Buzakhar's family is originally from Yafran, a
small city nestled deep in the Nafusa mountain range, where many of
Libya's Amazigh still reside. Among the ancient fortified Amazigh
granaries, groups in Yafran are launching their own cultural
initiatives, with the intention of eventually branching out to the rest
The Freedom Mountain group, headed by Mohanned
Altaash, is restoring old Amazigh houses in Yafran's historic quarter in
order to preserve their way of life. Altaash led me through a compound
set around an earthen courtyard. We started the tour underneath the
complex, in a cavern for storing food, where it stays cool in the summer
and warm in the winter. There was still mold all over the cavern's
walls, which the 18-year-old medical student excitedly pointed to as
proof of how old the remains are.
Around the courtyard are rooms
for each male member of the family. Wives marry into the paternal line
and live with their husband's family, raising their children in the
compound. In each room, parents sleep on a slightly raised platform
while children sleep on mats on the ground.
The group began
renovating this compound a month and a half ago, removing debris and
repainted walls to show what Amazigh life was like long ago. Showing me
around, Altaash was so excited he could barely walk and talk at the same
time. He expects Libyans to come visit the houses, he said, and learn
about Amazigh culture.
We walked behind the lone semi-restored
house to see at least a dozen more, half collapsed, half moss-covered
remains of stone structures. Freedom Mountain plans to restore them all.
"We have to teach people about their own history, because they have
forgotten about it," Altaash told me, picking his way through the rocks.
He estimates the houses are a few hundred years old, though no one in
the group is an expert on the matter -- they've had to ask their
grandparents to rediscover family lore and learn about the old
Libya's Amazigh revival is not just about looking to
the past, but creating something new with the language. The Poet's
Society, headed by Hassan Abu Sag, is looking toward the future, seeking
to get young people writing Amazigh poetry and songs. Amazigh culture
is one of oral traditions and poetry has always been part of the
community's identity, even if for the most part it was never written
Now, writing in Tifinagh has gone from an act of defiance
to an act of cultural preservation. Abu Sag is also working on
developing children's songbooks. He's produced a music video of himself
strumming a freedom song on top of a tank following Yafran's liberation
from Qaddafi's forces. It's become something of a local hit.
Sag's organization, a loose association of Amazigh from across the
Nafusa Mountains and Tripoli, meet once a month for jam sessions. His
deep brown eyes light up when he explains how the group, since the
revolution, has been able to go from meeting covertly on the internet to
meeting in person and as regularly as they can.