Saturday, July 13, 2019

Berber-Arabic macaronic verse

I recently came across a poem in praise of the oasis of Awjila in eastern Libya, attributed to its patron saint, the 15th-century Moroccan traveller Abu'l-`Abbas Ahmad ibn `Isa al-Fasi "al-Zarruq". The poem is in Arabic, but its first few verses stand out for including bits of the Berber language of Awjila:
أواجلة قوم يسوقون عيرهم The Awjilis are a people who drive their caravans
إلى مصر والسودان في طلب التبر To Egypt and Sudan in search of gold.
كلامهم "سوقات" في كل موطن Their speech is suq-at (drive!) in every country,
"أكا وكاقني" على أمد الدهر Akka (here it is!) and mag-nni (where is it?) all the time;
و"ييد وقيم ديلا" ألفاظ كلها And yid (come) and qim dila (sit here) are the words of all of them
و"أزل فيسا" لغاهم على الأثر And azzel fisa (run quickly!) is their accustomed utterance.

I can't vouch for the attribution, but it so happens that Morocco did have a tradition of Berber-Arabic macaronic verse, whose best-known exemplar is al-Rasmuki's 17th-century comic poem Qawm `ijāf ("A starved people"); the latter begins:

بسم الإله في الكلام إيزوار "In the name of the God" in speech izwar (comes first)
وهو على عون العبد إيزضار For He to help a person iẓḍar (is able),
وهو الذي له توليغتين And He is the one to whom belong tulɣiwin (praises),
وهو المجير عبده من تومريتين And He is the protector of his servant from tumritin (trials);
وبعده على النبي تازاليت And after that, upon the Prophet be taẓallit (prayer),
أعظم بها أجرا ولو تاموليت Great in reward, even if only tamullit (one time).
سافرت دھرا ووصیفي وینزار I set off one day with my servant Winzar,
في سنة قد قل فیھا ءانزار In a year where there was little anẓar (rain).
والقصد في السفر جوب تیمیزار The purpose of the journey was to reach timizar (lands),
والسیر في خیامھا وإیكیدار And travel in their tents and igidar (fortresses).
حتى حللت بعد سير أوسان Until I stayed, after a trip of ussan (days),
في قرية يدعونها بأورفان In a village that they call Urfan...

Given that the phenomenon is attested from both ends of the Berber world, it would be interesting to explore how widespread such poetry was, and whether it can be considered as constituting a genre in its own right.