Article: Five Letters from the Tripoli Archives

Here is an older article for those interested in Libyan archives and the history of Tripoli.

B. G. Martin, “Five Letters from the Tripoli Archives,” Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria 2/3 (1962), 350–372.

“The five Arabic letters which form the basis of this article date from 1846 to 1870. They throw some light, but only on details, of the relations of Bornu with Tripoli during the second Ottoman period (1835-1911), under the reigns of Shaykhs ‘Umar bin Muhammad al-Amīn al-Kānimī and Shaykh ‘Abd al-Rahmān. The interest of these letters is at once historical and indicative, pointing to other discoveries of documents relevant to Nigerian history which will doubtless be made at Tripoli, and further, at the Başvekālet Arşivi in Istanbul, whence the bulk of the Tripoli archives of the late second Ottoman period was doubtless removed soon after the Italian conquest of Libya in 1911. Three of these five letters (Letters One, Two and Three) are internal Tripolitanian Government correspondence about Bornu affairs, while Letter Four is a copy of a diplomatic communication addressed by Mustafa Nūri Pāshā of Tripoli to Shehu (Shaykh) ‘Abd al-Rahmān of Bornu. Letter Five is an example of the Bornu diplomatic correspondence preserved at the Tripoli Archives, and was addressed by Shaykh ‘Umar to the Mushīr ‘Ali Ridā Pāshā of Tripoli.”

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Article: Languages in Libya, building blocks of national identity…

Baldinetti, Anna. 2018. “Languages in Libya: building blocks of national identity and soft power tools,” The Journal of North African Studies 23/3 (Special issue: Soft Power in the Maghrib after the Arab Uprisings), pp. 418–439.

Abstract: Tracing the general lines of language policies in Libya since independence, this article discusses how Arabic has been instrumental in forging a national identity, and examines its role as a soft power tool used by Qadhafi’s regime through the World Islamic Call Society (WICS), established in 1972, which prioritised the teaching of the Arabic language. The article seeks to understand whether the 2011 revolution – at least until 2013, before the beginning of the ongoing internal conflict – has challenged the role of Arabic as the only constituent language of national identity.

Article: Italian colonial psychiatry in Libya

Scarfone, Marianna. 2016. Italian colonial psychiatry: outlines of a discipline, and practical achievement in Libya and the Horn of Africa. History of Psychiatry 27(4), pp. 389–405.
Abstract:
This article describes the establishment of psychiatry in Italy’s former colonies during the period 1906–43, in terms of the clinical and institutional mechanisms, the underlying theories and the main individuals involved. ‘Colonial psychiatry’ (variously called ‘ethnographic’, ‘comparative’ or ‘racial’ psychiatry) – the object of which was both to care for mentally afflicted colonists and local people and also to understand and make sense of their pathologies – received most attention in colonial Libya, starting in the first months of the Italian occupation (1911–12) and then taking institutional form in the 1930s; in the colonies of what was known as ‘Italian East Africa’, on the other hand, less was said about psychiatric care, and practical achievements were correspondingly limited.

Article: The music of Dania Ben Sasi in 2011

On the anniversary of the revolution, we’re sharing a new article by Leila Tayeb, “Our star: Amazigh music and the production of intimacy in 2011 Libya” out in the Journal of North African Studies, about the music of Libyan Amazigh singer Dania Ben Sasi during the events of the 2011 revolution.

The abstract is:

This article explores the production and circulation of Amazigh music among Libyans between 2011 and 2013. It takes as a focal point the performance archive of Serbian-Libyan Amazigh singer Dania Ben Sasi, whose Amazigh-language music found unprecedented fame in Libya in 2011. Through close readings of her initial musical recording of that year, interviews with Ben Sasi and listeners, analysis of performances onstage and in daily life, and drawing on ethnographic fieldwork undertaken in Libya, Serbia, and Tunisia, I present a brief history of a temporary moment of political possibility. I suggest that the formation of an intimate public around Amazigh music in Libya offered glimpses of an unfinished future in which popular practices of recognition could still be built.

The article appears to be freely accessible online at the above link.

Jewish Libya: Memory and Identity

jewish240A new book, Jewish Libya: Memory and Identity in Text and Image, edited by the Libyan Jewish writers and scholars Jacques Roumani (†), David Meghnaghi, and Judith Roumani, is coming out soon from Syracuse University Press. It includes chapters on Libyan Jewish language, cuisine, history, social change, women, diaspora, and biographical and liturgical literatures. A table of contents can be found at this link.

From the publisher’s description:

“In June 2017, the Jews of Libya commemorated the jubilee of their complete exodus from this North African land in 1967, which began with a mass migration to Israel in 1948–49. Jews had resided in Libya since Phoenician times, seventeen centuries before their encounter with the Arab conquest in AD 644–646. Their disappearance from Libya, like most other Jewish communities in North Africa and the Middle East, led to their fragmentation across the globe as well as reconstitution in two major centers, Israel and Italy.

