The Amazigh – or Berber – New Year has become an official holiday in Morocco, the country’s king has said, in the latest acknowledgement of the Indigenous group that has campaigned for years to have their calendar recognised.
King Mohammed VI “decided to declare Berber New Year’s Day an official paid national holiday”, a statement from the royal court said on Wednesday.
The Amazigh New Year is celebrated on January 13. The first day of the year in the Amazigh calendar, rooted in seasons and agriculture, marks the anniversary of the ascent of Libyan King Sheshonq to the throne of Egypt, according to historians.
The day is also celebrated by Arabic-speaking Moroccans who call it the beginning of the agricultural year.
Berbers inhabit an area spanning most of North Africa, with large populations in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and western Egypt. But Berber tribes and ethnic groups are also found as far south as Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. The word Tamazight refers to the spectrum of related dialects spoken by the Berber people.
Home to North Africa’s biggest Amazigh, or Berber, population, Morocco long marginalised Berber language and culture in favour of Arabic and French, giving rise to an Amazigh identity movement that has steadily gained influence.
Demands of the Amazigh movement featured prominently in 2011 protests, which led to Morocco adopting a new constitution and the Moroccan monarch devolving some of his power to an elected government.
The decision to recognise Berber New Year comes after Moroccan legislators in 2019 confirmed the Berber language’s official status, eight years after it was preliminarily recognised in a new constitution.
Morocco was the first Amazigh nation to officially recognise its ancestral language, though activists deplore a lack of proper inclusion of the language at schools and in the administration.
The government has increased the 2023 budget to support the Amazigh language by 50 percent this year, to 300 million dirhams ($30 million), and promised to hire hundreds of official clerks for the language in public services.
Since 2010, a Moroccan public television channel has been devoted to the promotion of Berber culture.