Mozabite people

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بني مزاب
Photograph of a Mozabite, May 19, 1889
Total population
150,000–300,000 (2015)[1]
Regions with significant populations
M'zab valley, Algeria
Mozabite and Arabic
Ibadi Islam[2] and Judaism
Related ethnic groups
Other Berbers[3]

The Mozabite people or Banu Mzab (Arabic: بني مزاب) are a Berber ethnic group inhabiting the M'zab natural region in the northern Sahara in Algeria, numbering about 150,000 to 300,000 people.[1] They speak primarily the Mozabite language, one of the Zenati languages in the Berber branch of the Afroasiatic family. Mozabites are primarily Ibadi Muslims, but there was a small population of Jews as well.[4]

Mozabites mainly live in five oases; namely, Ghardaïa, Beni Isguen, El Atteuf, Melika and Bounoura, as well as two other isolated oases farther north: Berriane and El_Guerrara. Ghardaïa is the capital of the confederation, followed in importance by Beni Isguen, the chief commercial centre.


In 767, a refugee Persian Ibadi leader founded the Rustamid kingdom, leading to most of the Berber population adopting Ibadi Islam. After being defeated at Tiaret by the Fatimids in 911, they were banished to Ouargla in the Sahara[5] and founded an independent state in the M'zab in 1012.[1][5] In 1012, further persecutions made them flee to their present location, where they long remained invulnerable.[5]

In the 1500s, they recognized nominal Ottoman authority. After the capture of Laghouat by the French in 1852, the Mozabites concluded a convention in 1853 and accepted to pay an annual contribution of 1,800 francs in return for their independence. In November 1882, the M'zab country was definitely annexed to French Algeria.[5]

Since the establishment of French control, Beni Isguen has become the depot for the sale of goods from Europe.[5] The Mozabite engineers built a system of irrigation works that made the oases much more fertile than before.[5]


Berber-speaking areas of the M'zab, Ouargla, and Oued Righ

Mozabites speak the Mozabite language, a branch of the Zenati group of Berber languages. Many also speak Algerian Arabic as a second language.[6] The Mozabite language is spoken by around 150,000 people.[7]

Mozabite Jews in French Algeria[edit]

It is not canonically agreed when Jews first came to Southern Algeria, but one theory suggests they were sent there by the Ibadite leadership in the 14th century from Tunisia, as part of a merchant trade route. They continued as a merchant community, with subsequent waves of immigration during times of anti-Semitism across the Sahara, Europe, and the Middle East. In 1881, one year before the French annexed the Mzab, there were estimated 3,000 Mozabite Jews out of the 30,000 Algerian Jews. By 1921, the latter number would grow to 74,000, a result of a spike in anti-Semitism in the later 1800s and early 1900s, but the Mozabite Jewish community would remain small, with most Jewish migrants settling in the north.[8]

Mozabite Horsemen in Ghardaia.

In 1882, when the French military annexed the Mzab, it began an administrative rule that was separate from the northern departments. Unlike their northern Jewish counterparts, many of the Mozabite Berber Jews in Southern Algeria were classified by the French under the “indigenous code”. Given the diversity of the Mzab Jewish population, the French administration incorporated some “culturally Saharan” but ethnically non-indigenous Jews to the north and gave them citizenship under the Crémieux Decree of 1870. That perceived distinction by the French between Berber and non-Berber Jews of the Mzab was not a reflection of “technical precision” but rather “a manufactured form of legal difference”.[9] While the French sought to assimilate the Northern Jewry as French citizens, they recognised religious rule of the Mozabite Jewish population and kept them separate under indigenous law, which meant severely limiting its political and social power.[10]

Market on the main square, Ghardaia, Algeria

With anti-Semitism on the rise in the late 1800s, the French colonial powers sought to decrease Jewish commerce in the south and prevent further Jewish collaboration with Muslim communities. They continued to distance the Mozabite Jews from other Algerian Jewish affairs by keeping Mozabite, or “Mosaic” laws for civil matters, and French indigenous laws for public and criminal matters. It was not until 1961, with the French National Assembly Law 61-805, that the Mozabite Jews were granted “common law civil status” and French citizenship.[11]


Mozabite people are characterized by a very high level of North African haplogroups E1b1b1b (M81) (86%) and U6 (28%).

