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Index / Peoples
Other spelling: Maures

People of Mauritania, Morocco, Senegal and Gambia. Only in Mauritania is the term "Moors" used today, but it was a common term for the foreign rulers of Andalucia, during the centuries of Muslim occupation.
The name of the state of Mauritania comes from the term "Moor". The term itself originates from the kingdoms or Numidia and Mauretania since the 3rd century BCE, where foreigners called the peoples 'Mauri' or 'Maure'.
The Mauri were simply the very same people that we today call Berbers.
The modern Moors are more mixed ethnically than the Mauri more than 2 millenniums ago. Today there is a major part of Arab ethnicity to the Berber origins. Also, several West African negroid peoples have mixed with Moorish tribes over the centuries.
Moors count about 2.4 million in Mauritania, or 70% of the population (2009 estimate). They are divided into Whites and Blacks; these again are distinctly divided into sub-groups. About 1.0 million are Whites, 1.4 million Blacks.

White Moors are referred to as bidan, and has 3 levels: nobility, vassals and the rest. Nobility are either warriors known as hassani; and the religious class, known as zawayya or marabouts. Vassals are known as zenega. The lowest group of white Moors are craftsmen, artisans and entertainers.
Class and origins are strictly linked for Moors. Although it is possible that the different groups' claims of origin may be correct with actual history, it is likely that these claims are superimposed on reality to create legitimacy for injustice. The two highest groups, the hassani and zawiyya, make a claim on Arab origins, with little mixture with other peoples. The zenega are mainly Berbers with a considerable mix from Black peoples. Craftsmen and entertainers are considered predominantly Arab, but mixed.

Black Moors traditionally represent the lower class, and there has been little social change to this in modern times. Black Moors are considered either abid, slaves or haratin, freed slaves. Although officially abolished, slavery remains common in Mauritania today. Black Moors are mainly thought of as originating in Sudan.

Moorish society is rigid and hierarchic, individuals know their place in society based upon heritage, race, but also occupation. Occupation is often inherited. In Mauritania, white Moors represent the dominant class in society.

By Tore Kjeilen