Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Timbuktu: The Stripping has Began - Pt2

This an ongoing topic, carried from the first posting wherein we came across a question in Masonen's and Fisher's piece, concerning the adoption of Islam in ancient Ghana. That question was, to reiterate:

Why did the ruler and people of Ghana adopt Islam in 1076?

It is a warranted one, since it is generally understood that the religion wasn't widely adapted in that area, and certainly not by the Ghanaian elites, until the waning period of that complex. Indeed, as that singular date seems to suggest, why would the Ghanaian residents adopt Islam all of a sudden, if we are to take away that element of violent confrontation as the vehicle for the conversion? This question elicits even more head-scratching, when the element of that aforementioned idea of "influence" is also ruled out. What does Masonen and Fisher have to say about this? See below:

There seems to us little reason to believe that the Almoravids exercised any kind of determining political influence over Ghana, be it by force or by insinuation. The story of a forceful intervention originated (though it was subsequently much embroidered and enlarged) from the unreliable, for Ghanaian affairs, Arabic chronicles of the fourteenth century and their modern interpretation in colonial historiography. Remove the element of force, and we are left with no reliable peaceful alternative: our sources, even after we have excised the use of force, remain as reliable, or unreliable, as they were before. Furthermore, the hypothesis of Almoravid "influence" or Almoravid support for some kind of Ghanaian coup-d'etat is linked to the existence of a strong Almoravid "southern wing" led by Abu Bakr after the division of the movement in early 1070s. There is, however, little evidence for this: Ibn Idhari and other sources mentioned Abu Bakr's return to the desert and his death there, but with very little additional detail indeed. In fact, the idea of "a southern wing" may itself be understood as a by-product of the conquest hypothesis, the historicity of which requires the presence of a considerable Almoravid force in the south.
 
It makes sense, in the scheme of things that we have just seen, that the concoction of "a southern wing" is itself a spin-off from the conquest hypothesis. The single-event-invoked date of conversion to Islam in 1076, without some element of overt driving force applied on the Ghanaian folks by the Almoravids, just doesn't seem to sit well by some observers, but the fact as it stands now, is that there is just little in way of actual evidence to support such turn of events. So, do we learn from Masonen and Fisher, of what else then could have triggered Ghanaian conversion to Islam in the waning period of its influence in the region, if not "conquest" or "influence" by the Almoravids? From the said authors:

The reconsideration of the conquest theory received its most radical expression in 1982/83 in a pair of articles by Humphrey J. Fisher and David C. Conrad. They build a rather complex argument on a relatively basic premise: given that Ghana is by far the most often cited name in Arabic writing about western Africa from the beginning to ca. 1500; given that the Almoravids were also a popular topic in this writing, and that often both Ghana and the Almoravids are mentioned by the same author; and given that, despite this interest--sustained over centuries--there is nowhere even a single direct reference to any such destructive conquest of Ghana by the Almoravids as described in the western historiography on Africa, then the logical conclusion seems clearly to be that no such cataclysmic even occurred: in short, "there was no Almoravid conquest of ancient Ghana.

Reaction to this anti-conquest argument has, predictably, been mixed. There was no serious attempt to defend the conqest hypothesis in the 1980s, but the issue resurfaced with Sheryl Burkhalter's article. Burkhlaer strongly criticizes Conrad and Fisher, particularly for ignoring the contexts in which the Almoravids and Ghana are mentioned in the Arabic sources. A little surprisingly, Burkhalter nowhere affirms that the conquest actually took place. On the contrary, her phrasing seems sometimes quite compatible with the anti-conquest case as presented by Conrad and Fisher: for instance, she speaks of "more traditional interpretations of Almoravid history" and of "conventional wisdom concerning an Almoravid 'victory' over Ghana." Her principal objection to Conrad and Fisher seems to be methodologicalthe problem of individually contextualizing all the dozens of sources which might be expected to mention the conquest, but do not--with some additional condemnation of Conrad and Fisher's suggestions, very subsidiary in the context of their article, about what might actually have been happening between Ghana and the Almoravids if we eliminate the idea of a conquest. Nevertheless, it seems that in the most recent histories of Africa the sceptical attitude towards conquest and destruction of Ghana by Almoravids has achieved a permanent foothold.

Indeed, given the considerable interest and mention of these complexesGhana and the Almoravid movement, the total blackout of an armed conflict between the two in contemporary texts of the time simply cannot be ignored. As to last last question posed, we can very well see why Masonen and Fisher fall short of telling us here, what else then could have been taking place in western Africa to bring about  Islamic conversion in Ghana; Fisher who is one of our two writers in the present citation, was also party to another "anti-conquest" of Ghana paper back in the early 80s. Therein, they layout what these processes could have been, but then, as noted in the above citation, they were criticized for their "suggestions". The fact of the matter is that there is just not enough in way of specific material that points to one singular eventi.e. non-confrontationalas the main underlying driver for this sectarian conversion, so as to render it unwarranted to extrapolate or speculate to as little degree as possible from what little information is available, of the chain of events that directly culminate into Islamic conversion in Ghana. What is clear from all tangible evidence however, is that violence or any sort of confrontational approach by the Almoravids was not responsible for this conversion. It is to this end, that the present author of this blog is of the mindset that the acculturation to Islam was instigated as political expediency on the part of later Ghanaian ruling elites, having been privy to their progressively declining influence in the region, with which comes the mindfulness of one's susceptibility to known or suspected rivals in the regionbe they small or big, complementary to what would have appeared to the eyes of those within Ghanaian ruling circles, the rise of the Almoravids and their expansionist activities in coastal Maghreb and certain areas of the Sahara.

