Friday, July 04, 2008

The Berbers of southern Egypt

Checking through the 11th-century geographer al-Bakri for information on the linguistic history of Siwa, I was not surprised to see that he says the Siwans were Berber, and not very surprised to see that the people of Bahariya at the time were Arabs and Copts, and those of Farafra Copts alone. I was a bit more surprised, though, when a little further down the page he says that some of the people of Dakhla and Kharja, in southern Egypt (map), were Lawāta Berbers:

وهذا واح الداخلة كثير الأنهار والعمارات... ومن هذا الواح إلى الواحين الخارجين ثلاث مراحل وهو آخر بلاد الإسلام... وفي بغض الواحات قبائل من لواتة

It kind of fits with an observation made by several Nubian specialists (I read it in an article by Bechhaus-Gerst) that Nubian - specifically Nobiin, in fact, not the Nubian languages of Kordofan or Darfur - seems to contain Berber loanwords; the easiest to remember, and most convincing, of these is "water", aman (which in other Nubian languages is something completely different, along the lines of essi.) If a dictionary of the Arabic dialects of these oases ever comes out, it would be very interesting to check it for Berber loanwords.

On a more romantic note, al-Bakri also warns those travelling into the desolate lands west of these oases that they will find "great sands... full of palm trees and springs, with no civilisation nor companions, where the murmuring of the jinn is heard unceasingly."


Anonymous said...

Cool! This probably answers a question I've been having ever since I wrote the Nobiin article for Wikipedia: where did the Berber influence on Nobiin come from?

I don't have any of Gerald Browne's works handy, but it would be interesting to know whether 'aman' is found in Old Nubian too.

Anonymous said...

great post