North African Culture and History

Ait Benhaddou, by Annabel Symington

The northern portion of the African continent comprises of Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. People indigenous to this region include mainly the Berbers and Maghrebis of the west, and the Egyptians and Nubis of the east. Although each of these ethnic groups have their own separate cultures they share in common the Islamic religion and the Arabic language (with the exception of some Berber groups.)

North Africa is home to some of the oldest civilisations on the planet, and its people can be traced back to these ancient origins. Many of those who live in the Sahara desert still maintain the old nomadic customs of housing, cooking, and agriculture of their ancestors. The Berber economy consists almost exclusively of the sale of cattle and textiles. Many of these tribes also live in hut-style homes near oases.

Artist, Unknown

Artist Unknown

Egypt is home to a plethora of artefacts from the ancient world. Perhaps the most famous of these is the Giza Necropolis. Here, the Pharaohs were entombed along with servants and riches. These monuments are a source of information pertaining to the way life was in Earth’s first successful civilisation.

One of the most exciting developments for the citizens of northern African countries is occurring in Maghreb. Maghreb is a region of North Africa in which the Arabic and Berber cultures and languages have been integrated. Here, a multinational trade union called the Arab Maghreb Union (UMA in French) has been created to promote unity and development within the community.

The idea for the UMA was conceived after the independence of Tunisia from France and Morocco from France and Spain, both in the same year of 1956. After roughly thirty years, in 1988, the five member nations met together for the first time, creating a pathway for the founding of the union. One year later the treaty was signed in Marrakech, Morocco. It excludes Egypt, who denied to participate.

Abdelhak Senna

For many the Arab Maghreb Union is like the EU of North Africa. Though it doesn’t have as much influence on its member countries as the EU does on its own, the UMA is becoming increasingly important for the Maghreb. It fosters cooperation between these afflicted nations which, in turn, advances modernisation and peace.

North Africa is rich in history and tradition. It is an area of diverse cultures and religions with much to be experienced. A trip to any of these countries would be worthwhile, although traveler should be careful of where they visit because of the conflicts and gangs that plague much of the region.

John Michael Martínez Dillon – Washington, D.C.

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