A Poem to Mark Tamazight’s New Status As an Official Algerian Language

Algeria’s new draft constitution — among other things — establishes Tamazight (Amazigh) as an official language:

Photo credit: Nadia Ghanem.
Photo credit: Nadia Ghanem.

It was 2002 when the Algerian government recognised Amazigh as a national language, which meant it could be taught in schools. But now the constitution elevates it as a national and official language, further stipulating the creation of the Algerian Academy of Tamazight language.

A growing number of authors are writing in Tamazight, with some — like young novelist Dihia Louiz — switching between Arabic and Tamazight. “It’s my mother language,” Louiz said in a 2014 interview. “So it’s easy to write [in Tamazight] about some matters close to my community and its traditions.”

Also, Algeria’s new “Assia Djebar Prize” is a three-way award for books in French, in Arabic, and in Tamazight, with the first Tamazight winner, in 2015, being Rachid Boukharroub, selected for his novel Tislith N’ oughanim (the Bamboo Bride).

But the Tamazight poems of Qasi Udifella (1898-1950) aren’t new. The excerpt below is from Poems for the Millennium, ed. Pierre Joris and Habib Tengour. It was originally an oral work, written down in Arabic characters, translated from Tamazight to French by Tassadit Yacine, and from French to English by Joris.


my heart refuses tranquility
my legs totter weakly
oh God spare me further tribulations

the pillars of Islam are collapsing
very few are still standing
the whole structure is lopsided

brothers and allies hate one another
with rage in their hearts
they all go astray

it is the masters
that create the obstacles
they have monopolized everything
they get together to plot evil
never good
they want their recklessness to perdure

they hang on to this world
abandon piety
take pleasure in shoring up riches

alas you the clerics who chant
you who are well considered
can’t you see that our religion is up for sale

and yet God has promised
that if we are united
our turn will come