“the arabs in tripoli”

by alan ostler. published in 1912.

here are some bits about, not the arabs, but the berbers in tripolitania (pp. 144-59):

“I am much intrigued by the Berber problem. Who are these people; whence did they come into the North African mountains and least fertile deserts; why does their race, so scattered and so broken, still keep for the most part aloof and distinct from its Arab vanquishers?

“The position of the Arab population of Northern Africa is very like that of the Teutonic conquerors of Britain, when the Saxons held the fertile plains, and drove the Britons to the hills and fens. The Arab hordes, sweeping westward over Africa with the impetus of their faith, dispossessed the people who then held the land, and drove them up into the mountains and the heart of the Sahara. So that, to-day, the population of the great Atlas range is Berber; Berbers (Kabyles) hold the mountains of Algeria and Tunis; Berbers (Susi and Tuareg) are the scourge of the Sahara and southern Barbary states….

“What I know of the Berbers has so many points in common with what is known of the pre-Aryan population of Europe—or at least, of North-Western Europe—that I have come to believe it more than probable that it was against the ancestors of these very Berbers that our Keltic forefathers fought for the possession of western Gaul, of Spain, and of the British Isles….

“Scattered all over Europe we find traces of this ancient woman-reverence—a cult which outside religious matters, in which prophetesses, sybils, and vestal virgins still held influence, was destined to be lost or greatly obscured until the rise of chivalry.

“Among the ancient Iberians, women were recognised as chieftainesses of the clans, and as heads of families.

“As late as in the eighteenth century women inherited property among the Basques, to the exclusion of males.

“The epitaphs of the Etruscans name only the mother of the dead—a significant tribute to the social standing of women.

“I believe that I am right in saying that the Georgians — non-European inhabitants of the Southern Caucasus from time immemorial — admitted women until comparatively recently to their councils, and in time of war left the administration of the villages in the hands of female authorities.

“Now, in the Berber world, woman holds a singularly high, if not the very highest, place. Her position is the more marked by contrast with that of her Arab sister, who, as is the case throughout the Mohammedan world, is, at best, the most useful animal known to man. I have on more than one occasion visited Berber villages, particularly on the border-land that separates the Djebala territory from the Gharb, in the north of Morocco, and have been received and entertained, in the absence of the sheikh, or kaid, by his mother, who appears to be invested with full authority and responsibility for the village and people of her son….

“In a purely Arab village the place of the absent chief would have been filled by a council of old men.

“The very title of a married woman amongst the Berbers is significant. In the Shilhah dialect the word is tamghart — the feminine form of amghar, which means sheikh, or headman. (Tamdort, the Djebala term for woman in general, is obviously the same word.)

“Incidentally one may add the significant fact that amongst the Tripolitan Berbers all manner of mystic and occult powers are ascribed to women, and that in many villages they are the keepers of the unwritten tribal traditional histories….

“It was the physical aspect of an individual Berber, as he trotted at the tail of a pack-mule through the great argan forest north of Agadir, that seemed to reveal to me in one momentary flash more of the history and qualities of the Berber race than any reading and research could teach me. I had known that ‘the Berbers are the ethinic substratum of the greater part of Northern Africa.’ But the knowledge was no more than just that dry, instructive phrase, until I looked into that strange, wild visage, with its light-hued, glittering eyes; and felt with a sudden shock that I was face to face with a type of perhaps the oldest of the races of mankind.

“He had been trotting before me, tirelessly, with bent knees, and long arms hanging, apelike. I had idly noticed his squat, yet smallboned frame, his slightly humped shoulders sparsely tufted with rusty brownish fell; his lobeless ears, faun-like and pointed beneath the shock of thick, coarse hair and the pale, dark hue of his skin. Then, unexpectedly, he looked back across his shoulder; his eyes met mine; and it seemed to me that, with a faintly uneasy qualm, I read at a glimpse the vast, forgotten history of his race. As those smallish eyes, of a chilling paleness, stared from above broad cheek bones into mine, my memory flew back at once to the misty western coast of Ireland. For there, where the last fragments of a race immeasurably old, pre-Celtic, pre-Aryan, still linger in the barren corner of a land once theirs from coast to coast (with many a richer land beside), I have stared uneasily into just such glittering inhuman eyes—eyes set in just such high-cheeked, narrow-chinned faces, peering through just such a tangle of coarse black hair. And I knew my man at once for the bloodbrother of those forgotten folk of whom Europe has lost almost all trace….”

previously: b*d*ss dorobo dudes

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folkways

how long can they** be an influence? ca. 200+ years. ca. 2000+ years?

there are three broad regions in libya: cyrenaica to the east, tripolitania to the west, and fezzan to the southwest.

these were provinces in the ottoman empire, and cyrenaica and tripolitania were parts of the umayyad caliphate before that. they were only joined up into a nation called libya in 1951.

by a guy who was from cyrenaica:

But [King] Idris himself was first and foremost a Cyrenaican, never at ease in Tripolitania. His political interests were essentially Cyrenaican, and he understood that whatever real power he had—and it was more considerable than what he derived from the constitution—lay in the loyalty he commanded as amir of Cyrenaica and head of the Sanussi order. Idris’ pro-Western sympathies and identification with the conservative Arab bloc were especially resented by an increasingly politicized urban elite that favored nonalignment.”

and then he was ousted by a guy from tripolitania.

and now he’s being ousted by — well, a LOT of people in libya — but the uprisings seem to have started (and it’s my impression have been strongest) in benghazi, which is back in cyrenaica.

so, while there’s all these gosh-derned tribes in libya, there also seems to be a broad east-west divide (plus fezzan which is mostly tuareg and other partially sub-saharan african folks).

cyrenaica was, very early on, settled by greeks:

tripolitania, on the other hand, by phoenicians:

now berbers and arabs are obviously very important if one tries to work out the “folkways” of libya. but my question is, could the greeks and phoenicians still be having an influence after all these years?

**of course, folkways are not just airy-fairy mores floating on the wind. they originate with folks and their various biologies.

update 02/27: according to this site

“Arabs, whether descending from Phoenicians or medieval tribes, constitute a minority in Libyan population. They mainly reside in Northeastern Libya, where Awlad Ali, the largest Arab tribe in Libya, lives.

“Some other major Arab tribes in Libya are Fawatir, Beni Selim, and Beni Hilal….”

so, there’s (possibly) an east|arab vs. west|berber divide in libya.

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