Not to be left out, naturally, is the question that arises out of all this, which is: What then could have instigated the conquest hypothesis? Again, Masonen and Fisher do a decent job of reconstructing the underlying circumstances that provided fodder for the ideology:

One of our principal reasons for surveying in such detail the gradual process of osmosis by which first the conquest hypothesis, and later the criticism of it, have become established in West African historiography was to test the extent to which these changes have been a response to the changing ideological conditions in European thought. We have described in this paper important periods of historiographical transformation which were more or less, we have suggested, ideologically inspired. First there was the Moroccan interpretation of Almoravid history, embedded within Arab and Berber attitudes towards the blacks; both this interpretation and the attitudes were carried over to the Renaissance European literature of Africa. Later there were Europeans' own experiences in early nineteenth-century Africa, which also affected their conceptions of African past. And finally there was the rise of a new science, and a new philosophy to go with it in Europe itself towards the end of the same century, contributing to the new politics of colonialism in Africa, and stimulating changes to the historical record of Almoravid days in particular, calling up the conquest of Ghana as part of this.

What we therefore see here, is Masonen and Fisher disproving the conquest hypothesis and then going onto detail both what triggered and sustained it until it fell out of favor for the more materially tenable position of the "anti-conquest" case. We see that while the conquest hypothesis is a European creation, as Masonen and Fisher admit, the fomenting of the conquest hypothesis is traceable to Morocco some time in the 14th century, as a means to the lay down the foundations for the political and moral justification for seizing strategically-placed territory under western Sudanese rulers, for control over gold trade. This seed was carried onto Europe, as noted above, with writers like Leo Africanusthe Spanish Muslim writer who spent some time in Moroccobeing the main vehicle for this; below, note the mention of Ghana in the first paragraph, and then the "mountains of gold" (Jabal al-Dhahab) in the paragraph just prior to the last one of this batch:

According to Leo Africanus, the Land of the Blacks, including Guechet and Cano [Ghana] was first opened up in AH 380/1012 AD, after the arrival in North Africa of a certain Muslim. The Land of the Blacks was then "inhabited by people, who lived like brutes, without kings, lords, republics, government and any customs, and without knowing husbandry." Continuing with Leo's (very North African-centric) account, these blacks were dominated by "King Joseph, the founder of Morocco," referring here to Yusuf b. Tashfin (ruled 1087 - 1106), who established Almoravid power in the Maghreb and Andalusia, and by "the five nations of Libya," meaning the Berber confederacies of the Zenaga, Guenziga, Terga, Lemta and Berdeua. From their Berber rulers the blacks learned "the Islamic law and divers necessary skills, and many of them became Muslims."

Leo mentions the name Ghana only here, without elaboration, and he does not specify whether it was among the lands which were subjugated by King Joseph and the Libyan nations. Neither does the name of the alleged conqueror of Ghana, the Almoravid amir Abu Bakr b. Uma, whom Yusuf b. Tashfin was to supersede in Morocco in the early 1070s, appear anywhere in Leo's pages. There is thus nothing to suggest that Leo Africanus was in any sense a direct progenitor of the hypothesis of an Almoravid conquest of Ghana. 

However, Leo's account, consistently placing the blacks under Almoravid rule, was very likely influenced by the far-reaching, and quite unpersuasive, claims of fourteenth-century Moroccan historians, such as that the Almoravids had once conquered the Land of the Blacks as far as the "mountains of gold."

In this respect, Leo himself is more reliable as an indicator of the common negative attitude of Berbers and Arabs towards black Africans, than as a precise historical chronicler. In any case, it is not so much with regard to an explicit conquest hypothesis that the seeds were being sown, but rather in setting a scene of whites over blacks, northerners over southerners, a scene within which the southward penetration of Islam did take place and where such events as conquest might well be imagined.

Furthermore, below we see even more explicit indicators of Moroccan rulers' intentions to dominate Sudanese gold trade in the 16th century than we did from examining Leo Africanus' inspirations for the above-mentioned "domination of northerners over southerners" et al.:

...there is in Marmol's work one reference to southern military campaigning by the Almoravids, where he speaks of "Lumtunas" or the Lamtuna having conquered "Tumbuto" or Timbuktu, and other parts of the western Sudan in a more remote time. This is Marmol's own addition to Leo's description of Timbuktu, which he otherwise repeats as such. The exact source for this rather general campaigning information is difficult to trace; similar commentary was availableas we have already noticed in the context of Leo Africanusin fourteenth-century Marinid historiography, which was certainly known to Moroccans (and probably to Marmol, too), and of course in the tale of King Joseph and the five Libyan nations.

But it is the context of Marmol's remark, rather than its source, which is of special interest to usfor Marmol was describing here the ambition of "el Xerife Mahamet," or Muhammad al-Mahdi (1544-57), founder of the sharifian Sa'did dynasty of Morocco, to extend his rule further into the Sahara and beyond, "as the Lamtuna had done in the past." Greater control over the Sudanese gold trade would have been important to the new rulers, giving them freer access to trade with Europeans other than the Portuguese, and thus enabling them to circumvent the understandable Portuguese reluctance to see gunpowder and firearms passing into the hands of their potential, and often actual, enemies.

