By Jheri St. James

libyan desert
The Desert Lands of Libya

Tens of thousands of years ago, the Sahara desert, which now covers roughly 90% of Libya, was lush with green vegetation, home to lakes, forests, diverse wildlife and a temperate Mediterranean climate. Inhabited by Neolithic peoples from as early as 8000 BC, the ancient Libyans were skilled in the domestication of cattle and cultivation of crops. libya mapThe rock paintings and carvings at Wadi Mathendous and Jebel Acacus are the best sources of information about prehistoric Libya, revealing rivers, grassy plateaus and an abundance of wildlife such as giraffes, elephants and crocodiles. It is believed that climate change caused the increasing desertification.

Another prehistoric narrative, that of St. George and the Dragon took place in a place called "Silene," in Libya. The Golden Legend is the first to place this legend in Libya as an exotic locale where a dragon might be imagined. In the 10th century Georgian tale, the place is the fictional city of Lasia, and it the godless Emperor is called Selinus.


Bordered by the Mediterranean Sea north, Egypt east, Sudan southeast, Chad and Niger south, and Algeria and Tunisia west, Libya is a country in the Maghreb region of North Africa. Currently there are two entities claiming to be the official government of Libya: 1) The Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (Tripoli-based, led by Muammar Gaddafi); 2) Libyan Republic (Benghazi-based National Transitional Council, led by Mustafa Abdul Jalil). This area on the planet earth is the fourth largest country in Africa by area, and the 17th largest in the world. The capital, Tripoli, is home to 1.7 million of Libya’s 6.4 million people. Libya has the 10th largest proven oil reserves of any country in the world with the 17th highest petroleum production.


Jabal Al Akdhar Area – Annual Rainfall: 15.7-23.6 Inches


It’s a hot time in Libya as this journal entry is being written (summer 2011). Here are words written by Abdulameed Elwahwah, our collector, whose soil came from Sabratha, 65 km west of Tripoli, the capital:

You know the situation in Libya: Internet blocked, no telecommunication nothing works since February 2011. And yes I'd love you send the gift here in UK, easier and safer, thanks very much man …here’s the address where I am staying (omitted).

“My thoughts about our uprising in Libya same as other Libyans we have been waiting very long for the moment since Gaddafi was in power through a military coup in 1969 and Libya is in isolation since that time, plus the global terrorism support by gaddafi personally and [the west] is very aware of all the history due to many years of experience with Gaddafi and his regime and his hands on supporting the terrorism movements, irish army, socialist countries of south America, mercenaries in Africa… etc internally or locally, Gaddafi could have done anything just to keep his Tyranny as long as hes alive, hanging students in universities in Benghazi and Tripoli in public in late 70s just because they said no to his rule and spoke out wide assassinations around the world against Libyan oppositions in Europe, America and middle east in 80s and 90s …. and obviously the well known massacre in Abuslim Prison in Tripoli in 29 june 1996, 1272 prisoners of different views and political opinions killed in couple of hours with machine guns inside the prison when they demonstrated inside the prison for treatment and humanitarian rights, and yet execution of soccer supporters showered with machine guns on at the Tripoli stadium stands by his sons guards, there was no health centers no health care, no education, corruption in the country had developed from administrative corruption to administrations of corruption in 2000s.

Abdulhameed Elwahwah in Sabratha

“…. so many horrible events to remember …. and im very optimistic about the future of libya after gaddafi since he turned the country to an ash and ruins after long years of deprivation the Libyan people from the oil wealth, what lead to wide poverty at one of the richest countries in the world with 2 million barrels of oil a day in a country of 6 million population only!? apart from the touristic and geographic site with a longest coast on the Mediterranean sea…..etc

“All that and the world wonder what happens in Libya?!…We are not rebels as the media shows us and what gives the regime the legitimacy.. we are the Libyan people who screamed loudly to an end to isolation dark years, scattered and obscured people’s culture and history during 42 years, civilians turned to be fighters of freedom and fight for their own freedom, life and great future to a new sunshine over Libya the history, Libya the love of Libyan people very soon! God willing!

“…Ask any one around the world if he knew libya before the uprising of 17 February 2011 …I meet new people online and many of them have no idea where libya locates, but obviously they know Gaddafi and his deeds?!”

Atiq Mosque, oldest in the Sahara


This is a man writing with deep passion about his homeland. In the course of this art project, we have read the passionate feelings expressed by all of our collectors about their share of soil on the earth.

Passionate writing, art production, soldiering, conscious living enriches the human experience--more pain, more joy—and one hopes that Mother Earth feels each person’s experience in some way, perhaps even as the organic cause of each person’s life story, being the stage where it all takes place.

