AMAZIGH: THE FORGOTTEN PEOPLE OF MELILLA

Current territories of the Imazighen.

Brief tribute to the Amazigh people, and their struggle to be the protector (and not the possessor) of the North African lands. A rebellious people with a culture of their own and who deserve, like any people in this world, respect to flourish freely.


Today, Thursday 20th August, is the Muslim New Year, as it is the first day of the Muharram (first month of the Islamic calendar). This festival is known either as Muharram (محرم), or as R'as as-Sana, and many Muslims use this day to remember the life of the prophet Mohammed and his famous Hegira (the migration he made to the city of Medina).


As we find ourselves in the city of Melilla, and without forgetting that 46% of the population build their lives on this religion, one can think that today will be celebrated by the whole Muslim community of the autonomous city. However, this is not the case. This festival will not be celebrated in Melilla, as surprising as this may be. In fact, there are many things that we do not know about this city and that are vital to understanding, even minimally, this enclave that has been forgotten by all.


Melilla, located 200 km from the Iberian Peninsula (much further than we have been led to believe), is a city that has belonged to the Spanish Empire (now the Spanish State) since 1497. It was Pedro de Estopiñan, in the name of the Catholic Kings, who conquered this city once belonging to the Amazigh people.


Etymologically speaking, the first reference to the name is the Phoenician word Rusadir. However, with the arrival of the Arabs from Saudi Arabia, this city came to be known as Mliliat, a possible transformation of the word Tamlilt, which in the Tamazight language means "the white one", to later become Spanish-ised as Melilla. In the history of its name, the city shows, then, many of the elements that socio-culturally shape it (three predominate: Amazigh, Arabic and Spanish-Peninsular).


As for its geographical location, the autonomous city is located in the heart of the Rif of present-day Morocco, in which the people who inhabit it are the aforementioned Amazigh, whose name in their language, Tamazight, literally means "free man" (this can give us an idea of the suffering that their people have endured over the centuries). We, from our western perspective, know them by the unfortunate name of "Berber", those who, like the barbarians, speak "bar-barously".


They have inhabited all of North Africa (including the Canary Islands and their famous Guanches), and have had, since ancient times, their own culture and religion. It was, as mentioned previously, with the arrival of the Arabs (around 620 A.D.) that the whole of North Africa became Arabized, bringing with them their language (Arabic) and their religion (Islam). It is for this reason that the Amazigh people had to adapt to the Arab migration, adopting, some of them, their language and religion. However, many others continued to maintain their culture until today.


It is because of all this, that in spite of the fact that many Imazighen are Muslims, today is not celebrated in Melilla, because this Muslim community (that represents 46% of the citizens) is Amazigh and not Arab. Moreover, the Amazigh celebrate their end of the year at the beginning of ours, which, although varying with the moon, is usually in January.


From these lines, we intend to pay homage to all the Amazigh people, who have always fought to be the protector (and not the owner) of these lands. A rebellious people who have their own culture and an ancestral language and who deserve, like any people in this world, respect to flourish freely.


For a world in which all worlds fit.


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