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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.[2] All kinds of songs are represented; the rondeaux of
children whose inspiration is alike in all countries:

[2] Hanoteau, Poésies Populaires de la Khabylie du Jurgura, Paris, 1867,
8vo.

"Oh, moonlight clear in the narrow streets,
Tell to our little friends
To come out now with us to play -
To play with us to-night.
If they come not, then we will go
To them with leather shoes. (Kabkab.)[3]

"Rise up, O Sun, and hie thee forth,
On thee we'll put a bonnet old:
We'll plough for thee a little field -
A little field of pebbles full:
Our oxen but a pair of mice."

"Oh, far distant moon:
Could I but see thee, Ali!
Ali, son of Sliman,
The beard[4] of Milan
Has gone to draw water.
Her cruse, it is broken;
But he mends it with thread,
And draws water with her:
He cried to Ayesha:
'Give me my sabre,
That I kill the merle
Perched on the dunghill
Where she dreams;
She has eaten all my olives.'"[5]

[3] A sort of sandal.

[4] Affectionate term for a child.

[5] Hanoteau, v. 441-443.

In the same category one may find the songs which are peculiar to the
women, "couplets with which they accompany themselves in their dances; the
songs, the complaints which one hears them repeat during whole hours in a
rather slow and monotonous rhythm while they are at their household labors,
turning the hand-mill, spinning and weaving cloths, and composed by the
women, both words and music."[6]

One of the songs, among others, and the most celebrated in the region of
the Oued-Sahal, belonging to a class called Deker, is consecrated to the
memory of an assassin, Daman-On-Mesal, executed by a French justice. As in
most of these couplets, it is the guilty one who excites the interest:

"The Christian oppresses. He has snatched away
This deserving young man;
He took him away to Bougre,
The Christian women marvelled at him.
Pardieu! O Mussulmans, you
Have repudiated Kabyle honor." [7]

[6] Hanoteau, Preface, p. iii.

[7] Hanoteau, p. 94.

With the Berbers of lower Morocco the women's songs are called by the Arab
name Eghna.

If the woman, as in all Mussulman society, plays an inferior rôle - inferior
to that allowed to her in our modern civilizations - she is not less the
object of songs which celebrate the power given her by beauty:

"O bird with azure plumes,
Go, be my messenger -
I ask thee that thy flight be swift;
Take from me now thy recompense.
Rise with the dawn - ah, very soon -
For me neglect a hundred plans;
Direct thy flight toward the fount,
To Tanina and Cherifa.

"Speak to the eyelash-darkened maid,
To the beautiful one of the pure, white throat;
With teeth like milky pearls.
Red as vermillion are her cheeks;
Her graceful charms have stol'n my reason;
Ceaselessly I see her in my dreams."[8]

"A woman with a pretty nose
Is worth a house of solid stone;
I'd give for her a hundred reaux,[9]
E'en if she quitted me as soon.

"Arching eyebrows on a maid,
With love the genii would entice,
I'd buy her for a thousand reaux,
Even if exile were the price.

"A woman neither fat nor lean
Is like a pleasant forest green,
When she unfolds her budding charms,
She gleams and glows with springtime sheen."[10]

[8] Hanoteau, p. 350-357

[9] Reais

[10] Hanoteau, pp. 302, 303

The same sentiment inspires the Touareg songs, among which tribe women
enjoy much greater liberty and possess a knowledge of letters greater than
that of the men, and know more of that which we should call literature, if
that word were not too ambitious:

"For God's sake leave those hearts in peace,
'Tis Tosdenni torments them so;
She is more graceful than a troop
Of antelopes separated from gazelles;
More beautiful than snowy flocks,
Which move toward the tents,
And with the evening shades appear
To share the nightly gathering;
More beautiful than the striped silks
Enwrapped so closely under the haiks,
More beautiful than the glossy ebon veil,
Enveloped in its paper white,
With which the young man decks himself,
And which sets off his dusky cheek."[1]

[1] Masqueray, Observations grammaticales sur la grammaire Touareg et
textes de la Tourahog des Tailog, pp. 212, 213. Paris, 1897.

The poetic talent of the Touareg women, and the use they make of this
gift - which they employ to celebrate or to rail at, with the accompaniment
of their one-stringed violin, that which excites their admiration or
inspires them with disdain - is a stimulant for warriors:

"That which spurs me to battle is a word of scorn,
And the fear of the eternal malediction
Of God, and the circles of the young
Maidens with their violins.
Their disdain is for those men
Who care not for their own good names.[2]

"Noon has come, the meeting's sure.
Hearts of wind love not the battle;
As though they had no fear of the violins,
Which are on the knees of painted women -
Arab women, who were not fed on sheep's milk;
There is but camel's milk in all their land.
More than one other has preceded thee and is widowed,
For that in Amded, long since,
My own heart was burned.
Since you were a young lad I suffered -
Since I wore the veil and wrapped
My head in the folds of the haik."[3]

[2] Masqueray, p. 220.

