The Banu Hilal, Banu Maqil and Banu Sulaym: History of the Settlement of Arab Tribes in Morocco

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The introduction of the first Bedouin tribes into North Africa took place in a context of war between the Shiite Fatimid empire and the Zirids. Founded in 909, the Fatimid Caliphate was established thanks to the Berbers Kutamas from Ifriqiya. Unable to unify the Maghreb, they settled in Egypt and founded Cairo in 969.


It was at the beginning of the 8th century that the Banu Hilal and Banu Sulaym, two Arab tribes from Nejd and Hejaz and themselves subdivided into several clans (including the Athbedj, the Riyah and the Zoghba) returned to Egypt through the Sa'id. During the first half of the 11th century the Egyptian campaigns were devastated.

The Hilalians, led by Abu Zayd Al Hilali, moved to the Maghreb in 1050. This migration was encouraged by the Fatimids who wanted to punish their Zirid vassals and their Hammadid cousins for joining the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad. The Fatimids having handed over land titles to the heads of Arab tribes, their advent was therefore, from their point of view, legitimized.

At the same time, the Fatimids were getting rid of tribes that were particularly difficult to control from their territory in Upper Egypt. Indeed, the Qarmatians and other supporters of the Umayyad Abu Qurrah showed a certain hostility towards this empire, causing multiple revolts by Arabs in the Middle East, in particular therefore by Hilalian tribes. The Zirids were quickly defeated and their neighbors the Hammadides and Zenets were greatly weakened.

The last battle was fatal, the Hilalians-Hammadides coalition decapitated the leader Abu Soda of the army composed of the Ifrenids in 1058: the Berbers delivered the country to the Hilalians.

Ibn Khaldun, a contemporary of the Marinid era, historian and demographer from Tunis, a city that witnessed the first Hilalian advances in the Maghreb, describes a catastrophic mutation of the regional economy, the transition from a nomadic to a sedentary economy, since in many plains regions, farmers gave up to invaders. In 1057 Kairouan was taken and plundered, the fall of Kairouan led to considerable consequences, as its literate elites took the road of exile and took refuge in Fez where the Kairouan neighborhood was created:

Like a cloud of grasshoppers, they destroyed everything in their path [...] If Arabs need stones to fix their pots on a fireplace, they degrade the walls of buildings in order to get them; if they need wood to make stakes or tent poles, they destroy the roofs of houses. — Ibn Khaldoun, Al Muqadima, 1377

The Banu Hilal migration and its impact on Berber society as seen by contemporary historiography:

The Arab nomads shook and then destroyed the Zirid (Tunisia) and Hammadide (Eastern and Central Algeria) kingdoms, conscientiously plundered the flat country, made the sedentary people flee, granted their alliance, temporary and often failing at the critical moment, to the Berber princes who, in exchange, granted them territories. Once these have been settled, the Banu Hilal turn their eyes to other horizons, to other “springs” as they say, where their herds will find new pastures and the warriors of the cities to plunder or to ransom hard [...] in less than three centuries, the Hilalians made their way of life triumph and succeeded, without having wanted to, in Arabizing most of the world linguistically and culturally. a Berber who no longer deserves its name.
It is a strange and in fact quite wonderful story that this ethno-sociolinguistic transformation of a population of several million Berbers by a few tens of thousands of Bedouins [...] The nomadic Arab contingents, who spoke the sacred language and derived great prestige from it among Muslims, far from being absorbed by the Berber mass, served as models, attracted it to them. — Gabriel Camps, French prehistorian and specialist in the history of the Berbers based in Algiers, 1992:151-164

The Hilalian invasion is certainly the most important event of the entire Maghreb Middle Ages. It is it, much more than the Muslim conquest, that transformed the Maghreb for centuries. Before the Hilalians, this country, except Islam, had remained profoundly Berber in language and customs; it had become so again politically as it shook up the authority of the East [...] The Bedouins brought with them their language, which can easily be distinguished from urban dialects, the legacy of the first Muslim conquerors. From this Bedouin Arabic, come most of the rural Arabic dialects spoken today in North Africa [...]. With them, nomadism became invasive, taking land that was made for it from the cultivation of cereals or orchards, destroying by asphyxiation villages and secondary cities, leaving only a thin agricultural fringe along the coasts, around the cities that remained, or inside the mountain ranges that the Arab flow bypassed without penetrating them.

