When I work as a guide in North Africa - where the Sahara lies and Islam is dominate - I commonly use words as „Berbers, Tuaregs, Arabs, Bedouins, nomads or Moors.“

Most Europeans are confused by these names until I explain them.

Do you know what those names mean and what is the differences between them?

Arabs - rulers of North Africa

Some of those words are called ethnic, nations that live in North Africa. So let's imagine them a bit.

Let's start with the Arabs. The Arabs are a large, old nation with their own language (Arabic) and their own culture. In the 7th to 8th centuries, right after the death of Muhammad - the prophet and founder of Islam, they spread and in a short time created a big empire from European Spain to today's India.

Through this expansion period, they also rule North Africa, where they brought Islam and where they are still the most dominant nation.

Arabs can be found as dominant nation from Morocco, through Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Sudan (as a minority in other African countries, for example - Somalia), then they are living in the Arabian Peninsula, from where they originally spread, to the Middle East - ending with Iraq. This is a vast territory that we can call "the Arab world."

Other nations of North Africa

Another well-known and numerous people in North Africa are the Berbers, who call themselves Amazir = in translation: free people.

They have their own language, culture and even their flag.

When the Arabs conquered all of North Africa, thye Islamized this regions and also the Berbers.

Berbers are most widespread in northwestern Africa - Morocco and Algeria. We can say about Morocco that is rather a Berbesan country than an Arab country.

The Berber's relatives are the Tuaregs, who live in the southern parts, on the border where black Africa is slowly beginning. The Berbers and Tuaregs have a similar language, a similar culture, but they are not exactly the same.

I often compare it, for example, to us Slovaks and Polish people - yes, we are similar in something, relatives, we speak Slavic / similar languages, but we are not the same, only similar. 🙂

Very interesting word is Maur (or Moor). In my opinion, it as a European name for all Muslims (including Arabs and Berbers) who once landed together in Europe and occupied today's Spain and Portugal.

The ancient Romans once had a province in North Africa that called Mauretania (in present-day Morocco and Algeria), so the name for all who came from North Africa - "the Moors" - was derived from this name.

Today, some people also use the term to refer to the mixed Black-Arab-Berber population that we can find living between Black and Arab-Berber Africa.

Bedouin and nomad

So we have only two expressions left - Bedouin and nomad.

Bedouin is a common name for an Arabian shepherd who grazes his goats somewhere in the desert or near the desert. They often live nomadic life.

Nomad is a person who moves. He has his tent, which he can pack when he needs it and goes to another place where there is currently more food and water for him and his animals.

Today, we also know the modern concepts of nomadism. Even in our civilized modern world, many people still travel somewhere because of their work. Basically, I was such modern nomad for several years too. 🙂

Text & photos:

František Fefe Kekely