New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2018, 520 pp., notes, index, maps.. Hardback $45,00.
Ambitious in its scope and argument, in this work, Michael Gomez draws on a range of source material, including oral accounts, chronicles, and the observations of travelers and geographers to provide “a wholly new interpretation of West Africa’s early and medieval history, facilitating its relocation from periphery to the center of world history” (7). One of Gomez’s significant contributions is to place the formation of empire in West Africa at the crossroads of much broader global transformations, and describe this region’s deep intellectual and cultural connections to
The leader of the prominent scholarly and commercial family of Timbuktu, the Kunta, Aḥmad al-Bakkāy, sent a letter to the ruler of the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi, Aḥmad iii, in late 1853 or early 1854. This letter is the centrepiece of Mohamed Diagayété’s Barth à Tombouctou. In this book, the author provides a critical edition of this letter in Arabic with an accompanying lucid, annotated French translation. The book also contains a brief introduction with useful contextual information and an analysis of the relationship between Timbuktu and Ḥamdallāhi.
The immediate context of this letter was a dispute
In this article, I provide one example of how a careful engagement with poetry can enrich our understanding of West African history. In 1852, al-ḤājjʿUmar Fūtī Tāl (d.1864) completed his panegyric of the Prophet Muḥammad—Safīnat al-saʿāda li-ahl ḍuʿf wa-l-najāda or The Vessel of Happiness and Assistance for the Weak. Through an analysis of Safīnat al-saʿāda, I explain Tāl’s creative use of two older poems that were widespread in West Africa—al-ʿIshrīniyyāt—The Twenties—of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Fāzāzī (d. 1230), and its takhmīs (pentastich) by Abū Bakr ibn Muhīb (n.d.). Though Safīnat al-saʿāda was primarily meant for devotion, it also reflected Tāl’s scholarly prestige and claims he made about his religious authority. In the long prose introduction to the poem, Tāl claimed that he was a vicegerent of the Prophet, and therefore had authority to guide and lead the Muslims of West Africa. His composition of Safīnat al-saʿāda was partly meant to prove this point.
The previous volume of Islamic Africa (vol. 8, 2017), guest-edited by Fallou Ngom and Mustapha H. Kurfi, was devoted to seven essays addressing ʿajami texts in Africa. Like the four articles that follow, they were presented at the 2016 Symposium held in the memory of Professor John O. Hunwick (1936–2015) at Northwestern University, “Sacred Word: Changing Meanings in Textual Cultures of Islamic Africa.”1 The four essays here feature a close analysis of the internal meanings of texts from Islamic Africa.2
The symposium’s emphasis was on research that is now re-shaping our use of Arabic