Algerian Wisdom


Algerian folklore and cultural heritage is very rich in lyrics for songs, stories, proverbs, humourous anecdotes and jokes and common wisdom that is very inspiring and most of which remains true in this day and age. Cultural heritage is very revealing of any society’s values, fears and hopes and contemplating Algerian expressions of common wisdom could give an Algerian perspective on Algerian affairs in an entertaining and valuable way. If you know of any Algerian sayings, proverbs, song lyrics, moral stories, advice, jokes or humurous anecdotes, this is the place to post and share them.

23 thoughts on “Algerian Wisdom

  1. I received this joke [in French] by email through a colleague today. I think it depicts a facette of Algerian mentality quite well:

    Dans le cadre de fouilles dans le sous-sol, jusqu’à 100 mètres de profondeur, des scientifiques russes ont trouvé des vestiges de fil de cuivre qui dataient d’environ 1000 ans. Les Russes en ont conclu publiquement que leurs ancêtres disposaient déjà, il y a 1000 ans, d’un réseau de téléphone en fil de cuivre.

    Pour faire bonne mesure,les Américains ont également procédé à des fouilles dans leur sous-sol jusqu’à une profondeur de 200 mètres. Ils y ont trouvé des restes de fil en verre. Il s’est avéré d’après les scientifiques Américains que leurs ancêtres disposaient déjà, il y a 2000 ans, d’un réseau numérique ultra haut débit en fibre optique. Et cela, 1000 ans avant les Russes !

    Quelques semaines plus tard, en Algérie, un communiqué de L’Agence de Presse Algérienne a publié: «Suite à des fouilles dans le sous-sol algérien, jusqu’à une profondeur de 5000 mètres , des scientifiques et chercheurs Algériens n’ont rien trouvé du tout. Ils en ont conclu que leurs ancêtres disposaient déjà, il y a 5000 ans, d’un réseau wifi.

    • Another similar joke:

      The world nations decided to collaborate and build the biggest and most advanced plane ever. The USA, Brazil, China, Europe, all the countries contributed with their technological knowledge, money, etc. But it was only after the plane was ready that Algeria decided to contribute by printing “Air Algérie” on its fuselage.

  2. In these times of big projects and (inherent?) financial scandals, this old joke is worth sharing:

    An Algerian, a French and a Russian (Soviet) civil engineers met at a training and became friends.
    One day the French invited the others to show them his project: it was a four-lane highway bridge. He added that the bridge should have been higher but he decided to reduce its height and save some money which he put in his pocket.
    The Russian also invited them and showed them a two-lane highway bridge and explained that it originally was a four-lane bridge but he made it two-lane only and the extra money went in his pocket.
    The Algerian engineer wanted to impress his friends so he invited them once and showed them a big empty field. He commented that there should have been a four-lane bridge, but that he decided to keep all the money and do nothing.

  3. Ruh a themzi (Go youth) is one of Ait-Menguellet‘s recent songs, from his 2002 album, Inassen (tell them). I tried to translate its lyrics into English and I hope they kept a little of their original magic and wisdom.

    Ruh a themzi

    You can listen to the song here

  4. Some Algerian proverbs on friendship, the last two being interestingly contradictory:

    عند الشدة والضيق يظهر العدو من الصديق
    3and Esh-shedda weddiq yedhar la3dou men Sdiq.
    الصديق في وقت الضيق
    eSdiq fi weqt eddiq.
    خوك خوك, لا يغرك صاحبك
    khouk khouk, la yghorrak Sahbek.
    خوك اللي واتاك, ماشي خوك من باباك و يماك
    khouk elli watak, mashi khouk men babak w yemmak.

