Mercantile Documents from Ghadames | وثائق تجارية من غدامس

ghadames-mss219th-century documents from the collection of the Yusha‘ family—one of the most important merchant families of Ghadames during the 18th and 19th centuries—were published by the Ghadamsi scholar Bashir Qasim Yusha‘ in 1983, shedding light for the first time on the extremely wide extent of the Ghadamsi mercantile network in Africa. Merchants from Ghadames were apparently so well-known in Saharan and western Africa that in Hausa the only North African group other than  Larabawa ‘Arabs’ to have a particular designation were the Adamusawa ‘Ghadamsis’. Yusha‘’s publication is the following: Yusha‘, Bashir Qasim. Ghadāmis. Wathā’iq tijāriyya tārikhiyya ijtimā‘iyya (1228-1310 hijri). Tripoli, 1983.

To my knowledge, the only Western scholar to engage with these sources was Ulrich Haarmann. His lengthy (94 pages, 492 footnotes!) and wide-ranging article based on the documents, “The Dead Ostrich: Life and Trade in Ghadames (Libya) in the Nineteenth Century“, was published in 1998 in Der Welt des Islams. Before his death in 1999 Haarmann had prepared translations and commentaries of many of the documents published by Yusha‘. This material was gathered and published posthumously in German:

Haarmann, Ulrich, edited by Stephan Connermann. Briefe aus der Wüste: Die private Korrespondenz der in Ġadāmis ansässigen Yūša‘-Familie (Letters from the Desert: the private correspondence of the Yusha‘ family resident in Ghadames). EB-Verlag, 2008.

Publisher’s blurb (German): “Im Jahre 1983 legte der Gadameser Gelehrte Basir Qasim Yusa der interessierten Öffentlichkeit 150 Privatpapiere – Briefe, Rechnungen, Warenlisten, Quittungen oder Geburtsregister – aus dem Besitz seiner Familie vor. Diese Dokumente, die in dem Zeitraum von 1813 bis 1917 entstanden sind, handeln alle in der einen oder anderen Weise von Mitgliedern der berberischen Familie Yusa. Geschrieben sind diese Schriftstücke in einem lokalen Umgangsarabisch, in dem sich verschiedentlich berberische oder hocharabische Einsprengsel finden. Als Verfasser kommen entweder die Absender selbst, deren schriftkundigen Bekannte oder aber bezahlte Briefschreiber in Frage. Kurz nachdem Basir Qasim Yusa seine Edition veröffentlicht hatte, begann Ulrich Haarmann sich mit den Texten zu befassen. Ein Aufenthalt am Berliner Wissenschaftskolleg im Frühjahr 1997 gab ihm Zeit und Gelegenheit, alle Befunde in einen geschlossenen Text zu gießen, der dann 1998 in der Zeitschrift Die Welt des Islams unter dem Titel „The Dead Ostrich: Life and Trade in Ghadames (Libya) in the Nineteenth Century“ publiziert wurde. Die von ihm weitgehend übersetzten Dokumente sollten einer späteren Veröffentlichung vorbehalten sein. Dazu kam es dann aber nicht mehr, denn Ulrich Haarmann verstarb 1999. Stephan Conermann hat die Übertragungen der schwierigen Texte nun zusammen mit einer längeren Einleitung in vorsichtiger Überarbeitung herausgegeben.”

The Ottoman Scramble for Africa

Minawi, Mostafa. 2016. The Ottoman Scramble for Africa: Empire and Diplomacy in the Sahara and the Hijaz. Stanford University Press.

The Ottoman Scramble for Africa is the first book to tell the story of the Ottoman Empire’s expansionist efforts during the age of high imperialism. Following key representatives of the sultan on their travels across Europe, Africa, and Arabia at the close of the nineteenth century, it takes the reader from Istanbul to Berlin, from Benghazi to Lake Chad Basin to the Hijaz, and then back to Istanbul. It turns the spotlight on the Ottoman Empire’s expansionist strategies in Africa and its increasingly vulnerable African and Arabian frontiers.

