A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Yennayer: Happy Amazigh New Year, 2015/2965! Aseggas Amagaaz!

I've said before that despite the disappointments of "Arab Spring," the enthusiasm of "Amazigh Spring" has not dissipated. The Amazigh or "Berber" peoples of North Africa have been enjoying a cultural recrudescence. Though the large Amazigh populations in Morocco and Algeria were always politically active, the Amazigh peoples of Libya were long repressed, with Qadhafi denying their very existence and their language banned. They, and he small Amazigh population of Tunisia, have gone through a conscienceless-raising of sorts. One indication of this has been more widespread celebration of the traditional Amazigh New Year, known as Yennayer (January), on January 14. (Or, among many Algerian Imazighen, on January 12.)

January 14 is simply the date January 1 in the Julian calendar, now running 13 days behind the Gregorian, and it is the traditional New Year for North African agriculturalists, Arab as well as Amazigh. Since the Islamic calendar is purely lunar, it is of little relevance for planting or harvest as it moves around the solar calendar from year to year. Just as in Egypt the fellahin, Muslim or Copic, use the Coptic months as their agricultural calendar,o do North Africans use the old Roman months (Yennayer=Januarius) for planting. (The Coptic calendar is also Julian, but their New Year is in September.) Amazigh in particular have embraced Yennayer as a particularly Amazigh holiday.

Since the Amazigh Spring began I've posted several background pieces on the New Year. My 2012 posting went into the background in some detail. That post also addressed the modern creation of an Amazigh "era," the source of that 2965 date above. While the Julian agricultural calendar is real and ancient, that 2965 date is what the late historian Eric Hobsbawm called "the invention of tradition," a modern creation pretending to antiquity. The Academie Berbere in Paris in the 1960s introduced a "Berber" era based on the accession to the throne of Egypt of the Pharaoh Shoshenq I (also Sheshonq) in 950 BC (roughly). Shoshenq came from Libya, so they identified him as Berber (still the most common usage at the time. (The modern Kurdish calendar era, which dates from the rise of the Medes in about 612 BC, is a parallel case.)

My 2013 (or 2963 if you prefer) New year's post dealt mainly with the big blowout concert held at a stadium in Tripoli (which will clearly not be repeated this year, but was equally unthinkable under Qadhafi.

And last year I dealt with the discrepancy between those Algerian Imazighen who observe the New Year on January 12 while everyone else marks it on January 14.

I would urge the curious to read these previous posts.

The Tamazight New Year's Greeting is spelled many different ways in English (Assegas Amagaaz, Asegas Amegaz), or as below, which also shows it in the Tifinagh script. (The link is to my 2011 post on Tifinagh. And remember "Berber" is not a single dialect/language, and Tifinagh is usually back-spelled from French, Arabic, or English transcriptions.)

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