Article: “La guérilla libyenne”

An article about anti-colonial resistance in Libya and its intersections with resistance movements in North Africa in general, from a somewhat old edited volume on the Riffian resistance leader Abd el-Krim (click on the link for PDF):

Rosalba Davico, “La guérilla libyenne (1911–1932). Impérialisme et résistance anticoloniale en Afrique du Nord dans les années 1920,” in Abd el-Krim et la République du Rif. Actes du colloque international d’études historiques et sociologiques, 18–20 janvier 1973 (Paris: Maspero, 1976), 402–440.


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.





Prolegomena to the study of the Libyan Isawiyya | معلومات تمهيدية لدراسة العيسوية الليبية

One of the few anthropologists to carry out work in Libya in the past decade, and the only one working on Libyan Sufis, Igor Cherstich is currently working on a book based on his fieldwork among the ‘Isawiyya order in Tripoli, Libya. Here is one of his earlier articles on the topic.

Igor Cherstich, “Struggling for a Framework: Prolegomena to the study of the Libyan ‘Isāwiyya”, Libyan Studies 42 (2011), 59–68.

Abstract: As a consequence of the importance of the Sanusiyya in Libyan history, the literature on Sufism has shown a scarce curiosity for other Libyan [Sufi] brotherhoods. One of the reasons for this is the fact that, being characterised by a lack of central authority, these orders were considered unorganised entities that could not sustain the comparison with the Sanusiyya. The article problematises this view by concentrating on the ‘Isawiyya, a Libyan brotherhood constituted by local leaders who do not recognise a common authority. In particular, the paper  relies heavily on the recent re-conceptualisation of the idea of ‘Sufi order’ put forward by Rachida Chih, who suggests that Sufi brotherhoods could be best understood as ensembles of different local patron relationships. The article discusses the weaknesses and strengths of Chih’s framework in an attempt to propose a set of preliminary conclusions for the study of the Libyan ‘Isawiyya.

“بحثا عن هيكل: معلومات تمهيدية لدراسة العيسوية الليبية”

نتيجة لأهمية السنوسية في تاريخ ليبيا أظهرت الأدبيات عن المذهب الصوفي فضولا نادر عن الصوفيات الليبية الأخرى. إحدى أسباب ذلك هو عدم وجود مرجعية مركزية لها واعتبرت هذه الصوفيات كيانات غير منظمة وغير قابلة للمقارنة مع السنوسية.   تتعامل المقالة مع هذه الظاهرة كمشكلة وذلك بالتركيز على العيسوية وهي صوفية ليبية شكلتها مجموعة من القادة المحليين الذين لا يعترفون بمرجعية مشتركة. تعتمد المقالة بثقل على إعادة تنظير تمت مؤخرا لفكرة الصوفية من قبل رشيدة شيح التي تقترح بان الصوفيات يمكن ان تعتبر مجاميع لعلاقات رعوية محلية مختلفة. تناقش المقالة نقاط الضعف القوة في الهيكل الذي وضعته شيح في محاولة لاقتراح مجموعة اولية من الإستنتاجات لدراسة العيسوية الليبية.

You can read a version of the article at this link.

A sketch of the life of Ramadan al-Swayhli | مختصر حياة رمضان السويحلي

Image from

Ramadan al-Swayhli (رمضان السويحلي) was a major figure of the early Libyan resistance to Italian colonization, and played a role in the formation of the first Arab republic to declare its independence from the Ottoman Empire, but he is practically unknown outside of Libya. In this sketch, Lisa Anderson provides the first (and so far only) overview of his life in a Western language. Although several books about al-Suwayhli have been written in Arabic, she rightly notes that “it is a reflection of the fate of leaders of unsuccessful efforts to resist European imperialism that there is no account of his life in a Western language.”

Lisa Anderson, “Ramadan al-Suwayhli: Hero of the Libyan Resistance”, in Struggle and Survival in the Middle East, ed. E. Burke (1993), pp. 114-128.