[3] Masqueray, p. 227.

War, and the struggle of faction against faction, of tribe against tribe,
of confederation against confederation, it is which, with love, above all,
has inspired the Berber men. With the Khabyles a string of love-songs is
called "Alamato," because this word occurs in the first couplet, always
with a belligerent inspiration:

"He has seized his banner for the fight
In honor of the Bey whose cause he maintains,
He guides the warriors with their gorgeous cloaks,
With their spurs unto their boots well fastened,
All that was hostile they destroyed with violence;
And brought the insurgents to reason."

This couplet is followed by a second, where allusion is made to the snow
which interrupts communication:

"Violently falls the snow,
In the mist that precedes the lightning;
It bends the branches to the earth,
And splits the tallest trees in twain.
Among the shepherds none can pasture his flock;
It closes to traffic all the roads to market.
Lovers then must trust the birds,
With messages to their loves -
Messages to express their passion.

"Gentle tame falcon of mine,
Rise in thy flight, spread out thy wings,
If thou art my friend do me this service;
To-morrow, ere ever the rise of the sun,
Fly toward her house; there alight
On the window of my gracious beauty."[4]

[4] Hanoteau, pp. 348-350.

With the Khabyles of the Jurgura the preceding love-songs are the
particular specialty of a whole list of poets who bear the Arab name of
_T'eballa_, or "tambourinists." Ordinarily they are accompanied in
their tours by a little troop of musicians who play the tambourine and the
haut-boy. Though they are held in small estimation, and are relegated to
the same level as the butchers and measurers of grain, they are none the
less desired, and their presence is considered indispensable at all
ceremonies - wedding fêtes, and on the birth of a son, on the occasion of
circumcision, or for simple banquets.

Another class, composed of _Ameddah_, "panegyrists," or _Fecia_,
"eloquent men," are considered as much higher in rank. They take part in
all affairs of the country, and their advice is sought, for they dispense
at will praise or blame. It is they who express the national sentiment of
each tribe, and in case of war their accents uplift warriors, encourage the
brave, and wither the cowardly. They accompany themselves with a Basque
drum. Some, however, have with them one or two musicians who, after each
couplet, play an air on the flute as a refrain.[5]

[5] Hanoteau, Introduction.

In war-songs it is remarkable to see with what rapidity historical memories
are lost. The most ancient lay of this kind does not go beyond the conquest
of Algiers by the French. The most recent songs treat of contemporary
events. Nothing of the heroic traditions of the Berbers has survived in
their memory, and it is the Arab annalists who show us the role they have
played in history. If the songs relating to the conquest of Algeria had not
been gathered half a century ago, they would doubtless have been lost, or
nearly so, to-day. At that time, however, the remembrance was still alive,
and the poets quickly crystallized in song the rapidity of the triumph of
France, which represents their civilization:

"From the day when the Consul left Algiers,
The powerful French have gathered their hosts:
Now the Turks have gone, without hope of return,
Algiers the beautiful is wrested from them.

"Unhappy Isle that they built in the desert,
With vaults of limestone and brick;
The celestial guardian who over them watched has withdrawn.
Who can resist the power of God?

"The forts that surround Algiers like stars,
Are bereft of their masters;
The baptized ones have entered.
The Christian religion now is triumphant,
O my eyes, weep tears of blood, weep evermore!

"They are beasts of burden without cruppers,
Their backs are loaded,
Under a bushel their unkempt heads are hidden,
They speak a _patois_ unintelligible,
You can understand nothing they say.

"The combat with these gloomy invaders
Is like the first ploughing of a virgin soil,
To which the harrowing implements
Are rude and painful;
Their attack is terrible.

"They drag their cannons with them,
And know how to use them, the impious ones;
When they fire, the smoke forms in thick clouds:
They are charged with shrapnel,
Which falls like the hail of approaching spring.
Unfortunate queen of cities -
City of noble ramparts,
Algiers, column of Islam,
Thou art like the habitation of the dead,
The banner of France envelops thee all."[6]

[6] Hanoteau, pp. 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11.