Women in Ghardaia, Algeria


Y-Dna Nb A/B E(xE1b1b) E1b1b1 (M35) E1b1b1a (M78) E1b1b1b (M81) E1b1b1c (M123) F K G I J1 J2 R1a R1b Other Study
Y-chromosome DNA haplogroup 67 0 4.5% 0 1.5% 86.6% 1.5% 0 0 1.5% 0 1.5% 0 0 3% 0 Dugoujon et al. (2009)[12]


mtDna Nb Eurasian lineages Africa-centered lineages (L) North African lineages (U6, M1) Study
Human mitochondrial DNA haplogroup 85 54.1% 12.9% 33.0% Coudray et al. (2009)[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Minahan, James B. (2016-08-01). Encyclopedia of Stateless Nations: Ethnic and National Groups around the World, 2nd Edition: Ethnic and National Groups around the World. Abc-Clio. p. 284. ISBN 978-1-61069-954-9.
  2. ^
  3. ^ "L'Aménagement linguistique dans le monde: Page d'accueil".
  4. ^ Behar, Doron M., et al. "The genome-wide structure of the Jewish people." Nature 466.7303 (2010): 238.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Mzabites" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 19 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 145.
  6. ^ "Algeria". Ethnologue. Languages of Africa and Europe. David Eberhard, Gary F. Simons, Charles D. Fennig, Summer Institute of Linguistics (Twenty-fifth ed.). Dallas, Texas. 2022. p. 57. ISBN 978-1-55671-502-0. OCLC 1315489099.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) CS1 maint: others (link)
  7. ^ "Tumzabt". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2023-06-02.
  8. ^ Campbell, C. L., Palamara, P. F., Dubrovsky, M., Botigue, L. R., Fellous, M., Atzmon, G., Oddoux, C., Pearlman, A., Hao, L., Henn, B. M., Burns, E., Bustamante, C. D., Comas, D., Friedman, E., Pe'er, I. and Ostrer, H. Campbell, C. L. et al. "North African Jewish And Non-Jewish Populations Form Distinctive, Orthogonal Clusters." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109.34 (2012): 13865-13870. Web. 7 Apr. 2018.
  9. ^ Stein, Sarah Abrevaya. Jews, trans-saharan commerce, and Southern Algeria under french colonial rule. University of Nebraska Press. January 2016.
  10. ^ Shepard, Todd. The invention of decolonization: the Algerian War and the remaking of France. Cornell University Press, 2008.
  11. ^ Stein, Sarah Abrevaya. Saharan Jews and the fate of French Algeria. University of Chicago Press, 2014.
  12. ^ Dugoujon J.M., Coudray C., Torroni A., Cruciani F., Scozzari F., Moral P., Louali N., Kossmann M. The Berber and the Berbers: Genetic and linguistic diversities. In: Become Eloquent. Edited by J.M. Hombert and F. d’Errico. Ed. John Benjamins. pp 123-146; 2009
  13. ^ Coudray, C.; Olivieri, A.; Achilli, A.; Pala, M.; Melhaoui, M.; Cherkaoui, M.; El-Chennawi, F.; Kossmann, M.; Torroni, A.; Dugoujon, J. M. (March 2009). "The complex and diversified mitochondrial gene pool of Berber populations". Ann. Hum. Genet. 73 (2): 196–214. doi:10.1111/j.1469-1809.2008.00493.x. PMID 19053990. S2CID 21826485.
  • A. Coyne, Le Mzab (Algiers, 1879); Rinn, Occupation du Mzab (Algiers, 1885)
  • Amat, Le M'Zab el les M'Zabites (Paris, 1888)