Book Review: Chants de Guerre des Femmes Kabyles


Unwritten languages face many threats. They could of course disappear, and when they have people trying to save them, as it is the case with Kabyle, they still face the threat of losing all or part of the cultural patrimony they carry.

Some Kabyles nowadays speak in French or Algerian dardja, and many do speak Kabyle but mixed with so many Arabic or French words that you wouldn’t recognise it. Several Kabyle words are therefore not used any more.

But it is not just words that disappear. Poems and proverbs tend to be forgotten as well. A great-aunt of mine, aged 103, lost her 16 yo and 18 yo sons who died as martyrs in the early days of the Algerian Revolution. I think she never recovered from her loss and she used to sing many poems dedicated to them and to the war in general. Unfortunately nobody did learn or record them, and they will probably disappear the time she will leave us.

Some scholars, such as Mouloud Mammeri and others, decided to save this patrimony and wrote books compiling Kabyle proverbs, stories or poems. Ramdane Lahseb, who teaches Tamazight and is an archaeologist, did the same; but his book compiles only poems authored by women and which deal with the war of independence period.

The author compiled only 81 poems authored by women from the village of Tala Khelil (in Ath Douala). He divided them into three groups: Those dealing with the 54-59 period during which FLN/ALN had control over the village (Krim belkacem had his Wilaya III HQ in the region) and the moudjahidines could hide there in peace; those authored between 59-62 during which French SAS recovered the control on the region and which was very tough for the population in general and for women in particular; and those dedicated to the martyrs of the village (a list is given in the book).

The literary value of the poems is uneven but they are very interesting as they depict the feelings of their authors and of the population back then. You can read about the women’s happiness when the moudjahidines came over, their sadness when they left, their sorrow when one of them was killed, the tortures they endured, etc.
The poems do also give names, of the moudjahidines, of the traitors, of the French officers… They describe how the French forced the women and the elders to build the barricades and fix the roads in 1959. They also tell us about the forced conscriptions and the assassinations, the curfews, etc. They were there also to show the village solidarity with the women who had lost their sons or husbands.
One cannot read them without being moved.

The author published the poems in Kabyle with a translation in French. I’ll write down here two or three with a translation of the French translation (which is not always close to the original words). I’ll follow the author’s rules (which are the rules followed in Algerian Tamazight classes) for writing the Kabyle version.

Poem 74

L3eslama s yimjuhad (Welcome to the moudjahidines)
Anida teggem aqcic (Where did you leave my boy)
Aqcic deg udrar yemmut (The boy died in the mountain)
Tasumta-s d lehcic (The grass is his pillow)
Rebbi ad kem-isebber a yemma-s (May God give patience to his mum)
Di rrehma a yethewwis (He’s enjoying it in Heaven)

Poem 80

Win yellan d axabit (He who was a traitor)
Ncallah leqder-is yeghli (He will be dishonoured inshallah)
Cfant ula d lxallat (The Women remember everyone)
Lbatel ixdem idelli (Of his bad deeds)
Ma yemmut yeghba yisem-is (If he dies, he’ll be ignored)
Ma yedder leqder ur t-is3i (And if he lives, he’ll be dishonoured)

Poem 81

Ay ass ase3di (What a wonderful day)
Ass-n mi d-nnan tefra lgirra (When they announced the ceasefire)
Ferhent lmuluk deg yigenni (On the Earth and in the Sky)
Rnant tid lqa3a (Angels were celebrating)
Lexbar yewwed adrar (The news made it to the mountain)
Lzzayer teffegh-itt Fransa (France has left Algeria)

Title: Chants de guerre des femmes kabyles
Author: Ramdane Lasheb
Editor: L’Odyssee Edition (2008)

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