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Western Sahara: Poetry and Spanish – The Permanent Links

For some cultures, it is food, for others it is music, and many cultures show their character in their architecture. For Western Sahara, one of their cultural characteristics is the oral tradition, and poetry is meaningful for Sahrawis. This literature becomes a large part of their lives. According to Atrapadordesueños:

Si de repente se le preguntase a un saharaui de poesía lo más seguro es que a su mente no acudirá ni el título de un libro de versos ni el título de un poema. Sin embargo es muy probable que pueda citar los nombres de los poetas más conocidos e incluso podría recitar varios versos de memoria. Y es que la poesía tradicional saharaui en hassania, lengua de los saharauis, sigue siendo oral, a pesar de que en los últimos años se haya intentado escribir y archivar y así evitar que algún día desaparezca con sus propios autores. Durante el colonialismo España se mantuvo al margen, sin importarle la poesía, y de forma general sin preocuparse por la cultura saharaui. La poesía, ajena a cualquier influencia externa, continuó su viaje en su tradicional vehículo, es decir, de boca en boca y anidando en la prodigiosa memoria de vates, cantores y de los amantes de la poesía.

If you suddenly ask a Sahrawi about poetry, he or she may not be able to tell you the title of a book or the title of a poem. But it is highly possible that he or she can tell you the names of several well-known poets and even recite memorized verses. And it is because traditional poetry in Hassania, the Western Saharan language still remains oral, even with recent attempts to write and document it, in order to avoid its disappearance someday, when their authors pass away. During Spanish colonial rule, it remained marginalized. People were not concerned about Sahrawi poetry or culture. The poetry, isolated from any external influence, kept its traditional way of being passed along by word of mouth through the memory of the poet, singers and lovers of poetry.

Sometimes poetry is combined with music as a family tradition, explains Sahrawi blogger, Aziza Brahim, who is a famous singer. She writes about her connection with her famous grandmother, a Sahrawi poet, living in the refugee camps – Ljadra Mint Mabruk:

Para mí, lo que nunca cambiará, es tomar el té en casa de mi abuela, Ljadra. Siempre compartimos mucho tiempo juntas, desde que era pequeña. Hablamos, le peino, compartimos intimidades, puesto que es mi confidente y mi inspiración. Mi música bebe de la poesía de mi abuela, es natural. Muchas veces empiezo a cantarle, y ella empieza a recitar, y también viceversa.

For me, the moment that will never change is drinking tea at my grandmother´s house, Ljadra. Since I was a little girl, we always spent a lot of time together. We would talk, I would comb her hair, we would share secrets, because she is my confidant and inspiration. My music is filled with my grandmother's poetry. It is natural. Many times I start singing and she starts reciting her poetry and vice versa.

Ariadna links to seven Sahrawi poets who fuse two languages, since Spanish is the second most important language of the region. However the Cervantes Institute, which is devoted to the study and teaching of the Spanish language has constantly denied support to them [es], as blogger Haz Lo Que Debas [es] points out:

¿No es más urgente el apoyo a un niño sarahaui, que aprende el español en la escuela, con muchas dificultades, que la instalación de sedes del Cervantes en Pekín, San Petersburgo… o la Quinta Avenida de Nueva York?

Isn't it a priority to support a Sahrawi child wishing to learn Spanish in school, who faces a lot of limitations, than the opening of new branches of the Cervantes Institute in Beijing, St Petersburg or even on 5th. Avenue in New York City?

The blogger continues that this is important because there is also Sahrawi literature in Spanish [es]:

La literatura saharaui en español, incipiente aún, camina sin embargo con paso firme. Una literatura poco atendida por los medios y desconocida por el gran público. También olvidada por las instituciones españolas, caso del Instituto Cervantes o Casa Arabe, que no se interesan por la cultura de este pueblo árabe africano que también se expresa en español, y que un día formó parte de España. Al menos la ayuda de escritores, universidades y asociaciones solidarias con el pueblo saharaui está consiguiendo romper este otro bloqueo contra un pueblo que lucha pacíficamente por su libertad, que “pide la paz y la palabra” para recuperar la tierra que injustamente le arrebataron. Es un libro modesto y sencillo. “No es un bello producto.”

Sahrawi literature in Spanish, while still in its infancy, grows at a steady pace, (even though it has been) ignored by the media and unknown to the large markets. It has also been forgotten by the Spanish institutions like the Cervantes Institute or the Casa Arabe, which don't seem to be interested in the culture of those African-Arabs, who also express themselves in Spanish and who were once part of Spain. With the help of writers, universities and solidarity associations, the Sahrawis have been able to overcome this blockade against a people that peacefully fight for their freedom, that “calls for peace and the word,” to recover the land that was unjustly taken away from them.

