It is less Hizia that is noteworthy here but rather her story and the poem which relates it. Most of what is known of Hizia actually comes from this poem and the events below are therefore not 100% accurate.
Hizia belonged to the Bouakkaz family, an important house in the Dhouaouda tribe. For most of the 19th century, this nomad tribe, which descends from the Banu Hilal, reigned over a large territory ranging from Setif to the North and Ouled Djellal to the South. Those who read about Algerian history must have seen the Dhouaouda mentioned in many important, not always positive, events.
Hizia was born in 1852 or 1855 in Sidi Khaled, Biskra and died in 1874 or 1878 in Oued Tell (50km Northern Sidi Khaled). When she was young, her father Ahmed Ben ElBey, hosted his orphan nephew Said. And while growing up together, Hizia and Said became close and started loving each other.
Said, who became older, had to leave the house and live on his own. He could therefore no longer see Hizia for she went out only to milk the sheep or bring water or wood to the house.
The girl was very pretty and many young men proposed to her and competed with more and more expensive presents. She kept refusing them; and when she heard Said saying he was poor and couldn’t propose, she answered that money was the least important to her.
In one of the tribe’s yearly transhumances to Setif, Said helped with his family’s trip which allowed him to be near Hizia. Once back, people started talking about them and her father heard of the story. A council was held and Hizia would have been killed if some wise voice hadn’t advised to let the girl marry the man she loves. Her father disapproved as he wanted her to marry someone of his social class.
But the marriage was organised, and Hizia and Said finally got what they longed for. The story unfortunately didn’t end here.
Hizia fell ill and died 40 days after the marriage. It is not clear whether her death was caused by some illness she caught while in Oud Tell, or if her father killed her, or if she suicided because she thought her father would force her to divorce and marry some other man.
Anyways, Said was inconsolable and couldn’t handle what happened. He wanted their story to be known by everyone which would ease his pain. And since he wasn’t a poet himself, he asked Benguitoun (Mohammed Benguitoun Essghir Elbouzidi, born 1843 – died 1907) to write a poem for him. The poet listened to Said’s story and wrote “Hizia”.
Said then left Sidi Khaled and wandered alone in the Sahara till he died. Hizia is buried in Sidi Khaled, next to her mother.
Just like the stories of Djamil Bouthayna, Madjnoun Layla or Antar wa Abla, “Hizia” the poem/song describes in the Saharan style Melhoun the pure love that was between Hizia and Said. It also describes Hizia and Said’s sorrow after her death. It is a love poem and an elegy at the same time.
Nobody knows the exact version of the poem despite the few manuscripts that exist. The first to have written the poem was Constantin Louis Soneck in 1902; and with some differences, another manuscript was done later by Sheikh Mostefa Naimi.
Soneck translated the poem into French and published it in “Chants arabes du Maghreb, étude sur le dialecte et la poésie de l’Afrique du Nord”, and Souhel Dib also translated it in 1987 in his “Anthologie de la poésie populaire algérienne d’expression arabe”.
The poem became an operetta, a movie and a song performed by many singers such as Benguitoun, El hadj Benkhelifa in the 1930s, Smail El Boussaadi in the early 1940s, Abdelhamid Ababsa in the late 1940s, Khelifi Ahmed (at the Olympia) and Rabah Deriassa.
I heard the Wilaya of Biskra wanted to classify Hizia as a national cultural heritage. Don’t know if they did it.
This is Ababsa’s song.