Taghribat Bani Hilal

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Taghribat Bani Hilal (تغريبة بني هلال, also known as Sirat Abu Zeid Al Hilali سيرة ابي زيد الهلالي) is an Arabic epic recounting the Banu Hilal's journey from Najd to Tunisia & Algeria via Egypt and conquest of the latter. It is built around historical events that took place in the 11th century. The epic is folkloric and oral, not having been committed to writing until relatively recent times, and doesn't have a well-defined date of creation. It was declared one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2003.[citation needed]

Historical background[edit]

The event of Taghribat Bani Hilal has a basis in history, when Zirid Tunisia broke away from the Fatimid empire in the 11th century.

Early sources describe how the Fatimid Caliph sent the Banu Hilal to the Maghreb lands to punish the Zirids for rebelling.

The epic has come to represent a foundational myth for Arab identity in North Africa and the spread of Islam across the Sahara effecting the cultural heritage of countries as far south as Sahel states such as Mali and Niger.


This crude political act had two major effects, one cultural, and the other literary.

As a result of Arabic-speaking tribes settling Tunisia, this region became mainly Arabic speaking, and not Berber.


The epic was inspired by these historic events.

In it the Hilali leader Abu Zayd al-Hilali's rival is Khalifa al-Zanati, the hero of the tribe of Zenata. The war between the Arab Banu Hilal and the Berber Zenata is the main theme of the Sira named after Abu Zeid. Another character featured in the epic is Shehta (شحتة).

The Sira was initially carried orally and handed down from generation to generation often in poem form via bards and then recorded later in many variants.

The Egyptian poet and writer Abdel Rahman el-Abnudi has made an exhaustive collection of the Sira, travelling from Egypt to Libya to Tunisia to document the variants of the epic.

The epic was narrated by storytellers in cafés well into the 20th century, much like the Baibars biography.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Galley, Micheline. "‘À propos d’un manuscrit de la geste hilalienne conservé à la Bibliothèque Vaticane’." 'Studies on Arabic epic’ (ed. Giovanni Canova), xxii (L XXX III), Oriente Moderno (special number), n.s. 2 2003, pp. 307–33.