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L'écrit qui circule : constituer des réseaux, contrôler l'espace et asseoir une légitimité

A propaganda document in support of the 19th century Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi: Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir al-Fulānī’s “Letter on the appearance of the twelfth caliph” (Risāla fī ẓuhūr al-khalīfa al-thānī ʻashar)

Un document de propagande au service du califat de Ḥamdallāhi (xixe siècle) : La « lettre sur l’apparition du douzième caliphe » de Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir al-Fulānī (Risāla fī ẓuhūr al-khalīfa al-thānī ʻashar)
Mauro Nobili

Abstracts

The Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi, located in the modern Republic of Mali, was founded by Aḥmad Lobbo in 1818 and left behind a huge corpus of Arabic correspondence and dispatches that is mainly unexplored by historians. This corpus, composed of documents related to the internal administration of the state as well as its relations with other contemporary political entities, is the result of the extensive spread of literacy in Arabic in the territories controlled by the Ḥamdallāhi central authority and its effort to establish itself as a legitimate regional power in West Africa. Among these documents is the Risāla fī ẓuhūr al-khaliīfa al-thānī ʻashar (“Letter on the appearance of the twelfth caliph”) written by Aḥmad Lobbo’s close counselor Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir. This document, briefly introduced by Felix Dubois in the late 19th century, has been neglected by scholars, who have discarded it because it includes an obvious forgery. The letter comprises extensive quotes from the Tārīkh al-Fattāsh, allegedly written in the early 16th century by the Timbuktu-based scholar Maḥmūd Kaʻti but actually composed by Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir himself. The purpose of the document is to provide political legitimacy to Aḥmad Lobbo through a prophecy that identifies him as the legitimate and supreme Muslim authority for West Africa, by virtue of being the inheritor of the late 15th century–early 16th century Songhay king Askiyà al-ḥājj Muḥammad, the twelfth caliph mentioned by the Prophet Muḥammad in a famous ḥadīth, and mujaddid, or the “renewer” of Islam. With this article, I edit and translate Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir’s Risāla and discuss it in the context of the tension between the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi and Sokoto. I also discuss the importance of this document in understanding the complex history of the Tārīkh al-Fattāsh.

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Introduction: Félix Dubois, the Tārīkh al-fattāsh and the Risāla

  • 1  On the western myth of Timbuktu, see the recent S. Corlan-Ioan, 2014.
  • 2 Tombouctou la Mystérieuse was originally written in French, but the English translation was publish (...)

1In early 1894, news arrived in Paris that the French army had entered the fabled town of Timbuktu.1 The newspaper Le Figaro, in the person of Antonin Périvier, asked two prominent journalists of the time, Jules Huret and Félix Dubois, to visit and document the newly conquered town. Huret declined the offer, while Dubois accepted with enthusiasm. He reached Timbuktu in January 1895 and one year later, back in France, published his bestseller account Tombouctou la Mystérieuse.2

  • 3  F. Dubois, 1969, p. 276, 277 and 287.
  • 4  F. Dubois, 1969, p. 288.
  • 5  F. Dubois, 1969, p. 288.

2The book, a celebration of the French “civilizing mission” in Africa, expresses its author’s astonishment at local libraries, where “ancient manuscripts” were held in repositories variously characterized as “large” and “marvelous.”3 Dubois also comments, in the racist tone of the time, that “the learned doctors were, to use an expression which may appear strange when applied to negroes, bibliophiles.”4 Finally, he concludes with a hyperbole: “The libraries of Timbuctoo may be said to have included almost the whole of Arabian literature.”5

  • 6  F. Dubois, 1969, p. 302. The name “Fettassi” is recorded by Dubois according to the local pronunci (...)
  • 7  F. Dubois, 1969, p. 135, 301, 302 and 330.
  • 8  The standardized form of the name comes from J.O. Hunwick et al., 2003, p. 38. Throughout this art (...)
  • 9  F. Dubois, 1969, p. 302.

3Among the works with which Dubois became acquainted in Timbuktu, the one that most attracted his attention was a local chronicle called the “Fettassi”—i.e. the Tārīkh al-fattāsh.6 According to oral information he gathered in the Niger Bend, this chronicle had been written in the first half of the 16th century by a pious Timbuktu scholar variously called “Mahmoud Koutou (or Koti),” “Mohaman Koti, or Koutou,” or even “Ahmadou Koti.”7 This plethora of names refers to the same character, usually referred to in more recent scholarship as Maḥmūd b. al-ḥājj al-Mutawakkil Ka‘ti al-Kurminī al-Tinbuktī al-Wa‘kurī (henceforth simply Maḥmūd Ka‘ti), who died in 1593.8 Despite his attempts, Dubois failed to find a copy of the chronicle and managed to collect only some written “fragments” of it.9 These “fragments,” one is led to believe, belonged to the manuscript of a work that Dubois, with the help of local informants, identified as the Tārīkh al-fattāsh. However, the description of these fragments reveals that they were, in fact, copies of a separate document written on behalf of Aḥmad b. Muḥammad Būbū al-Fulānī (locally known as Seeku Aamadu), to whom I will refer as Aḥmad Lobbo (d. 1845)—the founder of the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi, located in today’s Mali (1818–1862). On this document, which contains extensive quotes from the Tārīkh al-fattāsh, Dubois wrote:

  • 10  F. Dubois, 1969, p. 135.

[It is a]n Arabian work .… a little pamphlet of propaganda, written and disseminated by an influential marabut at the instigation of Cheikou Ahmadou [i.e. Aḥmad Lobbo]. The author pompously addresses himself to the whole of Africa; ‘to the sultans of Morocco, Tunis, and Algiers, to the Andalusians [...] to the populations living near the great seas (Atlantic), and to all people who are followers of Islam. The twelfth of the regenerating Khalifs, he after whom the Mahdi comes, is born. He is the Sheikh, the Emir of the Faithful, Ahmadou ben Mohammed [i.e. Aḥmad Lobbo], who is risen to restore the faith of the Lord and do battle for God in the Sudan’.10

4Dubois’ reference to the copies of this propaganda pamphlet as simple and quite irrelevant fragments of a complete and important chronicle (the Tārīkh al-fattāsh) has distracted scholars from appreciating this document as an independent literary construct. As a result, while scholars focused on the Tārīkh al-fattāsh, the propaganda pamphlet described by Dubois, which is crucial to understand the history of the chronicle itself, sank into oblivion.

  • 11  On these manuscripts, see O.V. Houdas, M. Delafosse, 1913, p. viii-xiii.
  • 12  O.V. Houdas, M. Delafosse, 1913, p. xii.

5A few years after Dubois’ visit to Timbuktu, the well-known Arabist Octave V. Houdas and the famous colonial scholar-administrator Maurice Delafosse received from Albert Bonnel de Mézières and Jules Brévié three manuscripts that they identified as copies of the Tārīkh al-fattāsh.11 According to Houdas and Delafosse, the three manuscripts, named MS A, MS B—actually a copy of MS A—and MS C, represent two different redactions of the same text. MS A preserves only an incomplete text, due to the loss of a few pages at the beginning. MS B, being a copy of MS A, also preserves the work only partially. MS C is complete and reproduces the whole text, from the beginning, where the title and the author are identified, to the end. In addition, MS C also includes passages that do not appear in the other two copies of the chronicle. By comparing the content of some of these passages with the propaganda pamphlet described by Dubois, Houdas and Delafosse concluded that these sections had been added at the time of Aḥmad Lobbo. To make sense of these manipulations, and of other inconsistencies they found in the manuscripts, Houdas and Delafosse came up with a theory on the apparently complex history of the Tārīkh al-fattāsh. According to this theory, the work was begun in 1519 by Maḥmūd Ka‘ti and subsequently updated by some of his family members, the last being a grandson known only as Ibn al-Mukhtār (fl. 1664–5). Eventually, the chronicle would have been “slightly modified” in the early 19th century by Aḥmad Lobbo with the addition of part of the text found in the pamphlet described by Dubois.12 Following the theory advanced by Houdas and Delafosse, MS C represents a copy of the work in the form circulated by Aḥmad Lobbo. They also argued that MS A—and its copy, MS B—is a version of the chronicle that did not conform to the 19th century vulgata and, because it lacked the prophecy, it had been deprived of its first part due to the censorship of the agents of Aḥmad Lobbo.

  • 13  O.V. Houdas, M. Delafosse, 1913, p. xiii.

6Although Houdas and Delafosse recognized that the Tārīkh al-fattāsh had gone through several textual manipulations, they had little doubt about the authenticity of the chronicle itself. As they triumphantly stated: “we find ourselves in the possession of all the elements necessary to reconstruct, more or less completely, a first order work on the history of the Soudan.”13 Consequently, collating the manuscripts at their disposal, they edited the resulting Arabic text and translated it into French in 1913.

  • 14  J.P. Brun, 1914.
  • 15  J.P. Brun, 1914, p. 596.
  • 16  J.P. Brun, 1914, p. 596.

7Since then, several scholars have stressed that the edition of the Tārīkh al-fattāsh is problematic concerning its authorship, title, textual variants, editorial manipulations, and historical inconsistencies. The first to contribute to the critical study of the chronicle was Joseph Brun.14 In reviewing Houdas and Delafosse’s edition, he introduces a very influential theory aimed at solving the issue of the extraordinarily long life of Maḥmūd Ka‘ti, as it reportedly emerges from the edited text: born in 1468, Maḥmūd Ka‘ti would have died in 1593 at the age of 125 years. Brun argued for the existence of two Maḥmūd Ka‘tis involved in the production of the Tārīkh al-fattāsh. According to his hypothesis, the first Maḥmūd Ka‘ti, born in 1468 and died in 1552–3, was the initiator of the chronicle, the “indisputable author” of a work titled Tārīkh al-fattāsh; this chronicle, Brun suggests, corresponded most likely to the first 5–6 chapters of the edited text.15 Maḥmūd Ka‘ti Iʼs work, following his hypothesis, was then continued by a homonymous relative of his who was born during the reign of Askiyà Muhammad (1493–1529) and who died in 1593. Lastly, Brun suggested that the 17th century Ibn al-Mukhtār was the “final redactor” of the chronicle in the form represented by the edited text.16 Unfortunately, Brun did not pay attention to the 19th century manipulations of the Tārīkh al-fattāsh, and his contribution, notwithstanding its importance, contains no reference to the propaganda pamphlet.

  • 17  J.O. Hunwick, 1969; M. Ly, 1972.
  • 18  See also J.O. Hunwick, 1992.
  • 19  J.O. Hunwick, 1969, p. 62.
  • 20  J.O. Hunwick, 1969, p. 63.
  • 21  J.O. Hunwick, 1969, p. 63.

8Brun’s theory was then accepted and expanded by John O. Hunwick and Madina Ly.17 In his contribution, Hunwick advances a new theory on the history of the chronicle, reiterated in a subsequent article that describes the chronicle as a work written originally by Maḥmūd Ka‘ti I, updated by generations of his descendants, and manipulated several times during its history.18 Some of these manipulations occurred between the 17th and the 19th century, when a series of passages concerning West African servile castes, present in MS C and absent in MS A, were expurgated.19 Eventually, at the time of Aḥmad Lobbo, a new revised version of the first chapter, which includes the prophecy in support of the caliph of Ḥamdallāhi and is also present in the “propaganda document,” was introduced into the chronicle.20 Despite his acknowledgement of the fact that the first chapter of the Tārīkh al-fattāsh had been rewritten at the time of Aḥmad Lobbo, Hunwick stated that the section in which the author discloses his identity, the title, and the subsequent lines in which the author sets forth his aims is “certainly genuine.”21 Interestingly, although Hunwick was well aware of the 19th century manipulation of the chronicle, he does not refer to the propaganda pamphlet at all.

