January 13 - Amazigh Celebrate the New Year
On January 13, the Amazigh (Berber) community in Morocco celebrate Yennayer, the Amazigh New Year. Contrary to the Christian and Islamic calendar, it has no religious connotation. Considered as the First Nation people of Morocco, the Amazigh use New Year as a time to focus on their rich cultural and artistic heritage and showcase their food, music and dance. The song and dance forms Ahwach and Ahidous are common at New Year, and are important connections with their long tradition.
Amazighen have achieved constitutional recognition as Morocco's First Nation people and Tamazight is now an official language, however, to draw greater attention to their significance in Moroccan society, there is a movement to make January 13th a national public holiday.
Berbers call themselves "Amazighen," or free men, and their resentment of the Arab-dominated central government means they have long agitated, sometimes violently, for autonomy. The Amazigh, who are now spread across Algeria, Morocco, Libya and Tunisia, were the original inhabitants of North Africa before the 7th century Arab invasion, and they make up a fifth of Algeria's 33 million people. The largest numbers of Amazigh are believed to be in Morocco where the number is estimated between 15 and 20 million.
Ahmed Assid, an academic and activist, says the traditional Amazigh New Year celebration has developed into a political cause.
"If the first of [the Islamic month of] Moharram is a holiday in Morocco, and the first day of the Christian calendar is a holiday, why shouldn't the first day of the Amazigh New Year be also?" he asked.
In the past, Amazigh culture and language were marginalised. Happily, the situation is changing. In the early 2000s, a Royal Institute for Amazigh Culture was set up in Rabat and Tamazight instruction was introduced in primary schools. Also, an Amazigh television channel was launched in 2006.
The 13th marks the first day of year 2966 for the region's indigenous pre-Arab inhabitants, although anthropologists say it is difficult to establish with any precision the historical roots.
The origin of the Amazigh calendar is something of a mystery. "Some historians link it to the enthronement as pharaoh of the Amazigh king Chachnaq, after defeating Ramses III [believed to have happened in 950 BC]," says archaeologist Mostafa Ouachi. "For others, it corresponds to what is known in Morocco as the agricultural calendar, celebrated around January 13."
The New Year celebration "marks the reaffirmation of some important aspects of agrarian society, a return to the land," he said, calling the festivities a way for Berbers to "refresh their collective memory."
Celebrations are planned in several parts of Morocco, including the capital Rabat and other parts with concentrated Berber populations, such as Agadir and Tiznit in the southwest.
In the mountains of northern Algeria, over 4,500 Berber villages will celebrate the New Year. The local community has spent the past six months preparing the traditional "Timechret", a ritual that involves sharing out pieces of meat to the village's 2,000 families.