Banu Hilal - A swarm of locusts?

The Banu Hilal were a confederation of Arabian tribes that migrated to the Maghreb region of North West Africa in the 11th Century.  The migration of the Banu Hilal has a notorious reputation, this is because the invaders had no interest in capturing settlements, but took possession of vast swathes of countryside, driving out established rural communities and plundering as they moved steadily Westward. Within years, the intricate system of irrigation and olive orchards inherited from Carthaginian and Roman times was all but destroyed.  Native Berber cultivators were forced into mountain strongholds. The 14th Century historian, Ibn Khaldun likened the Banu Hilal to a swarm of locusts, that had 'gained power over the country and ruined it'.

Besides the destruction and subsequent desertification of Maghreb farmland, the Banu Hilal influx had a lasting impact on Berber (indigenous inhabitants of the Maghreb) culture.  Before the invasion, Arab settlers ruled the Maghreb with an urban outlook, allowing natives to retain their customs and collecting wealth via taxation. However, the Berber communities were gradually absorbed into the Bedouin (nomadic Arab) culture that the Banu Hilal brought to the Maghreb. As a result, the Berber language began to wither and disappear as Vernacular Arabic became the dominant language.  Therefore the Banu Hilal were more than a 'swarm of locusts', they were the primary reason for the Arabisation of North Africa.
Contemporary depiction of Banu Hilal 


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