The French colonial scholar and administrator Constantin Louis Sonneck (1849-1904) isn’t that well known. Having spent his entire youth in colonial Algeria, Sonneck became an asset to the French administration and was employed in numerous roles in the colonial administration before eventually going on to teach at the École coloniale in Paris. Although his career consisted mostly of translation, teaching, and administering, Sonneck found time later in life to publish a few text editions like a proper Orientalist.
Title Page of Sonneck’s Chants arabe du Maghreb
The more well-known of these is his collection of songs and poems entitled Chants arabes du Maghreb: Étude sur le dialecte et la poésie populaire de l’Afrique du nord / الديوان المُغرب في أقوال عرب إفريقية والمغرب (Arabic Songs of the Maghrib: A Study of the Dialect and Popular Poetry of North Africa) published in 3 volumes totalling almost 700 pages between 1902 and 1906. This work has proven valuable to later scholars for its documentation of songs in the classical Andalusi repertoire as passed down in cities of northern Africa. Sonneck’s only other published academic work was a (shorter) collection in three parts entitled “Six chansons arabes en dialecte maghrébin” (Six Arabic Songs in Maghribi Dialect) and published in that venerable organ of French Orientalism, the Journal Asiatique, in 1899. It provides the text of six poems from differents parts of northern Africa in Arabic script with French translation and a few notes. Though Sonneck doesn’t say exactly where he obtained each poem, and who recited them for him, he does record some basic information for each:
- An ode from the Maḥāmīd of Tripolitania, poet unnamed.
- A poem composed in praise of Lalla Aisha al-Manoubiya, a saint in Manouba, Tunisia, who died in 1267 and is buried in Tunis. The unnamed author apparently lived in the mid-1700s in Manouba.
- The famous qasida by Muhammad bin Gitoun about the love story of Sa‘id and Ḥiziya in Sidi Khaled near Biskra, Algeria, composed in 1878 and later set to music.
- A poem composed by Qaddur bin Omar bin Benina, a scholar from Algiers who died around 1898 and was known as Qaddur al-Hadby, on the occasion of a trip to the 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris of a musical troupe led by Francisco Salvador-Daniel, a Spanish music teacher in Algiers.
- An ode by Muhammad bin Sahla, a famous sheikh in Tlemcen, Algeria, who lived in the 1800s.
- A poem from a nobleman of Tafilalt, Morocco named Sidi Muhammad bin Ali U Rezin (1742-1822).
The earliest work on a Libyan Arabic variety was written by Hans Stumme (1864-1936), a diligent German linguist who studied a number of language varieties in northern Africa. In his Märchen und Gedichte aus der Stadt Tripolis in Nordafrika (Folktales and Poems from the city of Tripoli in North Africa, 1898), he describes the speakers he interviewed for his research and relates an interesting detail.
Arriving in Tripoli in 1897, Stumme was put in touch with a certain Sidi Brahim bin Ali al-Tikbāli, who he describes as a 45-year old inhabitant of the old city and a skilled poet. Sidi Brahim became Stumme’s main interlocutor for his study of the Tripoli dialect and provided the majority of the texts Stumme transcribed in his book (10 khurrafas and 7 poems). A second speaker, whom Stumme praises as a “walking dictionary”, was a 15-year old black Libyan named Mhemmed bin Jum’a Breñgāli. Besides being Stumme’s guide around the city and general explainer-of-things, Mhemmed provided 3 additional poems which Stumme transcribed. A third person, a Tunisian named Hmed al-Susi who apparently lived in Tripoli, helped translate when Stumme’s knowledge of Tunisian Arabic didn’t suffice to be clearly understood by his Tripolitanian interlocutors.
Stumme’s transcription of Sidi Brahim’s poem
A relatively recent article examines the British consular presence in early modern (Garamanli) Tripoli:
This article will challenge the currently accepted notions of weak British consular presence, influence and activity in the southern Mediterranean during the period 1795–1832 through a case study of the careers of three successive consuls in the Regency of Tripoli: Simon Lucas, William Wass Langford and Hanmer Warrington. Utilising the official cor- respondence of these agents, the extent of the consular bridgehead in the capital, Tripoli, will be investigated, and how, through these consular and diplomatic agents, it served to define imperial interests and activity at the frontiers of empire. Moreover, the overlapping personal and professional networks within which the consuls embedded themselves, the role of enterprising missions and the development of an intelligence-gathering network will be of central significance in understanding the consequent ruptures in the social and political fabric of the Regency of Tripoli. British imperial interest in North Africa during and immediately post the Napoleonic era remains under-studied and misunder- stood within both British diplomatic and imperial history. This article challenges the exist- ing literature that underestimates the diplomatic as well as consular power exercised by the British consuls to Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli, as well as the importance of these three Barbary regencies to wider strategic interests in the Mediterranean.