Muhammad al-Mahdi eventually abandoned these plans, but the vital point for us is that once again the history of the Almoravids was being used to provide precedents for contemporary politics and philosophy, and being shaped to meet contemporary needs. Just as the internal requirements of the Marinid dynasty in Morocco promoted the fourteenth-century embellishment of the sub-Saharan Almoravid records, or just as the external needs of an expanding Europe contributed to the nineteenth- and twentieth-century evolution of the full-blown conquest hypothesis, so it seems possible, even likely, that the Marinid elaboration was being refurbished in the later sixteenth century to meet the expansionist needs of Sa'did Morocco, which eventually culminated in the Moroccan invasion of Songhay in 1591.

Masonen and Fisher could not be any more explicit here about the developing theme of their paper under discussion; Europeans initially drew their inspirations from the politics that accommodated Moroccan expansionist designs and that found expression in the works of 14th century Moroccan-based historians, thereof laying down the foundations and early stages of the conquest hypothesis in the 16th century onwards, thus setting the stage for what was to become part of the politics and philosophy for justifying Europeans' own expansionist (colonial) designs in the future. Sure enough, by the 19th century the conquest hypothesis had taken shape, and it was during this same period that Europeans go on their colonial rampage across the African continent, following the infamous Berlin Conference (1884-85) to carve up the continent. The dubious, if not politically calculated, claims of 14th century Moroccan historians with regards to supposed Almoravid domination over bilad al-Sudan (the Land of Blacks) were readily mimicked by European writers, and then given a chauvinistic theme of "northerners' domination over southerners" for the just-mentioned reasontheir own expansionist aspiration; Masonen and Fisher point out that this interpretation of events revolving around ancient Ghana and the Almoravids was directly contradicted by records from guess who? Why, none other than scholars from Timbuktu! Read on:

Yet evidence quite contradictory to the Moroccan claims comes from south of the Sahara, from the Muslim scholars of Timbuktu. Muhammad al-Mahdi's attempt to extend his rule into the Sahara and beyond is mentioned also by Abd al-Rhman al-Sa'di, the author of Ta'rikh al-Sudan, which is an invaluable source for Songhay history, and almost contemporary with Marmol. But al-Sa'di nowhere mentioned that the Moroccan claims over western Sudan were affirmed by any Almoravid precedent. Perhaps such justification was not used in this particular instance, or perhaps al-Sa'di edited it outwe can never know--but his silence rather suggests that such a precedent did not exist at all.

Moreover, there is another scholar, the celebrated Ahmad Baba, who denied without hesitation that any conquest of the Sudan by Muslims in the more remote past ever took place--in a document written in 1024/1616 entitled Al-Kashf wa'l-bayan li-asnaf majlub al-Sudan, ("Enslavable categories among the blacks revealed and explained").

Now of course, unflattering caricaturization and prejudice that accommodated the by-now "full-blown" conquest hypothesis in Europe, were increasingly taken to new levels as we approach 19th century colonial expansionist endeavors of European nations, with certain series of events in Europe or involving Europeans along the way chiming in on how some of these prejudices took on their character. For instance, as Masonen and Fisher show, in one case, Almoravids were equated with Saharan nomadsnamely the Tuaregs, which came along with negative portrayals of the Almoravids in the Almoravid-west Sudanese historiography, wherein the Almoravids are now not merely part of the theme of "northerners domination over southerners", but also now a vicious, fanatical and savage bunch, to whom the helpless people of bilad al-Sudan had the misfortune of falling victim. No doubt, as we shall see, this had to do with European experiences in the Sahara during encounters with the nomads there:

Mungo Park had already reported that the "Moors"referring hereto the Mauritanian nomads in general--were "at once the vainest and proudest, and perhaps the most bigotted, ferocious, and intolerant, of all the nations on earth; combining in their character the blind superstition of the Negro, with the savage cruelty and treachery of the Arab. Furthermore, the murders of European travelers in the SaharaDaniel Houghton in 1791, Gordon Laing in 1881reinforced the notion that the Saharan nomads considered it to be as "as lawful to murder a European as it would be to kill a dog." There were some travelers, like Henri Duveyrier, who tried to dispel the European mistrust of the Tuaregs, but these attempts were fruitless. On the other hand, the Tuaregs were also respected as brave and dangerous warriors, capable of causing considerable losses to the French army in the Sahara.

Transferred into historiography, this conception meant that the Almoravids of the past appeared quite as intolerant and aggressive as the Tuaregs of the present. In the works of Cooley and Barth this idea is not yet so visible, but it was manifested, especially by Reinhard Dozy in his classic work, Histoire des Musulmans d'Espagne, published in 1861. According to Dozy, the Almoravid period had meant a severe regression for the prosperous culture of Andalusia, and many scholars followed him in this dismissive judgment. In 1917, for example, the Finnish Orientalist Knut Tallqvist described Almoravid rule in Andalusia thus:
The Berber rule was a serious setback for the Arab culture of Islamic Spain. Compared to the sophisticated Arabs of Spain, the African Berbers were half-barbrians, and though they had adopted Islam, they felt no sympathy towards their Arab coreligionists. It was, therefore, natural that the Arabo-Spanish civilization was not favoured and supported by the Almoravids. 
Taking this stance, it was more than reasonable to suppose that the Almoravid influence had been equally disastrous on the southern edge of the desert, too, just as de Slane's translation of Kitab al-Ibar had suggested.

