly developed in North Africa. The Rif Berbers believe that many people are endowed with baraka, of which the holiest are the shurifa, or the direct descendants of Mohammed. They also have great respect for marabouts, Muslim holy men who teach and are usually scholars in the Koran.

What Are Their Needs?

Rif Berbers need the chance to put their identity in Jesus Christ and enjoy his blessings in this life and in the life to come. Someone needs to go to them with the life-changing gospel.

Prayer Points

Pray for Rif Berbers to put their faith and hope in Christ, paving the way for a Disciple Making Movement. Pray for a spiritual hunger among Rif Berbers that will lead them to the cross and the empty grave. Pray for workers to go to the Rif and find persons of people who will welcome them into their communities with the gospel of peace.

Text Source:   Joshua Project