All these transformations, it should be noted, were slow in general; it is not an impetuous torrent that should be talked about, but rather about the relentless flow of the rising tide; almost no memorable battles, no spectacular facts: a steady, almost gentle, but irresistible push. — Charles-Andrée Julien, historian, specialist in North Africa and teacher in Rabat 1952:414-415

Some researchers denounce a certain instrumentalization of this event by Western writings, disregarding the political context and highlighting partial writing concerning the arrival of the Banu Hilal. According to the historian, Mr. Kadache, the Zirid rulers themselves gave orders to destroy crops. Ibn Khaldoun being very close to the current government, could not afford to write on the subject with complete freedom of conscience.

Wasn't making Arabs harmful invaders a way to legitimize the French presence? The fundamental antagonism between Nomads and Settlers, Arabs and Berbers does not correspond to historical reality. It is a myth. Serious historians believed it, even though the results of their research refuted this theory on a number of essential points. G. Marçais, one of the best experts on the problem of the Arabs in Tamazgha, subscribed to it from the preface of his book, although he gathered a wealth of facts that are proof that there was no real invasion. This myth is not the result of chance. It was consciously forged, and instilled within the framework of colonialist ideology. — Yves Lacoste, geographer and geopoliticologist from Fez, “Ibn Khaldoun: Birth of History, Past of the Third World”, pp. 95-102

“Ibn Khaldoun, the essential reference in historiography, recognized the Hilalians for honorable qualities that were passed over by some under silence. For example, the alliance of Hilalian leaders with Berber princes in mutual fidelity to commitments. The Athbedj made a pact with the Hammadids and the Riyah with the Zirids. And what the colonial chronicle especially does not mention is the deep attachment of Hilalian descendants (ex-colonized) to their actions. Unnoticed loyalty. It was even a powerful source of resistance to identity alienation underpinned by the civilization project of “savages”. — Youssef Nacib, Doctor of Letters and Human Sciences at the Sorbonne, professor at the University of Algiers and the University of Tizi-Ouzou, A gesture in fragments, a contribution to the study of the Hilalian legend in the Algerian Highlands”, pp. 82-92
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The Almohad era

The historical context in the Maghreb

The first caliph of an empire created by sedentary Berber mountaineers from the Tinmel region, Abd al-Mumin could only be hostile to the arrival of nomadic Bedouins in the East of the Maghreb.

Added to this were the threats of the Norman king Roger II of Sicily who seized the island of Djerba in 1134 where he imposed his suzerainty on Mahdia and threatened Bougie, the most prosperous port in eastern Maghreb and the evacuation area of the Hammadides. Roger II arrived in Tripoli in 1146 and then settled in Gabès, Sfax and Sousse.

Fixed in the ports, the Norman conquerors lost interest in the hinterland, but monopolized the maritime trade of the region for their benefit. While these events were taking place, the Banu Khazroun managed to stay in Tripoli until being driven out a year later by the Normans from Sicily.

The Almohad intervention

The growing dangers posed by the Bedouins to what remained of the Hammadid states, as well as the Norman incursion, prompted the Almohads to intervene.

Gathered in Salé in 1151, the Almohad army left the banks of the Bouregreg river and headed north, making it appear that it was leaving for Andalusia. Abd al-Mumin even went as far as Sebta and only later did he direct his troops eastward.

Through Tlemcen, the army arrived in Algiers where it was joined by al-Hassan Ben Ali (Zirid), driven from Mahdia by the Normans. The Hammadid troops will be easily defeated in front of Bougie and the Almohads will enter the city left to burn and massacre. Abd al-Mumin will thus settle accounts with the Hammadids of Bougie, having tried to rescue the Almoravids during the Battle of Tlemcen in 1145 and who had previously driven Ibn Toumert from their city.