It is, one may believe, in similar terms that these songs, lost to-day,
recount the defeat of Jugurtha, or Talfarinas, by the Romans, or that of
the Kahina by the Arabs. But that which shows clearly how rapidly these
songs, and the remembrance of what had inspired them, have been lost is the
fact that in a poem of the same kind on the same subject, composed some
fifty years ago by the Chelha of meridional Morocco, it is not a question
of France nor the Hussains, but the Christians in general, against whom the
poet endeavors to excite his compatriots.

It is so, too, with the declamatory songs of the latest period of the
Middle Ages, the dialects more or less precise, where the oldest heroic
historical poems, like the Song of Roland, had disappeared to leave the
field free for the imagination of the poet who treats the struggles between
Christians and Saracens according to his own fantasy.

Thanks to General Hanoteau, the songs relating to the principal events of
Khabyle since the French conquest have been saved from oblivion, viz., the
expedition of Marêchal Bugeaud in 1867; that of General Pelissier in 1891;
the insurrection of Bon Bar'la; those of Ameravun in 1896, and the divers
episodes of the campaign of 1897 against the Aith Traten, when the
mountains were the last citadel of the Khabyle independence:

"The tribe was full of refugees,
From all sides they sought refuge
With the Aith Traten, the powerful confederation.
'Let us go,' said they, 'to a sure refuge,'
For the enemy has fallen on our heads,'
But in Arba they established their home."[7]

[7] Hanoteau, p. 124.

The unhappy war of 1870, thanks to the stupidity of the military
authorities, revived the hope of a victorious insurrection. Mograne, Bon
Mazrag, and the Sheikh Haddad aroused the Khabyles, but the desert tribes
did not respond to their appeal. Barbary was again conquered, and the
popular songs composed on that occasion reproached them for the folly of
their attempt.

Bon Mezrah proclaimed in the mountains and on the plain:

"Come on, a Holy War against the Christians,
He followed his brother until his disaster,
His noble wife was lost to him.
As to his flocks and his children,
He left them to wander in Sahara.
Bon Mezrag is not a man,
But the lowest of all beings;
He deceived both Arabs and Khabyles,
Saying, 'I have news of the Christians.'

"I believed Haddad a saint indeed,
With miracles and supernatural gifts;
He has then no scent for game,
And singular to make himself he tries.

"I tell it to you; to all of you here
(How many have fallen in the battles),
That the Sheikh has submitted.
From the mountain he has returned,
Whoever followed him was blind.
He took flight like one bereft of sense.
How many wise men have fallen
On his traces, the traces of an impostor,
From Babors unto Guerrouma!
This joker has ruined the country -
He ravaged the world while he laughed;
By his fault he has made of this land a desert."[8]

[8] R. Basset, L'insurrection Algerienne, de 1871 dans les chansons
populaires Khabyles Lourain, 1892.

The conclusion of poems of this kind is an appeal to the generosity of
France:

"Since we have so low fallen,[9]
You beat on us as on a drum;
You have silenced our voices.
We ask of you a pardon sincere,
O France, nation of valorous men,
And eternal shall be our repentance.
From beginning to the end of the year
We are waiting and hoping always:
My God! Soften the hearts of the authorities."

[9] J.D. Luciani, Chansons Khabyles de Ismail Azekkion. Algiers, 1893.

With the Touaregs, the civil, or war against the Arabs, replaces the war
against the Christians, and has not been less actively celebrated:

"We have saddled the shoulders of the docile camel,
I excite him with my sabre, touching his neck,
I fall on the crowd, give them sabre and lance;
And then there remains but a mound,
And the wild beasts find a brave meal."[10]

[10] Masqueray, pp. 228, 229.

One finds in this last verse the same inspiration that is found in the
celebrated passage of the Iliad, verses 2 and 5: "Anger which caused ten
thousand Achaeans to send to Hades numerous souls of heroes, and to make
food of them for the dogs and birds of prey." It is thus that the Arab poet
expresses his ante-Islamic "Antarah":

"My pitiless steel pierced all the vestments,
The general has no safety from my blade,
I have left him as food for savage beasts
Which tear him, crunching his bones,
His handsome hands and brave arms."[1]

[1] Mo'allagah, v. 49, 50.

The Scandinavian Skalds have had the same savage accents, and one can
remember a strophe from the song of the death of Raynor Lodbrog:

"I was yet young when in the Orient we gave the wolves a bloody
repast and a pasture to the birds. When our rude swords rang on the
helmet, then they saw the sea rise and the vultures wade in
blood."[2]

[2] Marmier, Lettres sur l'Islemde.

