An indigenous person of northern and north-western Africa. Traditionally, the Berbers speak Berber languages, although most literate Berbers also speak Arabic. The Berbers are Sunni Muslims, and their local tribal groups are often led by a hereditary religious leader. The Berber peoples include several distinct groups: settled farmers living in the Atlas mountains; transhumance farmers (who move their livestock seasonally from region to region); and the nomadic Tuareg of the Sahara.
The Berbers have occupied the mountains and deserts of northern Africa since prehistoric times. Herodotus recorded that they were found in various tribes. They do not seem commonly to have formed kingdoms, although they cooperated on occasions, for example against Roman rule. Their extreme independence and austerity were exemplified by the Donatist circumcelliones (violent bands of marauders) of the 4th and 5th centuries, by the Kharijite sect of early Islam, and by the cults of marabouts, Islamic holy men of ascetic devotion and organizers of fraternities. In this way they both resisted the Arab conquest and transformed Islam to suit their own tastes. They supported the Umayyads in Spain, and the Fatimids in Morocco, and then set up several dynasties of their own, of whom the Almohads and the Almoravids were the most important.