Tag Archives: tripoli

19th-century Letters between Bornu and Tripoli

Previous posts on early modern sources for Libyan history include: i) Early Modern Libyan Manuscripts in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and ii) European Journals and Correspondence from early modern Libya.

The Libyan National Archives (دار المحفوظات التاريخية) held in the Red Castle (السرايا الحمراء) of Tripoli contain, or used to contain, a number of letters sent between rulers of Bornu and officials in Tripoli dating to around the mid-1800s. Two editions of these letters appeared in the 1960s, but the archives became less accessible to outside scholars after 1969 because of the regime and little has been published on or about these primary sources since. I haven’t even been able to find if a more extensive Arabic edition exists, although I imagine that there is at least one such publication in Libya.

Letter from Abu Bakr ibn Umar al-Kanami to Nazif Basha, Wali of Tripoli, dated 12 Dec. 1881 (Gwarzo Letter #5)

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Early Modern Libyan Manuscripts in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France

A great deal of historical writing on early modern Libya depends on sources written by Westerners, whether colonial archival documents, or travelogues and journals written by travellers, British diplomats’ relatives, and so forth. Only recently are local documentary archives coming to light (e.g. the ones in Ghadames). But there are also Libyan historical texts from before the colonial era scattered in collections in Libya and elsewhere. Here and in some upcoming posts I’ll try to post some brief guides to these resources, many of which still require study and publication.

The Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris has a few interesting Libyan historical manuscripts (described in William MacGuckin de Slane’s Catalogue des manuscrits arabes, pp. 339-340). Fortunately, several of the manuscripts have been digitized and are freely available to download and read. Here is a brief description of each manuscript. Continue reading

Another Poem from Old Tripolitania

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:

  1. An ode from the Maḥāmīd of Tripolitania, poet unnamed.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. An ode by Muhammad bin Sahla, a famous sheikh in Tlemcen, Algeria, who lived in the 1800s.
  6. A poem from a nobleman of Tafilalt, Morocco named Sidi Muhammad bin Ali U Rezin (1742-1822).

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Hasuna’s Treachery, in Poems

Among the texts recorded by the French scholar Gilbert Boris in the 1940s is a poem about the Italian occupation of Tripolitania at the beginning of the colonial endeavor. Since Boris died in 1950, the collection of texts in which the present poem appears, Documents linguistiques et ethnographiques sur une région du Sud Tunisien (Nefzaoua) (Paris, 1951), was published posthumously.

The poem, which Boris calls a “chant de guerre” was authored by Muhammad bin Ṣōf, sheikh of the Maḥāmīd tribe. The Maḥāmīd were among the semi-nomadic tribes of Tripolitania (then referring to a larger region than today, including what is now the south of Tunisia) who fought in resistance to Italian troops during the so-called Italo-Turkish war of 1912-1913. His grandfather, moreover, was the famed Ghuma al-Mahmudi, a leader who together with ‘Abd al-Jalil Sayf al-Nasr rebelled against Ottoman rule of Tripolitania in the mid-1800s and became somewhat of a legendary figure associated with revolt against foreign rule.* Muhammad bin Ṣōf, who himself was probably a young man at that time, thus had a great deal of suspicion and dislike for certain figures—such as Hasuna Garamanli, the target of this poem—who were thought to have colluded with the Italian colonizers and to have helped them obtain control of Tripoli.

Hasuna Garamanli and Italian military personnel observe the hanging of Libyan resisters, Tripoli, 1911 (Archives of Gaston Chérau, published in Schill, Pierre, Réveiller l’archive d’une guerre coloniale. Photographies et écrits de Gaston Chérau, correspondant de guerre lors du conflit italo-turc pour la Libye (1911-1912), Créaphis, 2018)

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Article: The Tripoli Republic (1918-1922)

Lisa Anderson, “The Tripoli Republic, 1918–1922,” in Social and Economic Development of Libya, ed. E. Joffe & K. McLachlan (London, 1982), pp. 43–65.

 “…although the Sanusiyah played a very important role, it was not alone in organizing resistance to the Italians. The struggle was also undertaken by the Ottoman Imperial government, Ottoman army officers acting on their own, volunteers from elsewhere in the Arab world, as well as by Libyan notables of a variety of religious persuasions and regional attachments. Many of these forces combined in the creation in Libya in 1918 of the first formally republican government in the Arab world, the jumhuriyyah al-ṭarāblusiyyah, or Tripoli Republic.”
A PDF of the article can be found at this link.