Despite these less than flattering turns for the Almoravid image in European writings of the 19th and early 20th century, there was no let up on the racist typecasting of the people of western Sudan by Europeans, as it continued to serve their colonial designs in Africa. Hence, it is no wonder that what emerges during this period, are conflicting views of the conquest hypothesis; for instance:

On the other hand, the position of Saharan nomads was elevated by the increasingly popular idea of racial hierarchy in European thought. After the elaboration of the Hamitic hypothesis at the turn of the century, the Sahran nomads were counted among those advanced African peoples who had traces of civilizing "white" blood in their veins, being thus superior to the blacks. According to Le Chatelier, for example, the blacks of the Western Sudan owed their progress to contacts with the neighboring Berber race, "more elevated in the normal order of the development of humanity." The Almoravid conquest of Ghana fit well into this picture, according to which all cultural progress in sub-Saharan African had taken place after waves of conquest and cultural influence from the north: by Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Berbers, Arabs, and finally by Europeans. It is hardly sheer coincidence that the more destructive and complete the Almoravid conquest of Ghana became in western literature, the more fantastic the ideas the same writers had on the origins of Ghana. According to Delafosse, for example, Ghana was founded by Jews who had escaped from Roman revenge in Cyrenaica after their unsuccessful revolt in 116 AD.

Writers like Mungo Park and Rene Caillie spoke about "Tuaregs" striking fear in the "Negroes of their neighborhood", but Masonen and Fisher note that:

Besides European travel literature, positive evidence for nomadic superiority was gained from the Arabic sources which stressed the warlike nature of the nomadic peoples. Evidence of the opposite imbalance, with nomads dependent on, or subordinate to, their settled neighbours, was not emphasized by early western authors, but it was certainly not absent, surfacing from time to time.

Furthermore, again despite holding negative perceptions, European writers sought to also give Islam a positive spin to the extent that in the end, it will lend moral justification to European colonial designs overseas:

Nevertheless, later writers went even further in stressing this confrontation. Rene Basset, for example, saw the entire history of Western Sudan as a continuous struggle between the Muslim "white" pastoralists and pagan "black" sedendaries. This view was shared by other French writers. Historiographically this idea meant that the Sudanese empires had been equally helpless against the Muslim invaders from the north, as the Almoravid conquest of Ghana in 1076 (in imagination), and the Moroccan attack on Songhay in 1591 (in reality), proved. Furthermore, emphasizing the historical and cultural passivity of the black Africans gave Europeans a moral justification for their own colonial conquests.

There! The keywords here are: "emphasizing the historical and cultural passivity of the black Africans gave Europeans a moral justification for their own colonial conquests."

Henceforth, recalling the conflicting perceptions of the role of Islam in the conquest hypothesis:

On the one hand Islam, and especially what appeared as Islamic fanaticism, was seen as a barbarous and backward force preventing all modern developmentoften tantamount to Europeanizationin Asia and Africa. Such a view seemed demonstrated by experiences in European colonies, like the so-called Indian mutiny (as the British called it) in 1857-58 which was attributed to Muslim conspiracy, the revolts in Algeria, and the strengthening in the Sahara of the Sanusiyya brotherhood which was believed to be extremely hostile to westerners. In Western Africa Islamic fanaticism was associated with the contemporary jihad movements which the French believed were opposed especially to their advance in Senegambia and Upper Niger.

From this point of view the conquest (and destruction) of Ghana by cruel Almoravids could be seen as an historical example of the negative impact of Islamic fanaticism, justifying European "protection" in sub-Saharan Africa. The French believed that part of their mission in Western Africa was to save the local black population from Muslim slavery and oppression: for instance, on the Upper Niger they deliberately sought the assistance of the animist Bambara in their fight against Ahmadu of Segu and Samory. We should also notice that historiography had an important role in the late nineteenth-century France in raising the national spirit, and the enemies of France, whether they were fanatic toucouleurs or bloodthirsty boches, could not expect to receive much sympathy from the pens of French writers.

On the other hand Islam was seen also as a positive force in African history. In "darkest" Africa Islam was believed to work as a kind of kindergarten training blacks to receive the blessings of European civilisation. This idea, which strengthened especially in the early twentieth century, after the active colonial conquest was over in Western Africa, was logical, for Islam is, after all, more understandable in European eyes than what passed for African animism. Thus conversion to Islam meant a step up on the ladder of progress: from oracy to literacy, from superstition to monotheism. In this context, the Almoravid conquest of Ghana could be seen as a civilizing act, painful but necessary, giving birth to the sophisticated Islamic civilization in Western Sudan which was admired by men like Delafosse and many other French colonial administrators.

And that "sophisticated Islamic civilization in Western Sudan" was supposed to have been what? Ancient Mali, perhaps? After all, it is the next major political power in Western Sudan, after the decline of Ghana, and one wherein Islam was embraced. That said, the last paragraph, right above, pretty much sums up the ideological framework of one arm of Arab diffusion theory dogmatists. In the European ideological framework on the other hand, in that it served the conquest hypothesis which was by now accommodated by racial hierarchy in European thought, it fictitiously gave European colonial designs a principled footingthis can't be emphasized enough!