Abd al-Mumin then gave up marching on Kairouan and then returned to Marrakech after appointing governors and installing garrisons in the conquered regions.

The Battle of Sétif

The Battle of Sétif is a key event in the settlement of Arab tribes in Morocco. It is important to note that Abd al-Mumin, motivated long before this episode by the expansionism of his caliphate, already aspired to incorporate all Arab confederations into the political-military elites of the empire. This fight took place in 1153 between the Almohad army and the Hilalian tribes threatened by the advance of the Caliphate to the East. The caliph Abd al-Mumin, who had just left the city of Bejaia to go to the heart of the empire, learned that a large number of Hilalian Arabs had decided to advance against him. An army of about 30,000 Almohad Berber cavalry then set out to counter this assault.

Roger II de Sicile.
Roger II of Sicily.

Roger II of Sicily, informed of Hilalian ambitions and disturbed by the presence in force of the Almohads, proposed to these tribes a military alliance, something that their emirs declined on Islamic principle.

The chroniclers therefore nicknamed the Battle of Sétif “the Battle of Women” since the Hilalian emirs preferred to make the choice to fight alongside their own wives than to ally themselves with unbelievers against other Muslims.

The Hilalians were defeated after three days of battle. Abd al-Mumin decided not to push the Arabs back to the East but to put them under his service. This decision was explained by his ambition to gather all the forces of Islam in view of the holy war that he intended to wage against Christians engaged in the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula.

The Hilalian tribes will now constitute the Almohad army, providing their military service in exchange for dispensing with the Kharadj and the recognition of a number of advantages.

Abd al-Mumin thus gave priority to jihad while avoiding a potential alliance between the Bedouins and the Norman princes of Sicily, the latter being adept at playing divisions in order to weaken the Muslim camp.

In order to facilitate their relationships, Abd al-Mumin employed diplomatic efforts that demonstrated deep respect for his tribes. In his book, the historian Ibn al-Khatir mentions the political involvement of dignitaries from the Athbedj, Addi, Zoghba, Qurrah and Riyah tribes who constituted an assembly responsible for the appointment of the Almohad caliph. For example, these tribes will name the son of the Caliph Mohamed as the crown prince of the Empire.

He reserved the women and children, whom he put under good care and whose care he entrusted to eunuchs who were responsible for looking after them and providing for their needs. When he arrived in Marrakech, he settled them in large houses and gave them large pensions; then he had his son Mohammed write to the Arab emirs that their wives and children were under good care, that he had forgiven them and treated them generously. So these emirs hastened to come to Marrakech, where Abd el-Mumin returned their families to them, treated them well and distributed large amounts of money to them. These procedures reconciled their hearts to him, and they settled down with him. He did not change the way he treated them. And it was with their help that he did what we will say under the year 551 concerning the designation of Mohammed as heir apparent.” — Ibn al-Athir, biographer and historian, contemporary of the Almohad era

The beginning of the political-military influence of Arab tribes through the centuries in Morocco

So it was the Almohads who opened Morocco to the Arabs. Until the dissolution of the Guichs during the Alawite era with the protectorate, the reigning dynasties always sought to take advantage of their demographic and military strengths in the context of crusades, conquests and battles.

Jarmun ibn-Riyah.

The integration of Arab tribes into the Almohad military elite highlights charismatic commanders, in particular the Hilalian Jarmun ibn-Riyah who distinguished himself during his victory at the Battle of Alarcos at the head of the Arab mujahideen.

The Banu Hilal therefore formed a privileged militia whose exploits will be evoked even in Arabic poetry within the Almohad empire.

The chronicler Ibn Abi Zar al-Fassi tells in “Raw al-Qirat” that he used to recite the following verses during his excursions in Andalusia to encourage his troops:

“O Believers! Be patient, struggle patiently with each other; be firm and fear God. You will be happy.

