Oral literature in Ghadamsi Weddings | الادب الشفوي في الاعراس الغدامسية

Room in a Ghadamsi house (Plate 1). © AM Yedder.
Room in a Ghadamsi house (Plate 1). © AM Yedder.

Searching the British Library database recently for Ph.D. theses related to Libya yielded an unexpected gem: The oral literature associated with the traditional wedding ceremony at Ghadames, a 1982 thesis written at SOAS by A.M. Yedder, a native of Ghadames. I first had a look at the physical copy in the SOAS library: a 431-page tome containing dozens and dozens of transcribed and translated texts in the Berber language of Ghadames, not to mention quite a few color photographs hand-pasted into it.

As with any Berber language in Libya, more material is a great boon, and this one contains a rich variety of oral literature used during weddings: 82 wedding songs, 20 ‘ritual utterances’, 3 ‘calls’, and 4 ululations. Many of the texts preserved here may no longer be known in Ghadames–Yedder gives details about each of his 19 informants, for example, several of which were born not long after 1900 and knew texts that were already in the 1970s forgotten by most other informants. A detailed discussion of the town’s social structure, unique house architecture, and the long and complex wedding ceremony itself means that the work is interesting even for those who do not specialize in Berber language.

Ghadamsi wedding jewelry (Plate 30). © AM Yedder.
Ghadamsi wedding jewelry (Plate 30). © AM Yedder.

It strikes me that this thesis may be one of the most detailed descriptions of a North African wedding ceremony ever made. Its wealth of information and uniqueness mean that it should be published, even, or especially, after having lain unconsulted in the SOAS library for thirty years. Thanks to some colleagues who helped allay the costs, I had the BL scan the entire thesis. It can be downloaded from this link (the file is large, > 100mb).

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Documentary: The Last Jews of Libya

For this blog’s first post about Libyan Jews, it is most fitting to start off with Vivienne Roumani’s 2007 documentary entitled The Last Jews of Libya. The synopsis:

lastjewsoflibya“The Last Jews of Libya documents the final decades of a centuries-old Sephardic Jewish community through the lives of the remarkable Roumani family. Thirty-six thousand Jews lived in Libya at the end of World War II, but not a single one remains today. A tale of war, cultural dislocation, and one family’s ultimate perseverance, this fifty-minute film traces the story of the Roumanis of Benghazi, Libya from Turkish Ottoman rule through the age of Mussolini and Hitler to the final destruction and dispersal of Libya’s Jews in the face of Arab nationalism.

Based on the recently discovered memoirs of the family’s matriarch, Elise Roumani, as well as interviews in English, Hebrew, Italian, and Arabic with several generations of the Roumani family and a trove of rare archival film and photographs, it is an unforgettable tale.”

You can watch the film’s trailer below:

As well as an interview with the filmmakers:

Libyan crafts in the 1960s (short film)

Here is a short documentary film depicting crafts and production in Libya during the 1960s. It belongs to the Huntley Film Archives, one of the largest independent film libraries in the UK. I have not yet been able to locate any information on who made the film, or for what purpose.

هنا فيلم وثائقي قصير يظهر فيه الصناعات اليدوية في ليبيا خلال الستينات من القرن الماضي. الفيلم جزء من ارشيف هنتلي، احد مكتبات الافلام الكبيرة في المملكة المتحدة. لكنني لم استطيع ان اجد معلومات عما سبب انتاج الفيلم او من خرجه.

The Origins of the Libyan Nation | اصول الدولة الليبية

Anna Baldinetti, The Origins of the Libyan Nation: Colonial Legacy, Exile and the Emergence of a New Nation-State (Routledge, 2010).

From the book’s abstract:

“Libya is a typical example of a colonial or external creation. This book addresses the emergence and construction of nation and nationalism, particularly among Libyan exiles in the Mediterranean region. It charts the rise of nationalism from the colonial era and shows how it developed through an external Libyan diaspora and the influence of Arab nationalism.

From 1911, following the Italian occupation, the first nucleus of Libyan nationalism formed through the activities of Libyan exiles. Through experiences undergone during periods of exile, new structures of loyalty and solidarity were formed. The new and emerging social groups were largely responsible for creating the associations that ultimately led to the formation of political parties at the eve of independence.

Exploring the influence of colonial rule and external factors on the creation of the state and national identity, this critical study not only provides a clear outline of how Libya was shaped through its borders and boundaries but also underlines the strong influence that Eastern Arab nationalism had on Libyan nationalism. An important contribution to history of Libya and nationalism, this work will be of interest to all scholars of African and Middle Eastern history.”

Libyan Fiction – Banipal Magazine

Banipal, the UK-based magazine of modern Arabic literature in English translation, published an issue dedicated to Libyan Fiction back in 2011. The print edition is reasonably priced and well worth having, but issue 40 also happens to be available online at Banipal’s website! You can read every piece of Libyan fiction in the issue for free. Together with the recent second edition of Ethan Chorin’s Translating Libya (see here), it represents the best and most recent collection of Libyan literature in English translation, and both are absolutely essential introductions to many of today’s important writers.

From the editor’s description of the issue:

“What an amazing coincidence that [Banipal’s 40th issue] should be dedicated to the celebration of Libyan literature at such an extraordinary historical moment in the Arab world when the region is witnessing a chain of uprisings and revolutions against dictatorial and corrupt regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and, finally, Libya.

We at Banipal are very proud of this special issue on Libyan fiction, and with it announce our absolute solidarity with the Libyan people in their aspiration to democratic rule and the exercising of all their rights, the first of which are to express their thoughts and the abolition of all forms of censorship on audio-visual media and literature.

When I met by chance the veteran Libyan writer Ali Mustafa al-Musrati, one evening at the Greek Club in Cairo, February 2007 (at this time exactly), I said to him: “I’m extremely saddened by the neglect of Libyan literature in the Arab world and by the ignorance of the West.” I promised him that Banipal would publish a special feature on the wonderful literature of Libya. And how happy we are to fulfil this promise at this time in particular…”

The Libyan authors whose work appears are (in no particular order): Ghazi Gheblawi, Wafa al-Bueissa, Hisham Matar, Ibrahim al-Koni, Mohammed Mesrati, Razan Naim Moghrabi, Mohammed al-Asfar, Ahmed Fagih, Giuma Bukleb, Omar el-Kiddi, Saleh Snoussi, Najwa Binshatwan, Omar Abulqasim Alkikli, Azza Kamil al-Maghour, Ibrahim Ahmidan, Redwan Abushwesha, Mohammed al-Arishiya, Mohammed al-Anaizi. There is also profile on Ali Mustafa al-Musrati.