Robbery and pillage under armed bands, the ambuscade even, are celebrated
among the Touaregs with as great pleasure as a brilliant engagement:

"Matella! May thy father die!
Thou art possessed by a demon,
To believe that the Touaregs are not men.
They know how to ride the camel; they
Ride in the morning and they ride at night;
They can travel; they can gallop:
They know how to offer drink to those
Who remain upon their beasts.
They know how to surprise a
Courageous man in the night.
Happy he sleeps, fearless with kneeling camels;
They pierce him with a lance,
Sharp and slender as a thorn,
And leave him to groan until
His soul leaves his body:
The eagle waits to devour his entrails."[3]

[3] Hanoteau, Essaie de grammaire de la langue Tamachek, pp. 210, 211.
Paris, 1860.

They also show great scorn for those who lead a life relatively less
barbarous, and who adorn themselves as much as the Touaregs can by means of
science and commerce:

"The Tsaggmaren are not men,
Not lance of iron, nor yet of wood,
They are not in harness, not in saddles,
They have no handsome saddle-bags,
They've naught of what makes mankind proud;
They've no fat and healthy camels,
The Tsaggmaren; don't speak of them;
They are people of a mixed race,
There is no condition not found with them.
Some are poor, yet not in need;
Others are abused by the demon,
Others own nothing but their clubs.
There are those who make the pilgrimage, and repeat it,
There are those who can read the Koran and learn by that
They possess in the pasturage camels, and their little ones,
Besides nuggets of gold all safely wrapped."[4]

[4] Hanoteau, p. 213.

Another style, no less sought for among the Berbers inhabiting cities, is
the "complaint" which flourished in lower Morocco, where it is known under
the Arab name of Lqist (history). When the subject is religious, they call
it _Nadith_ (tradition). One of the most celebrated is that wherein
they tell of the descent into the infernal regions of a young man in search
of his father and mother. It will give an idea of this style of composition
to recite the beginning:

"In the name of God, most clement and merciful,
Also benediction and homage to the prophet Mohammed,
In the name of God, listen to the words of the author,
This is what the Talebs tell, according to the august Koran.
Let us begin this beautiful story by
Invoking the name of God.
Listen to this beautiful story, O good man,
We will recite the story of a young man
In Berbere; O God, give to us perfection;
That which we bring to you is found in truthful tradition,
Hard as a rock though thy heart be, it will melt;
The father and mother of Saba died in his childhood
And left him in great poverty;
Our compassionate Lord guided him and showed him the way,
God led him along toward the Prophet,
And gave to him the Koran."[5]

[5] R. Basset, Le Poème de Sabi, p. 15 et suis. Paris, 1879.

Other poems - for instance, that of Sidi Hammen and that of Job - are equally
celebrated in Morocco. The complaints on religious subjects are accompanied
on the violin, while those treating of a historical event or a story with a
moral have the accompaniment of a guitar. We may class this kind of poems
among those called _Tandant_, in lower Morocco, which consist in the
enumeration of short maxims. The same class exist also in Zouaona and in
Touareg.

But the inspiration of the Khabyle poets does not always maintain its
exaltation. Their talents become an arm to satirize those who have not
given them a sufficiently large recompense, or - worse still, and more
unpardonable - who have served to them a meagre repast:

"I went to the home of vile animals,
Ait Rebah is their name;
I found them lying under the sun like green figs,
They looked ill and infirm.
They are lizards among adders,
They inspire no fear, for they bite not.
Put a sheepskin before them, they
Will tear your arms and hands;
Their parched lips are all scaly,
Besides being red and spotted.

"As the vultures on their dung heaps,
When they see carrion, fall upon it,
Tearing out its entrails,
That day is for them one of joy.
Judging by their breeches,
And the headdresses of their wives,
I think they are of Jewish origin."[6]

[6] Hanoteau, Poèmes Populaires de la Khabyle, pp. 179-181, Du Jurgura.

This song, composed by Mohammed Said or Aihel Hadji, is still repeated when
one wishes to insult persons from Aith Erbah, who have tried several times
to assassinate the poet in revenge.

Sometimes two rival singers find themselves together, and each begins to
eulogize himself, which eulogy ends in a satire on the other. But the joust
begun by apostrophes and Homeric insults finishes often with a fight, and
the natural arm is the Basque drum until others separate, the
adversaries.[7] We have an example in a dialogue of this kind between
Youssuf ou Kassi, of the Aith Djemnad, and Mohand ou Abdaha, of the Aith
Kraten. The challenge and the jousts - less the blows - exist among the
chellahs of lower Morocco, where they are called _Tamawoucht_; but
between man and woman there is that which indicates the greatest liberty of
manners. The verses are improvised, and the authors are paid in small


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