  5. These proverbs praise labour and activity.

    اضرب بذراعك تاكل لمسقي
    Adreb bedra3ek takoul lemsaqqi.
    أخدم باطل ولا تقعد عاطل
    Ekhdem batel wala teq3oud 3atel.
    المكسي برزق الناس عريان
    Elmekssi brezq ennass 3aryan.
    الطير و الخدام في الجري وراء الخبزة توام
    Ettir welkheddam fel jery wra el khobza twam.
    ازرعو ينبت
    Ezzer3ou yanbet.
    صنعة في يدك خير من دينار في جيبك
    Sen3a fi yeddek khir men dinar fi djibek.

  6. Around marriage…

    اذا تفاهمت العجوز و الكنة, ابليس يدخل للجنة
    Ida tfahmet la3jouz welkenna , ibliss yedkhoul leldjenna
    زواج من طينك يسجالك
    Zwadj men Tinek yesdjalek
    يا بنت عمي راكي قاعدة اذا لقيت من خير منك نخليك, واذا لقيت من عار منك نرجعلك
    Ya bent 3ammi raki qa3da ila lqit men khir mennek nkhallik, wila lqit men 3ar mennek nerja3 lik
    واش أداك للزين يا مسكين, الزين عمرو ما يبني دار و الورد معمر بالشوك
    Wash eddak lezzine yalmeskine, ezzine 3amrou mayabni dar welward m3amer bechouk
    ماكانش اللي ادات خوها ولا باباها, غير اللي ادات عدوها
    Makash elli eddat khouha wella bouha ghir elli eddat 3douha
    ما يعجبك زين الطفلة حتى تشوف الفعايل
    Ma ya3ajbek zin ettefla hta tchouf lef3ayel
    العروسة تشكرها يماها و خالتها
    La3roussa teshkourha yemaha w khaletha
    الزواج ليلة تخمامو عام
    Ezzwadj lila tekhmamou 3am

  7. For when the result is the opposite of the expectation…

    جاء يكحلو عماه
    Dja ikahhallou 3mah
    جاء يصلي تلف القبلة
    Dja ysselli tellef el qebla
    جاء يطل طاح
    Dja itell tah
    جاء يطبو عماه
    Dja itobou 3mah
    جاء كاري ولا مول الدار
    Dja kari wella moul eddar
    جاء يسعى ودر تسعة
    Dja yas3a waddar tes3a

  8. There’s a tradition among women living around Algiers to gather in the evening during Ramadhan and tell rhyming expressions which could be prayers, thoughts or wishes. These expressions are called bouqalates, and below are some examples:

    ياقايدين الشموع هاكوا شمعة قيدوها بالاك الغايب يعود والفرحة نعاودها
    Ya qaydin eshmou3 hakou shem3a qidouha balak elghayeb y3oud welferha n3awdouha
    الناس كسبت الشطب والحطب وأنا كسبت الطير الي منقارو فضة وريشو ذهب
    Enness kesbet eshTeb wlahTeb wana ksebt eTTir elli menqarou fedha w rishou d’hab.
    خرجت بدر البدور طلقت الشعور زادت في جناني تمنيتها تكون في دارىتدخل وتخرج قدام عدياني
    Khardjet badr elboudour Talqet esh3our zadet fi djnani tmennit’ha tkoun fi dari tedkhoul w tekhrodj qouddam 3adyani
    الله يا ربي بقالي على الموت ساعة و اصفار لوني قريب نعود للقاعة نطلب على الله تتبدل الساعة ونرجعو خير ملي كنا أنا والجماعة
    Allah ya Rabbi bqatli 3la elmout sa3a wasfar louni qrib n3oud lelqa3a neTlab 3la Allah tetbeddel assa3a w nerdj3ou khir melli kounna ana w ledjma3a .

