Mouloud Mammeri – Writer, Linguist and Anthropologist

Known for his outstanding work as an Algerian Kabyle writer, linguist and anthropologist, Mouloud Mammeri’s four published novels are said to represent four distinctive time periods in Algerian history. His first novel La Colline oubliée (The Forgotten Hill) speaks of the unrest of the 1940s which prompted many to leave the country; Le Sommeil du juste (Sleep of the Just) tells of the experiences of Algerians in their new country and their later return; L’opium et le baton (Opium and the Stick) discusses the war of liberation and its effect on a village in the Kabyle mountains; and La Traversée (The Crossing) focuses on the period after independence from France in 1962.

Born on 28 December 1917 in the town of Ait Yenni in Algeria’s Tizi Ouzou Province, Mouloud Mammeri attended the local primary school before immigrating to Morocco in 1928 where he lived with relatives in Rabat. He returned to Algeria four years later where he continued his studies at Bugeaud College in Algiers before going to Paris to attend Lycée Louis-le-Grand, with the intention of moving on to one of the most prestigious establishments of higher education in France – the École normale supérieure. However, he was conscripted in 1939, and again in 1942, eventually returning to Algeria in September 1947.

Back in Algeria, Mouloud Mammeri taught in Médéa, a town about 90 kilometers south of Algiers, and later in a suburb of the capital city called Ben Aknoun. It was during this time that he published his first novel La Colline oubliée. Due to the Algerian War, also known as the Algerian Revolution, he left Algiers in 1957, returning soon after the country gained independence in 1962. Between 1965 and 1972 he taught Berber at the university’s ethnology department, continuing to teach the language on a voluntary basis at a time when authorities deemed ethnology and anthropology to be “colonial sciences”, not to be taught at educational facilities.

As a proponent of the Kabyle language, Mouloud Mammeri collected the texts of poet Si Mohand and had these published. When one of his conferences to be held in Tizi Ouzou was prohibited in 1980, riots broke out in an incident that came to be known as the Berber Spring – a period of protest and activism calling for recognition of the Berber language and identity in Algeria. In 1982, Moulou Mammeri founded CERAM – the Center of Amazigh Studies and Research – as well as publishing a journal in Paris called Awal (The Word). He gathered an extensive collection of valuable information on Berber languages and literature, receiving an honorary doctorate from the Sorbonne in France in 1988. Sadly, a car accident in Morocco on 26 February 1989 claimed the life of Mouloud Mammeri, but his contribution to the promotion of Kabyle is etched in history and remembered today.