Video: Speaking Tamazight again

In the latest report from Dutch news programme Nieuwsuur, reporter Jan Eikelboom visits the Amazighi who are finally able to speak their language again after 42 years. Freely, they can now sing, write poetry, write and present the news in their own language.


Narration: “Driving over the plateau of the Nafusa Mountains, the new Libyan anthem plays on the radio.

We’re on our way to Jadu, the capital of this region. Although it’s far from safe, the atmosphere is positive. The liberation means that the Amazighi people are finally able to express themselves in Tamazight.”

Reporter: “Tamazight is a language spoken by the Amazighi from Morocco to Libya, with its own vocabulary, grammar and its own alphabet. Now it can be written on the walls again, because in Gaddafi’s Libya Tamazight was forbidden.”

Singing: “As an animal in the forest I live, my father”

Narration: “Amazighi singer Yusuf Hafyana spent 8 years in prison, just because he sang in his mother tongue.

Singing: “With crying eyes you could see me now. You could see how my soul weeps with sorrow”

Hafyana: “The Amazigh were without rights all this time. They were not allowed to speak their language, or use it for cultural activities or publish a newspaper in this language. You could only use this language indoors with your family. But we wanted to write songs and poems in this language, so that they would not be forgotten. You have to keep your culture alive. Gaddafi was completely against this. We’ve had it very difficult”

Narration: “What was forbidden for 42 years, they’re now doing from the top of their lungs.

Children receive classes in Tamazight every day. In the open air, because schools are closed.”

Teacher: “We have nice songs. They all have to learn the Amazigh language. The inhabitants of the Nafusa Mountains are Amazighi. We must learn our language and develop it.”

Reporter: “Isn’t that difficult for them?”

Teacher: “It is a little, at the start. But the children learn fast. I am hopeful. They’re now learning the alphabet, then the words and then sentences. And soon they will write insha’Allah.

Girl: “I can speak Tamazight but it’s a little difficult.

Reporter: “Why difficult?”

Girl: “Because we never learned. We’ve only learned Arabic. Gaddafi didn’t let us learn anything.”

Reporter: “What are you writing?”

Girl: “Libya”

Reporter: “They’ve written here for us: “Libya Freedom”, free Libya. But they just had a discussion about how the letters were written precisely, it’s still a little strange. She said “Don’t look at my handwriting, it’s not very pretty yet”. But now it says here.. Libya Tagraula. That means free. Thank you. How do you say thank you in Tamazight?

Girls: “Saheet”

Narration: “It’s not easy writing and speaking a language that has been forbidden for 42 years. At Radio Nafusa there have been broadcasts in Tamazight again since this week. Sometimes they have to search for the words.

Newsreader: “We continue with the news..”


Singer: “My father, come see my soul. Come see my soul, my father.”

Hafyana: “We have been liberated, we are now living in freedom. The whole area there is free. (Jadu, Nalut, Yefren,). We have a different flag and a different system. I hope the revolutionaries enter Tripoli and free all of Libya.”

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11 Responses to Video: Speaking Tamazight again

  1. Hadock says:

    Well, it will sure be a benefit for libyan if the new state will be decentralized.

    One cant really mobilise in political life if the capital is hundred of kilometers away, but if there is local assembly with real powers and elected mayor, it could be a real push for democracy.

    The shool system is designed by local powers, it will be well fitted with local needs and traditions, and lots of other subject could be given to local assemblies.

    • admin says:

      I always thought Norway could be an example for Libya as geographically and demographically they are fairly comparable. Both are countries with a vast amount of land with large empty spaces, although Libya has a lot more of this than Norway, and a similar small population; 6.5 and 4.9 million respectively. Both countries house different ethnic groups and cultural differences per region. When it comes to education, I feel it is incredibly important that there is a unified high standard set and ensured by the state, but that on the local level there can be variety and “tailor-made” aspects so to speak. Norway and Sweden’s documents that specify the national curriculum and the standards students must meet is therefore clear and concise and easy to implement.

