Libya's Rich Legacy
A year after Libya's revolution and the death of leader Moammar Gadhafi the country is still struggling in its transition to a democratic and just society. Remembering cultural traditions may help the process. Impressions by Gaia Anderson and Sabine Hartert
Olive trees have been cultivated in North Africa for thousands of years. The oil produced from its pressed fruits is still the main ingredient for Libyan dishes. Traditionally, olive oil was also used for its healing and restorative properties and to keep oil lamps alight.
Between 1912 and 1913, Italy increased its control over Libya by defeating the crumbling Ottoman Empire and annexed the region. By 1914, Italy had completed the occupation and renamed the country Italian North Africa. There are still many remnants of Italian colonization throughout Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan, the three regions of today's Libya.
In mid-November, Libya's first elected government was sworn in amid protests in Tripoli and ongoing instability around the country. But there are clear signs of growth and will to restore the economy a little over a year after the death of Moammar Gadhafi. Turkish and Italian companies have been among the first foreign investors to return to do business with the Libyans.
Misrata is the third-largest city in Libya and the business hub of the country. The city lies east of Tripoli along the 2000 km-long coastline of Libya. But the sea, aside from Qasr Ahmed's main port activity, has hardly ever been the focus of interest for the Misratis. The long, sandy beaches are littered with abandoned tourist resort-type barracks and decaying boat yards.
Libya still has several nomadic groups that have settled around the main oasis cities in the Fezzan region, like Ghat, Koufra and Ghadames. These are the few areas in the desert where agriculture can thrive. In Ghadames, the date palm plantations not only provide an annual crop of precious fruits, a staple ingredient in the Libyan diet, but also create the necessary shade for cultivating gardens.
In 1986 the medina of Ghadames was added to UNESCO's list of world heritage sites. Referred to as the pearl of the desert, it used to host one of Libya's most multicultural festivals to celebrate the date harvest. Locals hope that tourists and the festival will return, but tensions have caused the Tuareg community to flee taking with them an integral part of what made Ghadames such a diverse city.
Libya represents the meeting point of the Mediterranean and Sahara. The 2000 km-long coastline offers splendidly preserved ancient cities and great potential for development, but roughly 90 percent of the inland regions is desert - a concern for authorities having to deal with desertification and scarce water supplies. To this day, the percentage of protected areas in Libya is extremely low.
The traditional muslim festival of Eid al-Adha marked an important period of anniversaries for post-revolution Libya. On Oct. 21 the capture and death of former dictator Moammar Gadhafi was remembered in many parts of the country, followed two days later by the first celebration of Liberation day, along with February 17, the symbolic date representing the beginning of the uprising in 2011.
The annual livestock market selling sheep to sacrifice during Eid al-Adha is set up on the outskirts of the main towns and cities in Libya. Men tend the markets and buy the sheep to bring home before the opening day of celebration which will see the sacrifice and the butchering of the sheep. Families come together and participate in the rituals of preparing and sharing food.
While Ghadames was unable to celebrate its date harvest festival for a second consecutive year, the city of Jadu in the Nafusa mountains decided to anticipate it's spring Amazigh Festival by a full season. The event brought together locals, indigenous berbers, the Amazigh, and thousands of people from around the country.
The program of Jadu's Amazigh Festival included a guided tour of ancient fortified villages for visitors from around Libya. For many it was the first time they were able to tour Termisa's archways and walls which appear suspended over the wide plain far below.
The festive crowd that attended Jadu's Amazigh festival included women and girls dressed in traditional costumes, as well as performers and artists from Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. Jadu is considered Libya's capital of Tamazight, the language of the Amazigh, which many hope will become the county's second official language.
Despite their deep roots to home, the inhabitants of the Jebel Nafusa have had to move to Tripoli for university level education and job opportunities. The Jadu Festival offered a chance to return home and celebrate the Amazigh culture. Under Gadhafi's authoritarian rule, Amazigh culture was not mentioned in school textbooks, Tamazight was not taught and children could not be given Amazigh names.
Al-Jifara, Tripolitania's coastal plains, slope southward from the Mediterranean up to the Sahara. The plains are one of the most fertile and inhabited region of Libya. Agriculture and population decline as the plain reaches the Jebel Nafusa. Depite modest altitudes, the elevated edges of the plateau are referred to as mountains and dominate the costal plains around Tripoli.
Before the discovery of oilfields in the 1950's, Libya was one of the poorest countries in the world. It's economy was traditionally based on husbandry, but the oil industry soon took over manpower and fundings which led to the abandonment of land and agriculture. In recent years, development plans have given agriculture and farming a boost.
Libya is a vast but predominantly barren country. Through history, the most populated and vital areas have developed along the Mediterranean coast. In the 20th century oil production took on a predominant role. The 2011 revolution brought many of the country's idiosyncrasies to surface, but also opened windows on the potential of reviving tradition and rediscovering its other riches.