Most of Tunisian literature is written in Modern Standard Arabic. Some of it is written in French and other European languages. Besides, there is a bulk of Tunisian literature that is written and/or orally transmitted in the Tunisian dialect. The latter is called popular literature because it uses the language of the people which is the Tunisian dialect(s).
This kind of literature was and is still studied by some writers, researchers, critics, and university teachers. In this regard, Jalloul Azzouna’s latest publication which is titled Dirasât fil-adab al-chaabi al-tounsi (Studies in Tunisian Popular Literature) sheds light on this issue.
The following article is a review of the book. It is written by Essahbi Ben Mansour. I tried my best to translate it into English for your enjoyment, dear readers.
Studies in Tunisian Popular Literature by Dr. Jalloul Azzouna:
Thorough writing and digging the memory of the society and the era.
Dr. Jalloul Azzouna recently authored a valuable book titled Studies in Tunisian Popular Literature. It was published by Dar Sahar Editions (Tunisia).
What strikes in this book are the comparative method that its sections are based upon, and the presence of rare documents that are studied through analysis, and criticism, and discussed with other different researchers, in time and place.
Popular poetry that the author of this book calls up is not within the reach of everyone because it is sufistic, erudite, prospective, and closely connected to holy men, precisely, the two Sufis: Sidi Ahmed Ben Arous and Sidi Ahmed Ben Boubaker. Introducing the poetry of Sidi Ahmed Ben Boubaker, the writer reminds that the reader finds himself/herself when reading these metrical lines:
“in front of his/her society’s black painting that he/she had
experienced, and that he/she knows, and which is based upon
injustice, talebearing, baseness, lowness of morality, and the
dominance of the strong over the weak in the years of hunger,
famine, and barrenness. The poet wanted to remind the human
being of his/her value, his/her replacement of God on earth, and
the ecstacy of overcoming all trivial hurdles, such as fight over
rule, and greediness for it through spreading hope and dream, and
heralding justice, and virtue on earth in an expected time before
the Judgment Day through stirring up the feeling of magnanimity
that exists inside each one of us.”
Dr. Jalloul Azzouna also corrects the mistakes of the Egyptian poet Abderrahmane al- Abnoudi and the writer Ibrahim Mohamed al-Fahham about the origins, personality, life, and poems of Ahmed Ben Arous to draw the conclusion that Sidi Ben Arous’s poems
“are really wonderful and rank him among wise people, and
philosophers as they are characterised with simplicity and
cushiness, (keeping away from pretending wisdom and
philosophy), and their commitment to rhyme in the first and
The reader of this book finds himself/herself in various contexts of comprehensive information that thoroughly touches upon the poetic text from all directions. The book draws close the edges of history, contains society, gathers up the limbs of geography, documents genealogical tree of families, and presents opposite ideas and views. So, popular literature becomes a large world with its images and scenes that chronicle a whole people in a specific period of time.
Writing for Jalloul Azzouna means digging the subject-matter and knowing all its nuts and bolts, to the point of containing it in the triangle of language, creation, and method, and even, to the point of embodying it in the form of a fluid era. Thus poetry becomes a mirror of its reality, and an added value creative facsimile of the society’s consciousness, thought, and emotions especially that its language comes from the tongues of people and not from the cultural memory that is limited to some elites or that is enfolded in dictionaries’ pages.
Originally appeared in the Tunisian daily Essahafa 04/12/2011 by Essahbi Ben Mansour.
You can read the original text in Arabic here.
Translated from Arabic by Ali Znaidi.