  9. Proverbs encouraging the people to rely on themselves and nobody else.

    اللي حبك ما بنالك قصر واللي كرهك ما حفرلك قبر
    Elli habbek ma bnalek qsar, welli karhek ma hfarlek qbar
    ما يحكلك إلا ظفرك و ما يبكيلك إلا شفرك
    Ma yhaklek illa defrek, w ma yebkilek illa shefrek
    كل يد تغسل وجه مولاها
    Koul yedd teghsel wdjeh moulaha
    اللي تكل على نسيبتو بات بلا عشاء
    Elli tkel 3la nsibtou bat bla 3sha

  10. on their way to a motel , a honeymooners from algeria , the bride lost her balance and almost fail if it wasn’t for the groom who gently held her tightly , saying be careful darling ; after three days , going back home at the same spot she did it again , the groom so angry at her screaming , are you blind or what …….. what make this guy change the tone of his voice ; just three days brother , welcome to the reel world.

  11. two migrants laborers from algeria , one of them get sick and ask his mate to write a letter to his family telling them about the sickness of their provider in very details and kept going , the friend respond to him saying , look I’m just going to tell them that you’re dead and that’s it’.

    • you’re right , I read it a long time in a Lebanese paper , i thought it’s a nice fit for algerians too. thanks to you too for trying to bring something to life where nobody seems to care shukran .

  12. About time to post some Kabyle proverbs. It’s interesting that I wrote the above Arab proverbs in Arabic with Latin transliteration but no translation (like I expected the non-Arab /non-Algerian readers to understand🙂 ) and now I use Latin transliteration (I would use Tifinagh which I learnt when I was a teenager if I had an adequate keyboard) and English translation for the Kabyle ones. It probably tells something about the languages’ situation in Algeria.


    “A vava uwthennagh, A mmi 3aqlenagh”
    Father, they beat us. Son, they recognised us. This proverb tells the same thing as Malek Bennabi’s colonisability concept.

    “Amu dhella3 leqmash, ama tellidh ama ulash”
    Said to useless things/persons. Nobody notices their presence or their absence.

    “Kthalaghass tardhasth iwi ighil”
    Said to someone who uses some other one’s generosity to get more than he/she deserves/needs.

    “Win ivghan adh yizur yarqiq”
    I like this one. Whoever wants to become solid/strong/tough must suffer (this is not the literal translation).

  13. Mnarvi, tu m’as rappelé quelques proverbes que je ne comprenais pas quand mes parents me les répétaient. C’est ton “dja yes3a weddar tes3a” qui me les a remémorés.
    – “Akher sboula qetta3 sob3ou”. Au dernier épi, il s’est coupé le doigt. Se dit lorsque quelqu’un fait preuve d’efforts mais gache tout à la fin.
    – “Ma’hla el fass fi yed ennass”. Que la pioche est est belle aux mains des autres. Se dit pour le fainéant.
    (c’est un proverbe qui va très bien aux “chefs d’équipe” très nombreux chez nous😉
    -“Men lahaytou bekharlou”. Avec sa barbe encense-le ou bien fais-lui de l’encens. Se dit quand quelqu’un fait preuve de générosité alors qu’il ne fait en réalité don que de ce qui appartient à la personne à qui il vient de donner.

  14. Merci Oumelkheir d’avoir partage ces proverbes.
    Il est interessant de remarquer que la sagesse humaine mene souvent aux memes conclusions et ce malgre les differences entre les peuples:

    Akher sboula qetta3 sob3ou” a son equivalent en Kabyle avec “yuzat ar u3anqiq idjat“, et
    mahla el fass fi yed ennass” existe en Kabyle sous “fessous uguelzim g fous umarthah“.

  15. If you seek an advice or if you are advising somebody keep these in mind.

    Elli khtah kbirou wedder tedbirou.

    Elli ma shawrek ma tdebber 3lih.

    Elli fatek b’lila fatek b’hila.

    Khoud erray elli ybekkik, elli ydahkek yed’hak 3lik.

  16. I3addad ur issellem ma dh udhay nagh dhi neslem.
    “He passed by without saying hi, as if he’s a Jew and not a Muslim”.

    Yiwen yetghenni selquran, wayedh ur yessin elhamdou ithzallith.
    “One sings with Quran, and another doesn’t even know el fatiha for the prayers”.

