Sanhaja (Berber languages: Aẓnag, pl. Iẓnagen, and also
Aẓnaj, pl. Iẓnajen; Arabic: صنهاجة, Ṣanhaja) were once
one of the largest Berber tribal confederations, along with the
Iznaten and Imesmuden confederations. Many tribes in Morocco and
Mauritania bore and still carry this ethnonym, especially in its
Berber form. Other names for the population include Zenaga, Sanhája,
Znaga, Sanhâdja and Senhaja.
2 Present day
3 See also
5 Further reading
Dance group of
Sanhaja from the western Sahara at the National
Folklore Festival at Marrakech
After the arrival of Islam, the Sanhâdja spread out to the borders of
the Sudan as far as the Senegal River and the Niger. From the 9th
Sanhaja tribes were established in the
Middle Atlas range, in
Rif Mountains and on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. A part of the
Sanhaja, such as the Kutâma, settled in central/eastern Algeria and
northern Niger. They played an important part in the rise of the
Sanhaja dynasties of the Zirids and Hammâdids
Ifriqiya until the 12th century.
In the mid-11th century, a group of Sanhadja chieftains returning from
the Hâjj (big pilgrimage) invited the theologian Ibn Yâssin to
preach among their tribes. Ibn Yasin united the tribes in the alliance
of the Almoravids in the middle of the 11th century. This confederacy
subsequently established Morocco, and conquered western Algeria and
Al-Andalus (part of present-day Spain).
The Znaga or Zenaga tribes would remain in roles as either exploited
semi-sedentary agriculturalists and fishermen (Znaga tribes), or,
higher up on the social ladder, as religious (Marabout or Zawiya)
tribes. Though often Arabized in culture and language, they are
believed to be descended from the
Sanhaja Berber population
present in the area before the arrival of the Arab
Maqil tribes in the
12th century, which was finally subjected to domination by
Arab-descended warrior castes in the 17th century Char Bouba war
according to Mercer, the word "znaga" is thought to be a distortion of
"Zeneta and Sanhaja".
Map of the
Sanhaja de Srayr tribes and their respective territories
The descendants of the
Sanhaja are still found today in the Middle
Atlas mountains and eastern Morocco.
The Zenaga, a group believed to be of Gudala (the southernmost
Sanhâdja tribe) origin, inhabit southwestern Mauritania and parts of
northern Senegal. However, they are a small population.
^ Nelson, Harold D. (1985). Morocco, a country study. Washington,
D.C.: The American University. p. 14.
^ Nelson 15-16
Sanhaja tribe", Library of Congress
John O. Hunwick (ed.), West Africa, Islam and the Arab World: Studies
in Honor of Basil Davidson Paperback
John Mercer (1976), Spanish Sahara, George Allen & Unwin Ltd
Anthony G. Pazzanita (2006), Historical Dictionary of Western Sahara,
Virginia Thompson and Richard Adloff (1980), The Western Saharans.
Background to Conflict, Barnes & Noble Books
Sanhajas de Srayr