  • 22  N. Levtzion, 1971.

9In 1971, Nehemia Levtzion published a path-breaking study on the Tārīkh al-fattāsh.22 Contrary to previous scholars, he argued that the Tārīkh al-Fattāsh is, in essence, the result of two separate moments of production: a 17th century work exclusively written by Ibn al-Mukhtār, plus some textual interpolations added on behalf of Aḥmad Lobbo, and thus dating back to the first half of the 19th century. Levtzion further suggests that the different manuscripts used by Houdas and Delafosse for their edition of the Tārīkh al-Fattāsh embody these two moments of production. While MS A represents an incomplete copy of the original chronicle by Ibn al-Mukhtār, MS C represents the vulgata of the work circulated in the early 19th century by Aḥmad Lobbo’s entourage, as already stated by Houdas and Delafosse.

  • 23  N. Levtzion, 1971, p. 573.
  • 24  N. Levtzion, 1971, p. 575.
  • 25  N. Levtzion, 1971, p. 576.
  • 26  N. Levtzion, 1971, p. 572, n. 6.

10By carefully analyzing the edited Arabic text, Levtzion argued that the passages absent from MS A but present in MS C were all interpolations of the 19th century.23 As the result of this theory, he convincingly suggested that Maḥmūd Ka‘ti neither lived an exceptionally long life nor was the author of the chronicle, not even of its first section. Employing exclusively the evidence from MS A and from the 17th century Tārīkh al-sūdān, according to Levtzion a more plausible biography of Maḥmūd Ka‘ti emerges: a scholar born sometime during Askiyà Muḥammad’s reign, most likely in the 1510s, associated with Askiyà Dawūd b. Askiyà Muḥammad (r. 1549–1583), and who died in 1593 aged 70 or 80.24 His association with the writing of the chronicle, and all the evidence of him as a late-15th–early-16th century figure, Levtzion concluded, are derived from MS C. Therefore, these sections are 19th century additions that aim at transforming Maḥmūd Ka‘ti into a reliable eyewitness of the prophecy foretelling the Aḥmad Lobbo’s role as rightful caliph of West Africa.25 Ironically, while Levtzion’s article is crucial for understanding the manipulations of the Tārīkh al-fattāsh in the 19th century, very little space is devoted to the propaganda pamphlet per se, in fact just a footnote.26

  • 27  M. Nobili, M.S. Mathee, 2015.
  • 28  The date of Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir’s death provided in J.O. Hunwick et al., 2003, p. 213 is not substanti (...)
  • 29  MS B was donated to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris where it is stored under the cal (...)

11In this article, I do not focus on the Tārīkh al-fattāsh itself, over which much ink has been spilt as noted above. Furthermore, I have recently devoted ample space to the topic in another contribution written with Mohammed S. Mathee.27 In that article, I have advanced my argument that the Tārīkh al-fattāsh was not written in the 16th century, nor in the 17th century, as scholars, starting with Dubois, have argued. The chronicle is a 19th century work written by Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir al-Fulānī, or simply Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir (d. 1857–8), one of Aḥmad Lobbo’s close counselors, but ascribed apocryphally to the early 16th century and to Maḥmūd Ka‘tī.28 The Tārīkh al-fattāsh—embodied in MS C employed by Houdas and Delafosse—was written in turn by reworking an older text written in the second half of the 17th century by one of Maḥmūd Ka‘ti’s grandsons, known only as “the son of al-Mukhtār” or Ibn al-Mukhtār in Arabic. The title of this chronicle is unknown, due to the loss of the first section in all the available manuscripts. Therefore, for lack of a better title, I refer to the latter chronicle as Tārīkh Ibn al-Mukhtār—preserved in MS A and its copy MS B of Houdas and Delafosse.29

  • 30  G. Genette, 1997, p. 229 (italics in the text).

12My theory is based on Levtzion’s study, but it distances itself from the latter’s arguments. First, I identify the real author of the Tārīkh al-fattāsh and stress that the title belongs only to the 19th century work. Furthermore, Levtzion overlooked that, in reworking the MS A / Tārīkh Ibn al-Mukhtār, not only did Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir add new passages, some up to several printed pages long, but in addition sometimes whole sentences, sometimes entire lengthy paragraphs, are in fact expurgated from MS C / Tārīkh al-fattāsh. I thus argue that the two texts employed by Houdas and Delafosse for their 1913 edition are not two recensions of the same work but two inherently different texts, following Gerard Genette’s suggestion that “[t]o reduce or augment a text is to produce another text … which derives from it, but not without altering it in various manners.”30

  • 31  P.F. de Moraes Farias, 2003, lxix, § 101.
  • 32  P.F. de Moraes Farias, 2003, p. xlvii, § 44. Even though de Moraes Farias focuses on the 17th cent (...)

13The Tārīkh Ibn al-Mukhtār and the Tārīkh al-fattāsh are different works from the textual point of view—even if, in fact, the bulk of the narrative remains shared by both texts, often verbatim. The Tārīkh Ibn al-Mukhtār and the Tārīkh al-fattāsh are also different from a rhetorical point of view, meaning, in Paulo de Moraes Farias’ words, the chronicles’ “literariness” and “constitutive rhetoric.”31 He stresses the importance of understanding “the politico-ideological agenda of the chronicle, and how this agenda might have influenced the historical reconstruction of the text.”32 Therefore, I suggest that the Tārīkh Ibn al-Mukhtār and the Tārīkh al-fattāsh should be approached as two different homogeneous texts with internal consistency and a pre-conceived rhetorical plan.

  • 33  J.O. Hunwick et al., 2003, p. 213.
  • 34  See C.C. Stewart, 1976 and B. Sanankoua, 1990.

14Instead of discussing the relationship between the Tārīkh Ibn al-Mukhtār and the Tārīkh al-fattāsh, in this present article I focus on the “fragments” collected by Dubois in Timbuktu, i.e. the propaganda pamphlet in support of Aḥmad Lobbo. The document was written by the abovementioned Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir and is today commonly referred to as the Risāla fī ẓuhūr al-khalīfa al-thānī ʻashar (henceforth Risāla), or the Letter on the appearance of the twelfth caliph.33 It was via the Risāla that the authorities of Ḥamdallāhi widely circulated the “proofs” in support of Aḥmad Lobbo’s legitimacy, which had been invented by Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir and incorporated in the fictitiously ancient Tārīkh al-fattāsh. In this article, I briefly introduce the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi and the role of literacy within the state. Then, I present Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir and provide the Arabic text of the Risāla, as well as its English translation. Finally, I analyze the document as a literary construct written in legitimation to the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi. The study of the Risāla opens a window on the issue of political legitimacy in 19th century Islamic West Africa, especially on the relationship between the two most important Islamic states of the time, the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi and its better-known rival, the so-called Sokoto Caliphate, already sketched in pioneering works by Charles C. Stewart and Bintou Sanankoua.34 At the same time, the study of the Risāla also helps in clarifying a century of misunderstanding by professional academics of the history of such an important primary source for precolonial African history as the Tārīkh al-fattāsh.

Literacy in the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi

  • 35  A. Smith, 1961.
  • 36  M. Last, 1967; J.R. Willis, 1967. The list of studies that have been devoted to these movements is (...)

15In 1961, at the dawn of African independence, Abdullahi (H.F.C.) Smith published a seminal article on the relevance of the 19th century Islamic revolutions in West Africa and the states that resulted from these movements, a theme that he argued had been “neglected” by historians.35 A few years later, Murray Last’s classic monograph The Sokoto Caliphate and John R. Willis’ article on the doctrinal basis of these movements—often referred to as West African jihāds—inaugurated a long series of works on the topic.36

  • 37  The main works on the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi are A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984 (originally published in (...)

16Among the different states founded by these movements is the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi (from the name of its capital)—also known as the Fulani Empire of Masina (from the ethnic group that initiated and sustained the movement and the name of the region in which the state emerged) or the Dina (from the Arabic word dīn, religion).37 The Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi was founded by Aḥmad Lobbo, who defeated, in the battle of Noukouma (close to Mopti) in 1818, a coalition of Bambara soldiers, Fulani warriors led by local Ardos and Pereejos—i.e. traditional Fulani chiefs of central Mali—and an army of Bobo, under the overlord of the region Da (d. 1827), the king of Segou. The Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi at its peak covered the area on the river Niger from Jenne to Gao. Eventually, the caliphate was crushed by the advance of the Toucouleur army led by ‘Umar b. Sa‘īd b. ‘Uthmān b. Mukhtār b. ‘Alī b. Mukhtār, known as al-ḥājj ‘Umar or ‘Umar Tall (d. 1864), who killed the third ruler Aḥmad b. Aḥmad b. Aḥmad b. Muḥammad Lobbo, or Aḥmad III (d. 1862), and conquered the capital Ḥamdallāhi in 1862.

17Hampaté Ba and Jacques Daget’s classic L’empire peul du Macina, William A. Brown’s PhD dissertation The Caliphate of Hamdullahi and Bintou Sanankoua’s 1990 monograph Un empire peul are the most relevant works on the topic and are all mainly based on oral traditions. This represents a paradox, since Ba, Brown, and Sanankoua all agree that the spread of Arabic literacy within the lands controlled by Aḥmad Lobbo is one of the most relevant achievements of the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi. The most recent addition, L’inspiration de l’éternel: Éloge de Shekou Amadou, fondateur de l’empire peul du Macina, an edition and translation of Muḥammad b. ‘Alī Pereejo’s (fl. 1845) Fatḥ al-ṣamad fī dhikr shay’ min ahlāq shaykhina Aḥmad, published under the coordination of George Bohas, represents a first step towards a serious evaluation of the written heritage of the caliphate. Indeed, West African literati under the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi produced a huge corpus of Arabic documentation, mainly composed of correspondence and dispatches resulting from the centralization and bureaucratization of the state.

  • 38  The Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi comprised five provinces (ley’de, sing. leydi): Masina (from Jafarabé (...)
  • 39  On the administration of the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi, see A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 59-80.
  • 40  J.M. Bloom, 2008, p. 45.
  • 41  T. Walz, 2011, p. 97.
  • 42  G. Lydon, 2004, p. 244.
  • 43  A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 45.

