Amazigh Riddles

Click a question to read the answer.

1.    Nzerx-ac-tt-i-n:  La ttawi awal, ur da tsawal.

       I’ve got one for you:  It takes a word but it doesn’t speak.  What is it?

2.    Nzerx-ac-tt-i-n:  Ibbi yaman ur immiɣ.

       I’ve got one for you:  It crossed through water but didn’t get wet.  What is it?

3.    Nzerx-ac-tt-i-n:  Ur da ttaru ɣas s isfuruḍen.

       I’ve got one for you:  It gives birth only by kicks.  What is it?

4.    Nzerx-ac-tt-i-n:  La-s iddal iswi, ur da-tt ittasi ulɣem.

       I’ve got one for you:  A simple basket covers it, but even a camel can’t lift it.  What is it?

5.    Nzerx-ac-tt-i-n:  Ilula-d s tamart, immut bla tamart.

       I’ve got one for you:  It was born with a beard but died without a beard.  What is it?

6.    Nzerx-ac-tt-i-n:  Tegdem da ur tenɣil.

       I’ve got one for you:  It turned upside down but didn’t spill.  What is it?

Amazigh culture has a tradition of riddles.  These riddles are told with a specific formula, somewhat like the English:  “What’s black and white and read all over?  A newspaper.”  First, an introductory phrase is given, announcing “I’m going to tell you a riddle.”  Then one or two short statements are made.  These are not framed as questions but as statements.  However, it is implied that the listener must then guess what object is being described by the cryptic statements.

The introductory phrase is:


nzerx           +          ac              +          tt           +           i         +           n

first person         indirect object        direct object           “i” sound        “n” of  farness
singular “past”     pronoun:  2 m.s.     pronoun: 3 f.s.        added for
conjugation of     “to you”                “it,” that is,           pronunciation
the verb “nzer”                                the riddle

Notice the presence of the indirect and direct object pronoun as well as a direction particle all with one verb.  The only thing that changes in this introductory phrase is the indirect object pronoun, which may be   acamawen ,  or  awent  depending on who is being addressed.  The verb  nzer   here functionally means “to tell a riddle” and technically means just “to tell”:  “I tell it to you.”

There are some regional variations:  some areas use the masculine third person singular direct object pronoun  t (without the doubling of the consonant) instead of the feminine  tt ; when that is used sometimes the  for pronunciation is not added; some regions use slightly different indirect object pronouns (like  ak , with a hard or a fricative “k” sound, instead of  ac );  and sometimes there are some slight changes to the verb.  Some regions use  ɣ  instead of   x  for the first person singular verb ending.  Some regions also modify some of the verb consonants or use a different verb.  There are at least five variations:  bzer , zunzerzuzzerḥeji , and  qqen.

So, you say the introductory phrase.  Then you say the cryptic statements.  You can leave it at that, or you can add a phrase like:  Mag-gmes?   or   Matta ntta?  (What is it?) or  Ini mag-gmes   or   Ini matta ntta   (Say what it is.).  Remember if the “it” you are talking about is feminine or plural, these questions change to things like:
May tmes?   or   Matta nttat?   etc., according to the gender and number of the “it.”

Most of these traditional riddles are virtually impossible for an outsider to guess correctly.  They often involve intricate details of agricultural and nomadic life.

Ddan-d iwaliwen-ad zeg E. Laoust, Cours de Berbère Marocain:  Dialecte du Maroc Central, Paris, 1939, p. 269.

1. tabratt     a letter

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2. amalu     a shadow

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3. tagmart     a mare

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4. tasraft     an underground storage area

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5.  agertil     a reed mat

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6.  tamaẓẓayt     an udder

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