A recent dissertation explores the Ottoman resistance to the Italian conquest and colonization of Libya in 1911-1912:
McCollum, Jonathan. The Anti-Colonial Empire: Ottoman Mobilization and Resistance in the Italo-Turkish War, 1911-1912. (PhD Dissertation, UCLA, 2018).
The Italo-Turkish War (1911-1912), now remembered primarily as Italy’s war for what is now Libya, swelled from a localized colonial invasion into a significant Mediterranean conflict and a global cause célèbre that attracted support and aid for the embattled Ottoman regime from diverse locations both inside and outside the borders of the empire. This dissertation examines the means by which the Ottoman Empire erected an asymmetric defense of its last North African provinces to preserve its territory and empire from Italian occupation and annexation. Drawing on sources in Ottoman Turkish, Arabic, Greek, and Judeo-Spanish, this study demonstrates how the Sublime Porte and the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) initially deployed a rhetoric of unity, constitutionalism, and international law to protect the empire from the Italian invasion. Due to the efficacy of Italian diplomacy, the Ottomans, unable to enlist Great Power support for the preservation of imperial territory, developed a defensive strategy for its North African territories that relied primarily on humanitarianism and volunteerism. This dissertation, therefore, investigates the vital contribution of pan-Islamism and the broad appeal of a loose ideology of Muslim anticolonialism in the empire’s attempts to bolster its forces with international aid and volunteers. While many studies tend to brush aside the importance of early twentieth-century pan-Islamism as either a pipe dream of Wilhelmine champions of German imperialism and their Ottoman collaborators or as merely a rhetorical movement devoid of substantial consequence, this dissertation reveals how global appeals to Islamic unity to combat European expansionism translated into material benefits for Ottomans on the battlefield. Through an examination of documents from the Turkish Red Crescent and the Turkish General Staff archives, it highlights the crucial assistance of global Islamic humanitarian aid to the Ottoman war effort in the form of sizeable financial contributions to the Ottoman Red Crescent from Muslims over the duration of the conflict. The Red Crescent organization provided a means to funnel aid to the battlefield collected in mosques, mass meetings, newspaper subscriptions, and Islamic associations within and without the Ottoman Empire. This charitable aid facilitated the deployment to North Africa of multiple Red Crescent teams which assumed, in most cases, sole responsibility for the medical care of both soldiers and civilians of the Ottoman provinces. Simultaneously, the Ottoman ranks in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica swelled as calls for coreligionist volunteers to take up arms were heeded throughout Africa and Asia. Ultimately, the empire’s anticolonial ideology proved an effective unifier for the many Muslims around the world who shouldered a great deal of the cost of the conflict. While Italy’s expenses for its war for colonial expansion ballooned, the defense of North Africa cost the Ottoman treasury very little.
Available freely online is a special journal issue from 2013, based on a workshop which took place in 2011, on the theme “Tripoli, port to the sea, port to the desert” in Paris. The special issue contains 7 articles, all in French, about different aspects of pre-modern to early-modern Tripoli. All articles can be read online as well as downloaded.
Tripoli, port de mer, port de désert: Table ronde du 25-26 novembre 2011 Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne coordonnée par Rémi Dewière et Güneş Işıksel, special issue of Hypothèses (1/16), 2013:
Rémi Dewière, Güneş Işıksel, Introduction, pp. 343–352
Dominique Valérian, Tripoli dans les réseaux d’échanges intercontinentaux à la fin du Moyen Âge, pp. 353–363
Nicola Melis, Tripoli vu par les Ottomans, pp. 365–373
Güneş Işıksel, Le statut de la Tripolitaine dans l’espace politique ottoman au xvie siècle, pp. 375–382
Rémi Dewière, «Regards croisés entre deux ports de désert»: L’enjeu des sources pour l’étude des relations entre Tripoli et le sultanat de Borno, pp. 383–393
Nora Lafi, Violence factieuse, enjeux internationaux et régulation ottomane de la conflictualité urbaine à Tripoli d’Occident entre xviiie et xixe siècles, pp. 395–403
Salvatore Bono, Tripoli 1510-1911: Historiographie et sources occidentales, pp. 405–412
Matthew Ellis, Desert Borderland: The making of modern Egypt and Libya, Stanford University Press (coming 2018).
Publisher’s blurb: “Desert Borderland investigates the historical processes that transformed political identity in the easternmost reaches of the Sahara Desert in the half century before World War I. Adopting a view from the margins—illuminating the little-known history of the Egyptian-Libyan borderland—the book challenges prevailing notions of how Egypt and Libya were constituted as modern territorial nation-states.
