- This is the name of one of the great historic Berber family of tribes. As early as the third century, some of their branches, such as the Hawwara, Lawata, Lamtuna, Massufa, and Guddala, seem to have migrated and slowly penetrated into the Sahara Desert. Gradually, the Sanhaja advanced into Mauritania and spread further into Sudan and the region of the Niger. Converted to Islam, they carried their belief systems among the peoples under their rule.In Mauritania, the Massufa and the Lamtuna united with other small groups all belonging to the so-called Mulaththamun, or veil wearers, setting up a tribal kingdom that from the first quarter of the ninth century until the start of the 10th constituted a stabilizing force in the desert society, controlling and policing the caravan trade to the Atlantic and Mediterranean ports. Soon afterward, these efforts led to the rise of the Almohad Empire amidst the Sanhaja tribes of Guddala and Lamtuna. Other groups, such as the Jazula, Lamta, and Haskura, while remaining nomads or in early stages of transition to a semisedentary mode of life, migrated into the plains of the Moroccan coasts of the Sous region. Others moved northeastward onto the slopes of the Middle Atlas and the Rif. Still others occupied the oases around Sijilmassa, later turned eastward and spread over the present-day Algerian region of Constantine, where in the 10th century the Kutama tribe became a pillar of the rising of the Fatimid dynasty. The name of the Kutama disappeared, but their descendants, the Kabyles, constitute an active element in the intellectual and political life of modern Algeria. From the Algerian Sanhaja emerged the Zirid dynasty, which reigned from the end of the 10th century until the middle of the 12th. Of Sanhaja blood, too, was a second dynasty in northern Algeria and Tunisia, the Hammadids.
Historical Dictionary of the Berbers (Imazighen) . Hsain Ilahiane. 2014.