18The caliphate was characterized by a strong centralized power based in the capital and constituted by the caliph and by his batu mawdo, the great council of forty ‘ulamā’. From Ḥamdallāhi, the provinces of the caliphate were controlled according to a strict application of the Islamic Law following the Malikī school.38 The centralization of the state was made possible by transformations in human and technological factors. Under the rule of Aḥmad Lobbo, the local authorities were selected among the freeborn and people literate in Arabic, and were usually accompanied by a group of ‘clergy’ including a qāḍī in charge of the application of the law.39 This process placed the local ‘ulamā’ into an unprecedented position of power as administrators throughout the territories controlled by Ḥamdallāhi. Furthermore, the 19th century witnessed a technological revolution in West Africa, represented by the more extensive availability of paper. While inks and pens had been produced locally, paper-making technology was never developed in West Africa until the colonial period.40 From the 17th century, paper started to figure among the goods imported from North Africa south of the Sahara.41 However, the availability of this writing support increased in an unparalleled scale only in the 19th century, and “the large availability of paper in the nineteenth century goes a long way in explaining the remarkable growth in scholarly production and library collection in this period.”42 This combination of human and technological factors allowed the development of a bureaucratic apparatus. The orders that emanated from the capital were circulated through a capillary system of letters and dispatches sent from the center of the caliphate to the different local administrative units. For example, Hampate Ba records a tradition according to which, after the foundation around 1819 of the capital city of Ḥamdallāhi, Aḥmad Lobbo sent a circular instructing all the owners of pirogues under his control to send their boats to help the relocation of the inhabitants of Noukouma, the ancient capital, to the new one.43

  • 44  A.M. Yattara, B. Salvaing, 2003, p. 212.
  • 45  A.M. Yattara, B. Salvaing, 2003, p. 214.
  • 46  See the catalogue of the collection, N. Ghali, S.M. Mahibou, L. Brenner, 1985, and the online, mos (...)
  • 47  For a catalogue of the de Gironcourt collection, see M. Nobili, 2013.
  • 48  On the IHERI-AB, see M. OuldYoubba, 2008 and the partial catalogue S.A. OuldEly, 1995–1998, includ (...)

19The documentation produced under the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi did not survive as a homogeneous corpus. Some of these manuscripts were destroyed after al-ḥājj ‘Umar conquered Ḥamdallāhi in 1862.44 Those that survived the conquest of the caliphate were centralized into the private collection of Aḥmad al-Kabīr al-Madanī (d. 1898), successor of al-ḥājj ‘Umar, in Segou.45 In turn, this collection was looted by Colonel Louis Archinard (d. 1932) after the French conquest of the city in 1892 and is today stored at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.46 Other manuscripts remained in the region of the caliphate. The French explorer Georges de Gironcourt (d. 1960) copied some of them during his 1911–2 mission in West Africa and eventually donated these copies to the Institut de France.47 Others were collected, starting from the 1970s, by the Centre de Documentation et de Recherches Ahmed Baba (CEDRAB)—re-named, in the 2000s, Institut des Hautes Études et de Recherches Islamiques Ahmed-Baba (IHERI-AB).48 Most likely, other important documents are still available in the core of the area controlled by the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi, but no extensive research of the manuscript landscape of the region has been conducted in the past, and the current political instability of Mali makes it impossible to make an exhaustive assessment of the documentation left on the ground.

  • 49  A. Zebadia, 1974; A. Ould Daddah, 1977; I. Traore, 2012; H.A. Diakite, 2015.
  • 50  For an introduction to the Kunta family, see A. Batran, 1979.

20Nonetheless, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the Institute de France, and IHERI-AB host a large number of manuscripts that provides scholars with a window on the wider documentation produced during the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi. These manuscripts concern various aspects of the everyday life and administration, from slavery to dowries, from apostasy to moral dress code, from local rebellions to the relationship between the caliphate and foreign political entities. Unfortunately, this documentation has not been adequately explored, and only four unpublished PhD dissertations employ some of these materials, but in a marginal way.49 Among these dissertations, Ismail Traore’s work attempts to provide a comprehensive list of manuscripts from IHERI-AB covering the relationship between the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi and the Kunta, the influential nomadic Moorish scholarly tribe based in Timbuktu since the 1820s and representing one of the major political actors in 19th century West Africa.50

  • 51  W.A. Brown, 1969, p. 139.
  • 52  M. Last, 1987, p. 32.

21In spite of this large quantity of documentation, the level of local scholarship in the caliphate was not particularly advanced, and other local scholars criticized the “shallowness and inflexibility” of the ‘ulamā’ of the Ḥamdallāhi.51 Aḥmad Lobbo and his supporters “seemed to have been distinguished more for their piety and zeal that for their scholarship.”52 Murray Last groups Muslim scholars in West Africa under two broad categories of literati. The first category includes

  • 53  M. Last, 2011, p. 201.

[t]hose [scholars] that were good preachers but relatively poor Arabists; they provided local ritual services as well as medicines and amulets. It seems it was they who attracted the most converts to Islam in the 18th century …. They had the title of “Shaykh,” and they were Sufis too …. Many a remote Muslim village or hamlet still today has such a scholar nearby who does the burials, the marriages, the naming ceremonies for everyone; he leads the prayer on Friday, but his command of Arabic is limited and his stock of books is minimal.53

  • 54  M. Last, 2011, p. 202.
  • 55  For a discussion about the scholars in the region before Aḥmad Lobbo and during the years of the c (...)
  • 56  W.A. Brown, 1969, p. 104.
  • 57  H.A. Diakite, 2015.

22The second category of scholars comprises those who were “[g]ood Arabists … bookmen-teachers who owned or memorized books, and taught them to students.”54 It seems that the bulk of the scholars in the region of the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi belonged the first category, that of lower-level literati.55 According to Brown, the only two scholars who stood out from this mediocre level of scholarship and “achieved fame beyond Hamdullahi” were Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir al-Fullānī and al-Mukhtār b. Wadī‘at Allāh al-Māsinī, known as Yirkoy Talfi (d. c. 1862).56 Hienin Ali Diakite recently devoted his PhD dissertation to Yirkoi Talfi;57 I focus my attention now on Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir.

Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir al-Fulānī

  • 58 A.K. Diallo, 1988; M. Diagayeté, 2006–2007, p. 109-110.
  • 59 A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984; W.A. Brown, 1969. My profile of Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir life is reconstructed on t (...)

23Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir is a prominent figure in the intellectual landscape of 19th century West Africa, but he has seldom attracted the attention of scholars. The only two sketches devoted to his life and literary production are available in two secondary sources that are unfortunately difficult to access: Mohammed Diagayeté’s PhD dissertation in Arabic and Ali Koulogo Diallo’s chapter in the ISESCO volume Culture et civilisation islamique: Mali.58 Scattered information can be also found in primary sources, both written (Arabic manuscripts) and oral (traditions recorded by Ba and Daget, as well as Brown).59

  • 60 Brown suggests that Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir was part Songhay and part Fulani, without citing his source (W. (...)

24His full name was Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir Balkū b. Abī Bakr b. Mūsà al-Fulānī, of the Dibanabe sub-clan of the Yirlabe Fulani.60 According to the traditions collected by Diallo, Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir was born in 1151/1738 in Dari, in the region of Fittuga, in an affluent Muslim family who held political and spiritual power in the region. He learned the Qur’ān at a young age in the kuttāb (elementary school), then became a shepherd and a warrior following traditional Fulani customs. One day, at the age of 40, while grazing his flock around Timbuktu, he decided to pursue the path of empirical knowledge (‘ilm) and intuitive insight (ma‘rifa). He shaved his head and moved to the town of Arawān where he became a student of ‘Alī b. al-Najīb (fl. mid-18th century) for a number of years. He subsequently attached himself to one of the latter’s students, the well-known al-Mukhtār b. Aḥmad b. Abī Bakr al-Kuntī al-Wāfī, known as al-Mukhtār al-Kuntī al-Kabīr (d. 1811). After completing his training under the Kunta shaykh’s tutelage, Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir decided to undertake the Pilgrimage in c. 1808, but on his way to Mecca he stopped in what is today’s northern Nigeria and became for three years a student of ‘Uthmān b. Muḥammad Fodiye b. Muḥammad b. ‘Uthmān b. Ṣāliḥ al- Fallātī al-Ash‘ārī al-Mālikī, or simply ‘Uthmān b. Fūdī (d. 1817), the leader of the Sokoto state.

  • 61  A.K. Diallo, 1988, p. 223.

25Around 1811, ‘Uthmān b. Fūdī instructed his pupil to go to the Masina against the latter’s original decision to travel to Mecca to perform the Pilgrimage. The Sokoto leader foretold that in the Masina a new Islamic state was about to emerge and that Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir himself was destined to play a relevant role in it. When he left ‘Uthmān b. Fūdī, Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir returned instead to al-Mukhtār al-Kuntī. Upon the demise of the latter after a few months, Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir remained with Muḥammad b. al-Mukhtār b. Abī Bakr al-Kuntī al-Wāfī (d. 1825–6), or simply Muḥammad al-Kuntī, the eldest son and successor of al-Mukhtār al-Kuntī al-Kabīr, until 1820. In this year Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir was sent to serve as an advisor to Fulani ruler of Kunari, Guéladjo Hambodedjo (d. after 1855), who by then had already acknowledged the dominance of the nascent Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi. One of Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir’s services to Guéladjo Hambodedjo was to manage the official correspondence of his patron, a duty in which he excelled. In this capacity, he caught the personal attention of Aḥmad Lobbo, who appointed, after Guéladjo Hambodedjo’s rebellion of 1824–5, Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir as personal adviser and confident. Almost immediately, his learning and piety made him “the second most influential personality” in the Caliphate after Aḥmad Lobbo.61 He continued to serve Aḥmad b. Aḥmad Lobbo, or Aḥmad II (d. 1853), second leader of Ḥamdallāhi, and supported his son Aḥmad III (d. 1862) during the disputes around the succession. Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir eventually retired to Niakongo in 1852, where he died in 1857–8.

  • 62  A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 114, n. 114; W.A. Brown, 1969, p. 189, n. 54. Among the different sour (...)

26The above narration, and especially the account of the early life of Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir before he joined the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi, resembles more a mythical account than an accurate biography. This results in Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir’s early life being shrouded in mystery. The sources agree that he died during the time of Aḥmad III, and several 19th century annals of the Middle Niger record the exact date as 1274/1857–8.62 By accepting the date of birth as 1738, Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir would have died at the unlikely age of 122. Furthermore, accepting this date, he would have studied with ‘Uthmān b. Fūdī in his early 70s and then joined Aḥmad Lobbo at the advanced age of 82. All this evidence pushes the date of birth of Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir later in the 18th century, sometime around the 1770s. In this way, at the age of about 30 he could have been a pupil of al-Mukhār al-Kuntī (but not of ‘Alī b. al-Najīb, who was already dead at the time) and then joined the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi in his early 60s, a mature age that would have made him suitable for the important positions he covered under Aḥmad Lobbo. Likewise, the story of Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir’s stay in Sokoto is an episode that also seems to be fictional and is not supported by any source except for the oral traditions recorded by Ba and Daget.

  • 63  A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 64.
  • 64  A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 251, n. 3.
  • 65  A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 74.
  • 66  A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 70.
  • 67  A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 49.
  • 68  See I. Traore, 2012.

27The available sources agree in presenting Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir as a scholar who played a crucial role in the history of the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi. He was the “doyen” of the batu mawdo since the time when he joined Aḥmad Lobbo’s cause.63 Among the forty scholars sitting in the assembly, Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir was also one of the two permanent counselors of the caliph.64 Within the council, Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir occupied several important positions: he was among the scholars in charge of discussing the selection of the regional chiefs with Aḥmad Lobbo;65 he mediated the disputes between the batu mawdo and the military authorities, overseeing the work of sixty “arbiters” assigned to this task;66 he was in charge of the 600 schools in Ḥamdallāhi.67 Furthermore, as a former student of the Kunta, Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir acted as mediator between Ḥamdallāhi and the Kunta shaykhs from the turbulent region of Timbuktu throughout the time he served Aḥmad Lobbo, as the correspondence presented by Traore testifies.68

  • 69  A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 248-251.
  • 70  A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 252.
  • 71  A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 254.
  • 72  A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 48. On Aḥmad Lobbo explicitly requesting Nuḥ b. al-Ṭāhir to be buried (...)

