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
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.”
Rachel Simon, Libya between Ottomanism and Nationalism: The Ottoman involvement in Libya during the War with Italy (1911–1919). Klaus Schwarz: Berlin (Islamkundliche Untersuchungen, vol. 105), 1987.
Libya between Ottomanism and Nationalism is a historical study dedicated to a period which saw the Ottoman empire’s control of North Africa wane while Italy attempted to establish a colony in Tripoli and Cyrenaica. It surveys the political makeup of the late Ottoman provinces that became Libya, the Ottoman involvement in Italy’s conquest of those territories, and chronicles the resistance against colonization in Libya, looking at both Tripoli and Cyrenaica as well as Libyan resistance movements and the Ottoman support thereof.
Since this title has been out of print for many years, the publisher (Klaus Schwarz Verlag in Berlin) has kindly given permission to put a PDF of the entire book on this blog. You can find it here.
A review of the book by Lisa Anderson can be found at this link.
Lisa Anderson, The State and Social Transformation in Tunisia and Libya, 1830-1980. Princeton University Press (1986).
Publisher’s blurb: The book traces growing state intervention in the rural areas of Tunisia and Libya in the middle 1800s and the diverging development of the two countries during the period of European rule. State formation accelerated in Tunisia under the French with the result that, with independence, interest-based policy brokerage became the principal form of political organization. For Libya, where the Italians dismantled the pre-colonial administration, independence brought with it the revival of kinship as the basis for politics.
This is one of the few books (along with this one) about Libyan history to be based on extensive research with primary sources in Libyan, Ottoman, and European archives.