Book: Islamic Sanctuaries in 17th-century Tripolitania

sanctuari-islamiciIslamic Sanctuaries in 17th-century Tripolitania is the translation of a work by the Libyan religious scholar ‘Abd as-Salām al-‘Ālam al-Tajouri.* It gives details about the many shrines and mosques in Tripolitania (western Libya), as they were known in the 17th-century. The Italian translation of the work, shown here, is the only scholarly work on the text that I know of. Antonio Cesàro, an Arabist who also wrote a grammar of the Tripoli dialect of Arabic, teamed up with the human geographer Enrico de Agostini to also track down the sites mentioned by al-Tajouri and document them in photos and with maps.

An interesting, though probably discouraging, project would be to go to these sites today, in and around Tripoli, Tajoura, Tarhuna, Zliten, and Misrata, and document as many as possible—both those that have survived the past five years of turmoil and those that have not.

*The full reference is Tajouri, A. Santuari Islamica nel secolo XVII in Tripolitania, tr. by Antonio Cesàro. Tripoli: Maggi, 1933.

Article: Italian colonisation and the walled city of Tripoli

An article on the Italian period and its impact on the old city of Tripoli, available online:

Mia Fuller (2000), “Preservation and self-absorption: Italian colonisation and the walled city of Tripoli, Libya,” The Journal of North African Studies 5/4, pp. 121-154.

“Scholars periodically return to the study of how French administrators and architects handled the urban settings of North Africa – the ones they found and the ones they founded – beginning with the occupation of Algiers in 1830. Italian occupation of Libya began much later, in 1911, but in the 32 years of their effective rule, Italians had sufficient time to be both destructive and constructive in significant ways. Nonetheless, only a handful of scholarly efforts have been devoted to Italian architectural and urban policies in Tripoli;
and very few of those have been concerned with the walled city at all…”

PhD Thesis: Tripolitanian traditional song 1960-2010

Another PhD thesis by a Libyan student has come to our attention, this time in the field of musicology. It can be accessed online at the following link.

Abdelmonam Ben Hamed, La tradition citadine libyenne et son acculturation: Etude du chant tripolitain (1960-2010) [The urban Libyan tradition and its acculturation: study of Tripolitanian singing (1960-2010)]. PhD thesis, Université de Nice Sophia Antipolis, 2014.

Abstract: “The goal of this thesis is to study in particular the repertoire of Tripolitanian traditional song at the core of the Libyan musical tradition with a method that brings to light both the melodic and rhythmic models which characterize this singing as well as the compositional structures which they exemplify. Specific attention is given to the evolution / acculturation of Tripolitanian traditional song.”

 

Article: Italian colonial rule and Muslim elites in Libya

Here, an article analyzing Muslim elites in Libya during the colonial period:

Baldinetti, Anna, “Italian colonial rule and Muslim elites in Libya: a relationship of antagonism and collaboration”, in ‘Ulama’ in the Middle East, edited by M. Hatina (Brill, 2009).

Abstract: “In Libya, under Italian rule, ‘ulama’ (علماء), Sufi shaykhs and other religious dignitaries played an important role, as Islam not only legitimated the resistance but also became a fundamental element in colonial policies. However, the relationships between the colonial authorities and the religious elites, beyond what the colonial laws prescribed, have as yet not been examined, except for the Sanusiyya order. This paper aims to fill this research gap, focusing mainly on the region of Tripolitania.”

The conclusion reads: “Islam constituted an important element in Italian colonial policy in Libya, and the colonial authorities always paid particular attention to indigenous Muslim elites. However, the “politics of chiefs,” which was based mainly on an exaggerated patronage polìcy, did not help to overcome sectarian, tribal and regional divisions.

The Italian colonial authorities did not develop a well-defined educational policy aimed at modernizing the traditional elites or forming a new “evolués” elite useful for meeting administrative and economic needs. As noted, the —the institution charged with reforming the local elite—was established only in the mid-1930s, in the closing phase of colonial rule. Even then, its impact on the emergence of new elites was negligible, due to the small number of students admitted each year. Moreover, the Institute of Islamic Studies in Tripoli (المدرسة الاسلامية العليا) was not very popular among native circles because its educational program was perceived as too “Westernized.” Hence the Italian administration did not significantly alter or influence the structure of the Muslim elites in Libya, nor did it contribute to the emergence of new ones.”

As always, those who are interested in reading the piece can drop me a line.