28The influence of Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir emerged stronger in Ḥamdallāhi with the approach of Aḥmad Lobbo’s death, as some traditions recorded by Ba and Daget suggest. It is claimed that Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir chaired the assembly of ulamā’ that chose Aḥmad II as successor to the caliphate, and it was he, along with Aḥmad Lobbo in person, who settled the dispute with the other candidate, the caliph’s nephew Balobbo, and his supporters.69 After the death of Aḥmad Lobbo, Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir washed the caliph’s body.70 Furthermore, Ba and Dage record that Aḥmad II felt inadequate to fill his father’s position and abdicated in favor of Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir, but that the latter convinced the heir to the caliphate to accept the position and to succeed Aḥmad Lobbo as caliph of Ḥamdallāhi.71 After Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir’s death in Niakongo, his body was returned to Ḥamdallāhi where he was buried next to Aḥmad Lobbo and the latter’s son Aḥmad II as explicitly requested by the founder of the caliphate himself.72 Even the third generation of leaders of the caliphate recognized the importance of Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir, as epitomized by an anecdote recorded by Brown:

  • 73  W.A. Brown, 1969, p. 189, n. 54.

At death, Alfa Nuh [Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir]’s body was carried from Niakongo to Hamdullahi on the backs of the machube [slaves] while the nobles rode horseback. When ’Ahmad Ahmad (III) saw this, he criticized the nobles for having failed to obtain a blessing by having carried the body of Alfa Nuh themselves.73

  • 74  The list of Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir’s works provided in J.O. Hunwick et al., 2003, p. 213, is incomplete.
  • 75  This work is available in two manuscripts copies: IHERI-AB 3126 and Institut des Recherches en Sci (...)
  • 76  IHERI-AB 8912.

29As for his intellectual contribution to Islamic scholarship in 19th century West Africa, none of Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir’s works have been analyzed by scholars or published so far.74 Some of his writings survived in manuscript format, covering very different topics. He authored the Sharḥ lāmiyāt al-af‘āl, a commentary on the Lāmiyyat al-afʿāl (also known as al-Miftāḥ fī abniyat al-afʿāl) by Jamāl al-Dīn Muḥammad b. ʿAbd Allāh b. Mālik al-Jayyānī, known as Ibn Mālik (d. 1274), a work on Arabic morphology (ṣarf) very popular in West Africa;75 a treatise on the peculiar virtues of the Prophet (Maktūb fī khaṣā’iṣ al-Nābī);76 and the widespread Risāla in support of his patron Aḥmad Lobbo. It is to this latter document that I now turn my attention.

The “Letter on the appearance of the twelfth caliph” (Risāla fī ẓuhūr al-khalīfa al-thānī ʻashar)

  • 77  Al-Andalus is a term that seems to have been used in the correspondence of the Caliphate of Ḥamdal (...)
  • 78  I recently found this copy of the Risāla during a research stay in Dakar, July–August 2015. Notwit (...)

30The Risāla is a propaganda pamphlet written by Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir in the shape of a circular letter that exists in two versions: the first addressed to Moorish tribes of the Western Sahara; the second to anonymous leaders of cities and countries, including an anachronistic al-Andalus.77 With 17 manuscript copies extant (to the best of my knowledge), the Risāla is one of the most widespread documents of precolonial Islamic West Africa. Just at the Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques – Ahmed-Baba of Timbuktu/Bamako, Mali are preserved eight copies (IHERI-AB 479, 4220, 4840, 8783, 8967, 8996, 9728, 11098). Another Malian collection, the Maktabat Mamma Haidara Tadhkīriyya in Timbuktu/Bamako, hosts one more copy (MMHT 3392). Other West African manuscript repositories have copies of the Risāla: the Institut des Recherches en Sciences Humaines in Niamey, Niger (IRSH 1711), and the Institut fondamental d’Afrique Noire in Dakar, Senegal (IFAN, Fonds Brevié, Dahomey [Nord-Ouest], Documents Historiques, Cahier n. 25 [ff. 20a-23b]).78 Further copies are also available in France, at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (5259 [74a-78b]; 5259 [79a-84b]; 6756 [31a-42b]) and at the Institut de France – Fonds de Gironcourt (2405[2]/I, 2405[2]/II, 2406[73]).

31I collected 11 of these 17 manuscripts. For the edition of the text that follows, I did not consider one manuscript that I collected, IF, Fonds de Gironcourt, ms. 2405 (2)/I. It is a copy made by one Abdou, interpreter in Timbuktu. However, the copy was so poorly realized that de Gironcourt had another one (the abovementioned IF, Fonds de Gironcourt, ms. 2405 (2)/II) made for him. On the basis of the ten remaining manuscripts (referred to as MS 1 to MS 10 according to a simple alphabetical order) I hereby edit the text of the Risāla and translate it into English:

  • MS 1 and MS 2: BnF, Arabe 5259 (74a-75b) and BnF, Arabe 5259 (79a-84b). Both manuscripts are part of a miscellaneous manuscript donated by Dubois to the Bibliothèque Nationale on 30 December 1896.79

  • MS 3: BnF, Arabe 6756 (31a-42b). It is also part of a miscellanea manuscript that entered the Bibliothèque Nationale in 1925 under unclear circumstances.80

    • 81  M. Nobili, 2013, p. 211-213.

    MS 4: IF, Fonds de Gironcourt, 2405 (2)/II. It was copied in Timbuktu on 10 November 1911 by Muḥammad al-Suyūṭī (d. 1928–9), a prominent scholar and local muqaddam of the Tijāniyya Sufi order, for the French explorer de Gironcourt.81

    • 82  M. Nobili, 2013, p. 215-216.

    MS 5: IF, Fonds de Gironcourt, 2406 (73). Also copied in Timbuktu for de Gironcourt, on 19 January 1912, by a copyist named “Lehabib ben Zeïni,” sharīf from Walata, but resident in Timbuktu.82

    • 83  On Aḥmad Būl‘arāf, see S. Jeppie, 2011, 2015a and 2015b.

    MS 6: IHERI-AB 479. Incomplete manuscript that was copied, as it emerges from the unique handwriting, by the Timbuktu-based Moroccan bibliophile Aḥmad b. Mbārak b. Barka b. Muḥammad al-Mūsā-ū-‘Alī al-Takanī al-Wādnūnī al-Sūsī al-Timbuktī, better known as Aḥmad Bul‘arāf (d. 1955).83

  • MS 7: IHERI-AB 4840. Incomplete manuscript.

  • MS 8: IHERI-AB 8967.

    • 84  My reading of the Arabic for Diallo and Kirshamba is tentative (in Arabic جل  and كرسمب).

    MS 9: IHERI-AB 9728. It was copied by one Maḥmūd b. ‘Abd al-Raḥmān b. ‘Uthmān b. al-ḥājj ‘Abd al-Raḥmān b. Isma‘īl b. Muḥammad Kūrdu [Gordo] b. Mālik al-Fulānī, of the Diallo Fulani group, resident in Kirshamba.84

  • MS 10: MMHT 3392.

32Read “Letter on the appearance of the twelfth caliph” (Risāla fī ẓuhūr al-khalīfa al-thānī ʻashar). Edition of the Arabic Text with English Translation

Commentary

  • 85  An excellent study of occupational groups in West Africa is T. Tamari, 1997.
  • 86  J.O. Hunwick, 1969; N. Levtzion, 1971; B. Hall, 2011, p. 69-74.

33The core argument of the Risāla is that Aḥmad Lobbo, the caliph of Ḥamdallāhi, is the legitimate Muslim authority in West Africa and that textual evidence, namely the Tārīkh al-fattāsh, supports this claim. A second important topic found in the letter concerns slavery and consists of an attempt to impose the status of “slaves of the crown” on some West African occupational groups.85 In the part of the article that follows, I will not pay attention to the issue of slavery, briefly touched upon by Hunwick and Levtzion in their studies on the Tārīkh al-fattāsh and, more recently, by Bruce Hall in his work on race in Islamic West Africa.86 Instead, I will focus on the issue of the legitimacy of the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi and on how the Risāla constructs such legitimacy.

  • 87  M. Last, 1987, p. 32.
  • 88  G. Bohas, A. Saguer, B. Salvaing, D.E. Kouloughli, 2011, p. 38 (italics in the text).
  • 89  Arma is the collective name by which became known the descendants of the soldiers sent from Morocc (...)
  • 90  See C.C. Stewart, 1976 and B. Sanankoua, 1990, p. 57-61.

34Before the battle of Noukouma, the founding leader of the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi Aḥmad Lobbo was an outsider in the intellectual and ruling circles of the time. As stressed by Last, Aḥmad Lobbo “was born of a minor scholar family from one of the less important Fulbe clans.”87 He did not belong to any known group of ‘ulamā’ of the Niger Bend, or to any prominent family in charge of temporal power in the region. He was the “homo novus” in the political and intellectual life of the western part of the Niger Bend.88 Therefore, when his popularity started to increase, Aḥmad Lobbo clashed with both the temporal leaders of the area, the Ardos, and the local intellectual establishment centered in Jenne and related to the Arma aristocracy.89 Eventually, after the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi emerged as a regional power, Aḥmad Lobbo also collided with the other major West African Islamic state of the time, the Sokoto Caliphate.90 The Risāla inscribes itself in this context of struggle to secure temporal and spiritual legitimacy, a crucial issue in the propaganda of 19th century Islamic movements.

  • 91  L. Brenner, 2001, p. 21.

35As in all the post-jihād states in West Africa, the legitimacy of the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi rested on the implementation of Islamic Law based on the “correct” interpretation of its sources. However, as Louis Brenner underlines, “[t]his is only part of the story. If claims to legitimacy rest in part on a demonstrable command of Islamic knowledge, they also rest on local social and political practices, and indeed on varying social and political strategies.”91 The strategy put in place by the authorities of the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi with the Risāla and the Tārīkh al-fattāsh was a sophisticated manipulation of local historiography and the invention of a series of events associated with the Pilgrimage of the celebrated ruler of the West African Songhay state, Askiyà al-ḥājj Muḥammad (d. 1538), which culminates in a prophecy foretelling the arrival of Aḥmad Lobbo as the legitimate Muslim authority of West Africa.

  • 92  Hunwick has demonstrated that this character is fictitious and that there was no sharīf of Mecca c (...)
  • 93  For a biography of Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī, see E.M. Sartain, 1975. E.M. Sartain, 1971 is a synthet (...)
  • 94  The history and usages of the name Takrūr are analyzed in al-Naqar, 1969.
  • 95  On al-Maghīlī, see J.O. Hunwick, 1985, p. 29-48 and J.O. Hunwick et al., 1995, p. 20-25. On al-Tha (...)

