Berber calendar

Seasons in North Africa: Atlas Mountains in January and April.

The Berber calendar is the agricultural calendar traditionally used by Berbers. It is also known as the fellaḥi (ﻓﻼّﺣﻲ "rustic" or ﻋﺠﻤﻲ ʿajamī "foreign" calendar). The calendar is utilized to regulate the seasonal agricultural works. It is used in lieu of the Islamic calendar, a lunar calendar considered ill-adapted for agriculture because it does not relate to seasonal cycles. [1]

The current Berber calendar is a legacy of the Roman province of Mauretania Caesariensis, as it is a surviving form of the Julian calendar. The latter calendar was used in Europe before the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, with month names derived from Latin. Berber populations previously used various indigenous calendars, such as that of the Guanche autochthones of the Canary Islands. However, relatively little is known of these ancient calendrical systems.

Older calendars

Not much is known about the division of time among the ancient Berbers. Some elements of a pre-Islamic, and almost certainly a pre- Roman calendar, emerge from some medieval writings, analyzed by Nico van den Boogert. Some correspondences with the traditional Tuareg calendar suggest that in antiquity there existed, with some degree of diffusion, a Berber time computation, organized on native bases.

Tab. 1 - The Berber months
drawn from medieval works

  (van den Boogert 2002)
  Name of the month "Meaning"
1 tayyuret tezwaret The first small moon
2 tayyuret teggwerat The last small moon
3 yardut  ?
4 sinwa  ?
5 tasra tezwaret The first herd
6 tasra teggwerat The last herd
7 awdayeɣet yezwaren The first antelope babies
8 awdayeɣet yeggweran The last antelope babies
9 awzimet yezwaren The first gazelle babies
10 awzimet yeggweran The last gazelle babies
11 ayssi / aysi  ?
12 nim  ?

There are not enough elements to reconstruct this calendar fully, but known characteristics include many month names' appearing in couples (in the Tuareg world, even in triplets), which suggests a time division different from the present one, made up of months of about 30 days.

Some further information, although difficult to specify and correlate with the situation in the rest of North Africa, may be deduced from what is known about time computation among the Guanches of the Canary Islands. According to a 17th-century manuscript by Tomás Marín de Cubas, they

computed their year, called Acano, by lunations of 29 days (suns) beginning from the new moon. It began in summer, when the sun enters in Cancer, on June 21: at the first conjunction (at the first new moon after the Summer solstice) they celebrated nine festival days for the crop. [2]

The same manuscript states (although somewhat obscurely) that graphical-pictorical records of such calendarial events (tara) were made on different supports, and on this basis some modern scholars identified alleged descriptions of astronomical events connected to annual cycles in a series of geometric paintings in some caves of Gran Canaria island, but the results of these studies are for now highly speculative. [3]

The name of only one month is known in the native language, handed down as Beñesmet. It seems it was the second month of the year, corresponding to August. [4] Such a name, in case it was made up by something like *wen "that of" + (e)smet (or (e)zmet?), may correspond, in the list of medieval Berber month names, with the ninth and tenth months, awzimet (properly aw "baby of" + zimet "gazelle").[ citation needed] But data are too scarce for this hypothesis to be deepened.