Drawing on previously untapped Ottoman archival evidence, Mostafa Minawi examines how the Ottoman participation in the Conference of Berlin and involvement in an aggressive competition for colonial possessions in Africa were part of a self-reimagining of this once powerful global empire. In so doing, Minawi redefines the parameters of agency in late-nineteenth-century colonialism to include the Ottoman Empire and turns the typical framework of a European colonizer and a non-European colonized on its head. Most importantly, Minawi offers a radical revision of nineteenth-century Middle East history by providing a counternarrative to the “Sick Man of Europe” trope, challenging the idea that the Ottomans were passive observers of the great European powers’ negotiations over solutions to the so-called Eastern Question.”

An episode of the Ottoman History Podcast with Minawi was also dedicated to this topic and is well worth a listen.

Announcing Lamma: A Journal of Libyan Studies

We are pleased to announce the launch of a new journal focusing on the academic study of Libya!

Lamma: A Journal of Libyan Studies

Lamma is an academic journal which aims to provide a forum for critically understanding the complex ideas, values, social configurations, histories, and material realities in Libya. Recognizing, and insisting on, the urgent need for such a forum, we give attention ­to as wide a range of disciplines, sources, and approaches as possible, foregrounding especially those which have previously received less scholarly attention. This includes, but is not limited to: anthropology, art, gender, history, linguistics, literature, music, performance studies, religion, sociology, politics, and urban studies in addition to their intersections, their subfields, and places in between. The journal particularly welcomes articles that adopt innovative critical, theoretical, and postcolonial approaches. Lamma is a space where these fields interact and draw from one another, and where scholars and students from inside and outside of Libya gather to redefine and reshape “Libyan Studies”. For these reasons the journal takes its name from the  Arabic word lamma (لمّة) ‘a gathering’.

There is a wide range of research on Libya that deserves to be represented and disseminated to scholars and students both in Libya and in Europe and North America, but for which a forum which brings them all together does not really exist. Such a forum would actively reach out to find them and bring their research to light, ultimately working to shape and define what ‘Libyan Studies’ is. Furthermore, there is great interest among Libyan students both in Libya and abroad in accessing research about their country in order to fuel and motivate their own studies; many of these students seek, but do not find, accessible research on topics of contemporary relevance. Now is a critical time in the history of Libya, with instability and conflict threatening not only the country’s prospects for a peaceful and productive future, but also threatening efforts to broaden educational and research horizons in tandem with Libyan scholars and students. It is imperative that we find the means to support these efforts.

We believe that access to research is not the privilege of a few but the right of all and that knowledge production should be inclusive. Hence, Lamma is an open-access journal published in conjunction with open-access publisher punctum books (punctumbooks.com)—it will be freely available online as a PDF, and in physical form for a low price.

Besides research articles and reviews of important publications, we also hope to include relevant translated and original literary work, and offer the journal as a platform for the publication of specialized workshop papers or guest-curated collections.

(This announcement will soon be posted in Arabic.)

Finally, all the relevant information about Lamma can be found via the links at the top of this site. Check back soon for updates!

Islamic Sanctuaries in 17th-century Tripolitania

sanctuari-islamiciIslamic Sanctuaries in 17th-century Tripolitania is the translation of a work by the Libyan religious scholar ‘Abd as-Salām al-‘Ālam al-Tajouri.* It gives details about the many shrines and mosques in Tripolitania (western Libya), as they were known in the 17th-century. The Italian translation of the work, shown here, is the only scholarly work on the text that I know of. Antonio Cesàro, an Arabist who also wrote a grammar of the Tripoli dialect of Arabic, teamed up with the human geographer Enrico de Agostini to also track down the sites mentioned by al-Tajouri and document them in photos and with maps.

An interesting, though probably discouraging, project would be to go to these sites today, in and around Tripoli, Tajoura, Tarhuna, Zliten, and Misrata, and document as many as possible—both those that have survived the past five years of turmoil and those that have not.

*The full reference is Tajouri, A. Santuari Islamica nel secolo XVII in Tripolitania, tr. by Antonio Cesàro. Tripoli: Maggi, 1933.

Exhibit: Jewelled Tales of Libya

The exhibition Jewelled Tales of Libya, curated by Najlaa El-Ageli and Hala Ghellali, will take place at the Arab British Centre from 19 to 27 January 2017.

