Libyan Fairytales | خراريف ليبية

Perhaps the only such collection to be published in Libya in recent years, خراريف ليبية (Libyan Fairytales) is an anthology of fairytales collected in the Jabal Akhdar region of eastern Libya by the folklorist and short-story writer Ahmad Yusuf ‘Agila.

The book presents thirty-four fairytales, many of which— such as ام بسيسي or نقارش or عويشة بنت السلطان—are well-known to Libyans. ‘Agila also includes a lexicon of the more unusual words used in the tales; some are truly uncommon, while some (such as شرز for سرج ‘saddle’) are simply the local pronunciation of a common word.

Many younger-generation Libyans, or those who grew up in the diaspora, may not have heard many fairytales as children. This book is particularly useful for those groups, who may want to familiarize themselves with the tales their parents grew up hearing but no longer remember. Also, because ‘Agila attempts to render the eastern Libyan dialect as accurately as possible, the tales can be read aloud to friends and family members—thus keeping at least some Libyan fairytales alive.

‘Agila’s introduction to the book, as well as samples of some of the fairytales can be found at this link.

A few verses by Ahmad Rafig al-Mahdawi

The ‘national poet’ of Libya, Ahmad Rafig al-Mahdawi (احمد رفيق المهدوي), wrote a poem entitled أنا ساكت “I am silent” during the de-colonization of Libya and the struggle for nationhood. A few verses from it have been going around Libya social media, since they are as applicable to the situation today as they were sixty-odd years ago. Such is great poetry, I suppose. Here are the verses and my attempt at a somewhat literal translation:

قلبي يحدّثني بان ممثلا     خلف الستائرللحقائق يمسخُ

اما الذي هو في الحقيقة واقع     وطن يباع و امة تتفسّخُ

ماذا اقول و ما تراني قائلا     انا ساكت لكن قلبي يصرخُ

ابكي على شعبٍ يسيّر امره     متزعّمون و جاهلون و افرخُ

My heart tells me that behind the curtains, an actor distorts truths,

But the reality is this: a country is sold and a nation broken apart.

What is there to say? I am silent, but my heart cries out;

I weep for a people whom false leaders, the ignorant, and the bastards guide about.

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).

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.

Les annales tripolitaines

“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 (a scholar whose work we’re proud to refer to frequently!), with a useful introduction.

Les annales tripolitaines de Charles Féraud, with an introduction by Nora Lafi, Paris: Bouchène, 2005..

Translating Libya: In search of the Libyan short story

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.