36According to the narrative reported in the Risāla as a quotation from the Tārīkh al-fattāsh, while in the Arabian Peninsula to perform the Pilgrimage Askiyà al-ḥājj Muḥammad was made caliph of West Africa by a fictitious prince of Mecca named Mūlāy al-‘Abbās.92 Mūlāy al-‘Abbās also informed the Songhay ruler that he was the eleventh of 12 caliphs foretold by the Prophet Muḥammad in a famous ḥadīth. On his way back to West Africa from the Pilgrimage, the narrative continues, Askiyà al-ḥājj Muḥammad stopped in Cairo where he met the well-known Egyptian polymath Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī (d. 1505).93 Asked for clarification about the ḥadīth concerning the 12 caliphs, Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī explained that ten of these caliphs had already lived before his time, while two more were yet to come. Both of them were expected to come from the land of Takrūr, i.e. West Africa.94 Askiyà al-ḥājj Muḥammad was one of the two caliphs, while the second would come after him. The profile of the twelfth caliph as sketched by Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī makes the identification with Aḥmad Lobbo immediate: he would be named Aḥmad, the son of Muḥammad, from the Sangare Bari, and his power would emerge at the beginning of the 13th century hijrī in the region of Sebera—Aḥmad Lobbo’s father name was Muḥammad, he was from the Fulani group of the Sangare Bari, and the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi emerged in Sebera, between the Bani and the Niger, where Noukouma is located, at the beginning of 19th century, i.e. 13th century hijrī. The narrative proceeds with the statement that the words of al-Suyūṭī corresponded to those of Muḥammad b. ‘Abd al-Karīm al-Maghīlī al-Tilimsānī, or simply al-Maghīlī (d. 1504–5), and that Abū Zayd ‘Abd al-Rab. Muḥammad b. Makhlūf al-Jazā’irī al-Tha‘ālibī (d. 1468) had also prophesized the arrival of the two caliphs of Takrūr.95 Finally, the Risāla reports that al-Maghīlī also ordered Askiyà al-ḥājj Muḥammad to write a letter to Aḥmad Lobbo, the twelfth caliph, to officially invest the latter as his heir.

  • 96  On al-Jilānī, see Encyclopaedia of Islam, v. 1, p. 69-70.

37The use of prophecies to back up political claims is a well-established practice in the region. For example, just a few years before the emergence of the Caliphate of Hamdallāhi, ‘Uthmān b. Fūdī’s mission that led to the formation of the Sokoto Caliphate was justified by a vision in which he was given “the Sword of Truth” by ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Jilānī (d. 1166), the founder of the Qādiriyya brotherhood.96 In ‘Uthmān b. Fūdī’s work known alternatively as Wird or Lammā balaghtu, the story narrates his encounter with the Prophet, the Rightly Guided Caliphs (Abū Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthmān, and ‘Alī), and al-Jilāni:

  • 97  Quoted in M. Hiskett, 1994, p. 66. On the Wird, see J.O. Hunwick et al., 1993, p. 79-80.

He [al-Jilānī] sat me down, and clothed me and enturbaned me. Then he addressed me as the “Imam of the saints” and commanded me to do what is approved of and forbade me to do what is disapproved of; and he girded me with the Sword of Truth, to unsheathe it against the enemies of God.97

  • 98  See, for example, the use of prophecies in both Christian and Islamic Ethiopia (Encyclopaedia Aeth (...)

38These types of prophecies employed in support of political and spiritual claims were not limited to West Africa, nor to the local Islamic world, but were widespread beyond the regions and the limits of the African Islamic world.98

  • 99  P.F. de Moraes Farias, 2003, p. lxix, § 102.
  • 100  P.F. de Moraes Farias, 2003, p. lxxiii, § 114.

39In this broader context of prophecies, the Risāla emerges not as a naïve story of a fantastic event, but as a complex narrative that expands on a rhetorical device first set in place in the 17th century chronicles of Timbuktu. These works, as demonstrated by Moraes Farias, present an unprecedented “synthetic historical narrative” of West African history, from a distant mythical past to c. 1650.99 Characteristic of this narrative is a continuous line of legitimate rulers from the Zā dynasty to the Arma Pashās, but it is best represented by the reign of Askiyà al-ḥājj Muḥammad, the “icon of ideal rulership.”100

40By referring to this literature, Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir reattaches, via the prophecy, Aḥmad Lobbo to the long tradition of legitimate temporal rulers of West Africa prolonging this continuous line up to the 19th century. The Risāla transforms the caliph of Ḥamdallāhi into the inheritor of Askiyà al-ḥājj Muḥammad. In fact, as emerges from the Risāla, Aḥmad Lobbo is depicted as superior to Askiyà al-ḥājj Muḥammad: he will succeed where Askiyà al-ḥājj Muḥammad failed, i.e. in opening up the land of Borgo; he will be more learned than Askiyà al-ḥājj Muḥammad; he will revive the faith, whereas Askiyā al-ḥājj Muḥammad’s descendants had destroyed it. As a consequence, Aḥmad Lobbo becomes the apogee of a 1000-year-old royal tradition in West Africa.

  • 101  Abū Dawūd, Sunan, v . 2, p. 151 (№ 4279).
  • 102  U.M. Bugaje, 1991, deals with the phenomenon of Islamic reform in West Africa until the beginning (...)
  • 103  Abū Dawūd, Sunan, v . 2, p. 156 (№ 4291).
  • 104  J.O. Hunwick, 1978, p. 81.

41The Risāla goes further by attributing to Aḥmad Lobbo another type of authority, which rests on solid Islamic sources. A well-known ḥadīth, the one referred to by Mulāy al-‘Abbās, reports Muḥammad’s statement that the order established by Islam would continue to stand during the reign of 12 caliphs, after which anarchy would ensue. Several versions of this tradition exist, among which, for example: “This religion will remain upright until there will be twelve caliphs under whom the entire umma unites.”101 However, apart from the Rightly Guided Caliphs, Muslims did not agree on the identity of the other caliphs, and many speculations have developed throughout Islamic history on this topic. By exploiting the disagreement about the identity of the caliphs, Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir makes several authorities (both invented figures like Mulāy al-‘Abbās and real scholars like Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī and al-Maghīlī) agree that Askiyā al-ḥājj Muḥammad was the eleventh caliph and that Aḥmad Lobbo was going to be the twelfth. But, ambiguously, Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir refers to Aḥmad Lobbo not only as the twelfth caliph, but also as mujaddid, or “renewer of the faith.”102 This term echoes another famous ḥadīth that, in one of its available versions, states: “God will send to this community at the turn of every century someone who will restore religion.”103 As for the ḥadīth on the 12 caliphs, Muslims have also been in disaccord about the names of the renewers of the faith, and their identity was never agreed upon, being in Hunwick’s words “a vox populi.”104 In summary, Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir makes the claim, via the Risāla, that Aḥmad Lobbo was at the same time the rightful West African ruler, the twelfth caliph mentioned by the Prophet, and the renewer of Islam.

  • 105  IF, Fonds de Gironcourt, 2410 (174). On the chronicle, see M. Nobili, M.S. Mathee, 2015, p. 66-67.
  • 106  M. Nobili, M.S. Mathee, 2015.

42However, the Risāla records only the events of Askiyà al-ḥājj Muḥammad’s Pilgrimage and the prophecy as a lengthy quotation from the Tārīkh al-fattāsh, allegedly written by Maḥmūd Ka‘ti. Regardless of this apocryphal ascription, a short chronicle, whose only copy preserved today is a manuscript in the de Gironcourt collection at the Institut de France in Paris, attributes unambiguously the narrative of the Pilgrimage and the rhetorical strategies employed in support of Aḥmad Lobbo’s legitimacy to Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir.105 This document was most likely a draft, not meant for circulation since its ascription to Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir would have revealed the author’s tendentiousness and exposed his ploy: after all, Nūh b. al-Ṭāhir was notoriously associated with Aḥmad Lobbo. Therefore, the story invented by Nuḥ b. al-Ṭāhir was ascribed to the well-known West African scholar active in Timbuktu, Maḥmūd Ka‘ti, who was a historical figure mentioned several times in the existing chronicles. Notwithstanding some problems of anachronism, Maḥmūd Ka‘ti is made part of the entourage of scholars who performed the Pilgrimage with Askiyà al-ḥājj Muḥammad and is transformed into an eyewitness of the prophecy foretelling the arrival of Aḥmad Lobbo and providing him with legitimacy. These events would have been then recorded by Maḥmūd Ka‘ti in the Tārīkh al-fattāsh, which was in fact written by Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir on the basis of the 17th century Tārīkh Ibn al-Mukhtār, as I have advanced in my contribution on the topic.106 In this way, the narrative of Askiyà al-ḥājj Muḥammad’s Pilgrimage is transformed into a genuine historical event, a veritable source that could be employed by Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir as solid “proof” of both temporal and spiritual legitimacy for Aḥmad Lobbo.

The reception of the Risāla and its date

43The Risala was circulated within the territories of the caliphate via the administrative networks of Ḥamdallāhi. The availability of multiple copies of the Risala by Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir seems to testify that the document was effectively disseminated in the territories controlled by Ḥamdallāhi. The text of the pamphlet itself also provides an interesting indication of how the document was circulated. Copies were sent to different towns and villages via couriers. Local chiefs were in turn asked to have the document copied and circulated, while the couriers were also in charge of reading the documents in front of the population, in a fashion that was apparently common to West Africa. For example, the French explorer and “discoverer” of Timbuktu, René Caillié (d. 1838), witnessed a similar occasion during his stay in Fouta Djallon:

  • 107  R. Caillié, 1830, v. 1, p. 218.

I went to the evening prayer where, contrary to custom, I found a great number of Mandingoes assembled. On leaving the mosque they all formed a circle round the old chief. He made a short speech, informing them that a messenger had arrived from Timbo with a circular letter, which should be read to them, and to which he requested them to pay attention. A marabout who was seated beside him then read the letter aloud.107

  • 108  J. Goody, 1971, p. 72. The concept of the “threat of force” comes from L. Brenner, 2001, p. 23.
  • 109  M. Diagayeté, 2014–2015, p. 69.
  • 110  IF, Fonds de Gironcourt, 2406 (66).
  • 111  West and south-west and south-east of Ḥamdallāhi were the Bambara and Mossi non-Islamic states.

44In the areas within the territories directly controlled by the central authority of Ḥamdallāhi, Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir’s pamphlet might have strengthened Aḥmad Lobbo’s authority with Islamic legitimacy, which was guaranteed by the “threat of force” characteristic of post-jihād Islamic states, based on the control of what Jack Goody has described as the “means of destruction.”108 However, the Risāla differs substantially from the other known documents that the central authority of Ḥamdallāhi circulated at the time, which were usually very short, as Diagayeté highlights.109 The brevity of these documents, such as for example a short dispatch on dress code and men–women relationships that is preserved in the Fonds de Gironcourt, made the documents very suitable to be read in public.110 On the contrary, the long and complex text of Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir’s pamphlet seems not to be appropriate for internal circulation and public reading. The Risāla belongs to a different type of written production, which resembles more the writings of the Kunta, or the production of the Sokoto leaders. The letter written by Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir seems to be an announcement aimed at targeting regions that were not directly controlled by the caliphate. If the reference to remote regions like Egypt or Maghreb are most likely a flamboyant literary embellishment to provide further prestige to Aḥmad Lobbo’s claims, the focus of the letter is the West African Muslim communities neighboring the caliphate: in the north, the nomadic groups of Saharan tribes (Arabs and Tuaregs) gravitating around trading centers such as Timbuktu; and in the east, the Sokoto Caliphate.111

  • 112  See B. Hall, 2011, p. 98-101. On arguments concerning race, Islam, and authority in West Africa, s (...)
  • 113  G. Lydon, 2009, p. 309-310.
  • 114  See the poems written by anonymous poets of Walāta for Aḥmad Lobbo, G. Bohas, A. Saguer, B. Salvai (...)

