Settled Wanderers by Sam Berkson & Mohamed Sulaiman
Western Sahara, is a former Spanish colony on the north west coast of Africa. Following the death of Franco (1975) and subsequent invasion by Morocco and Mauritania, the territory has been under occupation, the people denied self-determination and the land annexed as the ‘southern provinces of the Kingdom of Morocco’.
Around half of the former nomadic people of Western Sahara (the Saharawi) live in refugee camps around the isolated desert town of Tindouf over the border in Algeria. 2015 marks the 40th year of exile. Poetry is a cultural tradition in the Western Sahara that goes back millennia.
In 2013 poet Sam Berkson was invited by the charity Olive Branch to visit these camps as a poet in residence. In March 2014, following a successful crowdfunding campaign, Influx Press raised enough money to send him back to gather and translate some of the contemporary poetry of the Saharawi.
Settled Wanderers is a collection of interpreted (Hassaniya to English) poems from the greatest living poets of the Western Sahara, such as Badi, Beyibouh and Al Khadra. They have been translated into English by Sam and a Saharawi translator and illustrator Mohamed Labat Sulaiman.
The book also contains a fascinating essay by American academics Stephen Zunes and Jacob Mundy explaining the history of the region, and a foreword from a Saharawi Senior official of the Saharawi Arab Demcoratic Republic Ministry of Foreign Affairs and writer, Mustafa Kattab, outlining the history of Saharawi poetry.
Settled Wanderers features poems Sam wrote while in residence at the refugee camp where he captures the spirit, life and unique culture of ‘Africa’s last colony’.
This is first time a collection of poetry from the Western Sahara has been translated and interpreted into English. Additionally, Settled Wanderers contains some of the original Hassaniya language poems transliterated into Arabic, creating a invaluable record of an oral culture which is undergoing ‘a slow genocide based on political identities.’
Praise for Settled Wanderers
'The Western Sahara conflict is most often neglected, and the rare discussions among international power brokers are overshadowed by impersonal political agendas that are content to maintain a deeply flawed status quo. Settled Wanderers shatters that impersonality. It is an invitation to engage with how people respond to, reflect on and project themselves beyond living for forty years through circumstances that no one should ever be asked to live through.'
– Elsewhere Journal
– The Quietus
About the Authors
Sam Berkson is a poet from London. He is the author of best selling collection Life In Transit (Influx Press 2012) He runs workshops in schools and wrote words for Lorenzo Vitturi’s photobook Dalston Anatomy. Sam has been performing poetry for many years as ‘Angry Sam’. He is part of the Hammer & Tongue collective.
Mohamed Sulaiman was born in Dakhla Camp, south-west Algeria in 1986. He studied English literature and Civilisation at Batna University, Algeria. He now works as an artist illustrator and a translator in the Saharawi Refugee Camps, Algeria.
Publication date: 1 December 2014