      Norway has always had an approach of “centralized decentralization”, where parts are determined on a national level (to ensure a high quality standard) but there is room for local input as well. People simply also work better when they feel their decisions are their own and they can play into local demands and cultural variety. A sort of grassroots approach with a standard maintained nation-wide. As a multi-party parliamentary system they have a high quality democracy on the national level, and with directly elected local councils also on the local level.

      The reason I go for Norway instead of other geographically/demographically comparable countries (Russia for example) is that Norway consistently appears as one of the best countries to live with great amounts of political, civil and personal freedom, some of the highest quality education and health care and one of the least corrupt countries in the world.

      • Hadock says:

        Well, you can never copy-paste one model to another country. Norway is very peculiar, it is at the same time an european country and an oil rich country with a small population. Moreover it is far from main transit routes and its hard weather and not widely used tongue can discourage migrants.

        Even if libya can be a centralized country in the long term, there will be a hard need for decentralization first to bring the politic closer to the citizen. Moreover, if you have both a local power and a central one, each one can check the other and fight corruption when it will appear.

        • admin says:

          Very true, taking a model and sticking it somewhere doesn’t work. See “bringing democracy”… 😉 terrible idea. Something needs to come from the ground up so I agree that decentralization is very important for that. The people need to take their governance into their own hands and also they need to feel a sense of “ownership” over the system that is created. They need to be content with it and feel that it best represents them.

          I agree wholeheartedly with you!

          • a says:

            Norway was also the first example I thought of.

            You have a chance to do something which unfortunately even in many EU countries has never happened: Really and honestly evaluate the will of the people regarding a new constitution, democracy, governance, etc.

            Which naturally needs a process of information, discussion, and also a great deal of realism, but it is such a great chance, that I envy Libya a bit for it. For example, here in Germany (and of course even more in other countries like Spain) there is a growing discontent with the existing democracy. Especially young people, that are used to discuss and even decide all things among themselves on the internet have more and more problems with the existing, sometimes encrusted and paternalistic, forms of political representation and political traditions. They demand more elements of direct democracy, participation and transparency. One idea here is the Liquid Democracy concept proposed by the Pirate Party, but also the Green party and the leftwing Linkspartei have some ideas in that direction.

            For example, there were and are big protests against a new expensive railway station in Stuttgart, which is a big rich city in a rather conservative part of the country. But the citizens demanded not to change the existing station (which also works), and criticized that they had not been involved enough in the decision. The project includes having expensive land freed for highly profitable building projects of private developers, so … some smell corruption). This led to a totally new thing, for the first time the Green party won the regional elections, over the conservative former governor, and now have a regional governor.

            And through the resulting political pressure, even the Social Democrats and the conservatives (the main big parties here) start to talk about these things, more democracy, more inclusion in decisions. But as we already have “enough” democracy, at least on paper, and this touches the power of the parties, there is also much opposition to this, especially by elder politicians that are used to do things as they were used to, and the struggle to have more democracy or renew the existing one is a slow and difficult process.

            But you in libya can just take a look at all these discussions (maybe there is something in english on the net anout Stuttgart21, for example, or look what they criticize in Spain), and then build a very modern, contemporary form of government and democracy from scratch, even supersede the western democracies regarding transparency, participition, referendums… as long as people want and demand that.

      • emca says:

        In line with the centralized/decentralized I can’t help but note one large positive for the whole ‘Arab Spring’ movement across the middle world; its lack of central leaders, dominate personalities which typically the media slavishly (and lazily) runs to in its hour of need.

        I’m not the first to comment on this, but it seems to be to be the primary good of the current changes we’re seeing. The engine of the social movement is impromptu, localized cells, parcel to the ascendancy of youth number wise within populations, with little identifiable structure, unsanctioned as keepers of truth by traditional media, but who nevertheless able to mobilize a push for democratic change. Simply there is no one national recognized personality associated the change on board.

        Although I’m sure such individual organization has always been part of a larger social initiatives, I don’t think many have been so thoroughly attempted or built from the ground up, without the eventual submission to and erosion of democratic values through the rise of omnipotent leader(s) of the people and the homage they eventually command.

        The polar opposite of this loose, decentralized, coalition of interests is not only as represented by the dictator, but “I need a messiah” mentality as some kind of necessity to wrong evils of society.