A curious feature of Masonen's and Fisher's article though, is their own mention of "domination of whites over blacks" and "whites" in western Africa, when keeping in mind that the main subjects of the conquest hypothesis happens to be the Almoravids and ancient Ghana, even though much of what they cite in relation to the referenced writers does not explicitly put matters in those terms; for example in one instance, they write that the following about Cooley's questionable interpretation of al-Bakri:

For our purpose here, however, al-Bakri is a strange witness indeed, for he nowhere mentioned the "conquest" of Ghana by the Almoravids in 269/1076-77, nor could he, since he was writing in about 460/1067-68. Nevertheless, Cooley apparently believed that there was after all an account of the conquest of Ghana in al-Bakri.

The key is Awdaghust. An important trading terminum on the southern side of the Sahara, Awdaghust is elaborately described by al-Bakri. Inhabited by Arabs and Berbers, it was clearly in al-Bakri's time a white town, with some blacks among its slaves. But Awdaghust had recognized the authority of the black ruler of Ghana, and this, according to al-Bakri, was the reason why the Almoravids conquered the town in 446/1054-55, treating its inhabitants with considerable severity.

When Masonen and Fisher write that Awdaghust was "clearly in al-Bakri's time a white town, with some blacks among its slaves", on the account that it was "inhabited by Arabs and Berbers", were they making that estimation themselves for that very reasonthe mention of Arabs and Berbers, or were they simply alluding to the mindset of Cooley?...for the few excerpts that they directly cite Cooley on, nowhere does he mention anything about "whites" in western Africa? Certainly, even to this day, there is hardly such a thing as Sahel or southern Saharan "white" nomads or local communities. Or else could that description have been used by al-Bakri; if so, does that sound like something that al-Bakri would write out explicitly? They make yet another reference to these "white" southern Saharans here, even though in the very quote that they are citing Ibn Abi Zar, he makes no mention of "white" southern Saharans:

The second was a Portuguese translation of Ibn Abi Zar's Rawd al-Qirtas. Ibn Abi Zar nowhere mentioned Ghana, but he presented a marvelously vivid canvas for the southern Sahara of white triumphalism over blacks and of swashbuckling Islamic adventurers, including the following information about the death of Almoravid amir Abu Bakr b 'Umar:

concluida esta exhortacao, despediu-se Abu-Bacar, e marchou para Sahara, na qual se conservou fazendo a guerra aos cafres de Ethiopia, aonde foi martyrizado em huma das suas gazuas, traspassado de huma seta hervada, de que morreu no mez ce Xaahan do anno 480 (1078), depois de haver subjucato ao seu Imperio o paiz de Sahara ate Iabaledahb (monte de ouro), paiz da Ethiopia, cujos estados revertao depois para Iussof, filho e Taxefin.

Then he [Abu Bakr] bade him [Yusuf] farewell and left for the desert. There he remained for some time waging Holy War on the unbelievers from among the Sudan until on one of his expeditions he was struck by a poisoned arrow and met martyrdom. This was in the month of Sha'ban 480/November 1087 after all the land of the desert as far as Jabal al-Dhahab (Mountains of Gold) in the land of the Sudan had come under his sway. After his death authority became vested exclusively in Yusuf b. Tashfin. 

Note that above, "Ethiopia" had been translated into "Sudan" in English.

What's more, is that even Masonen and Fisher themselves tell us later in their article this, recalling a citation provided above:

On the other hand, the position of Saharan nomads was elevated by the increasingly popular idea of racial hierarchy in European thought. After the elaboration of the Hamitic hypothesis at the turn of the century, the Saharan nomads were counted among those advanced African peoples who had traces of civilizing "white" blood in their veins, being thus superior to the blacks.

Certainly, that description by way of implication, is presenting the likes of Almoravids as anything but "white", since the 19th century European writers were equating these nomads with Almoravids, as demonstrated just several posts ago. That being the case, what then to make of that reference to a "white town" in the Sahel? Perhaps, the following may provide answers to these questions, again from a citation already posted above:

Leo himself is more reliable as an indicator of the common negative attitude of Berbers and Arabs towards black Africans, than as a precise historical chronicler. In any case, it is not so much with regard to an explicit conquest hypothesis that the seeds were being sown, but rather in setting a scene of whites over blacks, northerners over southerners, a scene within which the southward penetration of Islam did take place and where such events as conquest might well be imagined.

From this piece, so it appears, that Masonen and Fisher may well be referring to the mindset of later European writers, in trying to portray the conquest hypothesis surrounding the Almoravids and ancient Ghana as a matter of "whites' domination over blacks" and "northerners over southerners", so as to adhere to the "racial hierarchy in European thought", and to justify later European expansionism into Africa. Be that as it may, it is not entirely certain what the authors' intentions may have been.

And of course, the authors go onto demonstrate how Cooley's interpretations of al-Bakri's work must have been off from their original contexts, and even then, they make note of the distinction between the Almoravids and Arabs; see:

Awdaghust had for centuries been a Berber city; this is confirmed by reports from the ninth and tenth centuries. Yet al-Bakri said that this town "used to be the residence of the king the Sudan who was called Ghana before the Arabs entered Ghana." Al-Bakri is our only witness for this royal black residency in Awdaghust. The Corpus editors, rightly observing that al-Bakri is here "far from being clear," and presumably calculating how far back one would have to go in order to predate the first mention of Awdaghust as the residence of a Berber ruler (this is al-Ya'qubi, in the ninth century), suggest that the first Arab entry into Ghana may have been at the time of the Arab conquest of North Africa, in the eighth and ninth centuries.