O Believers! If you assist God in his war against enemies, he will assist you and strengthen your step.”

The policy of recourse to the Guich tribes, initiated by the Almohads and continued by the Marinids, had, for its part, contributed to the occupation of Sais and the Atlantic plains by Arab tribes from the Central Maghreb. Other Arab tribes had gradually infiltrated from the east and south-east. — Tribal movements and socio-political dynamics
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The Marinid era

The transition to the Marinid era was marked by an atmosphere of discord. Several stories bear witness to the Marinid massacres against Banu Hilal tribes because of their support for the Almohads.

The tribal composition inherited from the Almohads

In 1198, the Hilalian Sufyan and Khult tribes, originally from Central Maghreb, were moved to the region of Tamesna by the Almohad caliph Yaqub al-Mansur and the Banu Jabir were in turn settled in the region of Tadla. The Khults had acquired great political importance by allying themselves with the Almohads.

The Gharb will be populated by the Riyah to oppose the actions of the Banu Ghania, the last contenders of the Almoravid heritage. They will be installed by the last Almohad caliph, Abu Dabbus, in the Marrakech region.

Under the Marinids

The Sufyans were among the Almohads's most active supporters and remained hostile to the Marinids. To control them, the Marinids called on another Arab tribe from the central Maghreb, the Banu Malik (branch of the Zughba), who were installed in 1279 in Tamesna to monitor them.

On the other hand, the Khults chose to support the new dynasty. They left the Tamesna region in the 14th century to occupy the Gharb and they will thus disperse the Riyah whose tribe name will cease to appear in chronicles.

At the end of the century, the Sufyan tribes will find themselves weakened and will disperse in the Gharb absorbing the Banu Malik among them.

The Marinid Army

The army consisted mainly of tribal contingents, some from Zenata Berber tribes from the Maghreb and others from the Banu Hilal that the Almohads imported.

These tribes will participate in several expeditions to Andalusia, in particular to Sevilla in the company of the Acem, Khlut and Athbedj of the Atlantic plains.

In 1285, other raids took place especially during the summer season with the participation of Arab cavalrymen Banu Jaber from Tadla as well as victorious raids on Christian territories. The historian al-Nasiri testifies to the courage of the Hilalian warriors of the Arab confederation of Jochem.

In addition, the caliph Abu Yaqub an-Nasr established around 3000 Berber and Arab warriors in the western borders of Muslim Andalusia to support the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada.

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The Saadian era

A revival of the Moroccan guich system (military tribes) was formed with the Saadian sultans in the 16th century, during the reign of Ahmad al-Mansur. The military institution will mainly be composed of Banu Hilal and Banu Maqil tribes including the Oudayas, Rahamna, Ouled Dlim and Ouled Jamaa. In addition to tax exemption (except religious taxes), they received land grants on land that was devolved to them.

The Dar Jamâ & Jamâ Palace, located in the cities of Meknès and Fez, are former possessions of the Jamâ family built in the 19th century.
When the Sultan died in 1894, in disgrace of the new Sultan Abd El Aziz (1878-1943), two members of the Jamâ family (the Grand Vizier and the Minister of War) were imprisoned in Tetouan. The family was dispersed and their property confiscated.

The conquest of Morocco by the Saadians was based on the guich of Ahl Souss, which mainly included Banu Maqil whose strongest components were those of the Shbanat and the Zlrara. These Maqils incorporated Berber elements such as the Teknas of the northern Sahara under their name.

The tribes of the Guich of Ahl Souss occupied the region of Marrakech, Tadla and then the region of Fez. Some of their elements, who moved to the Fez region, settled under new names in pre-Rif Berber countries. In particular, they formed a Hyayna and Ouled Jamâ country where they mixed with the local Berber populations, creating a new genealogy. In the region of Marrakech, the first tribes of the Guich of Ahl Sous were, in the middle of the 16th century, followed by components of all the Dhwi Hassan tribes of the Sahara, the Ouled Dlim, the Rahamna, the Rahmanna, the Ahmar, the Ahmar, the Ouled, the Ouled Bou Sbâ, the Sraghna and the Abda.