Three years ago, a group of Sahrawi poets and writers got together to establish Generación de la Amistad Saharaui (Generation of the Friends of Sahrawis):

Ocurrió un 9 de julio, muy caluroso, en el centro de Madrid. Un grupo de poetas saharauis venidos de diferentes puntos de la geografía española, apoyados por varios escritores e intelectuales españoles, iniciaban una andadura que empezaba entonces a dar sus primeros frutos y que hoy se apoya en más de una decena de libros publicados. Otros compañeros se unían desde los campamentos de refugiados saharauis al nacimiento de este “humilde sueño” que, tres años después, no ha dejado de ser humilde pero es ya una realidad.

It was the hot day of July 9, in central Madrid. A group of Sahrawi poets, who came from different locations, supported by many Spanish intellectuals and writers, started a journey that showed its first results, and that now has dozens of published books. Other supporters got together in the Sahrawi refugee camps at the same time that this “humble dream” was born, and three years later, it is still a modest project, yet it is now a reality.

Poetry is a language too, and the Sahrawis are expressing themselves, preserving their history and culture by building bridges in Spanish.

  • http://jilliancyork.com Jillian York

    Incredible post, Renata. Thanks so much for doing this! It’s wonderful to know what’s at the heart of the Sahara.

  • http://seisdeenero.blogspot.com/ Gabriela Garcia Calderon

    Great post, Renata.
    I’ve never given a thought about Saharawi people and Spanish language, although I’m aware that Spain used to have colonial interests there.
    I’ve just transalated your post into Spanish. Hopefully, it will soon be available in GVO in Spanish.

  • John

    Hi
    Ipassed cross this blog and I would like to say that you are doing a great jb trying to help Saharawis get more space on internet and raise awareness about their plight. I attended a fantastic event, organised last year in November, by Sandblast-arts organisations. A dozen Saharawi refugees came to London to share their music, literature, conferences on human rights, films,and as you said poetry.It was just great to listen to the poets readings, and to read some translations of the very rich and deep poems they were readig. For this, I recommend to the bloggers here to visit http://www.Sandblas-arts.org but also another website by Saharawi journalists and writers, http://www.upes.org

  • http://www.generacionamistadsaharaui.com/ Bahia

    Hola amiga Renata,

    soy un poeta y escritor del Sahara Occidental, vivo exiliado en España con los otros poetas saharauis. He visitado tu blog y he visto tu precioso trabajo sobre nuestra literatura. Si algun dia vienes a Madrid visitenos aqui tienes un casa.

    Esta es nuestra Web: http://www.generacionamistadsaharaui.com/ Gracias por el formidable post sobre nuestra literatura, nuestro segundo idioma es el español fuimos colonia española por mas de un siglo.
    Tu en qué país resides? mi email es bahiaawah@yahoo.es

    Saludos Bahia

  • Furkush

    It’s just marvellous and more inspiring to know of some in this world that you really can rely on when you see them defending others dreams, at a time when they can devote their time for their own benefit.

    Congratulations Renata for the great job, you can be sure you’re contributing to raise conciousnes about the forgotten people of Western Sahara.

    It’s wonderfu and you’re more

    Thanks
    One more forgotten Saharawi

  • Saharawi

    It’s really important for us, the Saharawi young people in the refugee camps, to see that young people from abroad have us in mind. It gives more strengh to survive the exile. Unfortunately the Spanish governments are supporting the Moroccan attempts to vanish the Saharawi identity. But we will never give up, because we that theere are always people like Rebata Avila who belive and justice and care about the weakests. Thank you Renata and be welcome in our warmful tents in the camps if you or anybody else someday would like to share with us, not only our poetry, but also all our culture, traditions and hospitality.

    Regards,
    A young man from the Saharawi refugee camps

  • http://nicholaslaughlin.blogspot.com Nicholas Laughlin

    This is one of the things I love GV for: opening doors to the unexpected and the vital, daily. Thanks for this post, Renata.

  • mohamed

    i think western sahara has always been related to politics and the conflict with the neighboring Morocco,but the question of literature,civilisation and other domains have been denied such as the archaeological aspects of western sahara which Dr.Nick Brooks highlighted in his blog http://nickbrooks.wordpress.com/ ,so i would like to thank Renata for mentioning and ATRAPADORDESUENOS for their highlight on western sahara oral literature.

  • mohamed

    i hope all sahrawi people all over the world shall resist and convey their messages through the verses of poetry as they have always did because it is a kind of struggle too.

  • Renata Avila

    Thanks a lot Nico, Jill, Gaby and John!

    Bahia,

    Dear Saharahui and Furkush, It is my pleasure to write about your culture! The poetry is excellent, the culture is just amazing! I am learning a lot via your blogs! And I will love to visit the refugee camps soon!

    Hola Bahía! Ví generación de la amistad! Y el profesor Juan Carlos Gimeno me ha dado muchísimas referencias también!

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