Matthew H. Ellis draws on a wide array of archival sources to reconstruct the multiple layers and meanings of territoriality in this desert borderland. Throughout the decades, a heightened awareness of the existence of distinctive Egyptian and Ottoman Libyan territorial spheres began to develop despite any clear-cut boundary markers or cartographic evidence. National territoriality was not simply imposed on Egypt’s western—or Ottoman Libya’s eastern—domains by centralizing state power. Rather, it developed only through a complex and multilayered process of negotiation with local groups motivated by their own local conceptions of space, sovereignty, and political belonging. By the early twentieth century, distinctive “Egyptian” and “Libyan” territorial domains emerged—what would ultimately become the modern nation-states of Egypt and Libya.”
Lisa Anderson, “Ninetheenth-century Reform in Ottoman Libya,” International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 16/4 (1984), pp. 324–348.
“The history of political change in Libya during the nineteenth century has been obscured by subsequent political events in the Middle East and North Africa. A relatively unimportant province of the Ottoman Empire, it went to the least important European colonial power in the region – Italy – and the Italian tenure destroyed much of the legacy of Ottoman reform. Even contemporary observers in the nineteenth century usually viewed the province through a prism whose primary focus was elsewhere, leaving distorted and partial accounts of the changes wrought by the Ottoman administration. This lacuna in the literature has hindered comprehensive assessment of the Ottoman reform period and, perhaps as seriously, distorted interpretation of Libya’s subsequent political history…”
The latest work of Benghazi-born writer Najwa Bin Shatwan, The Slave Pens (زرايب العبيد) has been garnering praise across the Arab literary world. She was recently shortlisted for the 2017 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, and a translated excerpt from her book is featured in the current issue of Banipal magazine (#58 ‘Arab Literary Awards’).
The novel is set just outside of downtown Benghazi in the early 20th century. In this part of the city, known as al-Sabri (الصابري), both enslaved and free people lived in a dense network of rudimentary palm-leaf dwellings, essentially a ghetto. Bin Shatwan is the first writer or scholar to attempt to address this aspect of Benghazi’s history in particular, perhaps the first Libyan writer to deal deeply with slavery and its legacy in Libya.
Summary: The Slave Pens lifts the lid on the dark, untold history of slavery in Libya, of which the effects can still be felt today. Slave owner Mohammed and his slave Ta’awidha have fallen in love, but their relationship is considered taboo. Living in a community where masters take female slaves as lovers as they please, Mohammed’s father sends him on a trading mission in an attempt to distance him from Ta’awidha. During his absence, his mother forces her to miscarry by serving her a spiked drink, and she is married off to another slave. On his return from his trip, Mohammed learns of his family’s activities and he begins searching for his beloved.
Interviews with the author:
هنا نقدّم مقالةً عربيةً للمرة الاولى و هي مقالة “العهد العثمان الثاني في كتابة التاريخ الليبي” من الباحث الالماني ياكوب كرايس.
في مجال تاريخ الولايات العربية تحت السيطرة العثمانية تحتل ليبيا مكانة خاصة بالماقرنة مع البلدان الاخرى في شمال افريقيا لأنه كان ارتباطاً وثيقاً بين اعادة الاحتلال العثماني لليبيا و اعادة التنظيم للامبراطورية الشاملة. اذا من الممكن، في مشاريع التحديث العثمانية في ليبيا، اكتشاف التناقد بين التطور الاضطهاد. و لذلك يعتبر تيار من البحث التاريخي الدولة العثمانية كقوة استعمارية كغيرها، بينما يشير بعض العلماء الى اهمية التراث العثماني في العالم العربي. اما المؤمرخون الليبيون المعاصرون فلهم ايضاً وجهات نظر مختلفة: هناك باحثون مهتومون بالتأثيرات السلبية للاصلاحات العثمانية، من جهة اخرى ينوه مؤرخون اخرون بنتائجها اليجابية و في نفس الوقت هناك اتفاق بين التيارين بالنسبة الى التضامن الاسلامي ضد الغزو الاستعماري الايطالي.
Abstract: “In the history of the Ottoman Empire’s Arab provinces Libya occupies a special place, compared to the other North African countries, insofar as the Ottoman reoccupation of Libya went hand in hand with the reorganization of the empire as a whole. It is thus possible to trace, in the Ottoman reform projects, an opposition between development and repression. That is why one strand in historical research considers the Ottoman Empire as a regular colonial power, while some scholars, on the other hand, emphasize the importance of the Ottoman heritage in the Arab world. The contemporary Libyan historians, for their part, have also different points of view: there are those researchers who are interested, above all, in the negative influences of Ottoman reforms, whereas others stress the positive outcomes. At the same time, there exists a consensus as far as the Islamic solidarity against the Italian colonial aggression is concerned.”