Friday, April 28, 2006

Libya's heritage: fears and frustration

Today's article in the BBC deals with an important topic for me:

"Libya is home to some of the world's best preserved archaeological sites,
showcasing tales of Roman, Byzantine, and Greek civilisations [...]This
historical wealth is Libya's main tourist attraction, but that wealth is
increasingly under threat from looters. [...]Officially, 90 historical pieces
like pottery vessels and statues have been stolen since 1988.

I think it is more than that , because history is in your face in Libya and I personally saw many of my expatriate friends just buying the stuff and taking it home.

"In reality, the figure is much higher, as most items are stolen from
unauthorised excavation sites and even sites uncovered during seismic surveys in
the desert by oil companies. "

That is 100% correct !

Another reason is poor distribution of the available funds , but also heavy bureaucracy check what

"Chairman of the department of archaeology Guima Anag says [...]If you are
paying a guard just over $2 a day to guard pieces that can be valued at up to
hundreds of thousands of dollars in the black market, he could easily be
distracted from his duties by small amounts of money."

Of course there is also the Egyptian connection . Well it's a game of blaming the other , while we should only blame ourselves .Check the rest of the article here .

This article reminded me of an ongoing discussion on Khadijateri's blog which was highlighting the role of preserving our historical monuments on a visit to the Saraya . Blogger Youcef made an interesting input:

"I have been privileged enough to meet some Libyan people dedicated to this
purpose- maintaining as much as possible Libyan historic sites- and you'll be
surprised of how great those people are! One of them has even discovered some
sites by himself and took the cases of another sites to the courts and yes, He
won! and did really stopped the destructing of some sites. We went on a tour and
he showed me those sites and all the stories and fights he had to go through to
achieve the great goals he set for himself; Maintaining as much as possible of
the Libyan historic sites!It's not an easy task, it sure worth trying, and at
the end of the day it's way much better than the famous complaining of the
Libyans. We gotta act some dayة It's our history and we are part of the crime if
insisted on complaining about what the government should/shouldn't do for
ever! "

Last year I went on a walk of the old city and to my surprise stumbled by chance on a synagogue...yes in Libya !

Let's not forget that Libya is home to not less than 5 UNESCO registered world heritage sites. Which I'm ashamed to say I only learnt about last year. I only knew about one before.

Thanks to all those who are keeping our heritage alive !


Hannibal said...

@Highlander: I checked your blog and you didn't react to my recent comment to you. I hope that this is not intentional. Peace:)

Highlander said...

Dear Hannibal : Thank you very much for this note you made my day. I am writing this for the second time.

"You are a constant in this blog even if you just read it and I know that I would not even need to ask and you would be there to help.Rabi ikhalik ya sadoqi! "

Please forgive me if my reply did not show I had trouble with posting and I was able to see my comments when I posted and now I'm ashamed it did not showup - sorry it had to happen to you. I never ignore any reader because you are all part of my family.
أنل عقلي كبير يا هانيبال يا خوي ويشرفني صداقتك

khadijateri said...

Yes it is true that site are being exploited - someone once told me a German company's employees were hauling off stuff left and right! - very distressing!

highlander said...

By the way Hannibal...I wanted to make this post about the heritage on Maghreblog but I don't know how to use the software- typepad - it keeps it in draft form and I cannot publish it .Do you have technical help to offer in short understandable steps for an ignoramus like me ;)

7mada said...

:( The same goes for me 'lybianwarrior'.

Suliman said...

First of all, I think it is a bit of a stretch for the BBC article to say the archaeological sites in Libya are "preserved." The fact of the matter is they are neglected and unused. They survived this long simply because the culture historically did not really give a damn about them, one way or the other. Frankly, while Libyans might look to these sites as sources of income, tourism, etc., the sites and the history/cultures they represent are not, in my opinion, integrated into the national heritage, especially as Libyans define their heritage and identity to other Libyan. I am not talking about tourist guides, here. Libyans largely think that Romans, Phoenecians, and even Berbers, are the simply the inhabitants of the land before "we arrived" on the scene. So Libyans didn't really care about these sites, and what saved them more than anything else is the dead weight of a lot of those structures. It is not so easy to sneak a Roman theater in a suitcase!
The evidence and perhaps the roots of Libyan attitude toward these "foreign" emblems goes way back. I'll just mention as an example the famous Naga mosque in Tripoli. It is well known that the assorted columns used in that structure were taken from other existing ancient structures, but they were structures of the Jahiliya. Speaking of which, how many Christian churches are still standing in Saudi Arabia? That's a rhetorical question, anyway. But there is plenty of evidence to support the claim that the condition of the archaeological sites is only a reflection of the attitudes of the culture at large, including the political establishment.

My other point has to do with the respect of property rights in the Libyan culture. In short: Very little. In fact, the Libyan law disrespects real estate property rights, not only in the form of government confiscation but also in terms of popular practice. If people do not respect the property of others who are alive and well, why should they be expected to respect the ruins of others? And along the lines of rights, why should anyone expect people to care about "rocks" when they don't give a hoot about the rights of their neighbors?

In the final analysis, the Libyans are responsible, not the German tourists or employees of whatever company. The Libyans will sell every piece of those rocks that they can find a buyer for. And as the demand grows stronger, and the price rises, even the heavy structures will be sold. It was done before by Libyan governments selling marble columns to foreign countries.

This thing is only a symptom, and not even the most vivid.

highlander said...

Suliman as I said in the post "we should only blame ourselves ", basically there are 3 problems, our negligence, the greed of some of our compatriots but also the foreign workers smuggling stuff and that is serious because some of those companies have private jets which fly out of Libya directly from the fields.