    Ur hamlagh Gma, Ur hamlagh win ith yewthen.
    “I don’t like my brother but I don’t like those who beat him”. Interesting having Libya in mind…

    Ennanas i Fer3oun amek i thughaledh ed rabbi. Innayassen Ar thura yiwen ur yidiqerre3
    “They asked pharaoh, how did you become a god? He replied, till now nobody prevented me from doing it”. This is interesting as well when you think of most all the Arab rulers.

  17. New-generation “proverbs”, funny but meaningful🙂

    3abbaz ysil

    Bara khir men but

    Beddel sa3a b sa3a tarbeh reveil

    El3ilm ferrass mashi fel korrass

    Elli ma yhabbesh el weswas yakoul el besbas

    Elli qra qra bekri

  18. A little follow-up on this blog’s recent posts. Here are some jokes on Algerian presidents and politicians:

    Boumediene:
    Can’t remember any.

    Chadli:
    Probably the one who stimulated Algerian imagination most.

    1/
    Chadli, Readan and Mitterand decided to take a plane and visit their respective countries. Somewhere above the USA, Reagan opened the window (it’s a joke) and laughed at his counterparts while trying to catch something in the air. Suddenly he said, “We’re in New York, I just touched the Statue of Liberty”. Chadli and Mitterand applauded. Then Mitterand did the same and told them they were in Paris as he touched the Eiffel Tower. Chadli thought he mustn’t lose to them and hoped he could touch Maqam Shahid. Unfortunately, he had no chance to touch it from the plane as it flew very high in the sky. But still, he did feel something and screamed, “we are in ElHarrach”. The two presidents didn’t understand and asked him how he could be sure. He answered, “simple. Someone just stole my watch”.

    2/
    Chadli’s wife, Hlima, noticed that her husband started going into his study every night and laughed very loudly, and that since he became the president. As she wanted to understand this strange behaviour, she followed him one night and found out that he was laughing at a very old piece of paper. The paper was one of his pupil time homeworks and his teacher had written “futureless pupil”.

    3/
    Chadli was very annoyed with all the jokes about him so he asked the SM director to find the villain who invented all those stories. The SM, efficient as ever, very quickly found the guilty man and informed the president. Chadli decided to go to the man and talk to him. The man, a young adult, apparently spent all his time sitting in a café and inventing jokes. Chadli sat next to him and asked him to stop, he told him that if he didn’t respect the president’s old age he should at least respect the function. He added that he was Algeria’s president after all. There the young man answered, “I swear I didn’t invent this one!”

    Abassi Madani:
    I’ll share only one here.

    1/
    While on an outdoors visit, Abassi sensed the urge to urinate. He saw a sort of cavern and decided to do it there. But once in the cavern he heard a voice saying “iqra'” (read). Abassi thought, “hmm great, looks like my lucky day!” so he, replied “I can’t read”. The voice repeated, “read” and he replied that couldn’t, three times. Then he turned to see what he expected to be the Archangel, but he found a policeman pointing at a placard which read “it is forbidden to urinate here”.

    Zeroual:
    This is the only joke I know about him…

    1/
    When the army appointed Zeroual as the head of state, he was happy to break the news to his mother. His mother replied: How do you want to control a state when you are unable to control your own head.

    Bouteflika:
    I know none unfortunately.

    • I understand you Mnervi, after years of nonstop jokes, it would be difficult to mention them all here … insufficient space.
      But if you’re looking for a real speech there I’ll join you and say :

      Bouteflika:
      I know none unfortunately.

  19. Proverbs starting with elli:

    Elli ydjibou enhar yeddih ellil
    Elli darha b yeddih yfek’ha b sennih
    Elli sbar westenna ynal ma yetmenna
    Elli fat waqtou ma yetma3 fi weqt enness
    Elli khanou sa3dou yqoul biya es’hour
    Elli ma yeshba3 mel qas3a ma yeshba3 men lhis’ha

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