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The Graying of the Raven

The Graying of the Raven: Cultural and Sociopolitical Significance of Algerian Folk Poetry

Aida Adib Bamia
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    The Graying of the Raven
    Book Description:

    From East to West The raven has turned gray O Reader of the unknown Help us in our ordeal! With a fine touch, Aida Bamia has explored the work of Muhammad bin al-Tayyib ‘Alili (c.1894–c.1954), a hitherto virtually unknown oral poet of Algeria, bringing to her analysis new understanding of folk poetry as part of a people’s collective memory and their resistance to colonization. For ‘Alili’s audience the despair and suffering faced by poor farmers before independence is embodied by the raven, grown old and gray with ceaseless frustration and humiliation. Because of its oral—and all too often ephemeral—nature, the work of poets such as ‘Alili could escape close scrutiny by French colonial administrators who sought to eradicate nationalistic and ethnic elements. With succinct commentary, Bamia presents an outstanding historical and contextual background for ‘Alili’s repertoire, while she details the richness and variety of poetic forms that had developed in North Africa. In doing so, she shows an intimate grasp of the poet’s repertoire and technique, as well as of the colonial and postcolonial implications of Algerian folklore and poetry. In their citation for the AUC Middle East Studies Award, the judges noted The Graying of the Raven’s “insightful perspective on Algerian society and the experience of colonization as perceived by the individual folk poet."

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-194-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Note on Transliteration
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xxii)

    Muhammad bin al-. ayyib ʿAlīlī was an Algerian folk poet who lived in the first half of the twentieth century, under French colonial rule. His poems stand out among those of his contemporaries for their timeless quality and the universal nature of their underlying philosophy. The issues raised by the poet revolve around the abuse of power and political and religious manipulations, making him an avant-garde poet in tune with his time. This self-appointed defender of the “wretched of the earth” (in Franz Fanon’s phrase), is an efficient spokesman for his own people, particularly the Algerian peasants. He acts, in...

  6. Chapter 1 The Power of Folk Poetry
    (pp. 1-14)

    If the practice of composing folk literature, especially proverbs and poems, is connected to any branch of the social sciences, its strongest links appear to be with psychology and psychotherapy. So great is the healing power of folk literature on the people that it has often been noted to flourish during periods of repression and profound hardship. Even when their messages did not or could not reach large audiences, folk texts provided their authors and their circle of listeners with relief, making the risk taken in overtly expressing their feelings vis-à-vis the oppressor worthwhile. Introducing the folk poems he collected...

  7. Chapter 2 The History of the Malḥūn
    (pp. 15-46)

    To provide a background for the interpretation of Muhammad bin al-Tayyib ʿAlīlī’s poems, this chapter will examine the history of Algerian folk poetry and the themes that preoccupied folk poets from the French occupation in 1830 to the middle of the twentieth century. A true appreciation of ʿAlīlī’s originality can only be achieved by assessing his texts in the context of his period and in relation to his contemporaries.

    The dearth of published collections of Algerian folk poetry as well as the absence of biographical notices of numerous authors whose compositions survived through oral tranmission make the task difficult. The...

  8. Chapter 3 Muḥammad bin al-Ṭayyib ʿAlīlī: A Man for All Seasons
    (pp. 47-54)

    Muhammad bin al-Tayyib ʿAlīlī, known also as Mūhā, was a folk poet born in Duperré, present-day ʿAyn al-Difla, Algeria. He was a farmer, employed askhammās, a hired hand, farming and receiving one-fifth of the product of the land. Since this was usually a meager income, akhammāswas generally poor, and ʿAlīlī was no exception. He lived in agurbī,a house built from straw and mud, common in the Algerian countryside. ʿAlīlī was married and had children. Like most folk poets, little else is known about him and his family.

    duperré was named after a general info...

  9. Chapter 4 ʿAlīlī’s Repertoire
    (pp. 55-102)

    ʿAlīlī’s poems form a mini-encyclopedia of life in rural Algeria in the first half of the twentieth century. Although the scope of his poetry goes beyond the mere description of farming activities—providing vivid scenes of life in an Algerian village, revealing eating habits inal-Rawz(‘Rice’), and displaying rural traditions such as customs governing the borrowing of farming tools inal-Qādūm(‘The hoe’)—the images are borrowed, primarily, from his environment. The six poems central to this study as well as the four tributes composed for Hadj-Sadok convey the feelings and emotions of akhammāswho, though occasionally...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 103-104)

    When the issue of the linguistic choice was debated between francophones and arabophones in post-colonial Algeria, some writers explained their use of French as a language of expression by the fact that most Algerians during the colonial period could not read and write Arabic. Folk poetry was spared this apologetic interpretation, by being the mouthpiece of the people, speaking for them and through them the language they best understand and appreciate, their colloquial language. Oral literature has the advantage over learned literature of reaching the people unhampered by the limitations of illiteracy or censorship. Muhammad bin al-Tayyib ʿAlīlī has contributed...

  11. The Poems
    (pp. 105-124)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 125-132)
  13. Index
    (pp. 133-136)