Remembering our hero: Mouloud Mammeri

Remembering our hero: Mouloud Mammeri   by Arezki Boudif

I would like to borrow Milan Kundera’s words, who said: “The first step in liquidating a people, is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Before long the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster.” Maybe Mouloud Mammeri had the same thoughts, probably long before Kundera, and decided to dedicate his entire life to prevent this “prophecy” from becoming the fate of his own people.

This year, we are commemorating the centennial birthday of this Amazigh scholar. Mouloud Mammeri was born on December 28, 1917 in Taourit-Mimoun, Ait Yenni, in Kabylia. And died on February 26, 1989, allegedly killed in a tragic car accident in Ain Defla (west of Algeria) on his way back from a conference in Morocco. He gave seventy-two years’ worth of commitments to his culture, language and identity, to his country as well; materialized in milestone achievements in literature, ethnology and anthropology.  Sadly, he left us at a moment when we needed him the most. And, no one thought about paying him tribute or telling him how much we admired him, respected him, loved him, and how much we were proud of him.

Dda Lmulud, we love you just like people love their fathers. You were generous with your time whenever you felt we needed to learn more from you. You were patient and understanding in the face of our ignorance and confusion. You guided us when we were dragged into dirty political games, and recommended caution when some of us were overly confident about our choices. You took care of the education of generations of students, and your teachings were as genuine and inspiring as those of a father to his own children.

Dda Lmulud, we admire you because your knowledge is vast, true and inspiring. You had answers to our questions, which remained unanswered for centuries. Although your fictions were written in a language that is not ours, but you managed to infuse them with a soul that spoke to us in this mother language that we cherish. You talked about our old poets such as Youcef Uqasi, Si Muhend U Mhend, Cheikh Mohand U Lhusin, Si El Bachir Amellah with so much passion and accuracy that we have come to realize that we had our prophets. We just ignored them.

Dda Lmulud, we respect you because you gave without taking. You had the humility of someone who was convinced that the cause he/she was serving was something much bigger than his/her own person. We respect you for your magnanimity towards those who, fooled by their narrow views and an arrogant ideology, attacked you, insulted you, and tried to defame you, thinking they could break your will or disturb your trajectory meant to place you high up in the pantheon of the freemen among the Amazighs.

Dda Lmulud, we are proud of you because you have no fear of people or events. A raging war did not stop you from coming back to your country, living, or rather surviving, amidst your own people and making your contribution towards its liberation. After the independence of the country, you were elected by your peers to lead the Algerian Writers’ Union, and the day when the regime decided to place the organization under the control of the party (FLN), you decided that it was time to resign and leave the organization, because for you, dignity and freedom are not negotiable.

Very often, I come to ask myself this question: What would we have become without you, your commitment, your talent, your efforts, your sacrifices, and your wit? You are our hero, may you rest in peace