Modern Moroccan Amazigh poetry is slowly emerging from Moroccan Amazigh(Berber) oral folk poetry which is often sung accompanied by musical instruments. There are children’s songs, funeral dirges, songs to be song together (ahidous, ahwach, tindi…) or alone (tamawayt, atkkewer, assendou…). Poets are now writing their poems down so poems no longer have to be memorized as before in the tradition of oral poetry. Poetry about Amazigh identity has now taken the place of traditional themes such as love, social problems or the struggle for independence.

The Amazigh language is spoken over a wide area in North Africa and three of its variants are spoken in Morocco: Tarafit in the north, Tamazight in central Morocco and Tachelhit in the south-west of the country. These three variants have never been codified or standardized. The policy on languages in Morocco, first formulated at the time of the French protectorate, has always been to favour the dominant language, Arabic, and to maintain the language of the colonising power, French. However, lately, several factors have given cause for optimism. The first is the birth of an Amazigh associative movement, which drew up in 1991 the “Agadir Charter on Linguistic and Cultural Rights”, the second is that several groups of intellectuals have become aware of the situation and have signed the “Berber Manifesto” in 2000, and finally a certain political willingness on the part of the State has been shown by the 2001 Royal decree setting up the IRCAM (The Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture).

Amazigh and Catalan have several points in common. I will mention just two: the absence of Amazigh in the Moroccan educational system, and which was only experimentally introduced at primary school level  in the autumn term of 2003. Secondly, the ban on Amazigh first names; the first name Idir was not permitted in Casablanca in 1998, nor Sinimane in 1999 in Rabat, for example. This ban however, has begun to be partially lifted and Numydia was allowed in Alhoceima in 2001 and Amasin in Tat and Akly in Igulmimen were also permitted in 2003.

There are many other similarities between our social and cultural characteristics. For example, according to the Amazigh movement, 60% of Moroccans are Amazighs (in rural areas, this percentage rises to 80%). Elsewhere, in Catalonia,  the majority of the Maghreb population is not Arab, but Amazigh. It has been calculated that two thirds of the one hundred thousand Moroccans settled in Catalonia are Amazighs. They speak an essentially oral language, which has been sidelined by Arabic, but which has a social foundation that demands its standardization, considered indispensable for any kind of cultural manifestation.  The current publication of Omar Derwich’s poems supports this idea.

Omar Derwich is a primary school teacher and a member of the Tilleli(Liberty) Association of Tizi-n-Imnayen. He was born in Igulmimen in 1960 and his education in Arabic and French forced him to teach himself the language, inspired by the work of French researchers André Basset, Gabriel Camps and Galand, Algerians such as Mouloud Mammeri, Salem Chaker, Tassadit Yacine and Moroccans Ahmed Boukous, Miloud Taifi, Abdellah Bounfour and Mohamed Chafik.

The poems chosen by the author for this publication resume twenty years’ work. We are presenting them in their original Amazigh version, both in Latin characters and tinfinagh, the alphabet preserved by the Tuareg,  side by side with their translation into Catalan. The first poem, Llavor d’esperança is dated the 1st of January, 1994, the year during which he was imprisoned together with six of his friends from the Tilelli association. The author was imprisoned for carrying banners demanding recognition of the Amazigh language during a 1st of May demonstration.

Jordi Badiella
Translated from French by Wendy Ouali