45Arab-speaking tribes of the Western Saharan were concerned about the legitimacy of the caliphate and the claims of Aḥmad Lobbo. This emerges explicitly from a fatwà issued by al-Mukhtār al-Kuntī al-Ṣaghīr b. Muḥammad b. al-Mukhtār b. Abī Bakr al-Kuntī, or simply al-Mukhtār al-Kuntī al-Ṣaghīr (d. 1847), in which the mufti is asked by one Aḥmad b. Ḥamā’ Allāhi whether Moorish merchants trading in the land controlled by the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi are supposed or not to swear allegiance (bay‘a) to Aḥmad Lobbo.112 The same issue seems to be at stake in an earlier fatwà by Muḥammad b. al-Mukhtār al-Kuntī (d. 1825–6), who was asked by an anonymous questioner, most likely from among the Western Saharan Arab-speaking tribes self-identifying as “white,” about the necessity of paying allegiance to a “black ruler,” probably Aḥmad Lobbo.113 However, not all the Arab-speaking people of the Southern Sahara were skeptical about the legitimacy of Aḥmad Lobbo. For example, the above-mentioned Fatḥ al-Ṣamad records three poems of anonymous scholars bearing witness to the good relationship between the people of Walata and Ḥamdallāhi.114

  • 115  A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 211.
  • 116  IF, Fonds de Gironcourt, 2505 (25).
  • 117  A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 199-231.
  • 118  The traditions recorded by Ba and Daget describe the relations between the Kunta and Aḥmad Lobbo a (...)
  • 119  B. Sanankoua, 1990, p. 57. It seems that at the end of Muḥammad al-Kuntī’s life, his relationship (...)
  • 120  I. Traore, 2012, p. 133-135.
  • 121  I. Traore, 2012, p. 226-228.
  • 122  On the relationships between the Kunta under Aḥmad al-Bakkāy and Ḥamdallāhi, see A. Zebadia, 1974.

46Likewise, both the settled population of the region of Timbuktu and the local nomadic Tuaregs questioned the legitimacy of Ḥamdallāhi several times. According to Ba and Daget, Timbuktu pledged allegiance to the caliphate only in 1826, after a battle known as Ndukkuway (Fulfulde for “considerable profit”), when the army of Ḥamdallāhi defeated the Tuaregs.115 However, a letter from Muḥammad al-Kuntī to Aḥmad Lobbo refers to the act of allegiance paid by the people of Timbuktu to Aḥmad Lobbo after Noukouma already in 1818.116 This suggests that Timbuktu and the region of the Niger Bend up to Gao had pledged allegiance and then rebelled several times, as confirmed by the post-1826 events, with several rebellions of the northern regions of the caliphate and subsequent military expeditions from Ḥamdallāhi to restore control.117 These rebellions imply the rejection of the authority of the caliphate and its claims of legitimacy. Notwithstanding the turmoil in the region of Timbuktu, the Kunta who represented the major political force of the area and acted as mediator with Ḥamdallāhi seem to have supported Aḥmad Lobbo.118 For example, when in 1824–5 Guelajo Hambodejo led a revolt against Ḥamdallāhi, Muḥammad al-Kuntī equated the revolt against Aḥmad Lobbo to an act of kufr or unbelief.119 Later, al-Mukhtār al-Ṣaghīr al-Kuntī would openly acknowledge the authority of Aḥmad Lobbo.120 At the same time, a letter from Aḥmad Lobbo witnesses his appreciation for al-Mukhtār al-Ṣaghīr al-Kuntī’s activities.121 It was only with the death of Aḥmad Lobbo and the emergence of Aḥmad al-Bakkāy b. Muḥammad b. al-Mukhtār al-Kuntī al-Wāfī, simply known as Aḥmad al-Bakkāy (d. 1865), as leader of the Kunta that the relationship between them and Ḥamdallāhi became overtly hostile.122

  • 123  See respectively, M. Diagayeté, 2014–2015, p. 70, and A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 36.
  • 124  W.A. Brown, 1969, p. 21-22.
  • 125  C.C. Stewart, 1976, p. 502. See also N. Levtzion, 1971, p. 587-588.
  • 126  C.C. Stewart, 1976, p. 507.
  • 127  B. Sanankoua, 1990, p. 60.

47The above documentation bearing witness to the relationship of Ḥamdallāhi with the Western Sahara and the region of Timbuktu does not quote the Risāla in the debate about the legitimacy of the caliphate. On the contrary, the Risāla figures in the debate on the topic between the leaders of the Sokoto Caliphate and the leadership of Ḥamdallāhi. The pioneering studies by Stewart and Sanankoua, although based only on a few letters, provide a sketch of the fluctuating relationships between the two states. Before the battle of Noukouma, Aḥmad Lobbo looked at Sokoto as a source of legitimation, as proven by his requests for juridical opinions from ‘Abd Allāh b. Muḥammad Fodiye b. ‘Uthmān b. Ṣāliḥ, or simply ‘Abd Allāh b. Fudī (d. 1829), and an explicit pledge of allegiance paid to ‘Uthmān b. Fūdī.123 As underlined by Brown, the death of ‘Uthmān b. Fūdī that coincided with the victory of Noukouma convinced Aḥmad Lobbo to continue his mission alone and to break his bonds with Sokoto.124 As Stewart highlights, the years between 1818 and 1821 are characterized by tension due to Sokoto’s request for a renewal of allegiance and Aḥmad Lobbo’s rejection.125 However, after 1821 the relations were normalized and a mutually respectful position was taken by the leaders of both caliphates.126 Then, as it emerges from some letters quoted by Sanankoua, with the election of Abū Bakr al-‘Aṭīq b. shaykh ‘Uthmān b. Muḥammad Fodiye, or simply Abū Bakr ‘Aṭīq (d. 1842), as caliph in Sokoto in 1836 and Ibrāhīm al-Khalīl b. ‘Abd Allāh (d. 1860), known as Ibrāhīm al-Khalīl, as amīr of Gwandu in 1835, a new period of tension emerged between the two states.127 In this phase, the legitimacy of Aḥmad Lobbo was questioned again by the second generation of Sokoto leaders.

  • 128  ‘Abd al-Qādir’s Jawāb to Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir is available exclusively in two manuscript copies, one at (...)
  • 129 On ‘Abd al-Qādir, see M. Kani, 1986 and J.O. Hunwick et al., 1995, p. 221-230.
  • 130  H. Barth, 1896, v. 3, p. 136. The first edition of Heinrich Barth’s work was published in 1857, in (...)

48It is from this period that I tentatively date the only explicit reply available today to Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir’s Risāla. It is a reply, Jawāb, written by ‘Abd al-Qādir b. al-Muṣṭafà al-Tūrūdī, simply referred to as ‘Abd al-Qādir (d. 1864), nephew and son-in-law of the second caliph of Sokoto, Muḥammad Bello (d. 1837).128 As underlined by Hunwick, little is known about ‘Abd al-Qādir’s life.129 He was born in 1804, as can be inferred from his Kashūfāt al-Rabbāniyya in which he mentions that at the time of ‘Uthmān b. Fūdī’s death in 1817 he was 13. ‘Abd al-Qādir never occupied any official position in the state, but he was nonetheless a well-known public figure and a prolific writer in the field of history, philosophy, Sufism, and politics. He was among the most famous scholars of Sokoto when the German traveler Heinrich Barth (d. 1865) visited the caliphate in 1853.130

49In the Jawāb, ‘Abd al-Qādir rejects the claim of the Risāla that Aḥmad Lobbo is the twelfth caliph referred to by the Prophet in the above-mentioned ḥadīth. ‘Abd al-Qādir bases his argumentation on the works of Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī, who, according to the Risāla, was the main authority that recounted the prophecy on the arrival of Aḥmad Lobbo to Askiyā al-ḥājj Muḥammad. On the basis of Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī’s Tārīkh al-khulafā’, ‘Abd al-Qādir rejects the arguments of Nūḥ b al-Ṭāhir by showing that the opinion of the Egyptian scholar on the issue of the 12 caliphs is different from the one described in the Risāla. Al-Suyūṭī posits in his work that the twelfth caliph would be the mahdī and not a caliph, as is reported in the Risāla. ‘Abd al-Qādir continues by dismissing the possibility that Aḥmad Lobbo could be the mahdī or a mujaddid for the 13th century. As for the mahdī, Aḥmad Lobbo simply does not display mahdī’s characteristics, which are not clarified in the Jawāb. As for the mujaddid, ‘Abd al-Qādir bases again his argument on Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī, this time on his Urjūza fī mujaddidīn al-Islām, and denies the possibility that Aḥmad Lobbo could be a mujaddid. According to Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī, the condition for a person to be considered a mujaddid of the religion is to be alive at the end of the century of which he will be the renewer. On the contrary, Aḥmad Lobbo, born at the end of the 12th century (c. 1190), was unable to be the renewer of the 13th.

50‘Abd al-Qādir’s Jawāb is not dated, but I speculate on its date of composition on the basis of the author’s birth date. Born in 1804, ‘Abd al-Qādir could never have written a harsh response to a much older scholar such as Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir earlier than the late 1830s, when the former became a prominent scholar in Sokoto. At the same time, the reply includes references to Aḥmad Lobbo as the living leader of Ḥamdallāhi, suggesting that the Jawāb was written before the latter’s death in 1845. Thus, I date ‘Abd al-Qādir’s reply to Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir to the period 1836–45, more likely towards the end, when ‘Abd al-Qādir b. al-Muṣṭafà was almost 40 years old.

51The dating of the Jawāb by ‘Abd al-Qādir has also a huge consequence in my argument on the Risāla, namely about its date of composition. It is unlikely that the Jawāb was composed several years after the Risāla itself. To deserve such a lengthy and elaborate response as ‘Abd al-Qādir’s one, Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir’s letter should have been at the time a contemporary and influential document. I propose to date the Risāla to the later 1830s or early 1840s. This date would locate the document in the context of the re-emerging tension with Sokoto after the rise to prominence of Abū Bakr ‘Aṭīq and Ibrāhīm al-Khalīl. This was a period of very harsh exchanges between the two caliphates, as proven by Aḥmad Lobbo’s words in a letter to the two leaders of Sokoto:

  • 131  Quoted in B. Sanankoua, 1990, p. 60 (translation from the French mine).

Both of them [‘Abd Allāh b. Fūdī and Muḥammad Bello] accepted my independent attitude towards you. As you know, there is nobody today in this continent that can match them in knowledge and piety. You, Prince of the Believers [‘Aṭīq], and you Prince Khalīl, should be satisfied with what your father ‘Abd Allāh and your elder brother Muḥammad Bello were. You know that if they are not beyond you in knowledge, they are definitely not below you. And I personally believe that they overstep you both, and by far.131

52I thus argue that the Risāla was written at the time when the tension with Sokoto had started re-emerging in the 1830s–1840s with the second generation of Sokoto leaders, after Aḥmad Lobbo had established cordial relationships with Muḥammad Bello and ‘Abd Allāh b. Fūdī.

Conclusion

53The analysis presented above of Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir al-Fulānī’s Risāla fī ẓuhūr al-khalīfa al-thānī ʻashar (“Letter on the appearance of the twelfth caliph”) has opened a window on the process of legitimation in the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi. It has also shed light on the relationship between the caliphate and the other regional powers. The study of new manuscript documents, such as the Risālā and ‘Abd al-Qādir’s response to it, proves that a more detailed analysis of West Africa’s archives will shed further light on the events and dynamics that characterized the political life of Sub-Saharan Africa in the 19th century.