Distinctive Libyan Jewish traditions and a broad cultural heritage have survived and prospered in different places in Israel and in Rome, Italy, where Libyan Jews are recognized for their vibrant contribution to Italian Jewry. Nevertheless, with the passage of time, memories fade among the younger generations and multiple identities begin to overshadow those inherited over the centuries. Capturing the essence of Libyan Jewish cultural heritage, this anthology aims to reawaken and preserve the memories of this community. Jewish Libya collects the work of scholars who explore the community’s history, its literature and dialect, topography and cuisine, and the difficult negotiation of trauma and memory. In shedding new light on this now-fragmented culture and society, this collection commemorates and celebrates vital elements of Libyan Jewish heritage and encourages a lively inter-generational exchange among the many Jews of Libyan origin worldwide.”

Two Essays on Hisham Matar’s Novels

Tasnim Qutait, “Like His Father Before Him”: Patrilineality and Nationalism in the work of Hisham Matar, Jamal Mahjoub and Robin Yassin-Kassab, Postcolonial Interventions 2/2, 2017, pp. 129–160.

Abstract: Despite recent increased attention to the study of masculinities in the Middle East, discussions of gender and nationalism in the Arab world tend to focus on the impact of the patriarchal nation-state on women. This focus, in part reflecting the persistence of essentialist discourses about the disempowered Arab woman, elides the centrality of masculinity and patrilineality to the narratives of the nation-state. In this article, I consider the implications of patrilineality in the work of three Arab British authors, identifying the centrality of the absent or distant father to the examination of nationalism and exile in this emerging literature. The article examines two novels by Hisham Matar, In the Country of Men (2006) and Anatomy of a Disappearance (2011), alongside Jamal Mahjoub’s Travelling with Djinns (2003) and Robin Yassin-Kassab’s The Road from Damascus (2008). Matar, Yassin-Kassab and Mahjoub are three writers settled in Britain and writing in English, with backgrounds in Libya, Syria and Sudan respectively. I argue that all three writers employ a narrative of failed filial relationships in order to dramatize a sense of distance from the post-independence generation, and the growing awareness of the discontinuities between an emancipatory national project and the reality of state violence.

Christopher Micklethwait, “Zenga Zenga and Bunga Bunga: The Novels of Hisham Matar and a Critique of Gaddafi’s Libya”, in The Edinburgh Companion to the Arab Novel in English: The Politics of Anglo-Arab and Arab-American Literature and Culture, edited by Nouri Gana, Edinburgh University Press, 2013, pp. 171–196.

From the essay: “The two novels of Anglo Libyan author Hisham Matar, In the Country of Men (2006) and Anatomy of a Disappearance (2011), center on the abduction of their respective protagonists’ fathers at the hands of revolutionary dictatorships. In the former, the father, Faraj el Dewani, is seized by members of the Revolutionary Committee during the reign of political terror in Libya in 1979, viciously tortured in custody, and then released to his family after confessing and revealing the names of his co-conspirators. In the latter, the father, Kamal Pasha El-Alfi, an ex-minister and exiled dissident of an unnamed Arab country, is kidnapped from the home of his mistress in Geneva in the winter of 1972, never to be seen or heard from again. The thematic similarities of these plots have made it difficult not to relate them to the author’s family and personal experiences with the regime of Colonel Gaddafi, which ruled Libya from 1969 until 2011. As Matar has reported in several public interviews, his father, political dissident Jaballa Matar, vanished from Cairo in 1990 where he had been living in exile; he had been abducted by Libyan agents with the cooperation of Egyptian security forces and clandestinely repatriated to Libya where he was held, for a time, in Libya’s infamous Abu Salim prison, only to disappear completely in 1996…”

Garagoz and shadow theater | قراقوز و مسرح الظلام

Does anyone remember Garagoz?

In a book entitled North African Shadow-Theater*, Wilhelm Hoenerbach investigates the tradition of shadow-theater in Tunis and Tripoli, complete with texts from plays in each city as well as images of the cut-outs used in the plays in Tripoli. Hoenerbach worked in the Awqāf Library in Tripoli during the 1950s, and had the opportunity to see actual shadow-plays performed by a certain Muhammad al-Wāsṭi, apparently the last shadow-theater performer in the city. The texts in the book are in fact the entire repertoire of al-Wāsṭi’s. The book by Hoenerbach is, as far as I know, the only study of Libyan shadow-theater (or at least the only study published outside of Libya). Hoernerbach points to the connection between the forms of the plays in Tunis and Tripoli and their ultimate background in the Ottoman period.

In the hope that someone will find it useful for a study or will just read it out of interest, I scanned the text of the plays and have uploaded it here. The text is given in a Latin transcription with facing German translation, which means that it isn’t the easiest to read. I’d be very much interested in knowing more about this art form, and seeing old pictures.

*Hoenerbach, Wilhelm. 1959. Das nordafrikanische Schattentheater. Mainz: Rheingold. [Click here for PDF of the plays]

Cut-outs of the shadow play characters from Muhammad al-Wāsṭi’s collection (printed in Hoenerbach’s book): Garagoz (left), Hajiwan (middle), Baba Khwaneb (right). The originals were about 30cm tall.