The Andalusi origins of the Berbers
Rouighi, Ramzi (Department of History, University of Southern California, Los Angeles)
Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies, 2: 1, 93 — 108, January (2010)
This article uses the difference between the political situation in al-Andalus and the Maghrib in the eighth century to argue for a possible Andalusi origin of a particular use of the category “Berber.” Since before the Arab conquests the sources did not imagine that the “Berbers” inhabited northwest Africa and that today it is common to do so, the article introduces the idea of a Berberization to account for that transformation. It argues that al-Andalus was an important early site of production of a specific notion of what Berber meant and seeks to show categories such as Arab and Berber did not refer to an unchanging objective reality and that they did not always carry the same connotations or support the same understandings. Embracing the limits posed by the historical record, the article participates in the effort of historians to replace ideologically informed convictions with a more nuanced delineation of the boundaries of the knowable.
his discussion of the historical sources and the methodological questions associ- ated with the study of early medieval Iberia, the historian Pedro Chalmeta Gendrón criticized “the obsession with origins” and the loss of historical neutrality. He also linked the production of anachronisms with presentist concerns that did not bring about a new knowledge of the past.1 When it comes to the Berbers, his assessment stands. Shaped and reshaped in the process of serving constituencies medieval and modern, the discourse on Berber origins continues to be entangled in myth and ideology, its historicity seriously weakened by anachronism. These conditions explain why anyone who “knows” anything about the Berbers will find the title of this article very odd.