The art exhibit mounted on July 18, 2011, called “Crimes of Kadafi” encapsulates the passionate contempt and dread Libyans in the rebel-controlled east hold for the besieged strongman “dragon” in Tripoli, as well as reflecting the growing spirit of liberation and openness that has engulfed Benghazi since an uprising drove Kadafi’s security forces from eastern Libya in mid-February, 2011. Art has been strictly regulated, particularly political commentary. Libyan artists are breaking free after 41 years.

The most popular centerpiece of the exhibit is entitled Dustbin of History. “Khadafi is heading to the trash bin soon, God willing,” said the creator, a long-haired, woolly-bearded former underground artist named Ali Wakwak. Co-creator Mohammed Tarhouni, said Kadafi, “had no use for art; he considered it subversive.”

Another piece features crumpled Grad missile nose cones; expended ammunition casings are the medium for still another. Outside, scraps of fighter plane wreckage are displayed beside photos of Libyan air force pilots who defected to the rebels and fired on government forces before being killed. An entire gallery is devoted to Kadafi caricatures that depict him as butcher, wild-eyed mass murderer, and terrorist lighting a fuse that leads to oil barrels stacked atop Libya. Another gallery displays drawings by schoolchildren. Upstairs, walls are lined with hundreds of snapshots of Libyan men who rebels say were executed, jailed or shot by Kadafi security forces, some labeled “Information Card of a Martyr.”

“Libyans are too busy trying to find food or fuel to buy art,” said Abdeigader Badr, an amateur artist whose works are on display. Only a few foreign aid workers or journalists have made purchases.

“Any Libyan seeing this art is the luckiest person on Earth,” Wakwak said. “We artists have been waiting 41 years to have our art displayed in public instead of hiding it in our homes.” He attributes the inspiration for his piece to a remark from a well-known commentator on government-run TV who said the rebels would end up in the dustbin of history, a phrase first attributed to the Bolshevik Leon Trotsky, another “dragon”. Wakwak, 63, looks like an aging hippie, wearing rumpled shirt, dirty jeans, gray ponytail beneath rebel flag hat emblazoned with the words “New York.” After earning an art degree in Beirut, he secretly crafted art pieces at home. “Khadafi called us rats, so we put rats on his shoulders. He called us garbage, so we made sure that everyone sees him covered with garbage. We wanted to humiliate him.”

*   *   *

This is the legend of St. George and the Dragon in Silene, Libya:

The town had a pond as large as a lake where a plague-bearing dragon dwelled that threatened all the countryside. To appease the dragon, the people of Silene fed it two sheep every day, and when the sheep failed, they fed it their children, chosen by lottery. It happened that the lot fell on the king's daughter, Sabra. The king, distraught with grief, told the people they could have all his gold and silver and half of his kingdom if his daughter were spared; the people refused. The daughter was sent out to the lake, decked out as a bride, to be fed to the dragon.

St. George by chance rode past the lake. The princess, trembling, sought to send him away, but George vowed to remain. Suddenly the dragon reared out of the lake. St. George charged the dragon on horseback with his lance and gave it a grievous wound. Then he called to the princess to throw him her girdle, which he put around the dragon's neck. When she did so, the dragon followed the girl like a meek beast on a leash.

She and St. George led the dragon back to the city of Silene, where it terrified the people, but St. George slew the dragon before them and the body was carted out of the city on four ox-carts. On the site where the dragon died, the king built a church where a spring arose whose waters cured all disease.

The story of St. George and the dragon is a Catholic story. Libya today is 97% Muslim. There are old national heritage churches of many denominations in Libya—Anglican, Coptic, Greek, Jewish, Orthodox and Catholic. The Benghazi War Cemetery holds the bodies of 2,000 fallen World War II soldiers from Libya, Sudan, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Australia, Greece, India, and Norway. Warfare, conflict, revolt are not new activities in Libya or most of the countries on Earth.

Dragons are mythological beings. Artists turn tyrants into creative artworks, hastening the mythologizing process.

What are the gender implications of St. George subduing the dragon, and the princess taming it and making it her pet? Perhaps the slaying need not have happened? Wars are the actions of men on the face of the Great Mother, who ultimately wins all wars. Human “dragons” and political tyrants ultimately become myths in the memory of Mother Earth, once she claims their bodies.

Libya’s current “dragon” is in an artistic cage, and the world watches to see what will happen next. The word for peace in Libya is Salaam. Thank you Abdulhameed Elwahwah for your collection and your passionate writing.

"He who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself; and if you gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into you."
- Friedrich Nietzsche

Yesterday & Today in Libya – Temple of Zeus above & Modern Buildings below






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