Poetry in Ḥassāniyyah (lə-Ġna) and Anticolonial Resistance in Mauritania

in La rivista di Arablit, a. X, n. 20, dicembre 2020, pp. 11-30.

After several centuries of commercial contacts with the emirs of Mauritania, France decided to occupy the territory at the end of the nineteenth century and carried out its plan in 1902. From this date, the population started not only an armed resistance, but also a cultural battle. One of the aspects of cultural resistance was a literary defiance that used primarily, but not exclusively, the dialectal literary genre called lə-ġna. Some Mauritanian poets used this genre to denounce colonialism and the acculturation it sought to bring about in the country. This article aims to provide an overview of the situation in Mauritania during the colonial period, along with the main characteristics of Ḥassāniyyah poetry, lə-ġna, and a sample of resistance poems.

1. Introduction

When French colonialism began its penetration of the Bilād Šinqīṭ1 territories with the aim of achieving its commercial objectives and the control of the country’s resources2, the French colonial power set out to impose its educational system on Mauritania by creating schools. These schools had the mission of teaching the French language and thus keeping Mauritanian children away from the Arabic language, the language of Islam and Arab culture. In this way, France guaranteed the formation of faithful adherents to its colonial policy. But given the deep roots of Islam in the population, Mauritanian society considered that their struggle was mainly to defend their religion, their culture and their language. For this reason, the population began its struggle against the presence of an unwanted invader in order to avoid the expected acculturation.

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1Bilād Šinqīṭ was the name by which the country was known before the French occupation decided to change this name to the current one, i.e. Mauritania.
2Historical research has shown that the main reason for Mauritania’s occupation was economic (exploiting maritime resources, mines, having a market to export its products, etc.). See Ban ʿUmar (2004: 95-111); Ould Ahmedou (1990: 7-33).

This is an Article from La Rivista di Arablit - Anno X, numero 20, dicembre 2020

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