All these Maqil tribes gave their names to the territories between Oum Errabiâ and the High Atlas and then between the Safi region and the western border of Tadla (Rahamna, Ahmar, Abda, Abda, Skhana, Skhana and tribes of the Guich of Marrakech). At the dawn of the 16th century, the Oudaïas formed the Saadian guich with their neighbours Brabish and Ahmar in Mauritania and Oued Dahab.

The political fortunes of the Oudayas are due to Moulay Ismail being born from an Oudaya mother. This kinship determined him to make this tribe one of the pivots of his guich. It is therefore found in all the military commitments of the Alaouite period. However, it was an undisciplined tribe that will often be seen on the side of pretenders who contested the legitimate throne. Their conflicts with the city of Fez were numerous. It was only in the 19th century that this tribe was ordered to disperse into various garrisons, including the well-known one in Rabat.

The Arab tribes of this era contributed to the overwhelming Moroccan victory at the Battle of the Three Kings. The chronicler Abou El Kacem Zayani counts 10,000 men from the Arab-zenete Guich of Cheraga, 5000 Arabs from Gharb, and 5000 Arabs from Haouz out of 50,000 men. The Hilalian confederation of Hyayna located north of Fez was also illustrated by its ferocity in its participation in Oued El Leben against the Ottoman Empire and the Battle of the Three Kings against the Empire of Portugal.

In 1582, the Saadian Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur conquered the region of Touat (Algerian Adrar) thanks to generals Ahmad ibn Barkah and Ahmad ibn Haddad al-Ghamiri al-Maqili, from the Arab tribe of Banu Maqil.

Nomads of the tribal confederation of 'Arīb in M'hamid Al-Ghozlan (Qsar Saadien), 1960s.

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The Alawite era

As under most previous dynasties, the Guiche tribes were exempt from taxes, were often rewarded, and were granted land in exchange for their contingents.

At the time when the revolts were appeased under the reign of Moulay Ismail, the majority of the Cherifian army was now composed of soldiers from the Sahara and the border areas of the Empire, namely Tafilalet, Souss, Western Sahara and Mauritania, where was originally from Lalla Khnata Bent Bekkar, one of the four official women of Moulai Ismail. The Banu Maqil, who inhabited these lands in large numbers, therefore represented the first and main contingents of the Alawites.

The Hilalian Arab tribes Khult and Cherarda were also used and referred to as the Makhzen tribe, providing several of their contingents to the Cherifian army.

Moulay Ismail's reforms and the Reha system

Moulay Ismail then created the Guich of the Oudayas. This one is divided into three “Reha”. It must be distinguished from the Oudaïas tribe itself.

Ahl Souss

The Reha of Ahl Souss is composed of four Arab Maqil tribes from the same region, namely the Oulad Jerrar, Oulad Mtâa, Zirara and the Chebanatea. In the 16th century, these tribes formed the Saadian army against the Arabs Jochem of Gharb, part of the Banu Hilal who are the Khluts, and Sufyan who supported the Merinids of Fez.

The Mghafra

The Mghafra are Banu Maqil people from Mauritania, where the wife of Moulay Ismail Lalla Khnata Ben Bekkar comes from.

The Oudayas

The Oudayas (also spelled Udayas or Oudaïas) are a powerful desert tribe from Adrar, with a strong camel cavalry. Nomads recently returned to the North, they were in Souss when Moulay Ismail took Marrakech in 1674. The sovereign sympathized with a poor shepherd also of Maqil origin named Bou-Chefra whose people had to flee the desert because of the drought by bringing together all his people to create an elite army.

