“The Tripolitanian Annals” is a work written by Laurent-Charles Féraud, a French Arabist and statesman, while he was consul general in Tripoli from 1879 to 1884. The work contains extremely important historical information about the region of Tripolitania, pertaining not just to the 19th century, but to the region’s history since the Arab conquest. Originally published posthumously in 1927, then largely forgotten, the manuscript was recently re-edited and published by Nora Lafi with a useful introduction.
In the edited book Être notable au Maghreb: dynamiques des configurations notabiliaires published by the Institut de recherche sur le Maghreb contemporain in 2006, there are two essays on notables in Libya during the late Ottoman period and just after the Italian conquest. Fortunately, the entire volume is available for free online, over at OpenEditions.org (of course, if you can read French). Both are highly recommended, as much for their unique views into lesser-studied subjects as well as for their very useful notes and references that are otherwise difficult to come across.
Lahmar, Mouldi. “Libyens et Italiens en Tripolitaine (1911-1928): Quels territoires d’allégeance politique?” [Libyans and Italians in Tripolitania: what grounds for political allegiance? | ليبيون و اطاليون في طرابلس: ما هو اساس الولاء السياسي؟] pp. 121–138.
Lafi, Nora. “L’affaire ‘Alî al-Qarqânî (Tripoli, 1872)” [The affair of Ali al-Qarqani in Tripoli, 1872 | قضية علي القرقاني في طرابلس ١٨٧٢] pp. 204–217. (Many of Nora Lafi’s articles can be read online, at her academia.edu page).
This is not a post about Libya now. This is a post about a book from 1975, not so long after the coup of ’69, when ‘new’ was accurate in some senses but not necessarily positive. Entitled La Libye nouvelle, subtitled rupture et continuité (rupture and continuity | المزق و الاستمرار), it could easily have been just published last year and be talking about you-know-which-recent-events. A rather dramatic turn of history, cue experts publishing books. (Sometimes the lack of new perspectives is painfully obvious: there was a book titled … La nouvelle Libye published in 2004). In between, far, far fewer people are interested in Libya. Their loss. But I’m getting off track: the point here is that a number of scholarly works published in France have been made available free online at the OpenEdition.org website. Hence La Libye nouvelle can be read online for free (if you read French).
La Libye nouvelle: rupture et continuité. Institut de recherches et d’études sur le monde arabe et musulman, Éditions du CNRS. Paris. 1975.
Although some essays are outdated or rather simplistic, a few are still interesting reads. I recommend “La Libye des origines à 1912” by Robert Mantran; “Introduction à la connaissance de la littérature libyenne contemporaine” by Noureddine Sraieb is still one of the very few essays in a Western language addressing Libyan literature; “Chronologie libyenne” by Béatrice de Saenger is a handy timeline of events (obviously till 1975).
“Birthmark Theory will be a retrospective exhibition for a London-based audience on Abouon’s work going back over ten years, highlighting some of her most iconic and award-winning pieces to date. The 33 year-old’s unique approach has always been to use the motifs and symbols from her Islamic background and to juxtapose them with her Western-Canadian credentials. She creates pieces that reflect on what defines identity when one belongs to two different cultures. At the same time, she subverts any prejudices that may be held by outsiders regarding the same. Courageously employing herself and her family members as art models, her poetic diptychs and installations express and illustrate the possibilities of reconciling what might seem to be at odds influences, of a liberal versus conservative environment and also as to her being a woman. But in the process of introspection and the act of creation, she finds a happy individual medium to celebrate the colourful mix rather than this becoming a source of struggle or conflict.”
Abouon’s own description of the retrospective (from her website):
The subject of human biology within Islamic tradition describes the fetus receiving its soul and prewritten destiny within the mother’s womb on the 120th day of growth. This show represents a timeline of the body of work I was meant to create and grow with. Either a short or long spanned life, it is my birthright to live through it with all its lessons. We must remember our lives are uncertain, each evening we sleep and the morning after we awake, we thank Him for an opportunity to make it better once more.
The following is a supplication, which we must recite when we wake in the morning: ‘All praise is for Allah who gave us life after having taken it from us and unto Him is the Resurrection.’ / ‘Alhamdu lillahil-ladhi ‘ahyana ba’da ma ‘amatana wa’ilayhin-nushur.’
I title this show ‘Birthmark Theory’, because, through all my downfalls and accomplishments are important markers such as emotional scars to ‘wrinkles that indicate where smiles have been’. I must represent Him in this life and for me, these marks are but coordinates to the map which journeys me back to Him.
Picking up the theme of Berber (Amazigh) languages which we started last month, we move to the area of Zwara in northwest Libya. It has become known a bit better to the outside world, unfortunately, as a point of departure for refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean and for related problems with trafficking. So it is with many places in Libya, which hadn’t been heard of until something bad happened. Like Benghazi: before 2011 no one had ever heard of such a place, now everyone has heard of it but still can’t pronounce it correctly. But I’m getting off track—I want to highlight something unique about Zwara: it is one of the places where a Berber language is still spoken in Libya.
The linguist T.F. Mitchell (1919-2007) spent time doing fieldwork in Zwara in the 1940s and 50s, publishing some articles about the language (he also published work on Cyrenaican Arabic). But only recently were some of his copious papers on the Zwara Berber language edited into monographs.
The first is Ferhat: An everyday story of Berber folk in and around Zuara (Libya) (Berber Studies 17, Rüdiger Köppe: Cologne, 2007). Ferhat is the result of Mitchell’s work with his main informant Ramadan Azzabi, who narrated aspects of everyday life in Zwara. It hadn’t been published until Mitchell gave the papers to the editor of the Berber Studies series shortly before his death. The publication of this lengthy material is a valuable contribution for those interested not only in linguistics, but also Libyan/Berber language and culture. There is also an appendix discussing marriage customs in Zwara and a bibliography of work on the language carried out up until that point.
The follow-up to that volume, and posthumously capping T.F. Mitchell’s work is Zuaran Berber (Libya): Grammar and Texts (Berber Studies 26, Rüdiger Köppe: Cologne, 2009). This work consists of a partial grammatical sketch (partial because it concentrates mostly on verb morphology) of the Zwaran language that Mitchell had completed before his death, together with a number of transcribed conversation between Zwarans. Best of all, the audio files are available online at the publishers website (see link above) so that anyone interested can hear some Zwaran Berber.
Darf Publishers has just released the second edition of Translating Libya, a collection of short stories by Libyan authors selected and translated from Arabic by Ethan Chorin. The first edition was published in 2008 with Saqi Publishers at a time when there existed essentially no Libyan literature in English or other European languages. Since then, two things have happened: the book has become hard to find, and Darf Publishers have begun to publish Libyan literature in translation. It is thus perfectly appropriate that these two things come together and that a new edition of Translating Libya appears with Darf.
‘The immediate idea for the book came from a desire to get deeper into Libyan culture, which seemed to hold the foreigner at a distance. I was curious about the local literature—was there any, to speak of? What made this vast, lightly populated country, tick? All of this gradually led me into a world, not simply of ‘stories’, but of stories crafted to communicate in an environment in which one could not communicate, at least not in obvious, blatant ways—lest one face consequences.’
Order it directly from Darf Publishers, or your nearest bookstore.
Update! Read here a recent interview with author Ahmed Fagih about the book.