Already, inconsistencies between Cooley's equation of al-Bakri's "Arab entry into Ghana" by way of Awdaghust to an "Almoravid attack on Ghana" and taking "possession of their territory" thereof, are surfacing. As we shall see, al-Bakri's supposed Arabs could not have been Almoravids, as chronological details will reveal:

Perhaps, that long ago, Awdaghust had indeed been the capital of Ghana. But Cooley, repeatedly and clearly, implies that the Almoravid conquest of Awdaghust was in fact the conquest of the capital of Ghana. This must have been simply carelessness on Cooley's part, for al-Bakri gives us a date for the sack of Awdaghust (1054/55), and he tells us more than once when he himself was writing (1067/68), and both these dates are well before the date traditionally proposed for the fall of Ghana in the "conquest hypothesis," which is the same date (1076/77) that Cooley assigned to the alleged event. Not only are the dates askew, but the entry of the Arabs into Ghana is most unlikely to refer to the Almoravid conquest of Awdaghust, as the Almoravids are nowhere, to the best of our knowledge, referred to as Arabs, in spite of the belief in their Himyaritic origin. 

This, the first misunderstanding, is Cooley's own: if his readers followed him in it.

From the above, even a supposed Arab entry to Awdaghust would have predated the supposed sack of Awdaghust in 1054/67, as it would have been traced back to the 8th or 9th century as notedwhich is when the Ghanaian ruler would have had residency there, if we are to go by al-Bakri, our only available witness to this, and that 1054/67 event in turn could not have been associated with an Almoravid attack on Awdaghust under Ghanaian rule either, as it conflicts with the forced conversion of Ghana in 1076/77. It makes no sense for an Almoravid attack on Ghanaian capital to take place in 1054/67, cease its territory, and yet not finish the job of conquering, as Ghana continued to be around well into its supposed conquest and forced conversion to Islam in 1076/77 according to Cooley. To top this, Cooley also speaks of the final demise of Ghana by an attack from their western Sudanese neighbors, the Susu, which reportedly should have taken place some time after 1200 AD! Nor should it be forgotten, the fact that the Almoravids were not viewed as Arabs even as far back to their (Almoravid's) era. It is no wonder then, Masonen and Fisher refer to Ghana's fate, going by Cooley's interpretations of affairs, as Ghana's subjection to a "double whammy":

Yet the problem here is that the rulers of Ghana seem to be subject to a double whammy: first the Almoravids assail them, yet they seem to survive for a further century and more before finally succumbing to the Susu, customarily dated soon after 1200 AD. Probably influenced by Ibn Khaldun, Cooley frequently applied dramatic terms to the final demise of Ghana:

"...what were the revolutions, it may be asked, which caused Ghanah to disappear?" (43), "the extinction of Ghanah" (61), and so on. Such doomladen remarks, however, often refer more to the Susu conquest, than to the Almoravid conquest over a century earlier. Cooley himself clearly distinguished between these two eventsthe religious conquest by the Almoravids and the more political by the Susu--in his summary table...

Indeed, for Cooley was cited on writing this, reportedly through his own reading of Ibn Khaldun's work:

The second flaw concerns the interpretation of Ibn Khaldun's notoriously brief and vague mention of these events, written centuries afterwardsand here the blame may rest more with Cooley'sreaders than with him.

A modern English translation of the relevant passage for instance, is this:

Later the authority of the people of Ghana waned and their prestige declined as that of the veiled people, their neighbors on the north next to the land of Berbers, grew (as we have related). These extended their domination over the Sudan, and pillaged, imposed tribute (itawat) and poll-tax (jizya), and converted many of them to Islam. Then the authority of Ghana dwindled away and they were overcome by the Susu, a neighboring people of the Sudan, who subjugated and absorbed them.

Cooley’s own rendering of the same passage keeps the attention of the veiled people fixed more specifically on Ghana: 

The people of Ghana declined in course of time, being overwhelmed or absorbed by the Molaththemun (or muffled people-that is, the Morabites), who, adjoining them on the north towards the Berber country, attacked them, and, taking possession of their territory, compelled them to embrace the Mohammedan religion. The people of Ghana, being invaded at a later period by the Susu, a nation of the Blacks in their neighbourhood, were exterminated, or mixed with other Black nations.

...Two contemporary German texts show how scholars, looking at the available original sources, but uninfluenced by Ibn Khaldun and Cooley's Negroland, could write about events of the eleventh-century Western Africa without mentioning either any Almoravid/Ghana confrontation, or any enforced conversion. In 1842 J. E. Wappaus mentioned the Almoravids and their conquests in the north, but he said nothing of their relationship with Ghana, save the conquest of Awdaghust, which he did not regard as the capital of Ghana. In 1853 Friedrich Kunstmann, citing al-Hulal as quoted in Quatremere's note to al-Bakri, said merely that the conversion of Ghana--from Christianity--occurred in 1075; he made no mention of forced conversion or conquest of Ghana by the Almoravids.

