The Berbers live mainly in Morocco (30% of the population) and in Algeria (about 8%-15% of the population), as well as Libya and Tunisia, though exact statistics are unavailable. Most Berbers who consider themselves Arab also have mainly Berber ancestry, though this too is not exact and may be purely conjectural in such a cosmopolitan region. Prominent Berber groups include the Kabyles of northern Algeria, who number approximately 4 million and have kept, to a large degree, their original language and culture; and the Chleuh (Francophone plural of Arabic "Shalh" and Tashelhiyt "ašəlḥi") of south Morocco, numbering about 8 million. Other groups include the Riffians of north Morocco, the Chaouia of Algeria, and the Tuareg of the Sahara. There are approximately 2.2 million Berber immigrants in Europe, especially the Riffians in the Netherlands and Kabyles in France. Some proportion of the inhabitants of the Canary Islands are descended from the aboriginal Guanches--usually considered to have common origins with Berbers--among whom a few Canary Islander customs, such as the eating of gofio, originated.
Distribution of Berbers in Northwest AfricaAlthough stereotyped in the West as nomads, most Berbers were in fact traditionally farmers, living in the mountains relatively close to the Mediterranean coast, or oasis dwellers; the Tuareg and Zenaga of the southern Sahara, however, were nomadic. Some groups, such as the Chaouis, practiced transhumance.
Political tensions have arisen between some Berber groups (especially the Kabyle) and North African governments over the past few decades, partly over linguistic and cultural issues; for instance, in Morocco, giving children Berber names was banned.
Until the 7th century, the region of North Africa practiced many religions including various forms of indigenous rituals.
Before the ninth century, Northwest Africa was largely Berber-speaking. It was primarily Sufi Muslim, with Jewish populations in the valleys and Christians in the highlands. This was particularly true in the Algerian Aures and Kabyle regions, from which came several Berber Roman Emperors, Saint Augustine, along with the roots of Roman Catholicism. The main spoken language was Tamazight Berber, with Greek and Latin the chief written languages. The process of word borrowing started only around the ninth century with the Fatimids of Egypt. The Banu Hilal reduced the Zirids to a few coastal towns and took over much of the plains. Governments in Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco encouraged the Arabization of the region, as had the French colonial regime that preceded them.