In the late 1950s, Aida Bamia was a Palestinian teenage refugee, living in Egypt and collecting donations for the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN). Just over a decade later, in the early 1970s, she was travelling around the east of Algeria collecting popular poetry and documenting family and community traditions as a lecturer in the Department of Arabic Literature at the University of Constantine. Plunged into the post-independence cultural politics of Algeria and faced with the aspirations of illiterate parents who sent their children to university to study things that they did not already know, Aida discusses the challenges she faced in setting up a module on popular literature. ‘Folklore’ occupied an ambiguous position: it was both dismissed as a relic of the past and presented as an essential element in constructing an ‘authentic’ Algerian identity for the future.

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