Monday, 2 July 2012

Moufdi Zakaria - The Algerian Ilyad

I am over the moon to have found a PDF version of the original Algerian Ilyad by the great Algerian war poet Moufdi Zakaria. As it is the original version, it is in Arabic HERE (thanks to, a fantastic e-resource for old books, you should check it out).  You can access the book in other formats too HERE.

The Algerian Iliad - إلياذة الجزائـر  -  l'Iliade algérienne  is a 1,000 line poem retracing Algeria's history in great historical details.  Throughout, Cheikh Zakaria recounts all the names that have shapped the Algeria's history. He goes through all the regions' history and their greatest most emblematic figures.

This poem is so valuable and beautiful.  It should be on the curriculum of any Arabic and history cursus in Algeria.  Perhaps it is and/or you know this poem?

Who is Cheikh Moufdi Zakaria?

Well, on 5th of July, three days from now, Algeria will celebrate 50 years of independence.

A tremendous poem was composed during the struggle against the French. It became Algeria's national anthem. We all know Kassaman (or Qassaman) and its author is Moufdi Zakaria (Wikipedia tells me that his real name is: Cheikh Zakaria Ben Slimane Ben Yahia Ben Cheikh Slimane Ben Hadj Aissa) who composed it whilst in jail around 1956.

Moufdi Zakaria was born in 1908. He passed away in 1977. Wrote in Arabic.

Zakaria was a prolific poet and he composed many other odes dedicated to Algeria and Tunisia, to Algerian women and to Tunisian women in support of their struggle to acquire their own rights.  These are not often spoken of and it is a great shame and loss that it is so hard to find them in the original.

Translations are even harder to come by but I have been able to dig out that my favourite poem of his, The Algerian Ilyad, was translated in French in 1972 by Tahar Bouchouchi as l'Iliade algérienne. I've had no luck in getting my hands on it though, although it seems to be on the shelves of the Paris Bibliothèque Nationale.

In the way of translations for The Algerian Ilyad, there is a series in nine parts and with translation in ... Kabyle!

I've found bits and pieces of extracts from Bouchouchi's translation in French and because I really wanted to give you a taste of this poem in English, here is my translation of an excerpt I found on El Watan.  It is about Miliana, in North West Algeria, which overlooks the Zaccar plateau.

These few lines will you an idea of the extent to which Mudfi Zakaria presents Algeria's journey.  THIS, is History with a bang, and many a heart pang.

"Lightning of righteous divine majesty
Gift of nature,
Ibn Youcef (1) laid virtue in you and beauty adorns your charming hills
Are you the Eagle's Nest (2) or Djebel Zaccar?
Has the Eagle's son borrowed your sides?
Has the eternal lover cried his tears in the Anasser water source?
Has passion taken pity on Leila and brought him back from madness,
Has she sprinkled him with Aïn N' Sour's waters? (3)
Is it Pompei's Emperor who fashioned you or was Bologine your creator? (4)
Many were those who wanted you but you were no easy prey. (5)
The Banou Hendel (6) found no peace in you, and Ibn Aicha met a tragic end (7)
Your assemblies like your river-flows carried science forth and gave Ahmed (8) precedence
It is for you that Yakoub gave him the Aghmat province
Indeed, generosity is second nature to the Béni Mérine."

Notes :
(1)Sidi Ahmed Ben Youcef, is the patron saint of Miliana
(2) The Eagle Nest is Miliana's surname, as Dr Belhamici wrote in El Açala review : Zaccar is the mountain that dominates Miliana's skyline.
(3) The traveller Abdari compares Miliana's waters to tears, because its waters are so clear, and its pebbles to gold nuggets. «If, he says, we sprinkled a man who has lost his faculties, he would be cured immediately».
(4) Historians agree that Miliana was a Roman city, founded in very early times, on the remains of a Greek city.  The Roman General of Pompei is said to have entered it, accompanied by his nephew, some texts recount.
(5)The Almohades, the Banou Ghania, the Zianides, the Sanhadjites, the Mérinides, the Banou Handal, the Almoravides and the Hafcides fought each other for a long time to claim Miliana for themselves.
(6)The people of Miliana are supposed to come from the Banou Handal (who later settled in Warlennes)
(7) Baqr Ibn Aïcha was the governor of Miliana, named Ali ibn Ishaq. His companion was Abou Youcef. But the people of Miliana, feeling hostile towards Ibn Aïcha, fought him and emprisonned him. After he escaped, they killed him.
(8)Abou Abas Ahmed Ibn Ali was the glory of Miliana.  A great scholar, jurist, poet, he was honoured by sultan Yacoub, the Mérinide, who gave him the Aghmat province in Morocco.

[Ok, I know it's cheating to translate from a translation but that's how dusting off gold nuggets begins!]

Now, the War of Independence is ended but the struggle isn't.

These next few days, and from the 5th of July, will be about celebration and joy.

So let us end on a smile, with a slightly different version of Qassaman.


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