        Maybe this apparition of a ‘leaderless’ revolution will fade after Qaddafi’s gone, I don’t know (somewhat as a mirage in the desert) , but Libya’s potential as an “from the bottom up” nation, rich in resources with the hope now of trashing previous excess and failure and start anew, is to be envied.

  2. bm sharef says:

    Libya is a Muslim state that is part of the larger Arab World. Arabic is our language and Islaam is our religion, Libya has been one unified country with one religion and one language even before its independence. Therefore, we reject any attempt to divide Libya along ethnic lines. Western media is meddling in the affairs of Libya by playing the tune of ethnic and, unfortunately, some of the less wise Berbers are dancing to it. Western journalist are encouraging revival of the ancient Berber language that has no value whatsoever and which will only divide the Libyan people and make the Berber strangers to the rest of Libyans.

    The Berber people were under the brutal Roman occupation when Muslims came and freed them. Allaah has given the Berber people a better religion (Al-Islaam) and a better language (Arabic), the language of Al- Qur’aan, the language of Islaam and the language of the dwellers of Paradise. Egyptians never looked back and never tried to revive their ancient Faronic language or call themselves anything but Arabs. I sincerely hope that the Berber people will do the same and not start any ethnic fire.

    • deinan says:

      bm sharef – There is so much wrong with your post, it is difficult to know where to start.

      How does one grade languages? If one did, then English would win hands down because it is spoken in many countries of the world, and everyone should then just forget their language and speak English. In southern Africa, there are dozens of languages and no person should decide which language is superior to another. In fact, the learning of several languages in childhood is beneficial in many ways.

      The Amazighi have repeatedly expressed support of a one united Libya. I doubt very much that they will start any “ethnic fire”. You are assigning things to them that are unjustified.

      The Amazighi are not confined to LIbya alone – they live in many countries. In fact, on group from Mail, Tinariwen, are among some of the best guitar players in the world.

      One should instead concentrate on the rich cultural heritage of the area and not dismiss any ethnicity or language.

    • admin says:

      What you’re saying here is actually quite terrifying.How can a language spoken by millions have no value? It is ancient, yes, but by no means dead or worthless. Language and shared history are an integral part of culture, and culture is a fundamental part of someone’s identity. But you’re saying because the Muslims came and ‘freed’ them they should just give up this identity that is now forcefully denied and then be grateful about it?

      Languages do evolve, change, or get lost and this happens naturally, but that’s wholly different from actively persecuting someone for speaking a language, singing songs or naming their children the way they want.

      Libya has historically been a richly diverse country with different ethnic groups and before and under Islamic rule there were sizable Coptic and Jewish populations.

      “Make the Berbers strangers to the rest of Libyans” ? They are Amazighi, they are a cultural group in their own right. They are not Arabs like the rest of the Libyan people. They will never be Arabs and you shouldn’t attempt to make them. In the words of the Prophet (saw) “an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action”

      Your religion is Islam, but what you’re advocating here is not Islam at all. Islam never forces a person to abandon their language or their culture. It only asks of people to leave out the harmful things. We ought to celebrate our ethnic diversity and cherish this rich cultural heritage. As the Qur’an says: “O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honourable of you with Allâh is that (believer) who has At-Taqwa. Verily, Allâh is All-Knowing, All-Aware.”

    • Mariam says:

      I’m Libyan Amazigh , and i was dispossessed from learning the Tamazight language because i was born and raised in Tripoli .

      one thing I’d like to say to you Bm Sharef : ONLY ANCIENT RACISTS WHO CALLED AMAZIGH BERBER !

      Arab Libya thought we were mean and racists , vice versa . Amazigh had fought with Arab just for their culture . because Amazigh were the origional inhabitants of Libya and Arab were trying to deny that .

      Also Gaddafi was trying to keep us separate , but no one can anymore , Now all Libyans united and always be one Insha’Allah 🙂

  3. Carolyn Henderson says:

    Im from Canada and we have 2 languages, French and English. We also have a Native community that teaches their children to speak Ojibway in some public schools. yes, having a bilingual country can be challenging, but it is possible. If Canada can run a successful country like this, than Libya can too. unity is about sharing land. Not about language, culture, or religion. if people believe this their country will be more united.

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