Masonen and Fisher proceed onto illustrate how the period of decolonization in Africa brought in new elements to the conquest hypothesis. It therefore seems that the conquest hypothesis was continuously shaped and modified by new developments and turn of events that filtered into the discourse of politics and philosophy in Europe. Whereas in the periods prior to moves towards relinquishing direct European colonial presence overseas, during which the conquest hypothesis had a firm footing without questioning or any serious challenge directed at it, in the 1960s a new attitude towards the same hypothesis starts to take shape, and it is one that is concerned with challenging the conventional wisdom of the conquest hypothesis, while not initially marginalizing this conventional wisdom in any considerable way. It is only when one gets into the 70s through to the 80s and 90s, does one begin to see challenges posed to the conventional wisdom that have the effect of making a dent in it, and hence, contributing to its marginalization in a serious way. By the mid-90s, the conventional wisdom had been effectively marginalized to a fringe status, but as Masonen and Fisher note, this is not merely attributable to change in the ideological and political climate that writers found themselves; see:

...the gradual and hidden infiltration of the various ideological elementsthe identification of Almoravids with Tuaregs, the belief in nomadic superiority, racism, and the ambivalent image of Islaminto the body of research was possible because of the methodological decline of African historiography during the colonial period. The widely-accepted concept that Africa had no history of its own did not mean that interest in the African past completely ceased; it meant that African historiography was dominated, not by academic scholars (such as Cooley and Barth), but by ethnographers, self-taught amateurs, and colonial officers who often worked without any training for proper historical research and were thus more open to the ideological tendencies of their own age, and whose purpose was, after all, to serve the interests of colonial rule.

..But the early 1960s also meant great ideological changes in African historiography in general, as decolonization forced Europeans to change their attitudes towards Africans. The old undervaluation was no longer acceptable, nor was the idea that all progress and change in the African past had been caused by northern invaders. And, finally, we should not forget contemporary methodological development, as African historiography became a respected academic discipline not only in the former metropolitan countries, but also in the former colonies, which were eager to create for themselves a historical identity.

And in closing here with citing Masonen and Fisher, we have:

..It is, we confess, very hard to accept that the changed perception, in the specific cases with which we are concerned (was there an Almoravid conquest of Ghana? and if not, where did the notion come from?), is merely a result of evolving ideology. We believe rather that it is an expression of the methodological progress which has greatly accelerated in the historiography of Africa from the early 1960s, and which is now leading to a new situation in African historical research, with emancipation from the burden of colonial tradition. What is needed is to re-examine early West African history from the very beginning, not by picking out only such evidence as corresponds with the beliefs we have inherited from earlier researchers and which we consider justified as such since it has been repeated for a century, or as corresponds with the attitudes of our time towards the African past; but by using all the sources we have available to us now, textual and otherwise, and by interpreting them without any fixed presuppositions. In this task, we must, if necessary, dare to challenge all the previous hypothesis, even if they have been sanctified by time and repetition.

Yes, change in ideological atmosphere was accommodated by change in research methodology; methodological progress was possible, as the authors above put it, by the release of earlier constraints put on it by "colonial tradition". Furthermore, research is now largely conducted by personalities who have the appropriate credentials, and not left to just ideological sects, amateurs, or mouth pieces of colonial expansionism who are more prone to the "ideological tendencies of their own age".

So this is the bottom line:
...there is no direct evidence for any conquest, still less a violent and destructive conquest, of Ghana by the Almoravids. The conquest hypothesis is a European creation

Why was this elaborate citation and analysis necessary, surrounding the conquest hypothesis of Ghana? Firstly, Masonen and Fisher's work was well placed for this task, because it provided a rather comprehensive look at a good deal of earlier researchers who contributed to and supported the conquest hypothesis, along with later ones who raised doubts and/or challenged the once held conventional wisdom in European historiographical discourse of Africa. This was done with extensive references and analysis thereof. As we have learned through excerpts of this work, by ignoring the events surrounding the Ghanaian complex and the conquest hypothesis that plagued it for years, one is setting up oneself to being prone to the sort of ideological tendencies that have been ascribed to the Arabicentric and Eurocentric ideological concerns, which by extension taint the origins and the creative legacy of ancient Mali, as we've seen with several examples already. For instance, elements of the mentioned ideologues are predisposed to asking why ancient Malian residents adopted Islam and wrote in Arabic scripture, when they could very well have simply stuck to their very own home-grown counterparts. This sort of question is one that can of course be avoided, if the history of when and how Islam gained footing in Western Sudan took place in the first place, which apparently predates the emergence of the Malian complex in the region. Against this backdrop, it would have been understood that ancient Mali was serving as an outgrowth of the events that were taking place prior to its prominence in the region. Had the issues surrounding when and how acculturation in Ghana towards adopting Islam took off were sufficiently understood by them (ideologues), it would have occurred to elements of the aforementioned ideologues that the adoption of Islam does not herald the beginning of "civilization" in the region by any stretch of the imagination, and all the essential characteristics that are generally associated with the term. Ancient Ghana was politically prominent in the region as a centralized polity considerably long before any embrace of Islam gained ground, let alone the use of Arabic as a lingua franca, and it was wealthy even by the accounts of foreign witnesses. Ghana owed its wealth and growth to the preexisting gold trade with their coastal north African partners, which north African converts to Islam (rather than Arabian peninsula Arabs themselves) would later take advantage of, in addition to intra-western Sudanese trade. This sort of thing does not come about in some unorganized social setting, unbounded by law and order. The Ghanaians were apparently skillful in trade and geopolitical dealings with their rivals and business partners, and had the necessary checks and balances in place to keep internal order within the complex tributary system that made up the kingdom, as well as to secure national sovereignty, all of which in the end is what got them the political prominence that they enjoyed for years upon years before they declined. With such a complex tributary system united by a central administration, surely common sense elicits that there would have been necessary measures to keep an official tab on or record-keeping of productivity in each local, along with the slice of that which had to be turned over to the central administration. As a reminder, Ghana is itself preceded by a number of social organizations in the region; but from listening to Arab dogmatists speak of how ancient Malian adoption of Arabic as a regional lingua franca signals how much the complex owes its greatnessif not creationto Arabs, one gets the impression that such a development was necessarily preceded by lack of order, social organization, commerce or trade, or urbanization, let alone political consolidation. It elicits the idea that without the Arab role as "goodwill teachers" sent out to teach a bunch of helpless primitive and disorganized "Negroes" of al-Sudan, about the trade of nation-building, a feat like ancient Mali could not have been pulled off by the "Negroes" of western Sudan on their own. Yet all facets of evidence points no role whatsoever on the part of "Arabs", let alone presence, in the lead up to the Mande-oriented Malian movement assuming power and gaining regional prominence, and subsequently onto earning international recognition; it was, quite simply, entirely the handy work from within, of those very "Negroes" just mentioned. It was the culmination of the power struggle that ensued, after the final demise of Ghana by a group that the contemporary texts of the time referred to as the Susu. The Arab ideologues mentioned here, however, want intelligent people to abandon reasoning and dismiss all this, and simply hand them the credit"them" here, being a reference to "Arabs" as essentially a caste. Henceforth, Arab ideological cultism is no less damaging than the European colonial examples covered here. In fact, if one were to take an earlier citation here, and modify it a little bit, one would be able to sum up their ideological mindset, which quite frankly, is virtually indistinguishable from European colonial mindset:

Here is an earlier excerpt...

Thus conversion to Islam meant a step up on the ladder of progress: from oracy to literacy, from superstition to monotheism. In this context, the Almoravid conquest of Ghana could be seen as a civilizing act, painful but necessary, giving birth to the sophisticated Islamic civilization in Western Sudan which was admired by men like Delafosse and many other French colonial administrators. 

Merely replace "Almoravid" above with "Arab", and there, we get the gist of the Arab diffusion ideological mindset!

In summing up this segment of the topic, here is the deal: Available pointers suggest that in the 11th century Ghana was on the decline; conversely, the newly emerged Almoravid movement of staunchly devout Muslim-followers was beginning to consolidate its influence in the region  In its heyday, it would have been a considerable undertaking to bring that complex (Ghana) to its knees. But even in the periods during which the Almoravid (al-Murabitun) movement was just fomenting its political consolidation in the Maghreb (from al-Maghribi, general Arabic reference to Western Africa, of which bilad al-Sudan and bilad al-Barbar were sub-regional entities), only certain segments of Ghanaian society embraced the religion. Eager to not let the advantages of the trans-Saharan trade network slip by and in the face of Almoravid expansions gaining momentum, it only seemed natural for several Sudanic rulers [elements of which could have had a tributary relationship to the Ghanaian capital or seat of rule at some point or another] to expediently embrace Islam, and forge strong political relationships with this rising Muslim element in the region through the sectarian acculturation. This process had already been set into motion by the time ancient Mali came to prominence in the region, thereby eclipsing whatever remained of ancient Ghana. Therefore, it is no mystery as to why ancient Malian ruling elites embraced Islam from the very onset. Arabic in this period, was to be the lingua franca that facilitated trade and geopolitical ties between the Sudanic complexes and the coastal Maghrebian ones, and also as an anchor for inter-ethnic cohesion internally within the Malian complex. Internal stability is as much a prescription to political success, as is accumulation of wealth through trade. The Malian rulers had a handle on both, giving way to regional political consolidation and prosperity. This prosperity went along with a the growth of its intelligentsia base, as it happens in any other place of the world where economic and political growth is experienced. It is against this backdrop that Timbuktu, being well placed in the trade routes, blossomed into a cosmopolitan learning center.

The use of Arabic as a lingua franca in ancient Mali is of happenstance, for had their coastal north African trade partners not used that language, and instead used another form, then ancient Malians would more than likely not have used it as well. It was a matter of political expediency, that Arabic was adopted, not to replace indigenous languages of course, but for official purposes for reasons already stated above. The complexities of world dealings and what political expediency means are apparently matters that Arab diffusionist ideologues, like almost any cult group, are oblivious to.

With that said, we come to another school of Arabic diffusionist dogma; one that revolves around Islamic and other legends of African societies, cloaked with certain degree of mythology. This will be continued in the 3rd segment of this topic. Go here.

2 comments:

Proud Canadian said...

Excellent analysis. What sources are out there that could shed light in depth on the pre-Islamic or Arab genesis of Ghana?

Mystery Solver said...

Proud Canadian writes:

Excellent analysis. What sources are out there that could shed light in depth on the pre-Islamic or Arab genesis of Ghana?

Unless you have direct access to primary Arabic-written medieval sources yourself, amongst other archaeological particulars [like being a field anthropologist], I'd say that as far as secondary sources are concerned, the works of the McIntoshes [Roderick James and Susan Keech McIntosh] and the mentioned Ray A. Kea were reasonable reads on the background of ancient Ghana.