Toward the modern era

Recall that during the Saadian era, the Khult were one of the largest tribes in Gharb. True to the Saadian heritage, they opposed the emergence of the Alawites. We thus see them allying with their Tliq confederates in Ghailan, the “Prince of the North”, against Moulay er-Rachid. This hostility did not abate and they were later seen allying themselves with el-Mostadhi and er-Rifi against Moulay Abdallah.

They will finally end up siding with the dynasty at the beginning of the 19th century, and they will be installed in 1852 by Moulay Abderrahman in the region of Fez and Meknès to monitor the Arab tribes who arrived from Algeria in the 18th century.

The Khult and the Tliq will gradually lose their preponderance in Gharb and will gradually be pushed back into Habt by the Banu Malik and the Sufyan. It is in this region that they were found in the 20th century.

In the second half of the 19th century, the Banu Malik and the Sufyan were themselves repulsed by the Maqil Banu Hassan who confined them to the north of Sebou where they are today.

The last attempt by the Banu Hassan to cross the Sebou was stopped in 1912 by French troops. Disparate components of the Hilalian tribes remained in Chaouia and Doukkala, two denominations of ancient Tamesna. We find traces of it in some ethnonyms of tribes or fractions. Thus, the current Ouled Ziyan tribe is named after a fraction of the Banu Malik. The Ouled Hariz have an ethnonym that connects them to the Jusham Ouled Jabir.

Photos of the Kasbah of the Udayas

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The strengthening of the Arab-Berber component under the Guich system

The establishment of Bedouin tribes exerted a significant linguistic and cultural influence in rural areas, in contrast to the so-called “post-Umayyad” Arabization, which mainly affected urban and elitist areas (Tetouan, Meknès, Tangier, Chefchaouen and Fez mainly). This massive dissemination of Bedouin speech is explained by the weight of the prestige of military tribes in society as well as the fact that the Berbers considered the Arabic language to be important as a vector for the spread of Islam.

Moreover, the Berber nomads were the first to adopt the language, especially those from the Zenet group, while the Sanhadja of the South and the Tuaregs, who were too distant, did not suffer the same influence. In addition, the arrival of these Bedouin tribes changed the physiognomy of part of Libya and of the whole Maghreb, which until then Berber, gradually became Arab-Berber.

One of the greatest cultural phenomena resulting from this fusion is the development of the equestrian art of Tbourida (or Fantasia), very popular in the countryside of Morocco.

Each tribe in the country has one or more Tbourida troops with a greater concentration in the regions of Tadla, Doukkala, Abda, Bni-Amir, Charqaoua, Lahmar, Rahmar, Rahamna, Rahamna, Beni Ouarayn, Beni Ouarayn, Zemmour, Zair, Zayane and Beni Znassen.

There are five types of Tbourida: Hayaynia in the Fes-Meknès region, Chekaouia in the Beni-Mellal-Khenifra region, Khayatia in Greater Casablanca; Nassiria in the Doukkala-Abda region; and Sahraouia in Saharan Morocco.

There are nearly a thousand troops throughout Morocco. They produce shows to animate the Moussems (seasonal festivals). Among them, 330 officially participate in an annual national championship, composed of regional and inter-regional competitions and a national final. In addition, Tbourida is at the origin of the development of the market for Barbe and Arab-Barbe horses, which represent 80% of the Moroccan livestock. Tbourida is the main outlet for this equine production.

Although these Arab tribes succeeded in imposing their language and disseminating it, often mixed with local Berber populations, they also naturally adopted Berber cultural elements resulting from a fusion that was consolidated over the centuries under the weight of windows.

An interactive map to find out where the different tribes of Morocco are located:

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Références :

Benabdallah, 1994:37-38

Tribal movements and socio-political dynamics of territories, Moha-Med V University, Rabat

How Berberia became the Maghrebarabe, Gabriel Camps

Al Muqaddima, Ibn Khaldoun

A gesture in fragments, a contribution to the study of the Hilalian legend in the Algerian Highlands, Youcef Nacib

Ibn Khaldoun: Birth of History, Past of the Third World, Yves Lacoste