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The Reguibat (also Rguibat, R'gaybat, R'gibat, Erguibat, Ergaybat, and various other spellings) is a Sahrawi tribe of mainly Sanhadja Berber origins, although a number of Arab tribes have merged with the Reguibat during the last two centuries. They speak Hassaniya Arabic, and are Arabicised in culture. They claim descent from Sidi Ahmed al-Rgibi, who lived in the Saguia el-Hamra region in the 1500s. They also believe that they are, through him, a chorfa tribe, i.e. descendants of Muhammad. Religiously, they belong to the Maliki school of Sunni Islam.


Numbers and tribal divisions

The Reguibat are the by far largest Sahrawi tribe, with tens of thousands of members; census counts in the Spanish Sahara in the 1970s indicate that the Reguibat formed more than half the Sahrawi population of that area. The tribe is divided into two main subfractions, the western Reguibat al-Sahel and the eastern Reguibat al-Sharq, also known as Reguibat Legouacem. According to Reguibat tradition, the split occurred because of a dispute between the two sons of tribal founder Sidi Ahmed, when trying to divide his cattle. Both the Legouacem and Sahel Reguibat are further divided into myriad subfractions, and neither fraction recognize a head shaykh to lead it.

The stresses of colonialism, modernization, urbanization and, not least, the bloody population transfers of the Western Sahara conflict, have all contributed to weakening and disrupting the tribal structures of the Reguibat, and while the tribal institutions undoubtedly still exist and play a powerful role in the area, their roles and functions have changed tremendously since the beginning of the 20th century.


Initially an important Berber zawiya or religious tribe with a semi-sedentary lifestyle, the Reguibat gradually turned during the 18th century towards camel-rearing, raiding and nomadism, in response attacks from neighbouring tribes which provoked them into taking up arms and leaving the subordinate position they had previously held. This started a process of rapid expansion, and set the Reguibat on the course towards total transformation into a traditional warrior tribe - a domain until then reserved for the Maqil or Hassane Arab tribes. In the late 19th century, they had become well-established as the largest Sahrawi tribe, and were recognized as the most powerful warrior tribe of the area. In the process they had adopted some cultural features from the dominant Arab warrior tribes of the area, which were now rapidly sidelined by the emerging Reguibat, and sometimes absorbed into it through marriage or tribal pacts.

The grazing lands of the Reguibat fractions extended from Western Sahara into the northern half of Mauritania, the edges of southern Morocco and northern Mali, and large swaths of western Algeria (where they captured the town of Tindouf from the Tadjakant tribe in 1895, and turned into an important Reguibat encampment). The Reguibat were known for their skill as warriors, as well as for an uncompromising tribal independence, and dominated large areas of the Sahara desert through both trade and use of arms.

Reguibat Sahrawis were very prominent in the resistance to French and Spanish colonization in the 19th and 20th century, and could not be subdued in the Spanish Sahara until 1934, almost 50 years after the area was first colonized by Spain. Since the 1970s, many Reguibat have been active in the Polisario Front's resistance to Moroccan rule over the still non-sovereign Western Sahara territory. Polisario leader Mohamed Abdelaziz is Reguibi, as is the Moroccan CORCAS leader Khellihenna Ould Errachid.

See also

Further reading

  • John Mercer (1976), Spanish Sahara, George Allen & Unwid Ltd (ISBN 0-04-966013-6)
  • Anthony G. Pazzanita (2006), Historical Dictionary of Western Sahara, Scarecrow Press
  • Virginia Thompson and Richard Adloff (1980), The Western Saharans. Background to Conflict, Barnes & Noble Books (ISBN 0-389-20148-0)


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