54The Risāla is also a crucial document that sheds light on the context in which the Tārīkh al-fattāsh was written in the 19th century by Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir and why it was ascribed to Maḥmūd Ka‘ti. Unfortunately, the Tārīkh al-fattāsh still exists today only in the 1913 edition by Houdas and Delasfosse, in which it is confusedly conflated with the 17th century Tārīkh Ibn al-Mukhtār. For a better understanding of these works, the two chronicles need to be edited and translated as separate texts. More generally, this case study highlights the need for revision of classical editions of primary sources related to African history, considering the large amount of new written material that has been coming from the continent. In 1982, Zakari Dramani-Issifou predicted this development:

  • 132  Z. Dramani-Issifou, 1982, p. 27.

It is rare in history, as in all other social sciences, that pioneering works live a long life sheltered from any harm [...] It naturally happens that, due to the progress in the study of West African history, and recent discoveries (of manuscript copies of works, correspondence, juridical texts) which enrich the available documentation, the lacunas and insufficiencies of the chronicles emerge more manifestly.132

  • 133  J.O. Hunwick, 2003.
  • 134  The recent English translation (C. Wise, H. Abu Taleb, 2011) contributes very little to this debat (...)

55In the early 2000s, Hunwick produced a new scholarly translation of the Tārīkh al-sūdān, filling this gap about one of the 17th-century chronicles of Timbuktu.133 On the contrary, the Tārīkh Ibn al-Mukhtār and the Tārīkh al-fattāsh remain available only in a very unsatisfactory form.134

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Hunwick, J.O., 1978, “Ignaz Goldziher on al-Suyūṭī”, The Muslim World, 67 (2), p. 85-86.

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Hunwick, J.O., 1992, “Studies in the Ta’rikh al-fattāsh II: An alleged charter of privilege issued by Askiya al-ḥājj Muḥammad to the descendants of Mori Hawgāro”, Sudanic Africa, 3, p. 133-148.

Hunwick, J.O., 2003, Timbuktu and the Songhay Empire: Al-Saʻdī’s Taʼrīkh al-Sūdān down to 1613, and other contemporary documents, Leiden–Boston, Brill.

Hunwick, J.O. et al., 1995, Arabic literature of Africa. Vol. 2: The writings of Central Sudanic Africa, Leiden–Boston–Köln, Brill.

Hunwick, J.O. et al., 2003, Arabic literature of Africa. Vol. 4: The writings of Western Sudanic Africa, Brill, Leiden–Boston.

Jeppie, S., 2011, “Aḥmad Bul ‘arāf, archives, and the place of the past”, History in Africa, 38, p. 401-416.

Jeppie, S., 2015a, “Making book history in Timbuktu”, in The book in Africa: Critical debates, Houndhills, Palgrave, p. 83-102.

Jeppie, S., 2015b, “A Timbuktu bibliophile between the Mediterranean and the Sahel: Ahmad Bul’arāf and the circulation of books in the first half of the twentieth century”, Journal of North African Studies, 2 (1), p. 65-77.

Johnson, M., 1976, “The economic foundations of an Islamic theocracy: The case of Masina”, Journal of African History, 17 (4), p. 481-495.

Kani, A.M., 1986, “The private library of ‘Abd al-Qādir b. al-Muṣṭafā (d. 1864)”, in S. Abubakar, A.M. Kani (eds), Northern History Research Scheme, Sixth Interim Report (1979-81), Zaria, Ahmadu Bello University, p. 19-23.

Landau-Tasseron, E., 1989, “The ‘cyclical reform’: A study of the mujaddid tradition”, Studia Islamica, 70, p. 79-117.

Last, M., 1967, The Sokoto Caliphate, New York, Humanities Press.

Last, M., 1987, “Reform in West Africa: The jihād movements of the nineteenth century”, in J.F.A. Ajayi, M. Crowder (eds), History of West Africa, vol. 2, 2nd ed., London, Longman, p. 1-47.

Last, M., 2011, “The Book and the Nature of Knowledge in Muslim Northern Nigeria, 1457-2007”, in G. Krätli, G. Lydon (eds), The Trans-Saharan Book Trade, Leiden, Brill, p. 175-211.

Levtzion, N., 1971, “A seventeenth-century chronicle by Ibn al-Mukhtār: A critical study of Ta’rīkh al-fattāsh”, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 3 (3), p. 571-593.

Ly, M., 1972, “Quelques remarques sur le Tarikh el-Fettach”, Bulletin de l’Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire, 34 (3), p. 471-493.

Lydon, G., 2004, “Inkwells in the Sahara: Reflections on the production of Islamic knowledge in Bilād Shinqīṭ”, in S.S. Reese (ed.), The transmission of learning in Islamic Africa, Leiden, Brill, p. 39-71.

Lydon, G., 2009, On trans-Saharan trails: Islamic Law, trade networks, and cross-cultural exchange in nineteenth-century Western Africa, Cambridge–New York, Cambridge University Press.

Moraes Farias, P.F. de, 2003, Arabic medieval inscriptions from the Republic of Mali: Epigraphy, chronicles and Songhay-Tuāreg history, Oxford–New York, Published for the British Academy by Oxford University Press.

Moraes Farias, P.F. de, 2008, “Intellectual innovation and reinvention of the Sahel: The seventeenth-century Timbuktu chronicles”, in S. Jeppie, S.B. Diagne (eds), The meanings of Timbuktu, Cape Town, HRSC Press, p. 95-107.

Naqar (al-), ‘U., 1969, “Takrūr: The history of a name”, Journal of African History, 10 (3), p. 365-374.

Nawawī (al-), 1418/1997, Matn al-‘arba‘īn al-Nawawiyya fī al-aḥādīth al-ṣaḥīḥa al-Nabuwiyya, Dimashq, Dār al-Bashāʼir.

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Nobili, M., 2016, “A short note on some historical accounts from the IFAN Manuscripts Collection”, History in Africa, 43, p. 379-388.

Nobili, M., Mathee, M.S., 2015, “Towards a new study of the so-called Tārīkh al-fattāsh”, History in Africa, 42, p. 37-73.

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Sartain, E.M., 1975, Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī: Biography and Background, Cambridge–New York, Cambridge University Press.

Smith, H.F.C., 1961, “A neglected theme of West African history: The Islamic revolutions of the 19th century”, Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria, 2 (2), p. 169-185.

Stewart, C.C., 1976, “Frontier disputes and problems of legitimation: Sokoto–Masina relations 1817–1837”, Journal of African History, 17 (4), p. 497-514.

Tamari, T., 1997, Les castes de l’Afrique occidentale: artisans et musiciens endogames, Nanterre, Société d’ethnologie.

Traore, I., 2012, Les relations épistolaires entre la famille Kunta de Tombouctou et la Dina du Macina (1818–1864), Ph.D. Dissertation, ENS, Lyon.

Walz, T., 2011, “The paper trade of Egypt and the Sudan in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and its re-export to the Bilād as-Sūdān”, in G. Krätli, G. Lydon (eds), The trans-Saharan book trade: Manuscript culture, Arabic literacy and intellectual history in Muslim Africa, Leiden–Boston, Brill, p. 73-107.

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Willis, J.R., 1978, “The Torodbe Clerisy: A social view”, Journal of African History, 19 (2), p. 195-212.

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Notes

1  On the western myth of Timbuktu, see the recent S. Corlan-Ioan, 2014.

2 Tombouctou la Mystérieuse was originally written in French, but the English translation was published by Longmans, Green and Co. in the United States in 1896, one year before the original French by Flammarion. In this article, I use the English translation in the 1969 reprint (F. Dubois, 1969). For a biography of Dubois, see Y. Saint-Martin, 1999.

3  F. Dubois, 1969, p. 276, 277 and 287.

4  F. Dubois, 1969, p. 288.

5  F. Dubois, 1969, p. 288.

6  F. Dubois, 1969, p. 302. The name “Fettassi” is recorded by Dubois according to the local pronunciation of the Arabic fattāsh—that suppresses the voiceless palato-alveolar fricative shīn in favor of the voiceless dental fricative sīn.

7  F. Dubois, 1969, p. 135, 301, 302 and 330.

8  The standardized form of the name comes from J.O. Hunwick et al., 2003, p. 38. Throughout this article, whenever I refer to a person’s name, I first use the form provided in J.O. Hunwick et al., 1995 and J.O. Hunwick et al., 2003.

9  F. Dubois, 1969, p. 302.

10  F. Dubois, 1969, p. 135.

11  On these manuscripts, see O.V. Houdas, M. Delafosse, 1913, p. viii-xiii.

12  O.V. Houdas, M. Delafosse, 1913, p. xii.

13  O.V. Houdas, M. Delafosse, 1913, p. xiii.

14  J.P. Brun, 1914.

15  J.P. Brun, 1914, p. 596.

16  J.P. Brun, 1914, p. 596.

17  J.O. Hunwick, 1969; M. Ly, 1972.

18  See also J.O. Hunwick, 1992.

19  J.O. Hunwick, 1969, p. 62.

20  J.O. Hunwick, 1969, p. 63.

21  J.O. Hunwick, 1969, p. 63.

22  N. Levtzion, 1971.

23  N. Levtzion, 1971, p. 573.

24  N. Levtzion, 1971, p. 575.

25  N. Levtzion, 1971, p. 576.

26  N. Levtzion, 1971, p. 572, n. 6.

27  M. Nobili, M.S. Mathee, 2015.

28  The date of Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir’s death provided in J.O. Hunwick et al., 2003, p. 213 is not substantiated in the sources. See below for a detailed discussion of Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir’s chronology.

29  MS B was donated to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris where it is stored under the call number Arabe 6651. As for MS A and MS C, they disappeared after the 1913 publication, as reported by Levtzion: “Unfortunately nothing is known about the location of the two more important manuscripts” (N. Levtzion, 1971, p. 573). I identified MS A as the manuscript 3927 of the Institut des Hautes Études et de Recherches Islamiques Ahmed-Baba (M. Nobili, M.S. Mathee, 2015, p. 51). Unfortunately, I have been unable so far to locate MS C, which I can only reconstruct virtually on the basis of the critical apparatus of the 1913 edition.

30  G. Genette, 1997, p. 229 (italics in the text).

31  P.F. de Moraes Farias, 2003, lxix, § 101.

32  P.F. de Moraes Farias, 2003, p. xlvii, § 44. Even though de Moraes Farias focuses on the 17th century Tārīkh al-sūdān and on the Tārīkh Ibn al-Mukhtār—referred to as Tārīkh al-fattāsh MS A—his contribution is about methods as much as it is about context and findings and is useful for my analysis of the 19th century context.

33  J.O. Hunwick et al., 2003, p. 213.

34  See C.C. Stewart, 1976 and B. Sanankoua, 1990.

35  A. Smith, 1961.

36  M. Last, 1967; J.R. Willis, 1967. The list of studies that have been devoted to these movements is too long to be reproduced here. General scholarly overviews may be found in M. Hiskett, 1976; M. Last, 1987; A. Batran, 1989; or, more recently, in D. Robinson, 2000.

