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Moorish Literature   By:

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MOORISH LITERATURE

COMPRISING

ROMANTIC BALLADS, TALES OF THE BERBERS, STORIES OF THE KABYLES, FOLK LORE, AND NATIONAL TRADITIONS

TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH FOR THE FIRST TIME

WITH A SPECIAL INTRODUCTION BY

RENÉ BASSET, PH.D.

OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FRANCE, AND DIRECTOR OF THE ACADÉMIE D'ALGER

1901

SPECIAL INTRODUCTION.

The region which extends from the frontiers of Egypt to the Atlantic Ocean, and from the Mediterranean to the Niger, was in ancient times inhabited by a people to whom we give the general name of Berbers, but whom the ancients, particularly those of the Eastern portion, knew under the name of Moors. "They were called Maurisi by the Greeks," said Strabo, "in the first century A.D., and Mauri by the Romans. They are of Lybian origin, and form a powerful and rich nation."[1] This name of Moors is applied not only to the descendants of the ancient Lybians and Numidians, who live in the nomad state or in settled abodes, but also to the descendants of the Arabs who, in the eighth century A.D., brought with them Islamism, imposed by the sabre of Ogbah and his successors. Even further was it carried, into Spain, when Berbers and Arabs, reunited under the standard of Moussa and Tarik, added this country to the empire of the Khalifa. In the fifteenth century the Portuguese, in their turn, took the name to the Orient, and gave the name of Moors to the Mussulmans whom they found on the Oriental coast of Africa and in India.

[1] Geographica, t. xviii, ch. 3, Section ii.

The appellation particularizes, as one may see, three peoples entirely different in origin the Berbers, the Arabs of the west, and the Spanish Mussulmans, widely divided, indeed, by political struggles, but united since the seventh and eighth centuries in their religious law. This distinction must be kept in mind, as it furnishes the necessary divisions for a study of the Moorish literature.

The term Moorish Literature may appear ambitious applied to the monuments of the Berber language which have come down to us, or are gathered daily either from the lips of singers on the mountains of the Jurgura, of the Aures, or of the Atlas of Morocco; under the tents of the Touaregs of the desert or the Moors of Senegal; in the oases of the south of Algeria or in Tunis. But it is useless to search for literary monuments such as have been transmitted to us from Egypt and India, Assyria and Persia, ancient Judea, Greece and Rome; from the Middle Ages; from Celt, Slav, and German; from the Semitic and Ouralo altaique tongues; the extreme Orient, and the modern literature of the Old and New World.

But the manifestations of thought, in popular form, are no less curious and worthy of study among the Berbers. I do not speak of the treatises on religion which in the Middle Ages and in our day were translated from the Arabic into certain dialects: that borrowed literature, which also exists among the Sonalulis of Eastern Africa and the Haussas and the Peuls of the Soudan, has nothing original. But the popular literature the stories and songs has an altogether different importance. It is, above all, the expression of the daily life, whether it relates to fêtes or battles or even simple fights. These songs may be satirical or laudatory, to celebrate the victory of one party or deplore the defeat of the True Believers by the Christians, resounding on the lips of children or women, or shouted in political defiance. They permit us, in spite of a coarse rhythm and language often incorrect, an insight into their manner of life, and to feel as do peoples established for centuries on African soil. Their ancestors, the Machouacha, threatened Egypt in the time of Moses and took possession of it, and more than twenty centuries later, with the Fatimides, converted Spain to the Mussulman faith. Under Arab chiefs they would have overcome all Eastern Europe, had it not been for the hammer of Charles Martel, which crushed them on the field of Poitiers.

The richest harvest of Berber songs in our possession is, without doubt, that in the dialect of the Zouaous, inhabiting the Jurgura mountains, which rise some miles distant from Algiers, their crests covered with snow part of the year... Continue reading book >>




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