Abdulla Malkni is the General Director of the Tebu Studies Center. Here he talks about the festival to celebrate the National Day of Tebu Culture in Libya:
The Tebu Studies Center was established in Tripoli with the aim of introducing people to the culture and language of the Tebu people. Since its inception, we’ve organized a number of activities, including introductory seminars on Tebu culture, and we’ve also published a Tebu magazine and other books on Tebu culture.
On the mobilization of enthusiastic support for the project:
Throughout our communication, there were no doors shut before us. People immediately chose to participate. As soon as we contacted the General Authority for Culture, they adopted the idea. Likewise, the Ministry of Interior, the Al-Ittihad Sport, Cultural & Social Club and all the other bodies we contacted responded in the affirmative immediately without reservations or restrictions.
On the secret of gathering government as well as popular and institutional support for the project:
There is an overwhelming hunger for knowledge among Libyans, for discovering coexistence, but who is really creating these initiatives? This was the biggest issue, and it was the draw of the festival. Our Amazigh brothers came down from the mountain to join without our having arranged accommodation or anything else for them. They came of their own accord, out of their own desire to participate. So, the desire is there, but it depends on who’s making the initiative, who’s driving it.
On the obstacles they faced trying to implement the project:
Our main problem was financial because the Ministry of Culture offered only moral and logistical support, but no monetary support. But we overcame these obstacles by recruiting merchants and other groups of people to our cause, whether Tebu or Arab or Amazigh, and everyone we knew who had relationships with civil society organizations reached out a helping hand to us in whatever way they could.
On the project’s output and results:
Of course, our work doesn’t stop with one event on the National Day of Tebu Culture. We are continuing to organize seminars. But frankly we also have a great responsibility toward other Libyans in introducing this culture. For the last forty years there’s only been a single voice and a single culture represented, so it’s difficult for Arabs or people from other groups to speak to others easily. Once I was speaking to someone else and he noticed that I speak another language, and anyway my people are all dark-skinned. So he said, oh, these are Africans, coming from the outside, from elsewhere in Africa. They speak another language. He had no idea that we were people coming from another part of the same country. So, there’s a lot of work required, a lot of awareness and introductions that have to be made to this culture, and through that we might come to a unified understanding.
On the extent of the impact the project made on people’s ways of thinking:
The biggest impact in this regard is beginning an introduction to the Tebu people. That there are a people called the Tebu, that they are Libyans, and that they have their own traditions and customs. So, this festival helped those attendees who didn’t know all this to form an idea about it. There are some people who know that the Tebu exist, but they don’t know that they have their own history and very old civilization, that they have their own culture and language, so they got to learn these things.