37  The main works on the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi are A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984 (originally published in 1955); W.A. Brown, 1969; M. Johnson, 1976; B. Sanankoua, 1990; G. Bohas, A. Saguer, B. Salvaing, D.E. Kouloughli, 2011. A number of 19th century explorers and later colonial administrators provide scattered information on the caliphate. A list of these works is available in W.A. Brown, 1969, p. 3.

38  The Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi comprised five provinces (ley’de, sing. leydi): Masina (from Jafarabé to the Lake Debo and from Kareri to Fakala); Jenneri (between the Niger and the Bani rivers from Sanari to Fakala and from Murari to Sébéra); Kunari (east of the Inland Delta Niger and the Bandiagara falaise); Fakala (between the Bani river and the Bandiagara falaise); and Gimballa (including the Fittuga, the Farimake and Hausa Kattawal, north of the Masina until the southern shores of the Sahara). With respect to these five provinces, the regions of Timbuktu and the Jelgooji “had a special status although recognized the authority” of the caliphate (B. Sanankoua, 1990, p. 72). According to Sanankoua, the provinces comprised, in turn, 340 cantons (leppi leydi, sing. lefol leydi), constituted by the exorbitant number of 67,000 villages (ngeenndi), made of countless hamlets, called wuro, tudddunde, or sare depending on the group of people inhabiting them (B. Sanankoua, 1990, p. 66).

39  On the administration of the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi, see A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 59-80.

40  J.M. Bloom, 2008, p. 45.

41  T. Walz, 2011, p. 97.

42  G. Lydon, 2004, p. 244.

43  A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 45.

44  A.M. Yattara, B. Salvaing, 2003, p. 212.

45  A.M. Yattara, B. Salvaing, 2003, p. 214.

46  See the catalogue of the collection, N. Ghali, S.M. Mahibou, L. Brenner, 1985, and the online, most updated one: http://archivesetmanuscrits.bnf.fr/cdc.html

47  For a catalogue of the de Gironcourt collection, see M. Nobili, 2013.

48  On the IHERI-AB, see M. OuldYoubba, 2008 and the partial catalogue S.A. OuldEly, 1995–1998, including the description of 9,000 out of c. 37,000.

49  A. Zebadia, 1974; A. Ould Daddah, 1977; I. Traore, 2012; H.A. Diakite, 2015.

50  For an introduction to the Kunta family, see A. Batran, 1979.

51  W.A. Brown, 1969, p. 139.

52  M. Last, 1987, p. 32.

53  M. Last, 2011, p. 201.

54  M. Last, 2011, p. 202.

55  For a discussion about the scholars in the region before Aḥmad Lobbo and during the years of the caliphates, see W.A. Brown, 1969, p. 104-110.

56  W.A. Brown, 1969, p. 104.

57  H.A. Diakite, 2015.

58 A.K. Diallo, 1988; M. Diagayeté, 2006–2007, p. 109-110.

59 A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984; W.A. Brown, 1969. My profile of Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir life is reconstructed on the basis of A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1955, p. 114, n. 4; A.K. Diallo, 1988; M. Diagayeté, 2006–2007, p. 109-110.

60 Brown suggests that Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir was part Songhay and part Fulani, without citing his source (W.A. Brown, 1969, p. 171, n. 39).

61  A.K. Diallo, 1988, p. 223.

62  A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 114, n. 114; W.A. Brown, 1969, p. 189, n. 54. Among the different sources that record precisely the date of Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir’s death is the Tārīkh al-Fūtāwī by Muḥammad b. Muḥammad b. Muḥammad b. ‘Uthmān (IF, Fonds de Gironcourt, 2506 [72]). See also W.A. Brown, 1968.

63  A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 64.

64  A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 251, n. 3.

65  A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 74.

66  A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 70.

67  A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 49.

68  See I. Traore, 2012.

69  A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 248-251.

70  A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 252.

71  A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 254.

72  A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 48. On Aḥmad Lobbo explicitly requesting Nuḥ b. al-Ṭāhir to be buried next to him, see A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 251-252.

73  W.A. Brown, 1969, p. 189, n. 54.

74  The list of Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir’s works provided in J.O. Hunwick et al., 2003, p. 213, is incomplete.

75  This work is available in two manuscripts copies: IHERI-AB 3126 and Institut des Recherches en Sciences Humaines 2036. On the importance of the Lāmiyyat al-afʿāl in West Africa, see B. Hall, C.C. Stewart, 2011, p. 121.

76  IHERI-AB 8912.

77  Al-Andalus is a term that seems to have been used in the correspondence of the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi as synonym of a faraway place; see, for example, the one partially translated in C.C. Stewart, 1976, p. 504.

78  I recently found this copy of the Risāla during a research stay in Dakar, July–August 2015. Notwithstanding the indication Dahomey, the copy comes most likely from Timbuktu (see M. Nobili, 2016).

79  See online catalogue entry:
http://archivesetmanuscrits.bnf.fr/ead.html?id=FRBNFEAD000013677

80  See online catalogue entry:
http://archivesetmanuscrits.bnf.fr/ead.html?id=FRBNFEAD000087661

81  M. Nobili, 2013, p. 211-213.

82  M. Nobili, 2013, p. 215-216.

83  On Aḥmad Būl‘arāf, see S. Jeppie, 2011, 2015a and 2015b.

84  My reading of the Arabic for Diallo and Kirshamba is tentative (in Arabic جل  and كرسمب).

85  An excellent study of occupational groups in West Africa is T. Tamari, 1997.

86  J.O. Hunwick, 1969; N. Levtzion, 1971; B. Hall, 2011, p. 69-74.

87  M. Last, 1987, p. 32.

88  G. Bohas, A. Saguer, B. Salvaing, D.E. Kouloughli, 2011, p. 38 (italics in the text).

89  Arma is the collective name by which became known the descendants of the soldiers sent from Morocco to conquer the Songhay state in 1591. On the Arma and on the state they established after the fall of the Songhay, see M. Abitbol, 1979 and E. Hodgkin, 1987.

90  See C.C. Stewart, 1976 and B. Sanankoua, 1990, p. 57-61.

91  L. Brenner, 2001, p. 21.

92  Hunwick has demonstrated that this character is fictitious and that there was no sharīf of Mecca called al-‘Abbās at the time of Askiyà al-ḥājj Muḥammad (J.O. Hunwick, 1962, p. 327-328).

93  For a biography of Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī, see E.M. Sartain, 1975. E.M. Sartain, 1971 is a synthetic article on the relationship between Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī and West Africa.

94  The history and usages of the name Takrūr are analyzed in al-Naqar, 1969.

95  On al-Maghīlī, see J.O. Hunwick, 1985, p. 29-48 and J.O. Hunwick et al., 1995, p. 20-25. On al-Tha‘ālibi, see Encyclopaedia of Islam, v. 10, p. 425-426.

96  On al-Jilānī, see Encyclopaedia of Islam, v. 1, p. 69-70.

97  Quoted in M. Hiskett, 1994, p. 66. On the Wird, see J.O. Hunwick et al., 1993, p. 79-80.

98  See, for example, the use of prophecies in both Christian and Islamic Ethiopia (Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, v. 5, p. 492-494).

99  P.F. de Moraes Farias, 2003, p. lxix, § 102.

100  P.F. de Moraes Farias, 2003, p. lxxiii, § 114.

101  Abū Dawūd, Sunan, v . 2, p. 151 (№ 4279).

102  U.M. Bugaje, 1991, deals with the phenomenon of Islamic reform in West Africa until the beginning of the 20th century. For a detailed study of the mujaddid tradition in general, see E. Landau-Tasseron, 1989.

103  Abū Dawūd, Sunan, v . 2, p. 156 (№ 4291).

104  J.O. Hunwick, 1978, p. 81.

105  IF, Fonds de Gironcourt, 2410 (174). On the chronicle, see M. Nobili, M.S. Mathee, 2015, p. 66-67.

106  M. Nobili, M.S. Mathee, 2015.

107  R. Caillié, 1830, v. 1, p. 218.

108  J. Goody, 1971, p. 72. The concept of the “threat of force” comes from L. Brenner, 2001, p. 23.

109  M. Diagayeté, 2014–2015, p. 69.

110  IF, Fonds de Gironcourt, 2406 (66).

111  West and south-west and south-east of Ḥamdallāhi were the Bambara and Mossi non-Islamic states.

112  See B. Hall, 2011, p. 98-101. On arguments concerning race, Islam, and authority in West Africa, see B. Hall, 2011 in general.

113  G. Lydon, 2009, p. 309-310.

114  See the poems written by anonymous poets of Walāta for Aḥmad Lobbo, G. Bohas, A. Saguer, B. Salvaing, D.E. Kouloughli, 2011, p. 88-91.

115  A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 211.

116  IF, Fonds de Gironcourt, 2505 (25).

117  A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 199-231.

118  The traditions recorded by Ba and Daget describe the relations between the Kunta and Aḥmad Lobbo as constant conflict (A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 217). However, the correspondence presented in C.C. Stewart, 1976, B. Sanankoua, 1990, and I. Traore, 2012 contradicts this evidence.

119  B. Sanankoua, 1990, p. 57. It seems that at the end of Muḥammad al-Kuntī’s life, his relationship with Aḥmad Lobbo was eventually broken (see the letter presented in I. Traore, 2012, p. 130-132).

120  I. Traore, 2012, p. 133-135.

121  I. Traore, 2012, p. 226-228.

122  On the relationships between the Kunta under Aḥmad al-Bakkāy and Ḥamdallāhi, see A. Zebadia, 1974.

123  See respectively, M. Diagayeté, 2014–2015, p. 70, and A.H. Ba, J. Daget, 1984, p. 36.

124  W.A. Brown, 1969, p. 21-22.

125  C.C. Stewart, 1976, p. 502. See also N. Levtzion, 1971, p. 587-588.

126  C.C. Stewart, 1976, p. 507.

127  B. Sanankoua, 1990, p. 60.

128  ‘Abd al-Qādir’s Jawāb to Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir is available exclusively in two manuscript copies, one at Sokoto History Bureau, with the call number 4/21/147 (available in photocopy at the Northern History Research Scheme, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, n. 192-19), and the second at IHERI-AB (call number 4104).

129 On ‘Abd al-Qādir, see M. Kani, 1986 and J.O. Hunwick et al., 1995, p. 221-230.

130  H. Barth, 1896, v. 3, p. 136. The first edition of Heinrich Barth’s work was published in 1857, in German and English, by different publishers.

131  Quoted in B. Sanankoua, 1990, p. 60 (translation from the French mine).

132  Z. Dramani-Issifou, 1982, p. 27.

133  J.O. Hunwick, 2003.

134  The recent English translation (C. Wise, H. Abu Taleb, 2011) contributes very little to this debate and reproduces the problematic features of Houdas and Delafosse’s work. I am currently working on a parallel edition and English translation of the Tārīkh Ibn al-Mukhtār and of the Tārīkh al-fattāsh.

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References

Electronic reference

Mauro Nobili, « A propaganda document in support of the 19th century Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi: Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir al-Fulānī’s “Letter on the appearance of the twelfth caliph” (Risāla fī ẓuhūr al-khalīfa al-thānī ʻashar) », Afriques [Online], 07 | 2016, Online since 12 December 2016, connection on 24 October 2017. URL : http://afriques.revues.org/1922 ; DOI : 10.4000/afriques.1922

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About the author

Mauro Nobili

Assistant professor, University of Illinois, Honorary Research Associate at the Tombouctou Manuscripts Project, Huma, University of Cape Town

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