Jewelled Tales of Libya is a rare exhibition which will explore the diversity and historical identity of a country through its tradition of fine jewellery. By showcasing this rich cultural heritage, the exhibition aims to tell the stories behind the adornments and symbols that feature heavily throughout the geographical expanse that we know as Libya.

Alongside a display of 45 pieces of authentic Libyan silver jewellery from the 1920s to 1960s (comprising chokers, belts, headpieces, bangles, silver slippers amongst many other pieces), the exhibition will show 13 original vintage photographs, that belong to the curators’ private collections. Dating back to the early decades of the 20th Century, the images of Libyan women were taken by the Italian cameramen, (such as Aula, Nascia, Rimoldi and others),who established studios in Libya during the European colonisation and who contributed to the Orientalist strand of photography.

In contrast to this old collection, the exhibition will also feature more recent photographs taken by the talented Libyan photographer Sassi Harib, whose work captures the essence of Libya’s Southern women adorned in their jewellery.

Furthermore, Hala Ghellali, one of the curators, will be giving a talk about Libyan jewellery, its symbolism and the history of silver making in Libya on 24 Jan, 6:30pm – 7:30pm @ The Arab British Centre (admission is free).

مجلة البحوث التاريخية | Journal of Historical Research

Libya’s foremost research journal for history, in its broadest conception, is the مجلة البحوث التاريخية (Journal of Historical Research), published by the Libyan Center for Historical Studies.* Since 1979, the journal has consistently published articles by Libyan scholars, as well as several well-known European scholars writing in Arabic, on a very broad array of topics. In many cases, in fact, there is little or no research published outside of Libya on these topics, and the journal therefore offers extremely valuable insight into the range of possibilities for research as well as useful starting points for those who can read Arabic. Unfortunately, it is difficult to come by in European or American libraries (in London, the SOAS library has many of the issues)—a goal for the appropriate authority in Libya would be to make back issues available online. The website of the Center shows issues from 2013 as being the most recent. Although it seems not to have been updated for some time now, later issues are not known to me.

*The Center was previously called مركز جهاد الليبيين ضد الغزو الايطالي للدراسات التاريخية (The Libyan Resistance against the Italian Invader Center for Historical Studies), later shortened to مركز جهاد الليبين للدراسات التاريخية (The Libyan Resistance Center for Historical Studies).

An old article about Tawargha

tawarghan-women
Tawarghan Women (Photo U. Paradisi, 1950s)

The inhabitants of the small oasis of Tawargha (تورغاء) outside of Misrata have suffered a great deal as a result of recent conflicts in Libya. The majority of Tawarghans are people often referred to in Libyan society as “black Libyans”, in order to draw attention to their sub- Saharan African ancestry (I prefer the term “Libyans”, since they are Libyans like everyone else). Unfort-unately, most people make little effort to understand them or their history.

Tawarghan Man (Photo U. Paradisi, 1950s)
Tawarghan Man (Photo U. Paradisi, 1950s)

This being the case, I thought it important to share an article written about Tawargha fifty years ago by the linguist Umberto Paradisi, known mainly for his work on Libyan Berber. He also apparently noticed that so many Tawarghans were of sub-Saharan African ancestry (about 4600 of a population of 5100 in 1936), and wrote an article for the popular magazine Le Vie del Mondo about it (he also wrote popular articles for them about Tripoli, Ghadames, and other places in Libya). That this particular social situation was the case fifty years ago, and goes back even long before the colonial period, further shows that the recent forced displacement of Tawarghans by local militias is based on scapegoating and racism—they have been a part of society for as long as the concept of ‘Libya’ has existed. The reason for the unique demographic of Tawargha goes back to an unfortunate, but inescapable, part of Libyan history: the slave trade. This much is implied by the pejorative term shushan (plural shawāshna) used, then as sometimes now, to refer to them and other Libyans ultimately descended from slaves. We need to understand these histories and work to rectify and not repeat them.

Here is a scan of the article (in Italian), entitled “I sudanesi di Tauórga” and published in Le Vie del Mondo (February 1956). It also has several photographs showing various aspects of life in Tawargha such as date cultivation and textile making.